This story is by Adrian Lee Borden and was part of our 2018 Fall Writing Contest. You can find all the writing contest stories here.
Bolting upright and gasping for air, I wake with a start. It takes a minute to remember where I am. This is a regular occurrence in my new life. My dreams are now a living video montage of terrifying memories, mixed artfully with imagined ones. Tonight’s screening is a classic: the night he held my head down in the bath water and wouldn’t let me up. That’s what I got for deciding to have some alone time. Note to self: do not leave your phone out on the bed. Further note: delete texts mentioning your husband’s intemperate behaviors. Additionally, do not marry crazy people. That should cover it.
I sit up in bed and take in my surroundings. Sometimes this helps. I remind myself that I am here, in my cabin, far away from the crazy ex. He’s in California with the pretty new wife and their baby. I’m just glad to have him out of my hair. When I found out that she was expecting, I was suddenly sad. Could that be a good thing?
Just as I was nodding off again, I heard a strange sound. My eyes shot open.
It sounded like scratching – no – scraping! I sucked in a breath and held it, straining to listen.
Sometimes my mind plays tricks on me. I do live in the woods, so the likelihood that there is some shady thug trying to terrorize me is pretty slim. Just the same, after what I’ve seen, I don’t bet those odds. Grabbing my taser, I go toward the front porch. I find Freddy, my Russian blue cat, at the door, stone still and staring wildly out the window. His tail is doing a fluid dance in the shadows. I know his hunter mode. What does he see?
My heart is thumping out of my chest. “What’s out there, cat?” I whisper. In the moonlight I see an injured bird on the porch. He is flapping frantically, causing the scratching sound. At long last, I breathe. I can handle a bird. I’m okay.
The next morning, I head into town for group meditation therapy, listening to the radio on the car ride.
“A California woman’s remains were recovered today, along with those of her 14-month old daughter on a private construction site. Investigators do not have a suspect in custody. Her husband voiced his pleas to a local news station—“
“It’s a mad world.” I say out loud—but then I hear it. I hear his voice. Unmistakable.
“—I’m just hoping that they can catch the sicko who did this—“ He breaks down into sobs.
These are sobs I have heard time and time again. He pleads for the killer to be caught. But I am certain that he is the killer. He is the one who murdered an innocent woman and child. The way he’d tried to murder me.
At the police station, I’m sent to a detective who addresses me plainly.
“So what can I do for you, ma’am?”
Suddenly I’m all nerves and a shaky voice. I slowly whisper, “I heard about the murdered mother and her child found in Los Angeles.” He nods so I continue. “Hypothetically, if I had information pertaining to – this case…” Deep breaths. “If I had information that might be helpful, could you,” I glanced around the room, “protect me?”
God, I sound like a child. From his silent stare I realize I’ve made a massive mistake in coming here. Standing, I feel a sudden crazed urge to run.
“Ma’am, how could you have information on this case since it’s active in California?” He seems skeptical. I’m desperate to leave, so I switch tacks.
“You know,” I say, tilting my head, “I think I may be mistaken. I thought that might be a family I knew from L.A. but now I see that they have a totally different name. So sorry I’ve wasted your time, Detective-?”
“Denbo,” he says, shaking my hand gruffly.
“Detective Denbo. Yes.”
“And your name is-?”
Shit. We’re still talking. “Diane. Uh, Diane Johnson,” I say quickly.
“You live around here?” he asks, narrowing his eyes at me.
God, this feels like an inquisition. “I live up near Wilson Creek.” We stand there, eyes locked, for what feels like forever. Why do I suddenly feel like a suspect?
“Thank you. I do apologize. I must go.” I start to leave when he grabs my arm.
“Ms. Johnson.” I look at him, eyes wide, “the official answer is yes, we can protect you, if you’ll just stay and make a statement.”
“Yes, sir. But I was mistaken. Thank you.” I run out of the office. Outside, I bend over, hands on the knees, going through my breathing practice.
“I will be okay. You’re okay. You are going to be okay.”
After my adventures of the day, I don’t think I’d ever been so happy to see that damn cabin. I pull up and jump out, calling out for Freddy. When I get inside, I hear him meowing but he doesn’t come to me.
I quickly realize that he’s in the bathroom with the door shut.
That’s odd. I never close that door. I must have shut it as I was leaving the house in the morning, I think; all that chaos with the bird had made me absentminded. Once free, Freddy runs for the back door.
“Nature calls.” I open the back door, letting him out. I pivot around, facing the kitchen counter and gasp. Chills run over my cheekbones as I walk slowly to pick up what had clearly been left for me to see – a copy of the newspaper, turned to an article about the murders, with a heart drawn in red marker around my name. The bastard had found me.
Inside the station again, raw adrenaline pumps through my veins. Where to start on my whole insane story – crazy ex husband, married in California, beat the hell out of me, I escaped, got a divorce, and now live in a cabin by a creek. I can’t really worry about whether or not it makes sense.
Detective Denbo is reportedly in another county chasing a lead so I’m now stuck with a rookie cop.
When he sits me down in a chair, I blurt out, “Listen, I know more about the Los Angeles double murder case than I let on.”
“The dead baby? Such a shame.”
“Yes, that one.” I sigh heavily. Go on, Diane. “So listen, the man – the husband in that case—he’s my ex-husband—“
“Oh, wow. You know him?”
“Yes! And he’s crazy! He’s here! And he’s – he was in my house!”
“Okay, ma’am. But did you actually see him inside?”
“Well, no—but someone was inside and left this article – and put a heart around my name!”
I continue, “I’m telling you this man is bad news. You don’t want him here any more than I do. He hurt me, a lot. And I escaped. Barely. He would have killed me but I got away and now he’s killed his wife and their baby!”
He looked uncomfortable, “Is there documentation of this?”
“What? No, I didn’t record my injuries! God,” I’m sobbing now. “Listen! He gave me concussions, he broke my ribs. He’s a monster!”
Finally, he speaks calmly, making me feel even more on edge.” Look, Ms. Johnson, we will call the Los Angeles police department and see if they’ve had eyes on the husband. Okay?”
I shake my head, “I—okay. Thank you.” He leaves and I wonder, how could this pan out? Of course my ex would have some kind of plan if he’d come here to find me – and then what? No. I had to take care of this myself. I bolt out of the office, sneaking past the young cop while he has his back turned.
When I get home, it’s twilight. As I approach the house, my palm grips the taser. The bird lies there dead on the porch, its neck broken.
“What the hell, Freddy?” I call as I ease the door open. I can barely make out a strange shape in the shadows.
My heart races. I’m stuck to the spot. As my eyes adjust, I see his figure in the moonlight. He sits in my armchair and to my horror Freddy is curled up, purring in his lap.
“Cute kitty,” he says, “What’s his name?”
“What have you done?”
“Baby…” he says and my stomach does a flip, “I did it for you.”
“I told you I’d never let you go,” he says, standing up, walking slowly towards me, “and I meant it, baby.”
I can’t move. My legs are cement. I want to scream. I want to run out the door, hop in the truck, drive off into the night. I curse myself for not doing all of those things. Soon he has reached me. Laying his hand on my shoulder, he whispers, “I’ll never let you go, baby. Never.”