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By Katie Kelly KoppenhoferPublished 2 months ago 14 min read
Photo by jesse ramirez on Unsplash

His father slammed the laptop closed with a snap that left Kevin blinking. “Why d-”

“I thought you were getting yourself off to the pub today?”

“Uhh,” Kevin shook his head, “yeah I am.” He’d never seen his father look quite so frayed. A deep crimson was creeping up his face, brow glinting in the flashing Christmas lights his mother insisted on draping in every room. “But, didn’t you say you needed help with the flas-”

“No, just rubbish, isn’t it? Said as much yourself, really.” He stood from the sofa quick as a whip and swiped one hand through his thinning hair.

Kevin frowned. Had he said that? “Alright then,” he stood, “if you need anything let me know, I suppose.”

“Yes, yes. Thank you. You’re a good lad, Kev.”

Kevin nodded, pulled the den door open.

“Wait, wait! Here.” He thrusted a crumpled twenty-pound note into Kevin’s hand. “Few pints on me for the starving uni student.”

Kevin flushed, “Dad, I was paid right before I left London, I don’t nee-”

He held his hands up, warding off Kevin’s protest. “I know, I know, just don’t tell your mother, alright? Now go on, have fun with your friends. I’ve to go into work for a few hours.”

“I thought you were done for Christmas?”

“Just one last thing." He rolled his eyes dramatically.

“Oh, alright. I'll see you later then?”

His dad smiled. The creeping red marring his flesh was dissipating.


The bus into town hit every pothole on the way, jostling Kevin into the shoulder of the woman beside him. She squinted at him. He looked away, out the window, while his chest and stomach undulated viciously.

It was odd – he might even go so far as unsettling – the change in his father. It was as though the floor had shifted beneath Kevin's feet.

Was that normal? Just part of getting older and seeing your parents in a new light?

The four months he’d been away might have opened him up to perceiving these changes. He’d packed a wealth of experiences into them for himself. Maybe he’d grown. Maybe he’d changed. Could be that his dad wasn’t the all-confident, all-clever man he’d always thought.

But doubt wormed its way through his mind at that, decimating his dismissal of instinct: something didn’t feel right. And a restless part of his subconscious was not willing to grant him the reprieve of an easy explanation.

His dad had started out the morning his usual chipper self, cracked jokes over the breakfast table, teased Kevin for only making the journey home to get a hot meal. It was during one of these quips that the whirr of mechanical pulsations hit their ears.

A quick check of everyone’s phones – unnecessarily including his mother who rarely found time to answer hers let alone turn it on – and they were ruled out as the culprit. It wasn’t until his dad was leaving on his morning jog that the package was found, the claw markings of a drone’s clamps deeply embedded in the brown paper.

“Oh John! What’s this?” his mother said, coming at the call of her husband. “A package!”

Kevin weaved between them to pick the small box up. It fit snugly into one hand.

“Have you ordered something?”

“No, not me. It’s for Dad. Here.”

A grin spread across his father’s face as he eyed them up, accepting the box. “What are you two up to?”

Bewildered, Kevin shook his head. His mother did the same.

With a crinkle in his brow he tore through the brown packaging. Inside was a lily-white box. He chuckled, mumbled something about pass-the-parcel and cracked the box open. Shining brightly inside was a flash drive. “What’s this?”

Kevin rolled his eyes but smiled. “I know you’re old, but you’re not that old.”

He smirked. “I’m from a different time, son. Why don’t you explain it to me?”

“It’s a memory stick.” Kevin provided the simplest explanation and took it from the box in his father’s hand. “Unbranded. I bet it’s some sort of Christmas promotional thing.” He itched to run to his computer and check. “How clever!”

“Well,” his dad chuckled. “Lead the way, you know better than I do.”

“If it’s a discount let me know!” His mother retreated into the kitchen.

“Don’t you want to see?”

She scoffed. “Bores me to tears this technology stuff.”

He clapped Kevin on the back. “Never been her thing. Let’s go, show me what we’ve got here.”

He'd led Kevin into the den, pulling him away from the living room where his new MacBook lay – an early Christmas present he yearned to use at every opportunity – and over to his chunky old laptop. Kevin watched him blow a layer of dust from it, laughing. “Finally! She sees the daylight!”

Kevin chuckled too. They’d had him late in life, and it had never been more evident than when a new technology baffled them – never mind that flash drives had been around since he could remember.

