By Ekta R. Garg
Prompt: Six bodies were found at six separate parks over a six-day period. Each of them had expired in the same way.
She sat on the sofa in her apartment living room cradling a mug of coffee. The media had continued with the circus for the last five days, and she’d watched every minute of it. All the bigwigs had aired information about the murders; CNN had started devoting a solid hour every single evening during primetime to analysis.
Much of the information was filler; they only had so much to go on, after all. But the deep pockets of Atlanta had started attracting law enforcement heavyweights to talk on the air about what had happened. A killer had struck six times in less than a week, and the town of Autumn Falls, Illinois, had practically shut down.
All six victims had been shot in the leg somewhere between the knee and the ankle, clearly to slow them down, the FBI director asserted with a knowing nod. CNN heads had bickered quietly the day before the director appeared about who to name their expert, but finally they’d chosen a young male reporter who managed to exude the best combination of eagerness and expertise. The CNN reporter stated that some of the victims, at least, could have overcome the bullet to the leg if the murderer hadn’t followed it up with a slingshot rock to the midsection of the body. The bullet indicated criminal intent; the slingshot confirmed it.
The murderer hadn’t dithered, the director and the reporter both agreed. Forensics confirmed that the blade to the neck had come soon after both the gun wound and the slingshot injury. The person behind the killings knew who he wanted to target and did it quick. Nothing was taken from the victims, and none of them were assaulted in any other way. The murders were most definitely personal, and the man behind them had an agenda.
The murderer was a man, the FBI director declared, most likely in his mid to late thirties and middle class. This was someone who had some if not all of his college education and who was patient. A man who wanted to fulfill a personal crusade and not go after strangers. A cautious man.
She listened to it all and let go of the mug long enough to run her had through her wet hair. She’d spent an extra long time in the shower, the stress of the evening imploring her to stand under the hot spray a little longer. CNN had managed to get the chief of Autumn Falls police on Skype, and he looked exhausted. She knew how he felt because she felt the same. She just wanted it all to be over.
The entire town of 30,000 residents had allowed shock to herd them into their homes early. Autumn Falls residents would often speak with the kind of pride that can only be found in small towns of its award-winning park system. Maybe Autumn Falls didn’t have famous celebrities, but it had parks that made other towns drool. City managers from all across the country came to Autumn Falls and consulted with the mayor of this idyllic little place to find out how to install and maintain these amazing green spaces that encouraged its residents to come out at all hours of the day and enjoy the outdoors.
The residents loved and respected their parks. Although the Autumn Falls Park District had a dedicated crew to clean up, and they usually had to after one of the town’s many summer festivals, the residents themselves usually took initiative to keep their parks clean and green. More than one senior citizen had been spotted tugging at a few weeds in patches claimed in an unofficial capacity.
But now…now the weeds went untouched and the chalk on the sidewalks looked less like children’s drawings and more like random bits of color. The boots of the Autumn Falls PD had blurred the details. They were looking for another pair of boots.
She put the mug on the coffee table and leaned back against the sofa. Without warning tears leaked from the corners of her eyes and slid down her face. She brushed them away, but they didn’t stop.
So tired. She was so tired of this entire event. She just wanted to go back to her normal life. Life Before the murders. When he was still with her, still woke up beside her every morning and traced her face with his fingers. When they packed up everything on a whim and drove to Chicago for the weekend to enjoy food and window shopping.
They didn’t bother going into the fancy stores. They knew they couldn’t afford anything there, and it only made things worse to go inside and feel the temptation of capitalism at its best. But they didn’t stop one another from peering through the glass from the sidewalk.
She missed the way he pulled her close for a kiss on those sidewalks. The way he pulled her close when they were in bed together. The life they’d just begun to build.
The tears began slipping faster.
Now he was gone. She couldn’t believe it, couldn’t quite force herself to face the truth. She ignored the memories of the news reports of his horrific murder. She went to work and smiled at people with a plastic face and did her tasks and came home. But he was still gone. It didn’t matter how fast she completed her assignments or how hard she worked to excel; none of that frenzy brought him home.
Oh, so tired. She was so tired of carrying this weight around. So tired of herself, of her naïve assumption that they were “meant to be.” They were meant for nothing but sorrow.
That’s why she made the decision to unburden herself. She’d carried that sorrow with her for every day of the last three years, and she couldn’t carry it anymore. So she decided to offload it. She decided to hand it back to the person who had given it to her. After three years of painstaking research she’d gotten her answer of who that person was, and she wanted to return the sorrow he’d given her with interest.
She scrubbed her face and stood with purpose, the same purpose that had filled her a week ago. After taking her coffee mug to the tiny kitchen and washing it, she went to the dining nook and surveyed her instruments. Weapon, meticulously serviced; slingshot, taut for another throw; serrated knife, carefully scrubbed.
The experts had gotten all the details right but one. They’d forgotten about the scorn of a woman.