The following story is by guest author Riana Mercado. If you enjoy this piece, you can follow her on Twitter @rianamercado.
Clara didn’t grow up in the conventional way, nor did she regret it. Ever since she was born up until now, the best thing she did was hunting murderers.
Not a single person who wasn’t part of “the club” (as she dubbed it) knew that she roamed around the street at odd times and investigated violent criminals who walked free due to bad police work. “The club” had two types of members: the first were those who stayed in their main branch, which was disguised as a ghost town located just at the south border. The second were those who went undercover—members like her. It wasn’t a cult, it was a way of living.
Now, she had to rethink everything. She wasn’t living for herself anymore.
Clara picked up the stick, not directly looking at it, focusing instead on the twin sized bed she had been sleeping on for days now. She told the news over the phone to her husband Edgar, all the while still holding the piece of plastic that seemed significant more than it should. There was a loud scratching noise from the other end of the line just after she said the last word of “—a boy, just like we’d hoped.”
“Will you come back now?”
Clara set down the pregnancy test. Her husband thought she was a report after a big story, and that was it. “Sorry honey, I can’t. You know I can’t. This is a big scoop.”
This time, there was an almost calculated silence. “When you come back here, I promise we’ll do a hell lot of celebrating. Maybe even call it Clyde like you wanted.”
“Only if it’s a boy,” she corrected him. She twirled the cord of the phone around the index finger of her right hand and scratched the back of the telephone as she held it against her ear. The longer she stared at the dimly lit lamp that stood on the table in front of her, the more her eyes stung. “We’re finally going to have a little one of our own, Edgar.”
“I know,” he whispered. “I love you, honey.”
“Good luck to us.”
“Eleanor if it’s a girl?” he asked.
She let out a throaty laugh. That was when she heard the knock. Clara said her quick goodbyes to Edgar before walking icily towards the door, her every breath hitching. She turned the knob and was greeted by a man who wore a grim face like a fine piece of suit. “I need to talk to you.”
“I told you, Steve, I’m onto the trail,” she said it as if it were rehearsed for several days. “Just give me until tomorrow and I’ll have a rapport between the victim and that suspect you keep going on about….”
He didn’t interrupt me while she gave an excuse. There was something wrong. Clara let out a small, tangled breath. “But that’s not what you’re here for, is it?”
Steve stood in front of Clara, who sat on the edge of the bed, fidgeting. He twirled a set of keys around his finger, and his jaw clenched as he told her, “Your hometown’s getting the treatment equivalent to that of a ditz. It’s all over the news—another woman’s gone missing just a few hours ago. That’s thirteen. I’ll bet you we’ll find her mutilated body on a ditch tomorrow just like all the others.”
She pressed her palms against her cold cheeks, letting out a big sigh. “I told you, just give me the case. I know these people. I know how they tick.”
He cleared his throat, finally sitting beside her. “Protocol, Clara. You can’t investigate a case if it’s situated on your own town.”
“It’s a stupid ass protocol,” she spat. “I know it better than anyone, I can solve this faster than anybody else in that god forsaken organization.”
Steve frowned, his bloodshot eyes narrowing. “Christ, lower your tone. What got you in such a mood swing?”
Clara counted the seconds. One, two, three, four, five, six. “You could tell your husband it’s not safe for the kid.” He said your husband like a curse, as if he hadn’t met the man.
She closed her eyes shut until she saw spirals. Clara took a deep breath and let it all out a moment after. Steve was a close friend of hers ever since they were kids. They grew up at the same place, went everywhere together. She knew he was going to say that. “For Christ’s sake Steve, I’m not using my unborn child as an excuse. And besides, Edgar loves it there. He’d never leave without a civil war.”
“It’s not a goddam excuse, Clara, it’s the truth.” He didn’t like Edgar. Steve always made that clear, and often he’d tell Clara that her husband’s head was screwed on a little loose. But this time, he actually made sense.
It took her five whole minutes to decide. As soon as she said yes, Steve made her take a cab back home. He insisted on paying for the ride, and as he closed the car door, he smiled for the first time since Clara last saw him. It was subtle, but it was enough to make her smile back. “Take care,” he said, the smile in his face wearing off once again.