He’d popped the stick in, leaning over from the sofa to reach the machine, while his dad had watched at his side.

The change was as quick as turning a light switch off.

Whereas before his dad had been laughing freely, after the drive popped up, he began to stammer clumsily. His body, once relaxed, seemed primed to spring forward as though a trap had been triggered.

It was like a bolt of lightning had shot straight from the computer screen and into his body.

And all it took was one name.

Laura McKenzie.

The name was written under the solitary folder on the drive. He’d caught just a glimpse of it before the laptop had been shut in front of him, had just moved his finger across the touch pad to open it.

It had sent his jovial father into a fit of – the realisation came over him as powerfully as a heavyweight’s uppercut – terror.

It was a strange emotion to associate with him, but almost as soon as it landed it felt right. Energy fled his body, filling instead with anxiety. He’d never seen so much of a flicker of fear in his father, and that was unsettling.

Kevin pulled out his phone and Googled the name. He scrolled though a list of Facebook and Instagram profiles, the owners of a few local businesses. He puffed out a frustrated breath as he came to the end of the list.

Reluctantly he clicked on to the second page of results, hope waning. More businesses and social media profiles. Some image results of different Lauras.

A sudden thought made his stomach churn. What if he was having an affair?

Oh God, his poor mother. The sweetest woman on earth. A lick of fury wound through his limbs, and he groaned.

The woman beside him shifted, once again glancing at him, this time sneaking a look at his phone too.


He balled up tighter against the window, still looking at the various images of Laura, picturing the worst things.

But then, he stopped, eyes fixed on an aged newspaper article; or rather the grainy picture of one. Unblinking, he clicked in to maximise the image, and all thought of disgust fled. Shock settled in.

Thursday June 29th 1976


Laura McKenzie, 23, from South Highfield was found murdered in her home on Wednesday the 28th of June. Cause of death appears to be strangling, pending medical examiner’s release. No suspect has yet been identified. Police call on the public for…

The image cut off abruptly.

Kevin’s stomach roiled with the bus’s lurching. He stood, scooted past the woman’s legs roughly and bolted for the door, pressing the bell for the next stop repeatedly.

His skin prickled with the sweat gathering under his shirt. His vision waved. Head swam. He pressed the button again and again. Why wouldn’t this bus just fucking stop?

The instant the doors opened he flew off, ignoring the passing revulsion the bus driver threw his way.

He sped toward bushes surrounding a small park and retched. His previous anxiety swooped through his veins as he hyperventilated for minutes before rationalising the situation; he was wrong to be thinking what he was thinking. How could a single newspaper article shred all trust he had in his father?

He dared not examine that too closely. Instead, he breathed deeply, and began the walk home, once again pulling out his phone.

Googling Laura McKenzie and murder didn’t throw up many more resources than the same picture of the newspaper clipping. If he’d been in a movie, he might have tried the Highfield local library for copies of the paper, but this wasn’t a movie, and he wasn’t even sure people did that sort of thing in real life.

He flicked through the other images on Google, praying now that one of these girls had seduced his father. God, at least that would be forgivable.

He picked up his pace, walking more briskly now to the bus stop on the other side of the street. There was only one place he was going to find the information he needed.


He was home in less than an hour. Just as he arrived in the driveway, the front door began to open. The sound of his dad’s voice, warm and welcoming as summer, called to his mother at the door. It sent a jolt through Kevin's stomach. His feet drove him forward, and heart pounding, he hid behind the tree he used to climb as a kid.

He wasn’t sure why. He hadn’t expected his dad to be home from work so soon. It was possible that he'd just not left yet. Though, with a breaking heart, he also thought it was possible he’d lied.

Kevin shook it off, entering the house after they’d disappeared down the street, and got to work.

His search began where it all started: in the den. He looked under books and on tables, inside the jar that small knick-knacks eventually made their home, in drawers, and on shelves. No luck. With each moment that passed a strange energy pulsed from deep within him, urging him forward.

Nothing in the kitchen. Nothing in the living room. Nothing in their bedroom.

Two hours into the search and a knot had formed deep in his chest. His father might have taken the flash with him. But something about that didn’t sit right. If he were having an affair, whether his wife was technologically literate or not, he wouldn’t have it anywhere near her.

