“Run, Erica! Oh my God, run!”

She could hear the words in her head, frantic pleas from Julie to run. But run from what? Run from whom? She couldn’t think. Her eyes refused to open, and she was cold. She felt sticky and dirty. Where was she? What had happened? Where was Julie? Questions swarmed her mind as she lay there on the hard surface. Her hands gripped leaves and sticks, so she knew she was lying on the ground, but where? Fear prickled down her spine as she tried to remember.

“Run, Erica! Oh my God, run!”

She heard the words in her head again, and she was near terror. Run from what? Why couldn’t she remember? Why couldn’t she open her eyes? Dimly she became aware of the fact that her head was throbbing. Had she fallen and hit her head when she ran? Had she run? Surely Julie’s pleas were a memory. She would have listened to her best friend. She’d have run, but had she fallen? Her head throbbed in time with her heartbeat.

Where was Tom? Hadn’t he been with her? Tom was always with her. Where was Jesse, for that matter? Jesse was always with Julie. They were always a foursome. Why was she alone with an aching head and unable to open her eyes? What had happened, and why was she so scared?

She heard moaning and finally opened her eyes. She was looking up at trees, heavy tree limbs thick with leaves like a canopy above her. She was in the woods behind her house. But why was she in the woods, lying on the ground? What had happened? Where were her friends? When the moaning came again she was surprised to learn that it was coming from her own mouth. She was moaning. Well, of course she was moaning! Her head was throbbing and she was lying on the cold ground in the woods behind her house. She knew all of this, but she didn’t know why her head was throbbing. She didn’t know why she was lying on the ground in the woods behind her house all alone.

How far into the woods was she? She had to look around and figure out where she was. She could see the lights of the house when she turned her head to the right, so she knew she wasn’t far. She could get up and run to the house. She’d be there in only minutes.

“Run, Erica! Oh my God, run!”

Julie.

Where was she? Erica turned her head to the left and nearly screamed. She’d found Julie. She was lying not three feet from her. Her arms were spread; one leg was bent at the knee and trapped under the other leg. Her eyes were open, but they stared, unblinking, back at Erica. Her mouth was open in a grimace. She was covered nearly head to toe in blood. She was obviously dead. Blood had pooled under her. Erica thought there had to have been a lot of it for the ground not to have soaked it up.

She cried. Julie was her best friend. It tore at her heart to look back into her best friend’s lifeless eyes. What had happened? Who had done this? She wanted to wail, but her throat constricted. It was hard to breathe. Was whoever had done this to Julie still out there? Were they waiting for Erica to regain consciousness and get up only to attack her again?

Thankfully darkness claimed her again. She shut her eyes, blocking out the horror of her best friend’s murder. Unconsciousness was a blissful alternative to the horror that waited for her when she woke.

She was aware of a girl’s screaming voice in her sheltering pool of darkness. Audrianna? Was it her sister screaming? She tried to open her eyes again but had no luck. They were closed tight this time, maybe for good. Then she felt someone tugging at her arms. Arms encircled her, and she was held against a woman’s breasts.

“Erica, sweetheart,” her mother’s voice sobbed. “Oh, sweetie. Oh, sweetie.”

“Stay with her, Vivian,” said her step-father’s voice. “I’m going to call the police.”

“Call an ambulance,” her mother cried. “Oh, God, Julie!”

“Audie, honey, come back to the house,” said her step-father’s voice. “You shouldn’t see this.”

“Is Erica all right, Daddy?” Audrianna asked in a timid voice. The voices were going further away as they spoke.

“Erica, sweetie, can you hear me?” her mother asked. Her voiced cracked, and Erica wanted so badly to answer her. “Oh, God!”

It seemed like forever that they sat there like that. Erica fell deeper and deeper into the blackness that surrounded her. She fell away from the ache in her head, the horror of Julie covered in blood and the fear that she might never wake up again.

Vivian reluctantly let the paramedics take Erica from her, but she was immediately in Jack's arms, sobbing against his shoulder. She was convinced that Erica would die just like Julie. It was June twenty-ninth, and the night was filled with blood.

