“That was a very interesting story, Elaine, and very scary,” said a sceptical Scarlet sitting on a comfy chair in the viewing room.
“It’s true!” Ochre said in a tone that would prove she was not lying. “It did happen, and three days before Halloween. That was the weird part. I thought it was some kind of curse or something.” Her Irish accent got stronger as her voice rose in pitch. “After all, I was fifteen at the time, Paul.”
“You have to admit, it’s rather hard to believe. If anyone else but you would have told me that story, I would have had serious doubts. And what this guy did was just sick. It makes it hard to think that a human being could go that low.”
“I know, that’s the scary stuff, isn’t it?”
At the sound of the opening door, both Scarlet and Ochre raised their heads, and saw Captain Blue walk in.
“Ahh, Adam,” Scarlet invited him in. “Glad you’re here. Elaine has a very scary account to tell you.”
“I like a good scary story,” Blue said, sitting next to Elaine, eyes already open to the tale.
“It’s not a story, Adam,” she said, giving him an annoyed look. ” It’s something that happened in my neighbourhood, when I was fifteen.”
“Real life story then,” Blue commented. “Bring it on, Elaine.”
Scarlet sat down comfortably, and prepared to listen to the story again, while Ochre cleared her throat and began anew:
“It was three days before Halloween. The house where I lived as a teenager was in a cul-de-sac, which was bordered by a small, dark wood. At 08.00 hours, on a Saturday, not a very warm morning, I was suddenly awakened by the sound of sirens. Curious, I looked out from my bedroom window, and saw three police cars zooming past. Then a van turned up.
“At this point, all the neighbours were staring out of their windows, to see what was going on. I ran out of my room whilst putting my dressing gown on, down the stairs and out the front door. I could see all the police out of their vehicles and two of the policemen covering something with white sheets, just there at the very end of the cul-de-sac. I couldn’t see what they were at the time, But a bit later on, I learnt the sheets were covering two dead bodies; those of a man and a woman.”
“Double murder?” Blue inquired.
Ochre nodded. “And particularly gruesome too. The woman had been burnt to death, after petrol had being chucked on her, and the bloke had had his throat cut, which was done so violently that his head had almost been detached! The police found the victims had been drugged, so that’s how the killer managed it.”
Blue was staring at her; then he swallowed and said: “Nice… Not. What a way to die. Those poor people.”
“Yeah, I know. Anyway, after several weeks had passed, there were hardly any clues. No one knew who these people were or anything else apart from the description of the ‘suspect’, which was quite odd.”
“Now is where it truly begins,” Scarlet commented. Having heard the story before, he knew what was coming.
“What was so odd about it?” Blue inquired.
“The man who was considered the prime suspect in the double murder was seen wandering around that same night near that area. He was tall and wearing a pumpkin costume.”
“Oh, very clever… Trying to hide his identity, was he?!” Blue said shaking his head. “What a stupid costume… not very inconspicuous.”
“Well, it seemed it worked, Adam, because several months later, the police still hadn’t caught the killer, or even knew where he was. And then with Christmas, the investigation slowed to a stop. The problem was the victims weren’t murdered there, in that wood: they were dumped there, and the bloke had been dead for about three days. The woman, they couldn’t really tell.”
“She was that badly burned?” Blue enquired.
Ochre nodded. “I mean someone must have seen a guy buying a pumpkin adult costume, or have records of it. But the police went to all the shops in town that sold clothes and costumes and not one had sold such a costume for an adult.”
“He could have bought it online?” said Blue, thinking out loud. “Or into a store outside of town?”
“Well, yes he could have,” said Scarlet. “Playing detective now, are you, Adam?”
“Anyway,” continued Ochre, “that’s when strange things started happening to the residents living next to the dump site, on the cul-de-sac. People started seeing dark figures – one of a man with his head missing, and the other of a woman, her skin looking like coal. Both were seen standing or hovering near their houses… staring in through their windows.
“One young couple even met the headless figure one night, while strolling into the wood. Scared the hell out of them, especially when the figure turned its back on them – and they saw that his head was actually hanging down his back, held only by a little bit of flesh!”
“You’re leading me on, aren’t you?” Blue suddenly snapped. “Or are you trying to scare me with this tall tale of yours? You should know I don’t scare easily, Elaine!”
“That’s what I told her too,” Scarlet commented quietly.
“I swear, guys,” Ochre protested. “I’m telling you the truth – those apparitions were real – and the people who told me about it were very reliable! Scarlet, you said earlier you believed me!”
“Yeah, right,” Blue said, unconvinced. “Well, I imagined that if a body would walk around, with a head almost separate from his body, then he obviously would look exactly like you describe it when standing up. That’s really spooky and disgusting.”
“You want me to finish the story or not?” Ochre asked him.
“Please, go on. I’m mesmerised by the whole tale.”
