My brother is Officer Jake Swanson. He’d just graduated from the academy…only just earned his badge. He’d begun his first shift with his field training officer when about an hour in, responding to a call from a pair of campers, they went to that house in the woods. It was his first and last day on the job when he made the gruesome discovery that should be national news.
It isn’t being reported. At least not in the way it should be.
I’ve seen minor blurbs scroll across the local station’s news ticker, vaguely mentioning a murderer is dead and that she’s left a note. There’s not much else. Someone is suppressing the rest. Nobody that Jake and I know seems concerned by any of it, which is stranger still.
I know what’s in the grizzly admission of guilt; the stuff in the secret reports that aren’t being shared with the public. What I don’t understand is why? Why are they keeping this quiet?
Jake told me the pages were everywhere, littered on the floor amongst entrails and pools of stagnant blood. He dictated to me what a few of them said. They’re stuck like pictures in his mind, word-for-word, with the awful images of those corpses.
When backup arrived, he was outside relieving himself of what remained of his lunch in the grass of the yard. He puked until he was reduced to dry heaving.
The first page of the letter he found began:
I’m so scared of you…and you know what I mean.
The rest was an explanation of sorts, but it was too floridly vague to make true sense of. The words were chosen slowly; thoughtful expressions of feelings long unspoken and repressed by their author. The formal hand of the twisting characters seemed to grow over something, hiding the true meaning (assuming the words held any whatsoever) like trails of vines shrouding something sinister just beneath. Entwining and twisting amongst themselves, these words made up Danica Jane Mallory’s supposed suicide note. Scattered haphazardly, the unnumbered sheets of unlined linen paper littered the floor of her home.
But I love you, too. I always have. You’ve been gone for so long, but I’ve found the way now. I’m returning to you and ready to stop being afraid once more.
The day we met I’d been so high that I wasn’t even sure if I was real. How then, could I be sure that you were too? I’d still question it to this day but you appear to others too.
Maryann and I were in the woods. Do you remember? We’d gone out there to smoke the weed I’d stolen from my brother’s sock drawer.
Maryann decided it was laced with something else, but she couldn’t say what and I don’t think that was right: the sky was muted by a filter of soft white and the sharp edges of the world had weathered away. It was like watching memories. Everything jagged had dulled and frayed, until everything was a vista of emerald, etheral dream. I knew these were the shades of the true world and I was seeing reality for the first time. I was seeing it in colors that would never be replicated by any savant of canvas in any lifetime. The thought that these were hues and vibrancies hidden from human view came to me and I knew it instantly to be true. The orchestrator of this clarity who shared his point of view–that artist was you.
When we reached the creek, Maryann shucked off her shirt and drew down her ratty jeans, plucking at her tummy. Lamenting the ‘stupid paunch of babyfat’ as she waded in. The silt at the bottom swirled up shadows that hid her feet and there I first heard that ominous chittering, like the whispered tidings of a thousand-centuried cicadas hundreds of miles away. It came from beneath the water and yet, it hadn’t. I’ve never heard that sound in the true way. Never with my ears. I didn’t then and I haven’t since, though I’ve heard it many times after, playing like a record. A skittering melody I know from long aeons past, and I feel it rising darkly up from places long forgotten. A velvet textured memory crawling out from someplace secret and hidden deep inside.
I was in the water and when I looked up, you were there on the other bank as the creek meandered along calmly before you. The smile you gifted me curled up all the way to your cold blue eyes. I drank that frigid gaze down, a welcome refreshment on that hot summer day as I held Maryann’s head beneath the water until her struggling ceased. I released the screeching thing that wriggled beneath her skin just to please you.
Do you remember that day? I was all of 16 and naïve but I was forever changed when I felt you there in that wood. Even before our eyes met your presence lingered in the air and that fairytale thing, before so intangible, had finally made itself manifest. I knew my feelings the moment I saw you. We made love right there on the grass as the streaming waters adjacent to where we lay tugged at Maryann, slowly whisking her off and dragging her away out to sea. Of history and literature’s every tragic romance, you and I stood at the apex. I gave you some of my warmth while you were inside. In return you forever gave your sight to me in those moments and I was changed by the permanent nature of its color.