 

*        *        *

 

In the dark the place looked more sinister than ever. The black stone seemed to become phosphorescent in the moonlight, the two dark stained-glass windows in front looked like eyes. They were aglow all night long. Candles burned in rows clerestory. Candles burned for souls that had passed on.

The grass around the church was overgrown and spotty at best. The Sycamore tree had died over the winter, adding its lifeless limbs to the sea of dead things in the yard of All Saint’s Parish. A cracked sign that could no longer be illuminated wished Julie Davidson happy birthday. Her birthday had been three months ago. Peeper wasn’t doing his job.

It was to this dark and desolately creepy place that Jesse went. There was a slash down his left arm from his shoulder almost to his elbow. It wasn’t deep, and it was bleeding quite freely. He needed to have it dressed. The horror of what had happened was heavy on his mind. He had to reach Father Mark.

No one knew that Jesse sometimes stayed in the church with Father Mark. There was nothing perverted going on, but people would probably think so if they ever found out about it. The thought scared Jesse so bad he nearly left and went home to his drunken father.

He’d get no tender care from his father. A drunken fist, confusion and more pain was what waited for him across town at 413 Riland Drive. No, it had been Father Mark he’d escaped to at thirteen when his father had twisted his arm until it snapped because he’d asked for more cereal, and it was Father Mark that he came to now that everything was all crazy in his life.

He’d run all the way to the church from the Shell station, and the night was balmy already for the middle of June. Sweat slicked his torso and mingled with the blood that ran down his arm and dripped from his fingertips. He could feel it each time a movement of his body caused sweat to seep into the gash. Little twisting, searing responses let him know.

He tried to make as little noise as possible. Father Mark was likely asleep, and the last thing he needed was to be interrogated by the aging priest. He didn’t know who did this anyway. It was dark in the woods, and he hadn’t seen his attacker.

“Oh God, Julie!” his mind screamed as he knocked on the door, but he shoved it aside. He wouldn’t break yet.

“Just a minute, son,” said Father Mark’s voice, alerting Jesse that he’d made too much noise trying to get the heavy door unlocked.

Seconds later the big door swung inward, and he was faced with the sleep disheveled priest who stood looking down at him as he took a step backward and down two of the four steps that led to the back doors.

“What’s happened?” asked the dark haired priest with concern etched across his smooth face. “Was there an accident?”

“I don’t know for sure what happened, Father,” he lied. “It happened very fast. I just need to get it cleaned up and get some sleep.”

He didn’t add that Julie and Erica were likely dead. He didn’t know for sure if either of them were dead or not. He’d run like a coward as soon as he felt the blade slice his arm. He was still too scared to even worry about the girls.

“You’d better get inside,” said Father Mark, looking down at the brown haired boy and stepping aside. “Come on.”

 

*        *        *

 

“Your daughter suffered a concussion, Mrs. Waverly,” said the dark haired doctor.

Midnight wasn’t a huge town. Viv had thought she knew everyone in town, but Doctor Vance Chapman wasn’t someone she knew. People didn’t usually move to Midnight, Washington because they wanted a change of scenery. Here the scenery was dark and wet. Something had to bring a person to Midnight. Because once they reached Midnight they usually left again soon afterward.

“That’s why she won’t wake up?” Viv asked after a moment.

“I’m afraid that she’s just afraid to wake up, Mrs. Waverly,” he replied. “We’ll keep her here until she wakes up. Now if that’s tonight she’ll just spend the rest of the night with us and go home tomorrow if there are no further problems.”

“Doctor, what about the blood?” she asked.

“Not hers,” he replied. “Wrong type and she has no injuries that bled other than her head.”

“Thank you, Doctor,” she sighed. There were no injuries that bled other than a head wound. Was the blood Julie’s?

“The police will want to speak with her when she wakes as well,” Doctor Chapman informed her.

“Yes,” she said. “I’ve already spoken with the detective.”