Ochre glared at him, unsure if he was joking or not.
“Word of the ghosts’ presence spread through the neighbourhood,” she said. “Well, for the residents, it was obvious the figures were the ghosts of the victims from the double murder… And appearing to people wasn’t all the ghostly figures did… People thought they were also responsible for other stuff, like cups, chairs or other objects moving during some nights.
“One morning, the old couple living in the house opposite that of the young couple I told you about earlier, found writing engraved on the wooden table in their kitchen. It said: ‘HELP ME’. Now the couple certainly didn’t write that, and they didn’t have any visitors in that day or night, so where did it come from? Certainly, they thought, it must have been the ghosts.”
“Yeah, it must have been,” Blue said, rolling his eyes. “What were the name of these victims-slash-ghosts, Ochre? Or did you forget that bit?”
“Yeah, sorry,” said Ochre. “Maria Myler and Daniel Western. Maria was single, and Daniel was married. When their respective families learned about their deaths, they were shocked. Thankfully, none of them had children. Do you believe how awful that would have been for those kids growing up knowing that their parents had been so brutally murdered?”
“Did they know each other?” Blue asked.
“Not that I can remember, no.”
“Carry on,” Blue requested.
“Well, all that was going on for about two weeks when one day, the young couple, umm... Mr and Mrs Hutch, finally remembered their names, decided to bring in a… Oh, what’s the word?” Ochre said snapping her fingers. “Begins with P… I just told Scarlet!”
“Psychic,” Scarlet said calmly.
“That’s the word! Psychic! Thank you, Paul. She was no one I have ever heard of. She called herself Madam Clear Eye.”
“How do you know that much about this case?” asked Blue curiously.
“Well, the parents of my friend Hazel were friends with the Hutches who told them everything. Hazel was a nosy girl and she told me everything she overheard – even though they tried to be discrete not to mention any of it in front of her!”
“Teenagers,” Scarlet said, shrugging. “Parents ought to know they can’t keep secrets from them.”
“I was pretty interested with what was going on, it was so exciting,” Ochre continued. “Life was quite boring before all that happened. I would go with Hazel to all the areas I could, and she would find out things no one else would ever hear themselves. How she did it was beyond me.”
“Oh, ok, carry on,” said Blue.
“Anyway, the Hutches brought in Madam Clear Eye and she said that the spirits of the victims wanted someone to find their killer. She had a few images come in her mind from the two victims. Because they were drugged, they didn’t know where they were killed so could only show what they saw when they woke up. She saw these images only for a split second each, but she said they were clear enough to see. There was a number forty-four… the colour red… and an image of a huge yellow rose bush. She asked if the Hutch family knew if those meant anything to them, or if, by any chance, they knew anyone who has a rose bush like that.”
“And…?” Blue inquired.
“None of this was familiar to them, so the Hutches decided to risk reporting all this to the police – who didn’t believe anything Madam Clear Eye said. They just thought it was a waste of there time.”
“Never trusted those people,” said Blue in a very sceptical tone. “They use gullible people to get money out of them, by making them think that can talk to their dead relatives.”
“Well, I was like that. I thought she might have been a money grabbing, heartless woman, but what happened next is what changed my mind.”
Blue wasn’t having any of it; he just shook his head.
“It turned out to be a hundred percent true, Adam.”
“ Are you sure she wasn’t part of the murder?”
“Yes, I’m quite sure, Adam. It was only a couple of days later that we saw the resolution of the affair in the newspaper,” Ochre explained. “The day before, after a night of heavy rain, a man – whose name I know begins with M but can’t quiet remember what it was exactly – was walking his dog in the wood where the bodies had been found. Maybe it was the smell of something, but the dog, for some reason, started digging a little further up that spot. He kept digging and digging, ‘til he found something and started pulling at it. His owner walked up to the dog and saw him pulling something orange. He went to help the dog and saw that it was a pumpkin head piece.”
“No way!” Blue said in disbelief. “The costume worn by the killer?!”
Ochre nodded. “The guy immediately rang the police and told them of his finding.”
“Why didn’t the police find it before?” Blue said, now getting really into it. “It was in the area the bodies were!”
“I have no idea. I don’t think they even gave an explanation. The real reason might be that they weren’t looking for it at the time, and then didn’t look for it hard enough after that.”
“What do they get paid for, doing nothing?” Blue continued, moaning.
“Later they managed to find some DNA in the head part,” Ochre moved on. “They looked though the DNA database and found a match. He was a Jason Fryer, forty-five years old, who had been arrested for murder before. He had killed a man in a bar brawl, while being very drunk… in self-defence, his lawyer pretended, and that saved him from quite a long sentence in prison at the time. He was out of prison for only a couple of years. The police found his last known address, which was about ten miles from where the bodies were found. They went there…” She turned to look straight at Blue. “The number of the house was forty-four.”
Blue stared at her, raising an eyebrow.