It was these opening words of Danica’s letter that should have delivered closure to Maryann Malcom-Jacobs’s fathers. Eric Jacobs and Austin Malcolm had clung to hope that their daughter was alive despite two long decades without answers. Prior to the discovery of Danica Jane Mallory at the scene, a number of unsolved homicides had grown cold that could now be connected by this letter…and yet her fathers still have not been notified. When I call the station to ask for details, they refuse to explain, citing the nature of the open investigation.
Another page amongst the scattered sheets read:
I didn’t know her, but that one sticks in my mind. I can’t remember where we might have been headed? Perhaps you do? I may not recall every particular of that night, but I can only blame that on those aspects that persist to gleam so vividly. Certain details outshine the more mundane. I can’t recall the time or day, and yet I can’t help but cling to trivial nuances that remain.
You returned once more but I was not surprised. I could feel you in the far-off insects humming as I do now. As it grew, I chanced to look out of my apartment window. You were below paying the man who drove the cab that brought you. You gazed back at me. You waited for me to come down and join you.
We got an outdoor table at a café. One of the legs was leveled from wobbling by a stack of coasters. You lied and told the waitress it was our anniversary, but this was winter and I hadn’t seen you since that first summer three years past. Your skin glistened like dolomite under the moon but only I could see. The waitstaff and the manager who visited the table looked into your eyes with longing, but I felt no jealousy. I knew they couldn’t see the refractions emanating from your skin. That night you were for me alone. We shared a bottle of wine and then a second one before the café closed. As we wandered, the bars were letting out. You touched my eyes with hands so icy cold and then kissed me and filled me with something strange and warm. The colors of our first embrace had never faded, but you recalled those other creeping things to my sight then. With that kiss, new voices joined the chittering chorus of crickets. I could hear the writhing things wailing once more and I could see them worming just beneath the skin of so many who stumbled their drunken gaits as we passed.
“Pick one.” You whispered, and so I did.
I pointed her out to you as we waited for a light to change. You shoved her forcefully out into the road with such practiced grace that no one in the crowd around us saw. Those screeching things inside of her grew instantly quiet upon impact with the pickup and I felt my skin tingle with anticipation. We whispered away from that place on the wind. We spent the rest of the night making love. Then you left again for a long time. I never did understand why. Was it something I’d said or done to upset you?
You did return, but the visits were brief and unpredictable. That wasn’t what I wanted. I wanted to be with you. I wanted to consume the dark delights you fed me every day until forever.
The details of this murder were vague and hard to place, but my brother has a friend still working the case. He said they’ve managed to tentatively connect this homicide with a death that was originally declared accidental. More evidence is needed before the name of the victim will be released, but they think it was a girl named Clara Blaire.
When I lost that job, things became so hard. I sent messages on the backs of the winged things that sang your song and you didn’t come. I needed you and you stayed away. Why?
You found me again, cold on the street and swore you’d help me regain my footing and stay on my feet and in a way that promise rang true. You knew my mother’s habits better than you should have. You knew them as though you’d been stalking her for days. I told you that she didn’t want to see me, that she’d sent me away, but you led me back to that quiet place in the woods of my youth. There were no neighbors around to see our approach; the house still stood alone amidst the trunks of hundred-year-old oaks. Hand-in-hand you took me, leading in a waltz beneath the canopy of dark branches flecked with stars. The owls and critters of the night grew quiet as they watched and even the crunching of leaves became soft as the song of the cicadas rose to a crescendo of dizzying height. You kissed me and took my hand, leading me inside.
I’m not sure who’d done it, if it was you or I, but the deed was already complete when we entered my childhood home. I have no recollection of the act. Not the screeching of her parasites nor the moment they were silenced. I believe it must have been you. That night you gave me the greatest gift you’ve ever given me. I had a home once more. You pulled Mother by her foot from the bed and the pillow that was pressed firmly against her face fell away. I laid next to you and drowned to sleep in your embrace.
When I awoke the morning after, you were gone and though the world retained the vivid bright that you gave it, once again my happiness waned. It just wasn’t enough. I needed more.
I dragged mother to her sewing room. She was there for many years until just the other day, when she vanished, as you’re so wont to do yourself. Although, I may have misplaced her and imagined she disappeared as well.