“Very good,” he said. “I’ll check in on her a little later.”

“Thanks again,” said Viv, still lost in thought about the blood and the scene she’d found when she went looking for Erica. Julie was covered nearly head to foot with blood. So was Erica though to a lesser amount. Could the blood have come from Julie? If it did, what did that mean?

“Mrs. Waverly?” asked a blonde haired young man. He was tall with a fit physique. Viv could see that through his blazer and chinos. He was holding a pad and pen in his hands and smiling at her.

“I’m Vivian Waverly,” she said, smiling back reflexively. “What can I do for you?”

“My name is Stuart Fairbanks,” he said, putting the pen in his left hand with the pad and reaching his right to shake her hand. “I’m a reporter for ‘Seattle Magazine.’ I was wondering if I could ask you a few questions about your daughter’s condition.”

As soon as she heard the words “Seattle Magazine” the smile slipped from her face and her eyes became hard. Her entire demeanor became cold and evasive. She knew all about “Seattle Magazine” and its lies and rumors. That tabloid had printed lies about her when her first husband had drowned while fishing. She wasn’t about to talk to a slimy tabloid reporter.

“Mr. Fairbanks, I think you should stay away from my family,” she said hotly. “We do not have time to deal with the likes of you.”

“I’m sorry you feel that way, Mrs. Waverly,” said Stuart. “I’m sorry to bother you at a time like this. Forgive me.”

“You’re still here, Mr. Fairbanks,” she spat. “Shall I alert security?”

“No, ma’am,” he said, backing up a step. “That won’t be necessary.”

She watched him walk away while holding her breath. The reminder of her first husband’s death while Erica was lying in a hospital bed was too much for her pleasant disposition.

“Mom?” Audrianna said from behind her, startling her out of her anger.

“Sweetheart,” she said, softening as she turned to face her younger daughter. “You should go home with your dad.”

“But what about Erica?” her daughter asked with tears in her eyes. “Is she all right?”

“She’s just sleeping, Audie,” said Viv, reaching out and taking the girl into her arms. “She’s fine.”

“There was so much blood,” Audrianna whispered against her mother’s chest. “So much.”

“Shh,” urged Viv, holding her tighter. “Don’t think about that, Sweetie. Just go home with your father. I’ll be home as soon as Erica’s released.”

“You’re staying?” asked the voice of her husband from behind them.

“I don’t want her to wake up alone, Jack,” she said with tears in her eyes. “She’ll be scared.”

“Of course,” he said, touching her face softly. “I’ll take Audie home with me. You call me the minute Erica wakes up. I don’t care what time it is.”

“I will,” she promised.

“Come, Sweetheart,” he said to Audrianna, tugging at her arm.

Vivian watched her husband and youngest daughter walk down the hall to the elevator before returning to Erica’s room to sit with her oldest and wait for her to wake up. She tried hard not to think about the last time she sat in a room inside this hospital to wait for someone to wake up. She tried, but she didn’t succeed.

 

*        *        *

 

“What’ve we got, Charles?” asked Detective Paul Statler as he walked into the coroner’s autopsy room.

Charles Walter had been the coroner for Midnight since the late seventies. He was also a medical doctor at the hospital with a private practice for the living.  He was a stand up guy that everyone liked once they got past the fact that he cut up dead people to find their cause of death. He was in his late fifties with thinning gray hair and watery gray eyes that had once been blue. He was a bit on the heavy side and constantly wearing his plaid bow tie.

“Thirty-six stab wounds,” replied Charles. “Overkill if you ask me. Blunt force trauma, but it seems to have been inflicted post-mortem. Head wounds of this magnitude produce a lot of blood. I found only brain matter.”

“Any idea about the weapon used?” Paul asked, trying not to look at Julie Davidson’s corpse.

“Kitchen knife for the stab wounds,” said Charles. “Very sharp and very large.”

“Butcher’s knife?”

“Bigger,” he replied. “I suspect, given that she was found in the woods, a large branch or rock for the head wound. I’ll know more when they find the weapons used.”

