There was a brief moment where the room was still. The scents of cooked salmon and pepper; steamed broccoli and cauliflower; and cubed carrots and celery, mixed with hominy, filled the air in a miasma of delicacy. The salmon steak at the center of the table was still gently sizzling, threads of steam rising from its tendered skin.
The silverware was set as ornately as possible. The formal classes Mom had taken on etiquette paid off nicely in moments like these. Wine glasses were set as well, including one for Milo, though his was planned to hold non-alcoholic, sparkling. The dimmed chandelier and corner lamps with amber shades allowed only the minimalist amount of light. The room had the ambiance of a royal dining hall.
The table was set; the trap was set.
Ting-ting, ting-ting, tolled the chime; Confession time.
“Your dad is really cool,” Suzy said to Milo while he stood near the table, waiting for the others. “The way you guys talked like secret-agents, you really could be James Bond.”
“Thanks,” the foxboy replied in whisper, low enough that the approaching voices masked it. He spotted the murderer, briskly—tersely—entering the room with his mother. He glanced sideways to his dad, his pupils conveying his instructions. Don't say anything to her. Don't do anything—anything. She'll smell something fishy in a heartbeat if you do.
Dad disguised the nod he gave to his son as part of his gesture to pull the chair out for their guest.
“Oh my! It all looks so delicious!” Cheryl gushed, drowning Beth in empty compliments as she primly sat upon the very edge of her seat. “And the arrangement, so pristine.” Her back did not curve in the slightest.
“Thank you,” Mom replied with flatter-dimpled cheeks. “I've been keeping a worried cloud over it all day. The boys reassured me all day it smelled and looked good.” She smiled at Dad as he offered her seat, giving him due credit. “But I guess everything turned out just fine, after all.”
Milo took his own seat, and let his hands briefly squeeze his knees to rid his nerves of all their tension. Taking in a deep breath would betray his own orders to his father.
From behind him, he felt a warm touch of air upon his left shoulder.
“I love you.”
He shivered. The words sent calming warmth trickling into the ear which she whispered, down through to his very core.
She said it so tenderly, so genuinely; full of such gratitude and understanding.
His core converted it, and sent a surge of strength through his limbs. He wasn't alone with his feelings; she was with him—literally in spirit. And he was doing this for her, as her hero. But most of all... Because he loved her too, and wished that he could reply to her in kind.
That was why he could. Not. Fail.
Mom reached for the bottle of wine at the table, the cork ready to be popped off by the corkscrew. “May I offer you some, Cheryl? I hope I'm right that it's supposed to be white wine with fish...”
Cheryl nodded with a smile as rigid as a porcelain doll's. “Don't fret, darling. I would love a glass, please.”
Milo audibly cleared his throat. The rhetorical noise catching all ears.
Mom pulled the cork from the bottle with a phoom-puh.
“Um, before we eat,” Milo said, against the gluk-gluk-gluk of his mother poured the wine for the murderer; “I'd like to read a poem I wrote for you, Ms. MacAllister. Is that okay?” He kept his voice timid. Better timid than nervous from adrenaline.
Mom set the bottle down and h the glass of wine to their guest. She smiled to him, nodding. “That'll be fine, sweetie.”
Cheryl eased back only slightly in her chair, lifting the glass to rest on her lips without sipping. She simply regarded the young foxboy, waiting patiently as a predator would while studying her prey.
Something was unsettling about the brat. She could practically smell it like he was pissing it all over. Maybe it was the way he looked at her, always from an angle and never straight on. She wondered, ever-so-briefly, if he suspected anything close to the truth about her own brat’s death.
But that thought was dismissed; cut from the herd and snuffed. That was unlikely. Just irrational paranoia from being in this ugly house again.
There was no such suspicions.
She was a careful adult.
He was stupid child.
Milo took in a deep breath, now in the guise of collecting his courage for reading a heart-felt, well-thought and carefully-articulated pentameter of words. He could feel the tension pulling his sinew taught; could practically hear the rippling of stress as one would hear in a steel cable. All his insides turned to violin strings, his heart playing a scratchy, dissonant, arrhythmic tune upon their tangled cords. His pulse beat upon the drum of his ears, making him feel just a little tipsy.
Slowly, he reached back and pulled a piece of notebook paper from his pocket. He undid the folds, careful not to let his jitters drop or delay his dexterity.
Suzy's eyes fell briefly from her mother to the paper in Milo's hand.
It was completely blank.
He coughed, clearing his throat again. He took another breath, as if he were a bard, readying to finally begin the epic poem which he dedicated to Ms. MacAllister and her dearly-remembered daughter.
He signaled its start by slamming the paper down upon the table, making the silverware jump and one to fall upon the wood floor with a clatter. “I know you did it,” he hissed, gazing across the table at the child-killer.
“M—Milo!” Mom declared in shock.
Dad's face remained stolid, but paled as a stone in the summer sun.
“And... Just what is it that you believe I did, Milo?” Cheryl softly asked, with perfect composure; almost politely.
“I know... That you killed Suzy!” He proclaimed, pointing, with paper gripped in hand, at the psychopathic woman. “You killed your own daughter.” He ground the words across the air like iron to the stone, crumpling the paper for emphasis.
“Milo!” Mom snapped again, as much in confusion as in maternal discipline. “What do you think you're doing?”
“Do you... Have any idea how it feels... To hear you say that?” Cheryl was playing, and playing well, the deep pain—that she did not feel—his words sliced into her core. “To accuse... me… of killing my own begotten flesh and blood? It was... It was an ordeal enough convincing myself to return to this house. This house that holds so many terrible… Horridly cruel memories...”
Suzy gripped Milo's shoulder. “Stop her! She's putting on her act! Drop a sandbag on it before she goes any further!”
“And... I felt like something was wrong the moment I arrived. Especially from the way you looked at me when I—”
“Shut up.” Milo spoke with venom, dropping his hand to the table like a lead ball.
“Ek-scewz me!?” Cheryl shot back in a scoff, her eyes sparking toward a fine green blaze.
“Milo, that is it! You may march yourself right to yo—”
“Mom. You shut up, too.”
Her eyes went from narrow to bulged. She was shocked speechless; and shocked further by the ache in Milo's drastically different, calm voice as he spoke to her. If that wasn’t enough, his eyes told her what his demeanor and inflection may have failed to.
Mom... You don't understand, yet. Please, bear with me—back off. I love you.
Milo focused back on the murderer. “You killed Suzy,” he stated again; fact. “You killed her, and you blamed it on your husband. You'd get away with it, too; you knew that. Because, who wouldn't look at him and think he was the one who must have done it, right? After all, he looks and acts like a big musclebound dumbass.”
He used Cheryl's old insult with purpose, fully hoping it would make her falter.
But, she did not betray a twitch. Very lowly, very calmly, like a savage beast giving its prey one last chance before a slow, painful torture, she said: “How dare you...”
“It's working, Milo!” Suzy encouraged, patting his shoulder. “She's getting madder, but she's still keeping it under control—she's having to fight it! You have to piss her off so bad she flips her top—throw her over that edge!”
“I cannot believe I trusted you, Milo,” she said with a slit tongue so sharp it made her threat cut like pity. Pity for such an obviously deranged, delusional, sad-sorry child. “I came all this way...” She lifted her hands innocently, “Just hoping you would show me some... kind of—“
Milo slammed his fist upon the table again. The murderer's wine glass woozily toppled over, spilling wine and shattering on the floor.
Mom squeaked like a frightened child unable to escape from a nightmare.
Dad closed his eyes, trying his best to comprehend what was even happening.
Cheryl glared at Milo as if she could wipe him from the earth with a brush of her eyelash. She stood up abruptly, and made to leave the table. “I do not have to take this.”
Milo nearly locked up in panic. She couldn't leave! He had to keep her here—had to corner her like the rat she was!
Suzy sensed the fear that threatened to freeze him over. “Laugh!” She ordered; “Laugh at her! Nothing makes her angrier, remember? Laugh!”
Milo gulped. How the hell was he supposed to chuckle like a chum at a woman who petrified his blood?
But, as that very thought floated in its bubble, he transcended his fears and found a nugget of hysteria. Milo opened his mouth, threw his head back, and an ear-wrenching barrage of cackles left his throat like a machine-gun that shot happy-bullets.
Cheryl’s heel crunched on the wooden floor, and she snapped round. Her lower-left eyelid twitched once, then twice more after a heartbeat.
“Tha—Tha-ha-t's r-hah-ight!” Milo snickered like a chipmunk, he turned to the back of his chair and pointed; “I'm la-ha-ughing... a-ha-t—a-hahaha-t—at you!”
The woman took a few steps toward him.
“Call her a bitch!” Suzy suggested with delight.
“Y-aha-ou're—You’re pretty f-ah-hunny for a… For a murderous bitch!” His laughter warped into a growl.
Cheryl froze on the spot.
Milo could almost hear the surface tension of her composure strain like ice about to fracture and break off from the glacier. Something in him snapped. Like a mad hatter, he hopped up onto his chair, gripping his sides and flipping between laughter and viciousness in a way that would make even The Joker a little envious.
“Ha—hahahahaha-ha-ha-ha—That's right! I'm laughing at you, Cheryl! You know why? Because!” He stood up straight, spreading his arms. “You think I'm just some dumbass kid who doesn't know what the hell he's talking about!
“But the funny thing is that I do, Cheryl! I know exactly what I'm talking about!” He hopped down from his chair, pacing back and forth with a Cheshire smile. “I now exactly what happened that night. Yes, I know exactly what happened that night! And I can prove it!” He paused, folding his arms, looking smug. “You're going to go to jail.” He whipped one hand, pointing at her with a scorpion-tipped finger, “and everyone will know that you were the child-murderer!”
Mom was trembling, stuck in her own catatonic cocoon of shock and horror. She had her hands folded one atop the other on the table, her mouth agape in either awe or fear—perhaps both.
The murderous wench glared down her nose like the sights of a gun, set upon the foxboy not the height of her lowest rib. For a moment, it almost looked like she was smiling. Her eyes were bloody-red, exposing her livid core. It was a challenging stare: Prove it. Prove it, then, you fucking pile of shitpiss.
Suzy was right. She could not intimidate him if he didn't let her. He felt his ghost-love's paws on his shoulders.
She was trembling, the display she saw from Milo a necessary, but perturbing result of cracking her mother. She could feel him trembling, too, and she held onto that movement; it reminded her that he was still her tender hero inside.
“Milo,” she whispered with assurance. “It's working.”
He unfolded his arms, and met her blazing glare with one that was cold. “You came home from work.” He stated calmly, the mad hatter lucidly sane. “The first thing you noticed, was that Richard's car wasn't there.” He began to pace, like Sherlock Holmes putting together the case; all he lacked was a pipe.
And some cocaine.
“That meant he'd picked her up from school. And, more importantly, they were still out somewhere. But,” he pivoted, “most importantly, as you must have immediately known, that meant she hadn't cleaned the bathroom.”
For the tiniest fleeting instance, Milo saw her facade ripple, like the wind whipping a pond under the weight of his words.
“Princess Lazy was out having fun, neglecting her chores again, right? So, then, an hour or so later, you hear it. The car pulls in. They come out, and they're all smiles and giggles; happy as can be! How dare they—right?
”And then you hear her run up to her room—she's avoiding you, like she avoided her chores—and then he comes in, acting all mopey and sorry like a pathetic piece of horse shit; trying to tell you that she had just gotten a part in some dumb Christmas play that who-even-cares-about, and he'd taken her out for milkshakes to celebrate because he was just so proud of her.”
He faced the woman as she struggled to keep her tremors in check.
“But that's no good freaking reason for a Princess to skip her chores—was it?”
Suzy could almost feel real pins and needles in her hands and feet. Milo was on a roll!
He couldn't believe any of this was actually coming out of him. He was feeling such an incredible rage at this woman, and yet it was nothing like how she looked. Whereas she looked like the very air around her was boiling from her heated blood, he felt cool, calm and collected; just like James Bond.
Maybe Suzy was right, he really could be a secret-agent.
“And so,” he continued, “while you start yelling at him, and he just stands there—musclebound dumbass that he is, taking it like a side of beef—you hear this loud crash upstairs.”