“When they found that he wasn’t answering, the police entered in their own way by knocking down the door,” Ochre continued. “They found Fryer in the kitchen, zonked out on the table by alcohol. They woke him up and arrested him. When they dragged him out, one of the policemen caught his finger on a thorn from a yellow rose bush.”
“Well?” Scarlet asked Blue.
“Well what?” he replied.
“Do you believe now?”
“I’m still not sure,” Blue replied back, still not totally convinced. “What about the colour red?” he asked Ochre, waiting for a convincing answer.
She smiled. “Hang on, Adam I’m coming to that. After taking him away, they searched the house and found a room in the basement, where he had kept his victims. They found everything they needed there to prove he was the murderer. Blood, lots of it… Burnt flesh, with a hint of petrol and a couple of syringes still containing some of the drug used to knock Daniel and Maria out. A hatchet… All of that, with his prints all over them, and all over the place. And…” she added, as Blue was about to ask his question again, “in that room, they also found… a big piece of carpet that was red because it was soaked with the blood of his victims.”
“Well, I’ll be…” Blue muttered. “Why did he kill them? Did he know them or just choose them at random?”
“Fryer was a sick man. Delusional because of the alcohol, the
newspaper said, and a psychopath with bouts of schizophrenia. As for his motive: Maria was someone he
worked with at the same office for a couple of years, and he had fallen for her
but she didn’t feel the same. That annoyed him. As for Daniel, well, he was
working in a bar, and Fryer said he would never serve him alcohol when he asked
for some. According to Fryer, he also kept
“eyeing up” Maria, but it could all have been in his imagination. Especially considering they didn’t seem to know each other.
So in the end, Fryer had enough. He
kidnapped them and kept them in his basement for awhile, and then decided to
get rid of them
. He killed them, and
dumped their bodies in the wood.” Ochre shrugged. “Why there exactly, the
police didn’t know and Fryer wouldn’t say.”
“And why the pumpkin costume?” Blue asked. “Why was he wearing that, the night he dumped them in the wood?”
“No idea. Perhaps in case someone would see him, and wouldn’t recognise him with that silly costume on? It was close to Halloween, Adam. Fryer was a sick man… He died in prison, while serving a life sentence, with these last secrets close to his heart.”
“Good riddance,” Blue muttered.
“But there is good news,” Ochre continued. “Maria and Daniel never hovered near the houses by the wood again. Their spirits could now rest in peace.”
“That might sound like good news to you, but I’m still not convinced,” said Blue.
“Well, I think it’s true what Madam Clear Eye saw,” Ochre insisted. “None of these details was ever released before the arrest, because no-one knew who Fryer was!”
“Ah! But did she know him, and that’s how she knew everything?” Blue asked with a smile.
“If you’re saying Madam Clear Eye had anything to do with the murders, I don’t think she did, Adam.”
“It would make sense as well,” Blue said, looking at her. “She might have had something to hide?”
“It is possible,” Scarlet said in agreement. “If she was psychic…”
“She didn’t, ok?” Ochre protested. “Just believe what I say. She had nothing to do with it!”
Both men blinked, rather surprised by her outburst.
“Ok, Elaine,” Blue said, quietly but still firmly. “But why do you KNOW she didn’t? That’s what I’m trying to figure out. Her word doesn’t mean much to me.”
“Yeah, come on, Ochre. You have to give us a good enough reason,” Scarlet said waiting for her reply.
“Look,” she said, getting rather annoyed at them bugging her over it, “she couldn’t have committed those murders because Madam Clear Eye wasn’t her real name. It was...” She sighed, giving up. “Rebecca McGee. My aunt.”
Scarlet raised a brow. “Your aunt?”
“Why not tell us before?” Blue asked. “And that story about your nosy friend Hazel…”
“That was partly true. Hazel was nosy. But all I know about ‘Madame Clear Eye, I got from directly the horse’s mouth. Look, I didn’t want to say who she really was because I knew you would both find it even stranger.”
“Yeah, we would have, Elaine! Geez! That was a surprise!” Blue said, wide eyed. Scarlet was also surprised, but didn’t want to say anything else as he could see by her face it wasn’t easy for her to admit it.
“Well, now we know why she couldn’t have committed the murders,” he said instead, staring at Blue. “We can leave it at that, can’t we, Adam?”
“Ah, yeah, I guess we can. But, can you do any of that psychic stuff, Elaine?”
“Do I look like the sort of person that wants to get in contact with dead people?” Ochre said giving Blue an annoyed look.
“No, not really. But just a thought.” Blue shrugged. “But after knowing who Madam Clear Eye is, maybe all this stuff could be true. But I’m still a bit of a sceptic.”
Ochre sighed, shaking her head. “And until you can see proof, Adam, I think you always will be.”
This story was beta-read by the Spectrum Headquarters beta-reading panel.