The sewing room they’d found was in pristine condition. The majority of the rooms in the house were littered with limbs and torsos and offal. As far as Jake was told (for he never went back inside) it was the only room where not a speck of blood or bodily fluid was to be found. It was inconsistent with the rate at which a body decayed that she’d ever placed her mother there at all. Insofar as we’ve been told, the body of Francesca Mallory has not been found amongst the remains of the others though her presence hasn’t been ruled out.
You came and went and came and went and every time my longing grew until it was completely beyond my own control. I wasn’t eating and I didn’t sleep and then you’d come with your delights and we’d make love outside by starlight and you’d leave once more. The time between grew and spanned unbearable days and months and years, so of course I did exactly…
The rest of this page was too smeared with blood for Jake to make out with any clarity.
Yet as he related the pages to me, he continued to remember more and more:
So I grew to hate you. You came to me a scant 5 or 6 times in a decade after I had professed my undying love. Yet, you continually abandoned me this way‽ It was an outrage. Of course, by then I knew what you were. I may have always known but perhaps denial prevented me admitting it to myself. I tried to summon you but I found I didn’t always have the strength. But the ghastly visage that I was able to pull from the beyond was indeed your face, but the handsome grace it once held twisted and decayed. Your hands reached out to me from the dark but they were changed. It was as though they didn’t belong to you but another. Your once pale skin had faded to gray and I watched as you pulled your fingernails away one by one, each with a squelching sound and a pop. I watched them elongate and grow sharp. I didn’t know why you came to me in such a frightful way. You didn’t speak. You only stared and I grew ever fearful as I watched your teeth slip from white to black. I watched them crawl with cracks as you leered back at me and smiled, amused. Then they broke apart, shattering like shards of glass and my vision went dark. I awoke with the needle still in my arm. But from where? How had it come to be there?
I grew afraid and began attending church for a short time. I wanted to swear you off; to rebuke you from me. But how might I do that when I could still hear your insects calling from that dark place? You wouldn’t leave me alone, so in the end I suppose I did the rest of this for you. I simply accepted my fate.
Another page read:
I saw your face. Your true face. And at first I was afraid. I was petrified with shock, but love is patient and does not judge so I know that I too cannot. How many more must I steal away before you come back again? How many more until I find the ones with things beneath the skin? That must be the way to bring you here. To make you mine. In the end it’s only a matter of time.
Can’t you forgive me? If this is your true face, I can look past it. It’s you, my love. It always has been. My eyes are open now.
Don’t you see I’ve done what I’ve done for you? I brought them here. I sent them to you. I searched them. I did it all for you and all for love and all for nothing as you haven’t come back to me in so many years.
The house where they found the corpse of Danica Mallory was filled with dozens of bodies–many dead for years–and pages and pages of her strange manifesto. Men and women, mostly vagrants she’d led to slaughter with the promise of a hot meal and a warm bed. Each of them with their skin carved away and the muscles gouged deep by her search to find something that no one has yet been able to determine, but investigators have explained away by citing her history of drug abuse.
There are so many strange things and it gives the reputation of our small town such a dark bruise that they’re suppressing a lot of truth from the news. It’s being underreported with everything else going on in the world. People like things reported in a way that makes sense and can be explained in a sound bite and because it can’t be easily done, it’s being swept under the rug. Nobody seems to be able to offer an explanation as to why.
There was only one reason that my brother turned in his badge and it wasn’t the blood or the gore. It wasn’t the bodies or that letter. Finding the scene would have made him famous and created a career for him. Danica Jane Mallory was a serial killer, of that the world will one day be certain, but at the current rate they’ll never learn the truth.
My brother quit the next day when he’d learned her death had been ruled a suicide. He says there’s something else at play and the police force is just ignoring it. He quit because they chose the explanation that was convenient instead of trying to wrap their heads around the other thing. He quit because there was a ready explanation in her letter at the scene and they chose that instead. He couldn’t play along.
If you see anything about this story at all, I urge you to not believe what they’re reporting on the news.
He says he knows what he saw and there’s no way she could have possibly managed to gouge those massive trenches of claw marks–her true cause of death–into her back on her own.