The floor gently squeaked as Cheryl's heel touched down half a step back from where it was before.
“What the hell was that, huh? Gotta find out. So you stomp upstairs to investigate.” He began to stomp about, acting out his words. “Oh that little piece of shit's gonna get it now, isn't she? You throw open the door, and what did you find? That winged horse statue you saw in the store weeks ago. It's the very one you wanted. That one the two of them snuck out without your permission and bought for you because they knew you'd just love it—like they wished you'd love them. And there it is...”
Milo paused dramatically, savoring the ambrosia of his rage.
“Smashed into a hundred pieces, all over the freaking floor!”
Cheryl was beginning to sweat. Beady little dots of water like poison on a snake’s leathery skin, trickled down her fur. Her tail flicked back and forth behind her, as if it were trying to wrench itself free to keep from falling under the accusations it knew the ass it was attached to were guilty of.
“You look at her. You know she did it. She knows she did it. She knows you know she did it. And what did you call her then, hm? Huh? You wanna say it?—Cuz I can't hear you! What'd you call your own daughter?”
Her teeth were too busy trying to crush atoms to respond.
”You called her a spiteful little cunt!”
As Milo roared the insult that Suzy so well remembered, she was astounded at his pure, raw courage.
“You made a run for her!” Milo continued, dashing forward to the ghost of whom he spoke. “Probably to beat the ever-living daylights out of her—” he swung, his fist whisking through her face. It turned incorporeal either because he did not want to hurt her, or because she could see it coming; “—just like you always did. But, the musclebound dumbass? He’d had enough. He'd watched you treat him like mud. And up until now he'd watched you treat his daughter—his flesh and blood—like a personal punching bag too many times. He snapped, the crazy ogre. He tackled you. You fought him off, you were finally going to call the cops. Let him know he'd badly screwed up with you, and he was going to pay the piper.
“You ran out of the room. He ran after you. She ran after you both; you raised your hand up, eager to punch her lights out good. And what happened then? Hm? What happened then, huh!?”
The witch stared into him. She tried to bore a hole into his soul and melt it with her caustic glare.
Suzy felt Milo's arms envelope her so tenderly, and heard his voice travel so calmly across the air.
“He tries to protect her. He tried to take the hit, just like all the others before it. But that idiot... He slipped.” He squeezed Suzy tightly, staring past her translucent form, through the eyes that he so tenderly loved, at the woman who so mercilessly snuffed them. “It was an accident.” He spoke somberly, then with vigor; “He loved her! He would never have hurt her! He would have gladly died to protect her, but instead he made an even more terrible mistake that night,” Milo let go, and, with a great pain in his heart, pushed Suzy away, even if it was gently; “And he knocked her down the stairs!”
Suzy's whole body shook as a sob began to wrack through her. She sat upon the floor.
“Suzy fell.” Milo narrated. “All the way down,” his hand stretched up and jaggedly bounced down across his body; “Crunch! Crunch! Crunch!—” He smacked his hands together. “She landed at the bottom. And her neck broke like glass. I'll bet you could hear the snap, all the way up at the top of the stairs.”
Cheryl's brain was swirling; her pulse raced in her temples. This was like a fever-dream. She was just having a nightmare that she couldn't wake up from. There was no way this was real. There was no way this little piece of shit could know all of this.
“And then,” he suddenly stood up straight, his animations halting, “while he stared in disbelief on hands and knees,” he walked toward her, “and your daughter's life trickled out of her like a cup of spilled milk...” He looked up, almost passively, right into the murderer's eyes. “What did you do?” He asked, almost more genuinely than he had any of the other rhetorical questions. “What did you do?”
You could not possibly know, you bastard fuck!
He shrugged. “You laughed at her.” He followed with a chuckle of his own. Then he flattened his gaze. “You laughed at her.” His fists closed tightly at his sides. Then, with his hackles raised, and the cold ice swirling to fire in his breath, he repeated the phrase once more: “You. Laughed. At. Her.”
Cheryl slammed the heel of her shoes onto the floor, her hair whipping up like the furling of a cape, and yelled at him with the bark of a shotgun; “How the hell could you possibly know that!?”
Dad lifted his gaze at the furious woman.
In that moment, both came to realize that she had affirmed everything that their son had just asserted was truth.
“Suzy told me,” he responded calmly. He even lifted his hand slightly, gesturing to her presence sitting just in front of him on the floor.
There were three heartbeats of silence. Then, the woman let out her predator's roar. She charged forward, her heels snapping like firecrackers upon the wood floor. Her hands thrust out like talons as she neared the petulant little kit.
Suzy felt the shock-waves beneath her; she stood. “Stop!” She commanded, steeling herself before Milo to stand in the way. But her mother's fingers passed through her; and Milo's spittle shot forth through her from behind her eyes.
Milo's head snapped back, and his eyes rolled up to the ceiling. His world whipped round as he was snatched and carried in the clutches of the child-killer's rage.
The febrile wench relinquished all worry of consequence, and fear of repercussion. She felt only the absolute urgent compulsion to silence this monstrous and forgettable runt. She whipped about, and charged forward, slamming his back against the edge of the dining table. His glasses fell, lenses breaking on impact.
Milo felt the vertebrae of his spine rake upon the sharp edge of the table. A hand let go of his neck and grasped the left side of his muzzle. His head was forced down, held in place. He screamed in his throat; the salmon steak, still steaming, now sizzled against his down-turned cheek.
Something was disconnected in his brain, for as he felt the hot steam sting all the way down to his skin, all that he could think was: And Mom worked so hard to make it just right…
The vengeful woman took him away from the morsel, hopping upon the chair and then the table. She held him by the neck, shaking him. She made sure his eyes were open; made sure he looked at her. “You filthy, lying little fuck-mistake of a brat! How could you know!?” She shook him again, and then with the strength of her anger flipped him upside down in her grasp. “You think you know everything you little shit!” She shook him like a ragdoll. “But you have no idea what it was like to have to live with that squeaky little—”
“Get your hands off my baby!”
Cheryl glanced behind her when she heard the shriek. The crazy bitch of a mother clambered onto the table, and jumped toward her. Cheryl twisted out of the way, and the mother-vixen's outstretched hands caught her son by his sides.
Cheryl let go.
The mother-vixen couldn't stop her momentum.
Suzy's mind raced, and time began to slow. She dashed forward, as a swimmer would launch from the side of the pool. She twisted in the air, arms outstretched, desperate to stop what her instincts feared.
His head passed right through her chest. She could hear—feel—the severance of his neck. Like someone breaking a hundred stalks of spaghetti across their knee. She gazed into his eyes, just before they rolled about in either direction.
His body slumped over her, his legs still supported by his own mother.
He gazed up at the woman high upon the table. His cheeks burned, and he tried so hard to move—but he couldn't. His mind began to panic—he couldn't feel anything at all. He wanted so desperately to take a breath, but his lungs were nowhere to be found. The color began to drain from his vision, and as his murderer cackled at his dying wheeze, she grew horns upon her head and fangs within her mouth, and her maw began to shine with a bright and fearsome light.
He was able to see her for the demon that she truly was.
Suzy saw the fox's gentle eyes dilate full as they wiggled, and then abruptly stopped. She glared up at the child-killer—who had claimed a second victim.
And the child-killer laughed.
“The more you know, you little bastard! You—”
The sound in the room went mute as a thunderous boom shook the air.
The lamps fell to the ground, shattering their bulbs, and the chandelier's bulbs burst in their places. Three windows lining the dining wall cracked, then burst from their panes. The floor creaked, wood panels splitting and snapping upward. The silverware on the table clattered, falling to the floor, as a tremor shook the earth.
The now-former father watched as the woman, who had just taken his son away from him, launched through the air. She flew in an arc, slamming onto the floor, and rolled for a few more feet, stopped only by the wall.
Fifteen long, silent seconds passed.
A heavy report came at the front door. Its incessant, urgent rap rousing Mom.
“Someone is at the door,” she noted, tousling her son's hair.
“I'll go get it,” Dad replied, and calmly stood. He went to the door at a patient pace. “Coming, coming,” he insisted. He jiggled the handle. “Locked?” He questioned, vaguely remembering he had done so himself.
The door opened to reveal a disheveled jaguar.
“Mr. Lennox!” He spoke urgently. “My name is Damian; Where's Milo?”
“I'm sorry? I don't...”
Damian burst past the fox, causing him to stumble just a little. He dashed down the hall and into the dining room, but stopped just a few paces into the room. There, he saw.
The young boy was on his back, his head coddled by the little mouse ghost and his mother.
Suzy met Damian's eyes after he rushed toward them.
“It's okay,” Damian spoke sternly. “I've called the police and an ambulance, they're on their way right now!”
“Excuse me?” Spoke the boy's mother, her glazed eyes matching Damian's twitching pupils. “Who might you be?” She questioned.
“Mr. and Mrs. Lennox,” Damian spoke tersely; “Milo... He's...” The jaguar hovered his hand over the motionless boy upon the ground.
The sirens screeched through the shattered windows.
It was only then that the parents finally soaked in the reality of their situation.
“This is the police; we're entering the house!”
In a flash, half a dozen dark-blue-uniformed furs of bulky and hulky stature apiece, stormed into the dining room. The beams of their heavy flashlights licked about the floor and walls of the dining room.
On her knees near the table, a woman was wailing, her assumed husband comforting her. A disheveled jaguar was standing over a body.
“You! Step away from the kid!”
“Officer! We need an ambulance, quick! This boy's life is in danger!”
“I'll worry about that you little punk! Now get down on the ground—hands where I can see 'em!”
“Sir, please—“ Damian tried to insist.
“Said on the ground!” Another canine officer barked.
Damian assumed the instructed position, his brief and distant experience with police his guiding wisdom.
“Sir, are you and your wife all right?”
“Sarg! We got a woman over here! She's out cold!”
“You little punk!” The boxer shouted at the jaguar. “You have the right to remain silent! Anything you say can and will—”
“Stop!” Suzy shouted. “Please! Listen to him! You idiots! He didn’t do it!” But the officer continued to speak the Miranda Rights, pulling out a tie to secure his wrists.
“Stop!” Mr. Lennox shouted, interrupting the officer. “Please... officers—listen to him! He's not the one who did this.”
Suzy blinked. She stared at Mr. Lennox, her phantom-heart racing. Did he—did he just hear her?
The boxer—the Sergeant—paused his motion to cuff the unkempt jaguar. He huffed. “All right. But I have to secure the scene.” The restraint was secured. “Talk, you. Do you know these fursons? Do you know this man?”
“I know Milo!” Damian shouted.
“His name is Damian,” Mr. Lennox blurted.
“Someone tell me what's going on—and for God's sake there's a cold boy in here! We need an ambulance!”
“Yessir!” One of the officers shouted.
“We were having dinner with Cheryl,” Mrs. Lennox suddenly piped up, her tears dry for the moment. “She—She—my son...” The moment did not last long.
“Holy fucknuts!” One of the officers shouted, his baton pushed against the unconscious woman's shoulder. “Sarg! This is the MacAllister woman!”
“MacAllister—” The boxer's eyes bulged. “What the fuck is she doing here...”
“She killed her daughter!” Damian shouted.
“Wh—What?” The Sergeant turned.
“I have it all recorded! I'm making a dub of it in my van down the street as we speak! Milo knew MacAllister killed her daughter, so I set him up with a throat-mic and he invited her here to try and get her to confess. I have it all; it's the truth.”
”In your… Van… Down the street, huh?” The Sergeant glared.
The officer that had his baton against Cheryl jumped in shock—literally. He leapt back and almost lost his balance. “Shit! She's alive!”
Cheryl began to writhe and screamed. She started to crawl, heading toward the boy, before losing consciousness again.
An officer snared a mask on the jaguar as they lifted him up, three of them ushering him down the hall. Two other fursons in neon-orange uniforms carrying a stretcher came in through the frame. “Where's the body?”
“Here!” The boxer barked. “And her, too.”
“Wait!” Mr. Lennox shouted, dashing forward.
“Sir, let us—”
“No, please,” he spoke desperately, “I just need a moment.” He knelt at his son's side. “Oh Milo... Oh God, Milo...” He wept, finally seeing the state his son was in.