Clara clutched on the piece of paper she held, almost ripping it. She practiced the speech she was planning to give to Edgar, but it seemed harder and harder every time. “Eddie, we need to get out of here.”
The cab whizzed through an array of restaurants, leaving her with a slight odor of Chinese food mixed with other dominating scents she couldn’t identify. Clara dismissed it with a wave of her free hand and a disapproving look on her face. She went on. “I know it’s hard for you to leave your home, but it’s not safe there anymore. It’s not safe for our kid.”
She paused, muttering expletives, hoping the baby has yet to develop ears. After an hour more of practicing and cursing, the cab dropped her off on the sidewalk in front of her yard. It was dark—Edgar was probably already asleep. She reached into one of her pockets for her keys and put it into the keyhole. Just as she turned the knob of the door, everything went eerily silent. Too silent. She instinctively reached for the gun in her bag and dropped everything else.
Every inch of the house was dark except for a faint light that came from upstairs. Her steps were calculated, and even though she couldn’t see anything but the gun she held in front of her, she climbed up the stairs like she could. As she got closer to the second floor inch by inch, the more she could hear a muffled scream that came from the second bedroom that was right across the master’s. The door was open, and the wind that whispered through the window made it slightly creak.
What the hell was that smell? She pushed the door completely open with one hand, keeping the gun pointed at the room.
Nothing could ever describe what went on inside her head at that moment. A woman was taped to the edge of the bed. Her mouth was covered with duct tape, and blood trickled on her forehead down to her cheeks, like sweat trickling after a morning jog. Her body, or rather what was left of it, was tied to the left column, plopped against the floor that was now painted with her dark red blood. She had no right arm, not anymore, and maybe that was why the room reeked of the smell that Clara now distinguished as raw human flesh. Her sight started to blur, and her mind didn’t seem to function. Right beside the woman was Clara’s dear husband, eyes unmoving, hands full of flesh, mouth covered in blood. He looked straight at her, his whole body frozen.
“Bat fucking shit, Edgar.”
Murdock Clyde Bolton was born on a March thunderstorm under the supervision of one Anna Murdock. His mother, although surviving the childbirth, died a few days later; Clara Bolton had slashed her own throat with a boxcutter she found lying around. Anna gave up Murdock to a Steve Proserpine, thus honoring the Clara’s last wishes—her ashes also given to Steve until Murdock was ready to take ownership of it.
The boy grew up in the ghost town with Steve, his parents’ identity known to everyone. His one personal tragedy already caught up with him even before he could run.
His mother, who was pregnant with him at the time, caught his father one night in the middle of butchering his thirteenth victim. She barely talked much after the incident, but Steve, who she called that night, her voice almost incomprehensible, told everyone else involved that Edgar had twelve gunshot wounds, four of which were on his forehead, two of which went through each of his eye. His victim, a thirty-year-old woman who lived alone (just like the twelve others did), managed to survive for a few more hours before finally succumbing to her wounds.
If you ask the kids who lived near him, they would say Murdock Bolton looked dark and isolated or downright unsociable. How about the adults? They’d say he’s intelligent, full of potential, observant. But more often than not, they would follow up with saying that he’d shown characteristics that of a psychopath, mostly lack of empathy.
He grew up a son of a serial killer with the people who were trained to hunt down one. They talked about it behind his back, but he knew. He always knew. Edgar Bolton, who matched no one in his thirst to kill and his ability to deceive everyone else, has spawned a child who looked exactly like him, even down to the eyes that everyone once thought to hold love and morality. The Womanizer was what they called him.
There was a breaking and entering once, right at the house next to where he lived. He was immediately jailed and questioned, and if it weren’t for Steve, he would be held accountable for it even without any evidence. Just because he was The Womanizer’s son. He was twelve years old.
Now in his teenage years, Murdock was still a subject of scrutiny and judgment, although in hindsight the gossip turned down a bit. Aside from the occasional robbery, the organization has deemed him fit enough to continue living as a resident there, and maybe someday an investigator too like his mother. But Murdock knew it was really because they wanted him right under their noses in case he decided to follow his dear father’s bloody footsteps. Everybody knows a psychopath once he’s defined himself by his actions, but what about those who were born from it?
What will they do?