Miranda Kate’s Picture Choice: 2
He sat with his book in his lap trying to focus on what he was reading, but instead finding himself listening to the sounds of the woods. He took a deep breath and felt his body relax.
It had been a long time since John had been out here, and he needed it now more than ever. The ugly face of the corporate world was seeping into his subconscious, his dreams reflecting it with more and more violence. At least here there was no-one to be disturbed by his shouts and screams as he fought his way out of them.
But three nights in they had subsided, yet he still found himself waking from the sound of screams, only they weren’t coming from him.
The first time, he’d leapt out of bed and gone straight to the gun cabinet, unclipping the rifle from the rack in seconds, and out on the deck with it loaded and cocked in less than a minute. But once out there, the trees and foliage revealed nothing; there were no sounds or movements. And despite waiting for a good fifteen minutes, alert and vigilant, nothing more came.
Only once back in his bed did they come again, and this time he remained prone listening, trying to understand what he was hearing. John knew foxes screamed, but this was so human his entire body responded as though liquid ice had been poured along its length, with every hair and pore rising in a gradual wave. The pitch was so high he was sure it had to be female, the moans in between taking form in his mind, tying his stomach up in knots as they recalled the picture of his father sitting astride his mother and punching her repeatedly in the head.
Such memories he’d suppressed since childhood, yet their authenticity he knew not to question. And was that it? Was he just associating that event and image with the sound? Did the sound even exist outside of his mind? Was it playing tricks on him? Was this another symptom of his overworked mind? Had the nightmares manifested into something real? Had he finally pushed himself beyond his natural boundaries?
He didn’t know, but after the fourth night of being woken by them he decided to find out. If there was wildlife in these woods that could be making this sound it had to be documented, and this was where the miracles of modern technology came in handy. He had resisted taking too much with him, but he hadn’t given up his iPhone. And despite the remote location, the Internet was still accessible.
John scrolled through site upon site that examined the wildlife in the area, but he couldn’t find mention of any foxes. And even individually he couldn’t match any animals to the sounds he’d heard. This left him with the reluctant choice of looking up his symptoms as a mental illness, but just as he was about to, he noticed a link between the others, a newspaper report with a headline that stood out:
‘Screams in the night – the dark underbelly of Brillingford Deep’
As John read the article he became more and more uncomfortable, even sick to the stomach.
‘Two bodies found naked in different areas of the wood … no attempt to hide them or cover them made … Several residents in the area reported hearing screams … initially thought to be wildlife’
He checked the date of it, and saw it was from the day after the first night he had woken to the sounds.
‘Shot in the back … 12 gauge made a mess … identical injuries … rifle barrel imprint indicates coercion …’
He got up and went into the house and checked the gun cabinet. It was locked. He opened it and took out the rifle, looking at it closely. He smelt the tip and checked it was still loaded – it was. But the box at the bottom of the cabinet caught his attention and he knelt down to inspect it. The top was ripped at the edges as though someone had been in a hurry to open it, and inside half the cartridges were missing.
Could someone have come in here and taken it without him knowing? He thought not. But that left him … in his sleep? He tried to recall his dreams, but all he managed to unearth was a sense of foreboding. But how would he have met these women? He only left the house to get groceries during the day, how would he have kept them until night – and where?
John started pacing round the house, as though looking at it for the first time. He looked in all the closets in all the rooms, and then he went out and walked the perimeter. The house was raised off the ground. It was possible to get under the house, but he had never tried … or so he thought. He bent down and looked under it, and saw something light under there, quite a way in.
He went onto his hands and knees and moved closer. It was some kind of material, he could see a texture. Could it be clothing? He crawled in. He reached out a hand to touch it, feeling something cold and solid under it. He pushed it and it moved, his stomach reflecting the motion as it flopped over onto its front. It was then that he saw the hair, and automatically started backing out. He could feel something rising up his throat, and by the time he cleared the bottom of the house, it was pushing to be released. He turned and threw up into the leafy mulch around his house, his mind still screaming the picture of what he had seen.
John staggered to standing, but remained bent over, hands clasping his knees. It was in this position that the police found him as their cruiser pulled up next to his station wagon.
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