”Sir,” the boxer said, resting his hand on the father’s back. “We’ll take care of him. Would you and your wife please come with me? We’d like to take you down to the station. It’s getting cold in here.”
”No… Please don’t leave me,” Suzy begged.
”I’m sorry,” Mr. Lennox murmured.
The ghost girl took a step back. Was he apologizing to her? Or Milo? Or the officer?
”Honey, let’s go.”
Another couple of men came running in with a stretcher, heading toward MacAlliaster.
”One, two, three,” the men with Milo counted, placing him on the stretcher and quickly jogging off with it.
Mr. Lennox saw the other stretcher laid down next to Cheryl.
”Don’t take her, you idiots!” Suzy growled. “She should be taken in handcuffs, not a stretcher!”
”Stop! Don’t touch her!” Mr. Lennox barked.
The paramedics paused. “Sir, let us—”
”She killed my son! She should be leaving here in handcuffs!” Just then, his hands were taken, and his wrists snared in a tie. “Hey!”
”Mr. Lennox, this is for your own safety,” The Sergeant told him. “You’re not under arrest, but please come with me.” He ushered the fox forward.
”Where are you taking my husband!?” The vixen questioned, on the verge of shrieking.
”Boston, walk her out with us, she rides with you,” the boxer ordered.
”Sir!” The border collie stepped up to the woman, as the stretcher with MacAllister passed them. “It’s okay, ma’am, we’re just going down to the station,” he explained, walking with her behind her husband.
Suzy was frozen. She merely watched as the last few officers left the room with Milo’s Mom and Dad. Just like the room about her, everything had fallen to shambles.
The wind howled along the busted window panes. The chandelier tinkled from the gentle gusts that sluiced into the room. The quiet, and loneliness was disturbed a moment later.
Officers re-entered the room, their walkie-talkies squeaking and chirping with reports and relays. They unfurled neon-yellow tape from rolls and began tacking them across the entryways: CRIME SCENE – DO NOT CROSS
Suzy fell to her hands and knees, distraught. She began to weep, and sob; she was all alone again.
The plan had failed.
And worse… Milo was dead.
The only one that could see her.
The only one that could hear her.
Besides Damian… But by the way the police acted, they clearly suspected him of murdering Milo!
The only other furson she could talk to, to have a chance at salvaging anything, and he was going to jail, too!
At this rate, just put the whole world in jail and let Mommy rule it all!
For a few moments she had hoped his Dad could hear her, and see her. If that was the case, then maybe she could explain it all to him. But now, she knew it was just coincidence. Of course it was, but at least...
She gritted her teeth. It felt so awful to think.
At least he saw Mommy do it.
”Huh? Whassat?” One of the officers mumbled, looking into the room and scanning the flashlight on the floor.
Suzy lifted her head, and the light licked over her—then passed on.
”What’s wrong?” The partner asked.
”Thought I heard… Like… Cryin’ or somethin’.”
”Ah, it’s just the wind.”
Suzy couldn’t take this anymore. She dove through the floor, down into the basement, where she could sulk in peace and not be taunted by anyone possibly being able to see, hear—or help—her.
Author’s Note: Part 25 is the same as in the original story; please read there for the content.
Bright, fluorescent lights buzzed overhead. One had a flicker every few moments. The walls were a muddy gray, bricks that looked like they had been painted in the theme of an 1970s cartoon. The floors were a white tile, with scuff-marks, streaks, and stains. Of coffee and, what appeared to be, blood or vomit.
It was colder in the room than it was outside. Quieter, too.
The chair he sat on was metal, and foldable. The table he sat at, in the middle of the room, was just over square-shaped, and was polished nearly to a shine.
He stared at his reflection, but saw something radically different.
It had only been a few hours since he saw Little Wise One’s face. But, the way one eye looked left and the other looked up was an image forever etched into his mind.
Painted on a canvas of grief, in a rainbow of guilt.
Though the sound of the door clamoring startled him, he didn’t show it. It squealed, desperately begging to be oiled, and then the shutter-arm hissed it to docilely close with a whimper.
He heard the footsteps approach. Saw the boxer’s face in the reflection of the table. Then, it was obscured by a folder that was plopped down in front of him, the draft of it rustling his facial fur and whiskers.
”We found your van, Damian,” the boxer said, gruffly.
The jaguar stared at the folder that was splayed in front of him. It had several pictures of his van, parked along the street that led to the MacAllister—the Lennox—home. There were also pictures of the interior: recording equipment and a small TV were shown.
”So, you like recording little boys; is that true, Damian?”
The boxer kept his expression stern as the jaguar looked up at him, mouth agape. He had to keep from both punching him in the face, and from smirking. He so loved that expression when he caught these kinds of maggots in their disgusting act.
”N—No,” was all the jaguar managed to say.
It was all he had managed to say since he had been masked and chucked into the caged back seat of a police car.
”Then why’d you have him all wired up?” The canine growled.
Damian’s posture started to wilt. “Is… Is he okay?”
The boxer slammed his hands on the table, and pressed his face so quickly and so nearly to the jaguar’s that he was a whisker's-breadth from headbutting him.
”I’m the one that asks the questions,” he growled, “you fucking creep.”
Damian let out a panicked yelp and ducked his head down under his arms, resting his cheek upon the pictures. He shivered, beginning to sob.
There was a slamming on the door.
”Don’t move,” the boxer ordered, and his chair screeched as he stood up. He went to the door, and opened it. “What?” He barked.
”Sarg, she’s here.”
There was a pause.
”Fucking hell, already? They’ve got roaches everywhere don’t they?”
”She wants to review the audio we seized with you.”
”Well… I… Uh… I said she wants, but uh… She more like… Orders, y’know?”
The jaguar felt the room get a little warmer over the next, silent moment. Like a space-heater had been put just in front of the door.
”You.” The Sergeant barked. “You think about what I asked, and when I get back, you’d better have a fucking answer.”
The door’s shutting arm wheezed as the door was forced shut by the boxer.
And, just like that, he was back in cold, gray, silence.
”The earth rumbled last night, and for more than one reason—last night, at about eight-thirty, a child was—”
The radio was cut. The windshield-wipers slid across the glass every few seconds, flinging flurries of snow and water away. It had been several minutes since the last street-light. All he had to guide him now were the vaguely-familiar roads.
Then, amidst the skeletons of trees, he saw light. It was blazing, almost angelic. Six spotlights were set up around the left-front corner of the house. On each wall; two pointed toward the house, one pointed away.
As some of the light splashed into the car, he could see the puffs of smoke from his breath. He popped another cold, wilted french-fry in his mouth as he turned the corner. Slowing down, he came to a stop in front of the house.
The sky was still dark. It was at least three hours until dawn would just barely break the sky.
He took the cup of fries nestled in his lap for stability, and tossed them in the brown bag, mottled with grease-stains. He crumpled it up, intending to bring it in out of habit; then, thought better of it, and set it back in the seat. Steeling himself, he opened the door.
The bitter cold couldn’t wait to break in and suck all the heat out of the car. He trudged out into the powdered snow, and made his way toward the house.
As soon as he got within visibility of the light, an officer shouted:
”You! Hands up, what’re you doing here?”
The voice’s harshness was perturbing against the gentle quiet of the settled night.
He stood, literally freezing, and held up his hands—if he had had time to think, he would have worn gloves that weren’t dark and obscuring. He tried to speak, but the scarf he wore got in his way.
The officer neared. “You can pull the scarf down,” he said, pointing the light he held at the newcomer’s face.
The officer caught glimpses of orange as the furson pulled down the scarf.
”This is my home,” he stated, flatly.
”Can I see your license, sir?”
A billow of smoke left his muzzle. “I w-would officer, b-but it’s i-in there… In-n-n my home.”
Another officer jogged up to them. “Carter! What’s goin’ on here?”
”This guy says he lives here, doesn’t have his ID and says it’s in the place.”
The officer that jogged up stepped up to the fox that stood with his hands up. “Take off your hood for a sec.” He squinted as the fox did so, and the nodded. “Come inside, Mr. Lennox.”
”Hey, Jer,” the first officer smacked the second on the arm for attention. “We’re s’posta get ID, it’s protocol.”
”I did get ID,” the second officer growled. “His picture’s all over the house. Now get back to watchin’ the door.” He ordered, shoving the other cop a bit harshly, in counter to the smack he’d gotten earlier. “This way, sir,” he said to the fox, “you can put your hands down and your hood back up.”
Mr. Lennox was glad to put his hands down, shoving them into his armpits now that his fingers had gotten numb from being held up for just those couple minutes.
”We shut the heat off,” the officer said, “so don’t take off your jacket or nothin’. Figure you don’t want a huge electric bill when it’s all just going out the windows,” he chuckled, then caught himself. “Er… I’m sorry, but, why are you here, exactly?”
”I cam to get some things,” he explained, and glanced at the hallway that was blocked off by neon-yellow tape. “If I could,” he added.
”I’m afraid I can’t let you past the tape, that’s an active crime scene. CSIs are in there right now gathering evidence.”
”Oh I—I didn’t mean in there,” he muttered, lifting up his hand. “I… I just meant, clothes… Toiletries, y’know, that stuff?”
The officer chuckled. “Right, right. Well, I guess… This is your home. But, uh… An officer will have to be nearby. Nothing personal just, protocol.”
He whistled, calling a partner over. “Officer Joel, this is Mr. Lennox, he’s gonna grab a few things. Need you to accompany him through the house, but you can give him some privacy, yeah?”
”Mr. Lennox, this is officer Joel. He’ll keep a loose eye on ya and let you know if you’re snoopin’ around where you shouldn’t be, all right?”
”Uh-huh… But, I’ll just be going to my bedroom and…” He looked down, adding quietly: “My... Son’s.”
”Of course, Mr. Lennox,” said Officer Joel. “You lead the way.”
The fox’s shoes tamped on the wooden floor as he started to hastily make his way to his bedroom, but then slowed. While he was anxious, he didn’t want to alert the officers or anything. The last thing he needed, now, was any more separation from those he loved, even if it meant slowing down and taking a bit more time in the present.
”This is my room,” he mentioned to the officer, motioning at the door. “You can come in if you like… I’m just getting some things together.”
”I’ll wait out here, Mr. Lennox.” The officer said. “Just leave the door open.”
With a nod, the fox entered his room.
He had lived partly out of his luggage since they had arrived. His wife had unpacked and consumed much of the closet- and wardrobe-space already. He snagged one of their rolling cases, hefted it onto the bed, and began packing.
He couldn’t pack their lives back in. Just enough for a few days. He’d have to leave the rest, and come back if Beth needed anything extra. He knew he wouldn’t. Heck, he was here mainly for her; he didn’t want her to go without a change of clothes and fresh underwear.
He sacrificed a day’s outfit of his own for her. And packed away their coats, and even bagged up a few pairs of shoes for her. Going through his mental checklist again, he went into the bathroom and grabbed what he could. The essentials, of course: toothbrush, paste, shampoo, conditioner. He also snagged a few of his wife’s makeup bottles and palettes—he had no clue if he was getting any of that right. But, he grabbed what he could and dumped it all into a small bag.
The luggage casters hit the carpeted floor with a soft thud, and the handle clicked a few times in rapid succession as he extended it up. He walked to the doorway, dragging it along.
”Got everythin’ ya need, sir?” The officer asked.
”Um… I still want to visit my son’s room.”
”Oh right, ‘course. Lead the way.”
”It’s upstairs… Is that… Okay?” He asked.
”Upstairs should be fine. The crime scene is limited to the dining room and immediate hallways.”
Mr. Lennox nodded, and walked to the stairs.
His footfalls were heavy on the carpeting that spilled down the middle of the stairs. With each step up, gravity felt like it was pushing on him doubly more than before.
The officer didn’t make any remarks about his pace or anything. In fact, when he looked back, the careful smile was several steps behind.
Pulling in a steeling breath, Robert surmounted the stairwell.
Then, he paused.
A wind threatened to push him back. Not a real one, just a mental one. His first step was like wading through a bog. As he got within three feet of the door to his son’s bedroom, it was like slogging through sand. When he was close enough to set his hand on the door, push it open, and step through the threshold; it was like trudging through pitch.