“Who would stab someone thirty-six times and then hit them in the head?” Paul asked, speaking more to himself than to Charles.

“Someone who wanted to make sure she was dead, I’d guess,” Charles said curtly.

“And Erica Ramone wasn’t stabbed,” said Paul. “She was hit on the head with enough force to cause a concussion but not kill her. It’s almost as if someone wanted to make sure she would live.”

“Live to see her best friend mutilated,” Charles said in a voice barely above a whisper.

“It would seem that way,” agreed Paul.

“Have you talked to Erica?” Charles asked, finally turning to face the detective.

“No,” he sighed. “She hasn’t regained consciousness.”

“How bad is the concussion?”

“The doc says it isn’t life threatening,” replied Paul. “He thinks she’s afraid to wake up. Whatever happened in the woods must have scared her so badly that she’d rather be comatose than wake up and deal with it.”

“Perhaps she did wake up and see Julie’s dead body lying next to her,” said Charles. “That would be sufficient to scare her out of waking up.”

“Yeah I guess that would have scared her,” said Paul. “I’ve seen things that have made me want to rethink the job, but what I saw in the woods tonight... Well I’ve never seen anything like that before.”

“I should hope not,” Charles said quickly. “Midnight isn’t the sort of town...”

“I was talking about Seattle, Charles,” interrupted Paul. “I’ve seen things on the job in Seattle.”

“Yes, well,” Charles stammered as he turned back to the body of Julie Davidson. “Best I should get back to my report.”

“I’ll let you do that,” said Paul as he turned to leave.

“One other thing, Paul,” said Charles, stopping him from leaving.

“What’s that?”

“The blood on Julie Davidson’s body,” said Charles. “It wasn’t all hers. I found blood from two other people on her body. One male and one who has to be a female relative.”

“Relative?” Paul asked, cocking his head to the side and looking at Charles hard. “I checked. Julie’s parents were in Seattle, and she has no siblings.”

“Apparently she has one no one’s told you about,” said Charles.

“Thanks for the information,” Paul said after a moment of thought as he turned and walked out of the room.

A sibling that no one had said anything about? That could mean that Julie didn’t know about her sibling, but her parents? They’d have to know. He decided he was going to get to the bottom of this as quickly as possible. Someone had lied to him.

 

*        *        *

 

“What were you thinking going to the hospital to talk to Mrs. Waverly?” snapped Alex Shaw as he stopped putting DVDs in the wire basket in front of him to turn and glare at his friend.

“It was harmless,” said Stuart Fairbanks, grinning at him like an idiot.

Stuart had met Alex when they were both attending the local Seattle college. Alex had only stayed for one year before returning to the then elusive town of Midnight to take over the video store for his ailing father. Stuart had kept in contact with Alex, but he’d never explained the real reason he’d always been so interested in Midnight. He wasn’t going to explain now, either. He looked at his brown haired, blue eyed friend and smirked at him.

“And you told her your name?” Alex asked. “And ‘Seattle Magazine’?”

“I had to think of something,” snapped Stuart. “She’s quick.”

“For God’s sake, Stu,” sighed Alex, turning back to his DVDs, “her daughter nearly died tonight. Julie Davidson did die.”

“And that’s a tragedy,” Stuart said with a sarcastic tone. “I just wanted to know how Erica was doing.”

“Well you could have picked a better way to find out,” said Alex. “And what’s the sudden interest in Erica Ramone?”

“Need help with the DVDs?” Stuart asked, ignoring Alex’s question.

“Nice,” spat Alex. “Why don’t you just go back to the house. I’ll be a little while, but you know where the spare key is.”

 

*        *        *

 

Vivian Waverly watched the sun come up through the window in her daughter’s hospital room. Erica still hadn’t opened her eyes. She’d moaned a few times in her sleep, but her eyes had remained closed. Doctor Chapman said that her moaning coupled with the rapid eye movement was a good sign. He was confident that she would wake up very soon.

Soon hadn’t come yet, and Vivian was growing more and more concerned about her daughter. She couldn’t let herself think about poor Julie Davidson. That would surely send her into hysterics. She was surprised that thinking about her first husband hadn’t done so already.

She got up and walked over to the window. Her faint reflection greeted her when she got there. Her dark hair was still in the up-do that she’d sat in a salon for three hours to get the day before. She was still wearing the cream-colored dress that she’d bought for the occasion. She sighed as she thought about what she’d been doing when her daughter was being viciously attacked and nearly killed.

She’d been with Jackson, celebrating their fifteenth wedding anniversary. Some anniversary it had turned out to be. While she was sipping champagne and cherishing the night, Erica was being savagely beaten while Julie Davidson was being stabbed and killed. She shuddered as she thought about it.

“Mrs. Waverly?” Doctor Chapman called as he entered the room. She saw his dark haired reflection in the window.

“Good morning, Doctor,” she said, turning to face him. “She hasn’t woken.”

“I expect she will before too much longer,” he said. “Unfortunately it’s time for me to go. You’re familiar with Doctor Sullivan?”

“Of course,” she said, thinking of the times that Marty Sullivan and his wife, Theresa had been to the house for dinner.

“He’ll be in charge of Erica’s case for the day,” he said. “He’ll call me if there are any problems.”

“Thank you,” she said.

“Hang in there, Mrs. Waverly,” he said. Sympathy was all over his expression, and she wanted to scream at him.

“I’ll try,” she said instead.

She watched him leave before turning back to the window and fighting back her tears. Erica would wake up, and they would find out who had done this. That was all there was to it. She had to wake up. She had to.

Then she saw a reflection that made her blood boil with murderous fury. She spun around to confront Stuart Fairbanks of “Seattle Magazine”. She had to hold her breath and count to ten to keep from charging across the room and throttling him.

“What are you doing here again?” she demanded after counting.

“I just wanted to...”

“I’m going to have to call a policeman to tell you to stay away,” she said, cutting him off. “I can see that now.”

“Mrs. Waverly that isn’t necessary...”

Don’t tell me what is or isn’t necessary,” she snapped, cutting him off again. “I told you to stay away from us. I told you. Yet here you are. Clearly my orders were unclear and it will take a policeman to make them clear. Well I shall take care of that quickly.”

He was gone by the time she reached the other side of the bed where the telephone was located on the nightstand. She was so furious she was shaking. She couldn’t believe that he’d come back after she’d told him to stay away. She supposed she shouldn’t be surprised. “Seattle Magazine” reporters were slimy creatures. Her decision was made as she thought about the magazine. She picked up the phone and called Detective Statler.

 

*        *        *

 

“Maybe you’d like to tell us what your fingerprint, covered in the blood of Julie Davidson is doing on a pay phone three blocks from where her body was found, Mr. Danforth,” said Paul, slamming the fingerprint analysis report on the table in front of the man the kids in town called Peeper.

Frank Danforth was the caretaker at All Saint’s Parish. He was in his fifties with salt and pepper hair and beady gray eyes. Everyone in town knew that Frank “Peeper” Danforth was slow. The grounds of the church hadn’t been taken care of for going on three years. Peeper had other things on his mind than the church grounds. Paul had read his sheet. Peeper had gained his nickname because of the seven times he’d been caught sneaking up to windows to look in at women in the night.

“I called Vivian,” said Frank in a timid voice. “All I did was call.”

“Why was Julie Davidson’s blood on your finger, Frank?” Paul demanded. “You can’t tell me it was already on the phone.”

“No,” he said slowly as tears fell from his eyes and his voice shook. “No. I saw them, I did. Both of them lying on the ground all bloody and dead.”

“You saw them?” Paul asked. “Where did you see them, Frank?”

This had to be done by the book. He had to tell him all about the murder before it would stick. Paul was sure he’d found his killer, but Frank had to stop blubbering and tell him the truth. He had to do this right.

“Behind the Waverly house,” sobbed Frank. “They was dead, they was.”