The door squeaked open, and he barely caught himself from falling. Sparkling white washed over his eyes, and he felt dizzy. He stumbled into the room, knees butting against the bed. He sat, holding his brow in his hands.
He had remained stoic and strong for his wife. This whole night, he hadn’t shed a tear, spending more time absorbing Beth’s into his shoulder, neck, and against his chest. He had no time for tears, then.
After he left her to sleep, he just… Maintained that stoic attitude. Went and got McDonald’s like it was a usual wee-hours-of-the-morning routine. Ate and drove back home, just… Not thinking about anything but packing some clothes for he and his wife to stay at her sister’s for a few days.
It was only when he was inside that he impulsively made a plan to detour to this place.
His son’s place.
There was no shoulder to catch his tears. No bosom. Just the frost-dampened gloves he had borrowed, too small for his hands to really fit in.
He heard a sound, like a small tap.
When he looked up, he was dazed. He couldn’t tell what time it was, and it felt like he had been there for hours. But, surely, if it was any more than ten minutes, tops, the officer would have pestered him. Unless that was the officer.
He stood, and quietly stepped to the door. Peeking out, he saw the officer standing at the head of the stairs, but facing away. He ducked back in.
Wiping the shreds of tears from his eyes and cheeks, he looked about the room. Then, he heard it again. A soft click sound. His eye went to the desk.
He stared, blankly, even as he watched a pencil on the desk lift into the air.
Its tip alighted on a piece of paper that was already there. It paused a moment, as if thinking of what to write. Then, it began to move again. The graphite scratched and tapped upon the paper as the letters were written. Then, the pen toppled over, rolling just a few inches, before abruptly stopping—as if caught by a finger.
His sleep-addled brain didn’t really question the phenomenon. Instead, it question what had been written. He approached the desk, and flicked on the light above.
At the bottom of the paper, in a blank space where the pencil had been writing, was one simple word:
Robert blinked, resting his hand upon the paper, as if to test its reality. The letters were covered by his fingers, and the paper moved. He touched the pencil, and it rolled a few more inches.
He turned, looking back into the room.
Once again, he stared blankly.
A little mouse-girl was standing there. She was hazy, like a mote of fog scuttling about. But, he could see the outline of her legs, her arms, her tail, her ears… Most vividly, he saw her sapphire eyes.
They were sad.
”Hello, there,” he said, his muzzle cracking into a smile.
She balked, her eyes pulsing with both surprise, and terror.
Before he could even move, she, as best as he might describe, dove into the floor, and disappeared.
His smile wilted to a frown. Blinking, he looked back at the paper. He once again saw the word that he now pieced together that little girl had written. But, there were other things written on the paper, too:
Help Suzy finish her diary
Invite Ms. MacAllister to dinner
Convince Damian to help record confession
Get Ms. MacAllister to confess to murdering Suzy at dinner
Get Suzy’s diary to the news station to get public to see the monster
Put Ms. MacAllister in jail
The first three items were crossed off. The remaining were untouched; however, there was one last item, but this one was written in a different handwriting that Robert had never seen before, and it was circled, underlined, and the letters overwritten several times to make it bold:
He surveyed the desk. There wasn’t much else on it. He slid open the top drawer. There, and as the only thing in it, was a red-backed book with no distinguishing features. He lifted the book out of the drawer and set it on the desk. He turned the cover and opened it up to one of the first few pages.
Even without the reference on the sheet of loose-leaf notebook paper just beside it, he could see that this book was written by the same hand that had written that last line on the list of objectives.
Robert glanced back to the middle of the room.
He was… Hoping… To see her again.
But, she wasn’t there.
He looked back to the diary.
He licked his lips.
Closing the diary, he looked about the room again. He saw his son’s backpack propped against the bed. He took it. Inside were several books he’d buried his nose in—perfect.
He folded up the piece of paper, and slipped it into his pocket. Then, he went to his son’s dresser, and picked out an outfit—he took the time to carefully consider what Milo’s favorite outfit was.
With purpose, he slipped the diary into the backpack, and added the clothes on top. He zipped it all up, slung it over his shoulder, and turned off the desk light.
He took a step toward the door, then looked back into the room.
”If… If you can hear me,” he said, softly; “I’ll be back, soon.”
With that, he flicked off the light, and left the door ajar.
”Got everything you need, now, sir?”
”Yes… Sorry I took... So long.”
The officer smiled, tilting his head in understanding. “You take as long as you need,” he insisted. “Besides, I’m not one to pass up an excuse for a bit of overtime,” he chuckled.
Mr. Lennox gave a weak smile.
”Ah… Sorry,” the officer apologized, lifting his cap and scratching his head. “Anyway… Do you have everythin’ you need, or is there anything else you’d like to do?”
”No, officer, I’m ready to head out, I think.”
”After you, sir,” he stepped aside and motioned.
The fox took the lead. The stairs were rather easy to walk down; possibly too easy. Starting out, he nearly stumbled, but the officer caught him.
”Whoa, there… Already had one down these steps… Don’t need another.”
Mr. Lennox agreed, and held onto the handrail tightly the rest of the way down. At the bottom, he snagged his luggage, and headed toward the door.
”Hold on there, Mr. Lennox,” the overseeing officer that had led him in interjected, seeing the fox walking with purpose to the door.
Mr. Lennox paused. “What’s the matter?”
”Nothing. Just have to check what you’re taking.” He waved. “This is CSI Paula,” he said, motioning to the rat. “She’ll need to check what you’re taking.”
Mr. Lennox had a startled, and tense, look on his face.
”Not that we’re suspicious of anything,” the officer explained, hoping to diffuse the tension the fox was clearly winding up in. “We just have to give it a once-over and make sure nothing stands out as potential evidence. If we find any, you’re not necessarily going to be arrested, we’ll just have to keep it with us. Is that okay?”
Mr. Lennox nodded. “I have nothing to hide.”
”I’ll be quick as I can be,” the CSI promised.
”Lemme know if you need anything, Joel’ll keep watch.”
”Sure,” the rat nodded, already engrossed in her task. She had the luggage case open and was rifling through it, using her latex-gloved hands to separate each article of clothing. She checked all the nooks and crannies, but did so in such a way that it did not disturb the contents or force him to have to repack it all.
Then, she went to the toiletries bag. Unzipping it, she peeked inside. “Um… I’m sorry,” she said, plucking the toothbrushes out. “We’ll need these. There’s a few twenty-four-hour drugstores just down the road, you’ll have to pick up some tooth-brushes from there.”
”Okay,” he acquiesced with a nod.
She smiled, appreciating how agreeable he was. He looked sleepy, so he probably wanted to just be out of there.
She went to the bag of shoes. She had a bit of trouble untying his knot, but eventually managed. “Okay, and unfortunately, I have to take these, also,” she said, selecting the pair of high-heels he had picked.
”Oh… That’s fine, I dunno, I just grabbed ‘em. I dunno what she might want, y’know?”
The woman giggled. “Of course! I appreciate that; all the other shoes should be fine. May I see the backpack?”
”Uh… This is… My son’s...” He muttered.
”I know… But, I have to. I promise I’ll be as careful as I can be.”
With a heavy breath, he slipped the backpack off of his shoulder, and gently set it down.
To her credit, she was much more ginger with his son’s backpack than with the other things. She opened it slowly and coaxed the pockets apart rather than prying.
”His favorite outfit,” Mr. Lennox explained, when she lifted out the clothes. “I just… Wanted to have one. For my wife.”
”I’m certainly not taking that,” she reassured. She peeked in, using a pen-light to see inside. “Your son likes to read?” She asked.
”Oh… Yeah. I think some of that is school stuff, too.”
She pulled out a loose-leaf notebook paper.
For a second, his heart froze.
”He got an A on his spelling test,” she informed him, holding up the piece of paper.
”Oh… That’s good. He has trouble spelling.”
She smiled, refraining from correcting his tense.
Then, she started doing something that he absolutely feared: she began pulling the books out, and opening them up.
She was diligent. She lifted them out, opened them, used her finger to quickly turn the pages, and then set it aside.
Each book she plucked sent his pulse racing anew. But each one wasn’t the little red one. Until—No, it was red, but a different shade and size.
Then, she lifted the little red book.
He swallowed, and the spit didn’t quite go down right. It tickled his throat, and he coughed while she quickly flipped through it.
But then, to his utter relief, despite his coughing fit, she set it aside with the others.
”Are you okay?” She asked, pulling out another book.
”Y-Yeah,” he hit his chest. “Just… A tickle.”
”Don’t forget to pick up some cough-drops when you get your tooth-brushes,” she advised.
”Good idea,” he agreed.
”Well,” she set the last book down, peeked in the pocket, and then did another quick glance in the other pockets. “I think… You… Are… Good… To… … Go!” She smiled. “Do you want me to repack the books, or…?”
”Uhm… May I?” He requested.
”Absolutely. I’ll just take these things with me. I’m sorry for your loss...” She whispered.
”Huh?” he asked, already squatted and with a book in hand. “Uh… Oh… Thank you.” He nodded.
He gingerly put the books back in the backpack. He put the little red one in, and then touched it the whole time, as if to keep it from floating away, while he fit the rest of the books in. He placed the clothes back on top, as if that might protect the book from suddenly being spotted by some forensic x-ray device at the last moment.
He slung it over his shoulder, re-situated the shoe- and toiletries-bags on top of the main luggage carrier, and tilted it to roll it.
”Excuse me, one moment,” the overseeing officer stayed him once again.
He braced, sure that the officer was going to ask him to drop the backpack and go right for the diary.
”Relax, Mr. Lennox, everything’s fine. I was just gonna say...” He grabbed the other handle on the top of the rolling luggage. “Why don’t you let me take this for you? This is heavy and it’s cold as heck out there.”
Light had just broken, and already the morning was picking up.
The phone rang for the umpteenth time.
”Soothing Oaks Hospital, my name is Marley, what can I help you with? … … I’m sorry, this line isn’t for those kinds of inquiries, please refrain from calling unless you have an emergency, you are a family member and need information, or other things like that. Thank you. No—thank you, have a nice day.” She pressed the end-call button angrily. “Ugh.”
”Nother one?” Asked her coworker, whom she was currently relieving.
”Yes, that’s four in a row, now. This is a hospital, not a press-conference. I hate when this kinda shit happens.”
Her coworker shrugged. “Well. Good luck.”
She rolled her eyes, “yeah, thanks,” she said, but still gave a smile; not like it was anyone’s fault she was about to get an onslaught of reporters calling in asking about what happened last night.
Hell, she had pretty much the same questions as they did.
The only info she managed to glean was that some kid and maybe his mother had been brought in, and that it was a bit of a show for a couple hours.
She glanced out into the reception area. There were maybe half a dozen furs sitting in the chairs. One furson was asleep, and he had been since she got there. The woman currently engrossed in the TV had basically just arrived with her dad, who was fairly old.
But, someone else caught her eye. The figure was very austere. It wore a black, hooded coat that was almost like a trench-coat, but more feminine. Like plant-pots, a pair of black boots peeked out from the bell-shaped hem. The hood was drawn up, completely obscuring the face.
All it needed was the emphatic, slow breathing and she could tell her son she saw Darth Vader at the hospital, today.
The figure was occupied by one of those fancy, new hand-held computers that worked like a clipboard. It was using a stylus to write down information, then slipped the stylus into a holster on the side, and turned, approaching the counter.
Even as it approached, there were no pronounced respiratory noises.
Normally the hood would have obscured the woman’s face, but since Marley was seated, and lower, than the woman, she could see up from beneath.
She was an ermine, with a coat that was whiter and softer-looking than virgin snow. She had an almost doll-like face, with petite, round, pink-touched cheeks and a pink button-nose. Her eyes, though, were chilling on first glance: they were red, almost demonic-looking. And yet she had such an innocent, if neutral, expression.
”Good morning,” Marley said, tentatively. “How can I help you?”
The woman’s coat rustled as she pulled aside one of the flaps. She plunked something from within, a black square, and unfolded it. She held it down and it flipped over, revealing to be a wallet with an ID Card and badge inside.
”Special Agent LeBlanc, FBI.”
Her voice was soft, almost raspy. She sounded like a timid little girl, and yet she spoke with such precision and clarity that she was easily understood, as if speaking right into the ear.