“Erica Ramone is alive, Frank,” said Paul. “What’s she going to tell me when I visit her in the hospital? Is she going to tell me about how you stabbed her best friend over and over again and then hit her in the head?”

“No!” cried Frank. “I didn’t hurt nobody, I didn’t! I swear it, Sir!”

“Come on, Frank,” Paul hissed. “You stabbed her over and over again. Where’s the knife, Frank?”

“I knows nothing about no knife,” he blubbered. “Honest, I am. I didn’t hurt nobody.”

“Paul,” said as Detective Alan Jarvis came through the door and handed Paul a sheet of paper from the hospital lab. “Got something you should see.”

Paul scanned the report and sighed. The blood wasn’t Frank Danforth’s. It was male all right, but it didn’t belong to the peeping tom. Frank had been telling the truth it seemed. That meant that Paul was back to square one. Peeper was a peeping tom, but he wasn’t a killer.

 

*        *        *

 

“What do you have to say for yourself, Mr. Fairbanks?” Paul asked two hours later after receiving a call from Vivian Waverly. He’d called “Seattle Magazine”. They’d never heard of Stuart Fairbanks. Paul wondered what Stuart’s interest in Erica Ramone was all about.

“Look,” said the cocky blonde haired liar. “I didn’t break any laws. I just wanted to find out about Erica.”

“Why?” Paul demanded, glaring at him.

“Because she’s my sister all right?” said Stuart, looking down at the table and his clasped hands.

“Your sister?” Paul asked. “Vivian Waverly doesn’t have a son, Stuart.”

“We shared a father, Detective,” said Stuart. “My mom told me about it a week ago, so I came to Midnight to find my sister.”

“Are you prepared to give us a DNA sample?” Paul asked, thinking that Stuart might actually be the killer. If not he’d be able to find out if the sibling angle was just an angle or not.

“I’ll give you anything you want,” he said quickly. “I didn’t do anything wrong.”

Paul looked at the tinted window that separated Doctor Chapman and Detective Jarvis from the interrogation room and nodded to signal the doctor. He sighed as he sat down across from Stuart at the table.

“I’ll have the results in a few hours,” said Doctor Chapman after swabbing the inside of Stuart’s cheek.

“Thanks, Doc,” Paul said. “We’ll be waiting.”

 

*        *        *

 

“Coffee?” Father Mark asked as Jesse came into the kitchen, pushing his sandy brown hair out of his face with one hand while favoring the one with the bandage.

“Thanks, Father,” he said, accepting the cup in the priest’s outstretched hand before sitting across from him at the small table.

“There’re eggs and a little bacon on the stove for you,” said Father Mark, eyeing his young charge as he got up and walked around the table to the small stove against the wall.

“Starved,” he said, returning to the table with a plate.

“So are you going to tell me what happened to your arm?” Father Mark asked. “You know you’re going to have to go and get stitches. That bandage won’t hold for long.”

“I don’t want to go to the hospital,” he said, looking at his plate.

“Does your injury have anything to do with Julie?” Father Mark asked as the boy shuddered.

“She’s dead isn’t she?” he asked without looking up at the priest.

“Yes, son,” said Father Mark softly. “I’m sorry.”

“I ran, Father,” Jesse moaned, looking up at the man with tear filled eyes. “I ran and left them there to die.”

“Who did this, Jesse?”

“I don’t know who it was, Father,” he said. “Honest I don’t. He came at me from behind, and before I even knew what was happening he sliced my arm. Then I just ran. Julie was still screaming when I took off.

“Father, I was holding her in my arms when the guy attacked us,” he sobbed. “I was holding her and then I left her to die like a coward.”

 

*        *        *

 

“The blood doesn’t belong to Stuart Fairbanks,” said Doctor Chapman. “You’ll be interested to know that Jesse Finnley came into the Emergency Room while I was there. He’s got a cut down his arm, Paul.”

“Thanks, Vance,” Paul replied. “I’ll go and let our guest know he’s free to go. Then I think I’ll head over to the hospital.”