”I understand that this hospital received two patients last night: a boy and a woman.”
Marley was still fixated on the badge that she saw. She had only been here for six months, and she’d seen plenty of IDs, even police IDs, but… FBI?
”Am I correct, or mistaken?” The woman asked.
”Uhm… I… Uh… I think I need to get my supervisor, one moment,” she said, nervously, standing up.
”Please, of course,” the ermine said politely.
”Conner? Where are you? Conner!?” Marley shut the reception window pane and rushed back to her supervisor’s office. “Conner?”
He looked up from his computer. “Hey, what’s up?”
”There’s… A woman, she’s… Here about… The boy and woman… From uh…”
”Don’t let the press bother you,” he told her. “You can be stern with them if you have to.”
”Uh… This is… Not the press.”
He looked up, curious. “Family?” He asked.
He stood up, stretching. “Mmmmmmyyyyyyaaaaahhh—Okay, I’ll come out.” He followed his subordinate to the reception desk, and took initiative to slide open the glass. “Good—” He faltered, having to very quickly take in the black presence before him. It was like a black hole sucking in the light around it. “Good morning,” he started again, “I understand you’re here about maybe something that happened last night?”
”Correct,” came the soft, patient, but deliberate voice. “I am Special Agent LeBlanc, FBI.” She once again displayed her badge.
”May I…?” He asked, extending his hand.
”Of course,” she said, relinquishing the wallet.
He looked it over, very carefully.
It… Was… Legitimate.
Holy shit what was going on here?
He cleared his throat. “Thank you, Special Agent LeBlanc,” he returned the credentials.
They disappeared into her coat.
”What exactly do you need from us?” He asked.
”This is the hospital that admitted two patients last night: a boy, and a woman. Is this correct?”
”Y—Yes, ma’am.” The supervisor confirmed.
”Are the doctors that treated these patients still on the premises, or have they gone home?”
”Uh…” He leaned down to Marley. “Can you check the—”
”Yeah yeah,” she quickly started typing, her one-twenty word-per-minute being put to the test. She felt like a hacker in one of those movies or shows. She pointed at the screen. “It was...” She pointed at the screen.
”Yeah, she’s here, I’ll contact her, it’s just the one, right?—Yeah, okay,” he hastily power-walked through a door behind the receptionist.
”It was just one doctor that saw them both,” the receptionist explained. “My supervisor is going to get in touch with her right now.”
The woman looked at the business cards on the counter, taking one. “Does the doctor have a business card?” She asked.
”Um… One sec,” the receptionist wheeled back to a small table. She then wheeled back to the desk, setting the card down across the window.
The woman, with a hand hidden in a black glove, straightened the card. “Is her name pronounced owl?”
”Uh… I think it’s like wool. I know, it’s a bit weird spelled, it took me a bit to get used to it,” she chuckled, nervously.
”Thank you.” She took the cards and they disappeared into her coat.
Marley blinked, as the woman remained at the desk, looking back beyond her and observing the room behind the glass. “Um… If you wanna take a seat, my supervisor is contacting the doctor. She should be here in a few minutes. It’s almost the end of her shift, so I don’t think she’s in any surgeries or anything.”
”I prefer to stand,” the woman remarked, but all the same stepped aside from the counter, evidently getting the hint that the she was not welcomed to wait and block the area.
Stepping aside, however, did not make the woman any less absolutely fucking creepy!
She just stood and stared, like a ghost. Or like a robot, scanning everything, like the freaking Terminator.
Marley could even tell that the visitors in the waiting room were taking notice and getting uncomfortable. The one that had been asleep had woken up and was now uncomfortably and occasionally shifting his eyes to the woman in black. The one engrossed in the TV had now become engrossed in the black figure.
A teenager of barely-driving age approached. “Uh… Hey, I’m here to see my mom?” He asked.
Marley was relieved to have something to do instead of watch the Terminator scan the room. “Do you have your driver’s license?”
”Uh… Um...” He patted himself. “Shit, I left it in the car, can you tell me what room she’s in, though? Her name is—”
”I’ll need to see a driver’s license before I can give you any information,” the receptionist said.
”Ugh. Fine. I’ll be right back,” the teenager huffed, stomping off with his arms and shoulders up like a football player.
Marley was a little bummed the dimwit forgot his license, because now she was left with the shadow of death over there sucking life out of the room, again.
The woman engrossed in the shadow got up, and hurriedly walked away.
Yeah, I would, too, lady.
To her relief, the doctor approached.
She was one of the nicest doctors in the hospital. A white tigress, over six feet tall, which, compared to the black figure, was over a foot in difference of height. The doctor’s white hair was usually tied up in a pony-tail, and her emerald-green eyes were always cheerful and warming.
If this FBI Agent was Darth Vader, then the doctor was Luke Skywalker. Minus the father-son thing.
The shadow extended her hand. “Special Agent LeBlanc, FBI.” She greeted.
”Dr. Oulryk,” the tigress greeted, shaking the gloved hand.
”Is there a more private room where we can talk?”
The doctor smiled, “sure. You can come with me to the break-room, follow me.” She started to walk, but then paused.
The black figure paused as well.
”Um…” The doctor looked. “Let’s go this way,” she pointed, and turned back around. “We’ll take the scenic route,” she suggested, leading the FBI Agent back through the visitor’s are and behind the door they call patients into.
LeBlanc followed, noticing that the route was scenic only in that it was through the network of hallways in the hospital. On occasion, the doctor would pause, look about, and suggest going a different direction than the one they were headed. She quickly picked up on a pattern.
Finally, they arrived at a door.
”This is one of the break-rooms. It’s not often used, so, it should be pretty lull inside.” She opened the door.
Bright light from outside spilled in.
”Oh, wait out here just a moment.” She suggested, leaving the door just ajar.
From what little vantage she had to see into the room, she saw the doctor close all of the blinds, and turn off the main lights.
”Okay, you can come in, now.”
The Agent pushed the door open, drifted through, and shut it behind her.
The room was very dark, save for a few lights that helped to brighten counters. It was a small room, with a few cabinets, a fridge, a microwave, and a toaster.
”May I ask why you closed the blinds and made it dark?” The Agent spoke.
The doctor smiled, smoothing her smock, which was unkempt with a few stains on it. “You have a severe albinism,” she stated.
”You must be a good doctor if you were able to pick that up right away. I noticed you avoided paths with windows.”
The doctor chuckled. “Well… I’d say I’m a decent doctor. But, given your eyes and the rosacea, and the dark clothing to cover up from the sun, I’d expect even an orderly to identify albinism.”
There was a moment of silence between the two of them.
”Uhm, anyway,” the doctor broke, “why exactly did you ask for me?”
”You were the doctor that treated Milo Lennox and Cheryl MacAllister last night. Is that correct?”
She took in a calming breath. “That’s… Correct,” she nodded. “news travels fast.”
”News is disruptive.” The Agent said, with a hint of scorn.
”Is… It okay if I… Eat, while we’re here? I haven’t had anything since three.”
”Absolutely.” The woman nodded.
”Do you want anything? I can see what meals are in the fridge, or—?”
The woman held up her hand.
”Okay. Well, if you don’t mind I’m gonna have...” The doctor opened the cabinet, and pulled out a cup of Insta-Mac. She tore off the lid, and used a pitcher from the fridge to fill the cup. She set it in the microwave and punched the numbers, then it hummed as it cooked her meal.
She then went to the nearby table. “I’m sorry, I didn’t offer you a seat, you can sit down anywhere.” She told the Agent.
”I prefer to stand,” the shadow remarked. “But, if it will make you more comfortable, I’ll sit,” she added, and pulled out a chair. She sat, and set her tablet on the table. She used part of its case as a prop to hold it up on the table. Pulling out the stylus, she began to write on the screen.
The microwave beeped its conclusion. The doctor took the cup, fished in the drawer for a plastic spoon, and joined the Agent at the table.
She dipped the spoon in and blew on the noodles, shifting her eyes to look at the Agent. She could only see the agent’s muzzle from the hood, and watched as the light from the tablet reflected off her coat. She took a bite, winced because it was still too hot. She huffed to cool the bite off in her mouth, fanning it with her hand, and then swallowed.
Suddenly, the Agent’s hands went to the hood, and she pulled it off. Her ears, stained with pink, twitched and flicked as if startled they were now uncovered. With her head now exposed, she looked even more doll-like than before. Compared to the size of her coat and boots, it was like her body was from a G.I. Joe Action Figure.
”You don’t have to be nervous,” the Agent said, in an almost bored, let alone insincere, tone. Like she was reading from a script: if furson looks nervous then say do not be nervous. “I’m going to start recording, when I prompt you, please state your name.”
The tigress’s ears flattened. She nodded.
The ermine’s finger touched part of the tablet’s case. “Special Agent LeBlanc now recording. December twenty-second, oh-seven fifty-two. Case Number HOM:57730482193. Interview five. Location: Soothing Oaks Hospital. Interviewee is Doctor...”
There was a slight pause, then the doctor realized this was the prompt. “Oh—Doctor Emeral Oulryk, M.D.; Doctor.”
”Doctor Oulryk: you are aware that this interview is being recorded, correct?”
The Agent spoke, looking at her computer, not making eye-contact with her at all. “Yes,” she confirmed.
”You are being made aware that this interview is related to a case under investigation by the FBI. Are you aware?”
”I’m… I’m aware, now, for sure, yeah,” she said, with a half-chuckle.
”You are being made aware that you are not currently under investigation, and that this is just an interview to gather information. You are not compelled to answer any questions. That, should you answer any questions, you may answer as succinctly as you like. However, any information you provide can and will be used, as necessary, for or against, suspects or defendants, during the investigation or during any court proceedings that may occur, even if you fall into any of those categories.
”Are you aware?”
Suddenly, the tigress wasn’t all that hungry.
”I’m… I’m aware.”
The woman finally regarded her. “Have you participated in an investigatory interview, before?” The doctor’s eyes flitted up and to the left for a moment.
”I mean, there’s usually one… Maybe every four-to-six months? So, yeah, but… Never with… The FBI, before,” she chuckled.
”I assure you, this is no different from the others you’ve experienced,” she said.
To the doctor, there was just the barest glimmer of sympathy in her voice.
”Now, for the record, please confirm: You were the doctor that treated Milo Lennox.”
”You were also the doctor that treated Cheryl MacAllister.”
”Yes, I treated them both.”
As the tigress spoke, the ermine tapped upon the screen with the stylus. “When did your shift start?” She questioned.
”At eight, last night.”
”When does it end?”
”Technically… In five minutes,” she admitted, blowing on another spoonful of mac.
”I apologize for keeping you,” said the Agent, her voice barely contaminated with sincerity.
”I’m used to it,” the doctor replied, eating the small morsel.
”Which patient did you see first?”
”Milo arrived first.” She stated.
”Would you describe for me what transpired?”
The tigress closed her eyes.
The crash-cart burst from the ambulance, yellow and red lights fighting against the glare of white spilling from the hospital’s maw.
”Summary!” The doctor barked, jogging alongside as they raced into the building.
”Male, nine-to-eleven years old, vulpine; no pulse, no beat, no breathing,” the paramedic on the other side of the cart relayed.
”He was burned?” The doctor observed, lifting up the pulsox.
”Only on the face, from what we can tell.”
The doctor threaded the stethoscope bell and slipped the ear-pieces in. She started unbuttoning the shirt, when she felt a lump underneath. Her fingers nudged under, fishing out;
”What… Is that?” The paramedic asked.
”Looks like a mic,” the doctor remarked. She continued pulling open buttons enough to get to the boy’s chest, and set the stethoscope on it.
For a few moments, the room was silent.
”No heart activity,” she stated, and touched his face.
”No activity since before we took him,” the paramedic added.
She coaxed his left eye open, and used a pen-light to peer into it. The pupil was nowhere to be seen.
She straightened up, taking a heavy breath.
”Time of death… Nine-twelve PM. Take the mic off of him, but keep it nearby. Get some X-Rays, and call the morgue.”
”I can speak with the receptionist to get the information on the morgue, correct?”
The tigress’s eyes flicked open, and she removed her fingers from pressing on the middle of her forehead. “Yeah, that should all be documented. We sent the mic and all of that, too.”
”Very good. Did you happen to review the extent of the trauma?”
”Compound cervical fracture, along with egg-shell fracturing on the occipital region.”
”You mentioned burns?”
”Along the right cheek. Looked like maybe scalding, little tiny blisters along the skin.”
”Thank you. Now, tell me about Cheryl.”
She took a few seconds to swallow another spoonful of mac.
”We had another one,” the paramedic said, with renewed urgency. “Woman, maybe mid-thirties, murine; unconscious, but has vital signs.”
The doctor dashed off out of the room, making her way to the next medical bay. She spotted the paramedics inside; the EKG showed a pulse. “Condition?”
”Stable,” one of the paramedics said, standing back to give the doctor room to approach.
”Cause of unconsciousness?” She asked.
”We… Don’t know.” The paramedic across from her admitted.
”No ligature marks...” She muttered, and lifted the woman’s hands, pulling down the sleeves of her blouse. “No defensive wounds.”
”We didn’t see any obvious sign of injury.”
”Get me a CT Scan.”
The doctor scratched below her left eye.
”So, what did you find from the CT Scan?”
She set the spoon down. She had lost the last dregs of her appetite. “Brain swelling.”
The stream of water splattered every which way as she scrubbed up to her elbows. It snubbed as soon as she was away from the infrared sensor, and she fanned them while waving in front of the towel dispenser, then patted them dry.
”I have her prepped,” the resident informed as the doctor entered the room. The woman lay on the gurney on her back, sterile drapes around her head. The Kocher’s Point was exposed in her bed of hair, shaved and ready. The ventric apparatus was already wrapped.
The doctor got to work right away, grabbing the scalpel and dipping it into the skin. She took the elevator and pressed along the sides, widening the incision. A small amount of blood dribbled out, but the wound would quickly cease its weeping.
She slipped a dilator into the incision, and let it expand slowly. The arms spread out, easing the skin apart, and exposed the cranium.
While she did so, the resident prepared the air drill, and so she was ready to drill the burr hole. “How’s she doing?” She asked the anesthesiologist.
”Good, signs are normal, as they can be.”
The whir of the drill hit their ears, and the sound of the bone gently grinding down followed, with a slight undulation while the drill was moved gently around.
”Help with the camera?” The resident asked a nearby nurse. They worked together to fit the camera into the sterilization bag.
The drilling stopped, and the doctor used forceps to pull the bits of bone away.
The doctor then made another incision into the cranium, using the forceps to help coagulate the fluids. She retrieved the cannula, and inserted it into the hole. She held up a test tube, catching the cerebrospinal fluid that began to drip out of the cannula.
The nurse took the CSF sample and the needle, once the doctor removed it, while the resident moved the pneumatic arm in place for the doctor.
The doctor checked the camera on the endoscope, and then began negotiating it into the puncture-channel projected by the cannula. The sheath slid in slowly, carefully, her hands steady.
Once it settled in, she sighed to relieve the tension, and released the lock to remove the obdurator, and then inserted the ventricular scope.
”Long story short… She’s stable, but still unconscious. She showed signs of whiplash, like she’d been in a car accident, but other than that, I didn’t see any other exterior trauma.”
The ermine’s stylus wrote furiously on the tablet. “She’s still in the hospital?” She asked.
The Agent sat upright, setting the stylus down. She reached into her coat with a rustle, pulling out a black phone. She flipped it open, and pressed a few buttons, then held it to her ear.
After a moment, the tigress heard a gruff-sounding voice answer.
”Good morning, Sergeant Kinsling. This is Special Agent LeBlanc—”
”Yeah, yeah. Whaddaya want?” The doctor could hear the agitated voice reply.
”I’ll need you to schedule a twenty-four hour watch of a patient at Soothing Oaks Hospital.”
”You want me to hire a babysitter?” He growled.
”I need you to watch Cheryl MacAllister. She is a furson of interest in my case—”
”You mean my case—”
”I will email you the information. Thank you for your cooperation.”
With that, she hung up, even amidst the agitated voice’s talking.
”I apologize for holding you twenty minutes over shift,” she said to the tigress, fitting the stylus back into its holster and flipping the computer closed. She then reached back into her coat, and pulled out a card. “Is there a more direct line I can reach you at, in the event I have further questions?”
The tigress took in a deep breath. While she didn’t like the idea of an FBI Agent having her phone number… “Sure,” she pulled a pen from her pocket, and wrote the number down on the card. “I’m working night shifts, lately, so I crash for a good chunk of the day. My husband will answer, but I’ll let him know he can wake me up without me biting his head off,” she reassured, giving a nervous chuckle.
”Thank you. Your information has been very helpful.”
”You’re welcome,” she said with a smile, standing up and extending her hand. “I’ll walk you out,” she offered.
”No need,” the Agent replied, holding her own hand up in a dismissive gesture. “I remember the way you took me. I’ll see myself out. Have a safe journey home. The next few days will be fierce.”
The bitter cold was definitely something to get used to.
It numbed all the senses. And the oppressive wind and snow that had picked up the day before made it so that even when outside—for brief periods of time—felt claustrophobic and oppressing.
The bored eyes of a blue poodle glanced up at the door as a figure walked in, dressed to the below-nines in layers of warm clothing, a snow hat, and a scarf. From what little she could see of his face, he was obviously vulpine, just from the red fur and tic-marks peeking out from behind the holly-green wool covering his muzzle.
”Good afternoon. Do you have any business here?” She asked, incredulously; this wasn’t the first time the homeless had come wandering in. The brown-paper thing clutched in his gloved hands only added to that judgment.
”This is the Hometown Observer?” He asked, his voice muffled by the scarf.
”Yes, sir. Do you have any business, here?” She asked again, a bit more sternly.
”I’m here to see uh...” He looked down at the small rectangle he had. “Keith Hoberman.”
”I’m sorry,” the receptionist said with a disappointed tone. “He’s already out for the holidays. You’ll have to come back next week.”
”Um… I just had to drop this off,” he said, holding out the brown-paper rectangle. “Could you make sure he gets it for me, when he comes back?”
She took and hefted the object. It was a little flimsy, but definitely a book. There was a sticky note with Keith’s name on it. Pretty harmless request, Keith had mentioned something about wanting to get some resources for his article on interesting history of the town he had just moved into. This must have been something for that project.
”I’ll put it in his mailbox, he’s good about checking it so he’ll get it first thing when gets back, I’m sure.”
”Thank you, ma’am. Have a Merry Christmas.”
”You, too!” She said, cheerfully, though she was a little sad this break in silent boredom was about to be over. She did as she promised while the man left, and went to slip the book into Keith’s cubby-hole mailbox.
The cold made his head light when it blasted against his face. It made him pause at the door. A fierce wind blew, and the door whipped back into place—blocked by his hand. Puffs of steam drifted up from his scarf as he barked expletives, wringing and coddling his hand. The cold and numbness made it hurt all the worse, and it would hurt again when he thawed.
His cellphone rang.
He fumbled about with his left hand. He pulled it from the coat pocket and looked at the screen—he didn’t recognize the number. He flipped it open with his thumb, nearly dropping it. “Hello?” He answered.
”Mr. Lennox, this is Sergeant Kinsling. Is this a good time?”
”Uhm… Y-Yeah,” he replied.
”You sure? ...Are you outside?”
”I… One moment.” Robert hastily shuffled to his car, nearly slipping on ice at one point, but managing to catch himself with the hood. He opened the door and clambered in.
It was still warm from when he had left just a moment ago.
”Sorry, I was just about to head into the store,” he explained, having thought it up on the way to the car. “My sister-in-law wasn’t really prepared for visitors...”
”Yes… Um… Sorry about that, but actually,” the phone crackled. “...y I w...”
”I’m sorry? You’re breaking up.”
”—Wanted t… See if w… ...ck in your home,” the Sergeant’s voice suddenly came through clear as a bell. “Hello?”
”Hello, I heard you… You think… We can go back home?” Mr. Lennox asked to confirm what he’d heard.
”Yes, almost. We’ll need you to come down to the station, first, to go over a few things. But, my goal has been to make it so you can get back home before Christmas, and this is just the last step. So if you have time today, I know it’s short-notice, but please come down.”
”I’ll pick up the Misses and we’ll be there right away.”
* * *
As cold as it was outside, it felt colder in the station. Part of it was that they were wearing fewer layers since they would be indoors, and they had passed through the winter wonderland for just a few moments. But, it was also just the nature of the place.
”I’d rather be at the DMV or the Social Security office,” his wife muttered under her breath.
”We won’t be here, long.” He reassured her, resting his bare hand on hers, gloved. “And then… We’ll be home, sweet home.”
”...Just home.” She replied, a bit tersely.
He blinked, gave her hand a squeeze, and solemnly let it go. He caught the color of the Sergeant’s fur amidst the gray and several panes of glass between the waiting area and the back. He stood, and so did his wife.
”Good afternoon, Mr. Lennox,” the boxer greeted, even as he was still a few feet away. He extended his hand, shaking the fox’s once he was within reach. “Mrs. Lennox,” he said, taking her hand and holding it with a slight incline of his muzzle. “Why don’t you come with me to my office, and we’ll see if we can get you home for dinner, huh?” He said with an awkwardly cheerful smile despite his gruff demeanor.
”Lead the way,” motioned Mr. Lennox.
They passed through the halls of the station. Beth caught glimpses of fursons being detained—she tried to find someone in particular, but none of the faces stood out. They weren’t even feline.
They passed a hallway of officers’ badges and pictures, ones that had passed in the line of duty. There was another wall that displayed awards and certificates of merit.
The Sergeants office was in this hall. A wooden door with a frosted-glass window, that had Sgt. Kinsling printed on it. The door didn’t so much as whisper when it opened, even the knob lacked a sound when it was twisted.
”Have a seat,” he motioned, to the nice, wooden chairs.
Mr. Lennox situated his wife first, then took the seat to her right.
The Sergeant sat behind his desk, folding his arms onto the polished surface, reflecting him upside-down, albeit in a muted brown. He let silence pervade for just a moment, before taking a deep breath through his nostrils.
”If I haven’t said, already,” he began, unclasping his hands and relaxing just a little; “I’m very sorry for your loss.”
”Thank you.” Mrs. Lennox murmured in reply.
”Rest assured, I will do everything in my power to make sure that Milo gets justice, and you get closure,” he promised. “That’s the least that I can do.”
”Right now...” Mr. Lennox began, but trailed.
Kinsling held up a hand to halt, knowingly. “Part of me bringing you closure is getting you back home. I’m sorry we sort of took over the place the last couple of days, but… We had to process the crime scene.”
”We understand.” Said the fox.
”Unfortunately,” the Sergeant continued, twisting to open a filing cabinet and rifle through as he spoke. “Part of your home is still considered an active crime scene.” He pulled out some papers, and set them on his desk. “The dining room, and immediately hallways, will be blocked off with crime-scene tape, like this,” he said, pointing to a sample that was on the desk nearby him.
”So, we stay out of those areas, but everywhere else is allowed?” Mr. Lennox asked.
The Sergeant gave a nod, “You’ve got it. But, it’s a little more than that,” he pushed the papers forward for them to see. “Due to the nature of this case, it’s protocol for us to set up surveillance. There are two cameras, this one,” he pointed to a picture that they recognized as looking down the hall, where the front door was, “is monitoring the hallway. And this one, is in the dining room itself, monitoring the entrances from the living room and the kitchen.”
Mr. Lennox pulled the paper closer, and studied the images, especially the one pointed into the dining room.
”These just record images, and only if they detect motion. We are not allowed to record sound, and we aren’t allowed to point them too much into other rooms, but obviously we can’t help peeking a little bit into the kitchen and living room. But, it’s mostly down, toward the ground.”
”You don’t have to worry about us snooping,” Mr. Lennox remarked. “Neither of us want to set foot in that room, anyway.”
”I understand, Mr. Lennox. It’s just protocol, and I have to inform you. Also, I need to point out a few more things,” he pushed another paper forward. “This is a damage assessment. We noted down all the damage we identified before processing the scene. Some big things to note are the three windows—which we’ve covered up—as well as shattered lighting, and then,” he went to the picture, and used a pen to tap on the image. “There’s this curious cracking that happened in the wood. That was all damage we identified. My CSIs are very careful, but of course if you notice any damages that aren’t on this assessment, there are instructions here to file them. This includes damages outside the crime-scene you feel were caused by processing, for example we did nick the front door a little trying to get the table out.”
”I’m sure you have everything accounted for,” Mr. Lennox said. “Are we allowed to get the windows fixed?”
”Um… Let’s hold off on that,” the Sergeant considered. “I’ll make an appointment to have an officer come and tape them to clear up confusion, but we’d like to preserve the crime scene as much as possible, which includes the windows. They’re covered, though, so they won’t be leaking any heat.”
”What about insurance?” He questioned.
”Since this is a crime scene, there’s an exception on that. You’ll be able to file your claim once the crime-scene status has been cleared.” He then slid a small stack of papers toward them. “These are papers for you to sign,” he instructed. “The first one acknowledges that we went over the crime-scene surveillance, monitoring, and instructions, and that you agree that you will not tamper with it, nor will you allow visitors to tamper with it, or else be held liable for any tampering that may occur.”
Nodding, Mr. Lennox signed the sheet, passing it to his wife.
”The second is acknowledging that we’ve given you the paperwork for damages and instructions. You’re welcome to read, or call anytime, if you have any questions.”
Mrs. Lennox numbly squiggled her signature on the line next to her husband’s.
”And this last one is a disclaimer that we have added an electric lock to your door, to monitor ingress and egress. We have given you a code, written on the paper. We have a separate code, and we will give at least fifteen minutes’ notice before entering the home using the code, to be delivered on contact numbers that you provide. We will enter regardless if you receive the notice or not.”
It was a little overwhelming, but for the sake of his wife, Mr. Lennox agreed via signature as quickly as he could.
”And with that, you may stay at your home again. We appreciate your understanding these last couple days. I realize this may sound really dangerous, or maybe intimidating, but it’s just to make sure the crime scene isn’t disrupted. That’s the best way we can be sure to bring justice for Milo and closure to you,” he said, repeating the line again.
Somehow… That made it more of a marketing slogan than an actual sentiment.
”Do you have any other questions or concerns before I let you go?” The Sergeant asked, taking the papers and tearing off top copies, separating bottom-copies for them.
”Do you… Have any suspects?” Mrs. Lennox asked.
Kinsling paused. “I’m… Not at liberty to say, ma’am. But I can say, right now, neither of you are under consideration.”
”What about… Damian?”
The Sergeant aligned their copies of the papers, and handed them to the mister. “As I said, I am not at liberty to discuss details of the case. Thank you for your time, if you have any further questions please give us a call.” He proffered his hand for a shake farewell.
Mr. Lennox obliged, but the wife simply brushed past.
”You have a Merry Christmas,” the fox bid.
”Same… Same to you,” the Sergeant said, despite knowing their circumstance.
The world had a pleasant tinge of lilac from the winter twilight sky. Despite the cold, kids were outside having fun: snowballs whizzed all round the car as the two foxes slowly rolled down the street toward their neighborhood.
He was keen to his wife’s demeanor the whole way home. Right now, seeing all these children playing… She had to turn into stone just to hold herself together.
Worse was how slow they had to drive. Because so many kids were playing and it was so icy, it would be mad to go much above a snail’s-pace. But, at last, they passed the gauntlet, just as street-lights began to glow a halogen-orange. He coaxed the car to a light trot, turning onto their street.
When last he saw the house, it was lit aglow. Now, it was like a mountain of coal that sucked in the light. The engine sputtered to a halt, there was a light rustle as Mr. Lennox rested his arm back into his lap, and they both simply held gaze with the empty husk of a home for a moment.
”Well… Are you ready?” He asked.
”I think… I need… To stay in the car… A little longer.”
He nodded. “Why don’t… Why don’t I take the things in… Turn on the heat… Then I’ll come get you. How’s that sound?”
She took in a breath, covered her eyes, and nodded.
He leaned over, giving her a kiss. “Turn the car on if you get cold,” he suggested, and opened the door.
Though he tried not to show it, in case his wife was watching him, his steps were ginger. He hoped that because it was cold, that because he was carrying their heavy luggage bag, and that because he struggled with the key-combination on the door; that she saw his haste as solely wanting to get out of the cold, and not into the house.
He shut the front door behind him, and paused. Looking to the left, he saw the camera, situated in the corner. Wires dangled down like spider’s silk, to an outlet nearby. It was well behind the tape that crisscrossed from wall to wall to block the hallway. There was enough that no one would be able to thread through the gaps to pass the boundary, even if there was no camera monitoring it.
He was also fairly certain that the camera was activated by motion even at this distance, as from the screenshots on the paper he had, it could see the front door in its vantage, which meant they could tell who was coming and going.
It wouldn’t surprise him if that was deliberate.
He left the rolling bag at the door and went into the living room. It was just as freezing inside as outside. It might take days for the house to warm up.
Well… To warm just the bottom floor might take the night.
That’s all that would be needed.
He prepared himself for the cold again, and went back out.
She tried to dry her eyes when she saw her husband emerge. Not just because she was embarrassed, thinking he was getting agitated about all her crying. But, also because she knew now was the time to brave going back in. And she didn’t want her tears freezing on the way.
She took his hand when offered, and followed him in. well, he almost dragged her, his pace was so quick. She didn’t much like it, but she understood since it was cold.
At least inside it wasn’t windy. But it wasn’t much warmer.
”Let me turn some lights on,” he said, moving to the switches. As the living room illuminated, so too did the neon-yellow tape marking the crime scene.
She was… Drawn to it. Despite her emotions, she had to see.
The room beyond was surprisingly empty. Then, she realized she knew it was, since she had seen a picture of it a little over a half-hour ago. There were still some things in the room. But, the table, chairs, and much of the debris, were gone.
There were some numbered cards placed all around, and...
She turned away, when she realized she saw what was the outline of where her son had been laying, head coddled in her lap.
Her husband was right there to hold her. He coaxed her to walk with him, and brought her to one of the lounge chairs. Taking off his jacket, he opened the hearth of the fireplace.
They had set logs already, intent on lighting a fire for Cheryl after dinner, to sit and chat. The police had evidently kept to their word and hadn’t touched much outside of the crime scene. The logs, and even the newspaper, were still there.
He grasped a lighter from on the mantle, and took a newspaper to crumple into a funnel. Lighting the end, he touched it to the kindling papers, and after they lit he tossed it in. he took the bellow, spent a moment encouraging the flames, and then closed the chain-link curtain.
The fire crackled and snapped, as if stretching and popping its bones as it woke from a long, deep slumber.
Beth watched her husband. He stood in the living room, and looked about. The heat of the fire began to pervade, and she relaxed a little, taking off a few layers of vests and shirts.
”Hello?” He suddenly called out.
She sat upright, pausing. After a moment of silence, she asked with alarm: “What are y—?”
”Shh...” He held up a hand.
Her hackles raised.
”I know you’re here. Why don’t you come out?”
”Oh my god!” She started to panic. “Someone is in here!?”
”Honey, shh,” he walked over to her, coaxing her to sit back down. “Just… Trust me on something… Okay?”
The look in her husband’s eyes was gentle, and warming. Despite his calling out agitating her, she trusted him above anything. She sat back down.
He straightened up, and took a step into the room. “You don’t need to hide. It’s okay. I just want to—”
She watched her husband pace a bit, then pause. He looked downward in front of him, and smiled.
”There you are.” He said.
She looked at what her husband was looking at. Only carpet. She then looked back to her husband. “Who?”
He dropped to one knee, and reached out his hand. “Yes. I can see you.” His fingers moved in the open air. “I can… Sort of feel you, too. No, I don’t think I can hear… Maybe a whisper.”
”Honey… Honey you’re scaring me,” Beth spoke nervously.
He turned to her. “It’s okay… I...” He turned back to the empty air. “She can’t see you...” Then, he stood. “I know, do what you did for me,” he said, excitedly, dashing to the coffee-table, on which a newspaper with a half-filled crossword rested, along with a pencil. “Here,” he said, mindfully lifting the pencil and setting it back down. “Say something to her.”
There was a moment’s pause.
”Oh, right, I’ll go over here.” He stood, and went by the fire.
Beth was still gripping the arms of her seat, and her eyes went to the table at the insistence of her husband, whom she was watching at first.
She wasn’t quite sure what she was looking for. But it didn’t take long for her to find it.
There was a soft click as the wood of the pencil nudged along the table, before it was lifted into the air. The tip pressed to the paper, and the graphite scratched across. The pencil clacked again when it was set down, and the paper rustled when it was lifted. It floated through the air, toward her, which made her slink back into her seat, slightly.
But, when it was near enough, she saw what was written:
Hello, Mrs. Lennox
She couldn’t help the impulsive question. Even though the second it barely slipped out of her muzzle, she registered that her son wouldn’t call her Mrs. Lennox.
The paper dropped.
”It’s okay, it’s okay,” Mr. Lennox reassured, rushing to them.
Beth saw him rest his hands in the open air—or… No, the air wasn’t quite so open. It was… Like a puff of steam, or maybe some smoke from the fire that had drifted into the room.
Robert looked to his wife. “It’s… It’s a girl. I think… I think it’s Suzy. Here, give me your hand,” he requested.
She hesitated. But, she trusted him, above all else. She relinquished her hand.
He pulled off the glove, letting her fingers face the bitter cold that the fire hadn’t yet touched. Then, he moved her hand toward that mote of smoke.
”This is her cheek,” he told her.
She felt a warmth, like she had dipped her hand into the stream of the heater-vent, yet one did not cross that spot.
”This is her shoulder,” her husband said, drawing her hand downward. “This is her arm.”
The smoke swirled, pulsed, and she saw a flicker of a shape. She gasped, and tore her hand away from her husband’s light grip. She clasped it to her chest, and stared at the smoke.
It swirled, benignly.
Her husband’s muzzle went from concern to a slight dismay, gently closing and looking down at the girl that he saw.
Beth relaxed, and removed her other glove. She leaned forward in the chair, resting her elbows on her knees, and tentatively drew her hands together around that smoke.
She once again felt the warmth. She found its very threshold, her fingerpad feeling the warmth and her knuckle bearing the chill. The smoke began to gather, as gravity might suck in stardust.
Then, she saw a flicker of blue, like the moon peeking out from between the gaps of rolling clouds. Then, the clouds broke.
Beth saw what were clearly a pair of sapphire-blue eyes, gazing back up at her. They were soft and gentle; she felt not a pang of fright that would startle her, despite them appearing out of thin air.
Slowly, as her fingers traced the warmth, the smoke flickered. It was like fog caught in a light, except that light was of a particular shape. As her fingers identified that shape, the fog held stronger, until it was a thick, bluish-gray cloud.
When she sat back, she could see the full figure of a small mouse girl. She was shorter, but looked about the same age as her son.
”I see you, now,” she announced, simply.
”She can see me!”
”I can hear you!” Milo’s dad burst with excitement.
”You can hear me!?” Suzy asked, even more excitedly.
”I… Can hear you, too,” mentioned Milo’s mom.
The mousegirl took a step back. “You can both… See… And hear me?” She asked, a little more nervously this time.
”Yes, sweetie,” said Dad.
She smiled, but then, her excitement quickly waned. “...I’m… Sorry… About...” She said, looking down.
Dad took in a breath, and reached to brush her cheek. “Sweetie, it’s… It’s all right. I’m sure if we could talk to him, he would say so, too.”
”...Maybe.” The girl agreed.
”Why can’t we?” Beth questioned.
The two looked at her quizzically.
”Why can’t we what?” Robert asked.
”...Talk to Milo?” She asked back.
”Well… Hun…” Her husband took in a deep breath. “Milo’s… Dead...”
Her pupils flitted to the mousette, then back to her husband. “...And?”
”And… Gone.” He added.
Beth’s hand extended out, motioning to the mousegirl, and she looked at her husband.
”...What?” He asked.
Her elbow bent and she repeated extending her hand to the mousegirl.
”Mrs. Lennox? What are you doing?” The girl asked.
She repeated the elbow-bend and the motioning to the mousegirl, her eyes bulging as she turned her hand between the two of them.
”...W—Wait a minute!” Dad turned to the girl. “You’re dead, aren’t you!?” He asked.
”Du—Uh… I mean… Yeah,” the girl replied. “For over a year now, last I—W-Wait, yeah! Of course, I’m dead, and I’m talking to you!”
”So then… Where’s Milo?” Asked Mom.
”I...” Suzy started, but trailed.
”He’s not with you?” Dad questioned.
”Have you seen him?” Mom added.
Suzy slouched, looking at her feet. “I… I haven’t seen him.”
The parents’ excitement faltered a little, but Mom was quick to smile. “Well… I’m at least glad to see you,” she said.
”Wait a minute...” Suzy looked up, and then toward the neon-yellow tape. “I… I think I might know...” She turned back to his parents. “I’m sure Milo is here,” she told them. “Listen… It’s… Hard to explain really fast, but… Milo is like… He’s probably a bunch of like… Thoughts, and memories. Floating around, and probably strongest where… Where he died,” she said, looking once again toward the dining room.
”So what does that mean?” Dad asked.
”When… When I died, I was the same way, that’s how I know. But then, when Milo came, he could see and hear me, after a little bit. We’re not sure exactly why, but we think it was cuz he believed in me being a ghost. So if… If you believe enough in Milo… M-Maybe...”
”Honey, where’re you going?” Dad asked, when Mom hastily got out of her seat.
”You heard the little lady!” She eagerly replied; “Milo’s in there!” She pointed at the taped-off room, and took another step toward it.
”No, stop!” Dad barked, rushing to his wife and wrapping his arms around her.
She struggled against him. “Let me go!”
”Don’t go in there! You’ll contaminate the crime scene!”
”Like I freaking care!” She growled. “Our son is in there, Robert! To hell with that crime scene, I’ll take whatever jail-time if it means I can see Milo again!”
”It’s more than that!” He insisted, twisting them both around so that he was in between her and the crime scene. He let her go, and she took a step back to face him. For a second, she looked like a football player about to charge through him. But, she thought better of it.
”Honey, listen, it’s very important that we not disturb that crime scene. It’s… It would be important to Milo.”
She relaxed, straightened up, and fluffed her hair. “...All right. I won’t disturb the scene. But I’m going to try something.”
Dad blinked with consideration. Above all else, he trusted her. With a nod, he stepped aside.
Suzy watched as Mom stepped up to the neon-yellow tape.
Beth examined it carefully, and held her hand to a gap. She tested it briefly, and found it to be wide enough. She slipped her arm through, and peered into the room through another gap. “Milo?” She called out.
The room, to her eyes, appeared empty.
But, to her heart, it was full—of promise.
”Milo, sweetie, Mommy’s here. Can you hear me?”
To her ears, only silence responded.
But, to her heart, she heard him cry out to her.
”Find my hand, sweetie. Grab onto it.”
For several moments, her heart only felt cold hope.
”Please, sweetie, I’m here… Take my hand, please!”
To her fingers, there was...
She gasped. It was just a draft, but she had felt it.
”Right here, I’m right here, you can find me,” she encouraged.
Another draft of warmth, then another.
”You’ve go it! Grab my hand, hold on tight!”
She felt the warmth swirling around her hand, and then she suddenly felt a tightness around her wrist.
”I’m going to count to three, okay? ...One… Two… Three!”
She yanked her arm back.
”Whoa!” Dad flinched, as a sudden bluish glob of fog barreled toward him. It bounced off of his chest, and when he looked down, another pair of blue eyes stared back up at him.
”Hiya Dad!” Greeted the bluish-gray fox kit, sitting on the floor.
Robert stumbled back, and found himself in similar position. “H—Hey kiddo.”
Mom wrapped her arms around her boy, hugging him tightly.
”Mooooom...” He groaned, and wrestled free of her embrace. “So… I guess I’m here cuz Suzy filled you in, huh?” He asked.
Dad chuckled. “You really are Milo, huh?” He remarked, proudly.
”’Course I am!” He beamed. “...But… Where’s Suzy?”
Mom looked about. “She was… She was here just a minute ago…”
”Uh…” A sudden dread crept into Milo’s thoughts. “Wh-What if… Only one of us can exist at a time?”
”There she is!” Dad announced, pointing up in the air.
Milo’s head snapped in that direction, and he just glimpsed Suzy’s rump disappearing through the ceiling. “Hey! Suzy!” He got to his feet, and jumped. “Oof!”
”Ooo—Are you okay?” Dad asked, kneeling by his son after just watching him belly-flop onto the ground.
”Yeah, I’m fine. Didn’t hurt at all!” He giggled. Then, he jumped again, flapping his arms this time. But, to no avail; “Hauff!” He puffed, slamming down onto the ground. He growled, and his tail swished before he took off running for the stairs.
His parents exchanged glances as they watched their son give chase.
Milo raced up the stairs as if he was alive, finding the ground solid enough. Though he breathed, he found he was not out-of breath. It was like… A habit that he couldn’t break.
He turned the corner and into the hallway that led to his bedroom, and the door squeaked grumpily as he pushed it open. “Suzy!” He called when he spotted her. “Thank you so much f—”
When he took just one step, she dove through the floor. “S—Suzy?” He asked, with concern, then ran to where she had been, diving in the same fashion. “Bohf!” He grumbled, face-planting into the wood with his body going erect for just a second, before flopping onto itself. He got to his knees, and experimentally slammed his head against the wood again—it bounced back up. Nothing hurt at all.
He growled again, and with another swish of his tail, he dashed off back down stairs. “Where’d she go!?” He asked his parents.
Dad pointed downward.
”Suzy!” He barked, heading to the basement stairs. “Suzy!” He called again, and then threw open the basement door. “Suzy!” He called, and spotted her curled against the far wall. He stepped into the room. “Suzy, what the heck is—”
But even before he was a quarter of the way to her, she dashed up and disappeared through the ceiling again.
He wasn’t about to waste time letting gravity slap him around, again. He immediately whipped round and ran back up the stairs.
”Now where'd she go!?” She asked his parents.
”She’s… In there...” Mom pointed in the direction of the dining room.
Milo peered into the room at a distance through the tape, and caught sight of her, sitting near the back wall. He dashed toward the tape, and focused real hard on what he thought might be the thing to make him incorporeal.
Mom and Dad winced as they heard their son grunt once more, and tumble backwards.
Milo was quick to hop back to his feet, and ran up to the tape. He pressed his hands against it. “Grrrr!” He growled, and smacked his fist against the barrier. “Suzy! C’mere! I can’t get in there!”
”Good!” She shouted.
He peered through the gaps in the tape. She was sitting down, facing away from him. “G—Good?” He asked. “Whaddaya mean? C’mon, come here so I can give you a hug!”
”Go away!” She shouted back, and moved to lie down in a fetal curl.
Milo patted against the wall earnestly. “What’s gotten into you? Suzy!”
”Shut up, Milo!” She barked. “Just forget about me.” She sulked. “I’ll stay in here, where not even you can go. You can be happy with your mom and dad.”
”What are you even saying? Come out here and talk to me!” He pleaded, slamming his fast against the barrier with each emphasized word.
”I got you killed, Milo!” She shouted, half-sobbing. “Your mom and dad hate me because you tried to help me, and all it did was get you murdered! I can’t bring you back, but now that they can see and talk to you, maybe you can be happy; so just forget I exist, and let me turn back into memories!”
”Kiddo, what’s happening?” Dad asked, kneeling next to his son.
”There’s a barrier here,” he explained. “I can’t pass through it,” he slammed his fist against it again to demonstrate. “Suzy has one, too, around the whole house. The only way she’s been able to get through it is to have her possess me—even if it’s just enough to get through the threshold.”
Dad exchanged glances with Mom.
”I’ll help you, kiddo,” he offered, setting his hand on his son’s shoulder. “Possess me so you can get across. Then we can talk to her.”
”No way!” He shrugged Dad’s hand off. “I mean… Thanks, but…” He sighed. “You guys can’t go in there, it’s a crime scene. If we mess anything up, it’s gonna ruin everything we’ve been working really hard for.”
”So… What do we do?” Dad asked. He then saw a mask of determination drop onto his son’s foggy face.
”Just stand back.” He said. “If she’s not gonna come out...” He relaxed from the wall. “Then I’m...” He reeled back, “Going in!”
Dad stepped back and watched his son’s fist slam into the wall. It twitched with strain, and then his son was blasted back onto his rear.
”Um… Kiddo, maybe—” He was interrupted by his son’s bark of aggression.
Milo hopped to his feet, and kicked at the barrier. He punched, and even ran back and charged forward to try and slam his shoulder into it—which only resulted on him sliding a good foot-and-half along the floor on his rump again, this time with a bit of a spin.
”Dammit!” He growled. He stepped up to the wall and yelled: “I hate you!”
”Good!” Suzy said back.
”I wasn’t talking to you!” He yelled back at her. “I was talking to this!” He pointed his fingers, and thrust them into the barrier like a knife; “Stupid!” Sparks of electricity began to spread from his fingers, licking outward; Wall!”
Dad took another step back, and flinched when he nearly stepped on Mom’s foot. She held him at the waist, looking over his shoulder.
”Get!” Milo growled, his voice echoing in their ears; his other hand jammed in as well, palms outward.
”Outta!!” He started to spread his arms; the electricity began to dance, tendrils extending all along the wall.
”My!!!” A kind of squeaking sound caught the ears in the room, like egg-cartons rubbing together. The electricity outlined around the hole he was tearing, as if trying desperately to fight his efforts, reinforce the wound, and mend the seam.
Their hearts skipped a beat as a sudden thunderclap hit their ears. They heard the sound of shattering glass, yet in the room beyond no windows had broken, nor had any others in their quick glance around.
Suzy curled tighter. She just wanted to disappear. To become just memories, where no one could see her, or hear her.
Where she wouldn’t accidentally get another sweet and cute boy brutally murdered because of her stupid selfishness!
She heard the footfalls approaching. Just as they were within inches, she broke her fetal curl and tried to sink through the floor.
”No you don’t!” Milo growled.
She was yanked back up, and floated freely for just a split second before she was ensnared.
”Don’t you ever run away from me again!” He admonished, hugging her tightly.
”I’m sorry… I’m sorry...” She kept repeating.
”Shut up,” he said, more quietly. “Stop saying sorry.”
”But I… Your parents…” She sobbed. “I killed you! They hate me!”
”Hey Mom! Dad!”
”What’s up, kiddo?”
”Do you guys hate Suzy!?”
”Of course not.”
He relaxed his embrace on her, holding her shoulders, and looked her in the eyes—she averted. “Sounds like they don’t hate you to me.”
She once again tried to sink through the floor.
She winced, feeling his hold on her tighten.
Because he trusted her above all else, he let her go.
She dropped, but only to her hands and knees; she did not try to sink through the floor.
Suddenly, Dad clapped his hands. It wasn’t a bravo, it was rhetorical, to get everyone’s attention. “Okay, family meeting time, come to the kitchen.”
”Family meeting?” Milo murmured, trotting back into the living room. “What do you mean?”
”You’ll see,” he said, grabbing the pencil from the coffee-table and heading into the kitchen, his wife and son in tow. He stood at the table, motioning for his wife to sit, while his son climbed up on it.
For a moment, Dad had the impulse to admonish his son for climbing up on the table, but then remembered that his son was a ghost.
He cleared his throat. “I said, family meeting in the kitchen.” He repeated, loudly. After a moment, he added: “Suzy, that includes you.”
They all looked toward the dining room, and the mousette sifted through the wall like it was a curtain of sand.
Milo’s tail swished. Despite now being slightly incorporeal, the implication behind what his dad just said did not pass right through him. He patted the spot on the table next to him, and his tail swished again when she stood where he indicated, only her chin and up sticking out.
”So… What’s this family meeting about?” Mom questioned.
Dad reached into his back pocket, and pulled out a piece of loose-leaf notebook paper that was folded up. He slowly coaxed it open, and set it down on the table, smoothing it out.
”We have unfinished business to take care of,” he told them, as he took the pencil in hand, and drew a line across an item listed on the paper.