And then, like a slow creep, an idea dawned on him. He sped back into the den, over to the coffee-table to his dad laptop. The front door squeaked on its hinges just as he pulled the flash drive out of the port. He was sickened at the oversight in his first search.

“Fuck,” he breathed, adrenaline bursting through him.

He stuck himself to the inside of the door, waited to hear footsteps pass and carry on into the kitchen, and slithered out flush against the wall. He tiptoed down the hallway, careful to lift and place each foot silently, cursing himself for not taking his shoes off when he got home.

The stairs, at least, were carpeted, and he made quicker progress on them. He kept to the inside of each stair, skipping the especially rickety seventh and ninth step. His bedroom door was directly across from the staircase, and he managed to squeeze his body through the crack he’d left earlier in the day.

Finally, he could breathe, until with another sickening pang, he realised he’d left his laptop in the living room. He swore under his breath, clenching the flash drive in his hand until it dug painfully into his palm.

Was it worth sneaking down to get it? Was it worth his father finding out he had it?

Rationally he knew it had to be a misunderstanding. His father wouldn’t really care, surely? He was overreacting, had to be. But all the same his heart raced, and his skin prickled at the thought of being caught.

He ground his teeth together and kicked off his shoes quietly. He made his way back down the stairs, once again only stepping on reliable spots. His dad was running the water in the kitchen, out of sight of the hallway. It gave him enough assurance to dash into the living room and scoop his computer up.

He sidled back up to the doorway.


Kevin pulled his foot abruptly back into the living room and rounded the door, slipping between a cabinet and the wall as footsteps echoed in the hallway.

“Hello?” Another call, this time closer.

Kevin closed his eyes where he was squeezed against the wall. The steps stopped still for a moment, before receding into the kitchen. He breathed a sigh of relief and slipped out again on the heels of his father’s retreat, making his way silently up the stairs.

He shut himself inside his closet when he got back to his room before powering his laptop on.

The relief he felt was brief and fleeting.

It opened again as it had before, with just one folder marked Laura McKenzie.

He clicked it.

Inside were JPEG images of a young woman, happy, laughing, with family and friends. Further still there were more newspaper clippings, telling the story once again of the murder in 1976. Kevin’s head pulsed uncomfortably.

She’d been found in her apartment, confirmed strangulation as the cause of death. But there’d been more. A beating, stabbing, dismembering.

Additional images included scanned letters to Laura’s “Dear Sister”. Kevin read through them, his stomach clenching tighter with each word. Every letter held more detail: she’d felt someone was following her, he’d shown up outside her window. He had definitely been inside her apartment this time, she’d gotten a glimpse of his face – if she wasn’t mistaken it had been someone she’d gone on a date with a few months prior – his name was John.

Kevin opened another folder: bank statements with his father’s name on, but the letters in the institution were odd. Foreign. The balance was huge. Maintained for thirty years at least.

An escape plan?

Horrified, he clicked on more files. Crime scene photos – he shut those quickly, bile rising in his throat, and scrolled to the last folder. A scan of a polaroid. Laura with her arms outstretched, wearing a white summer dress in a field of wildflowers, and – Kevin’s heart stopped dead – wearing a golden necklace he’d seen before. It was his mother’s. She’d worn it every day since he could remember.

His mother.

His ears warmed from the blood thundering into them. He hadn’t heard her voice since they’d come back. Only his father’s. Hadn’t heard her footsteps. She wasn’t with him.

She should have been, they left together. She never went out. Never did anything at all without him. There would be no reason for her not to be here.

Hands trembling, Kevin pulled out his phone. He scrolled through his contacts. Stopped on Mum and pushed call. It rang, and Kevin’s body flooded with relief that she had it switched on at all.

It clicked in answer, and Kevin blurted, “Mum! Where are you!”

Silence for a beat.

Two beats.

“She’s out just now, Kevin.”

His stomach twisted.

“Oh,” he said, voice strangled even to his own ears.

“What’s the matter, son?” His father sounded strange. Or did he? He was normal, but less somehow. A void of warmth in his tone.

Kevin shook his head numbly. “Nothing just– just needed to speak to Mum.”

“About what?”

Kevin’s mind raced. He needed an out. “I can’t say– it– it’s a present for you actually. Don’t tell her.”

His father laughed gently, spoke low, “She won’t know a thing.”

And then heard it.

He heard it through the phone and with his own ears. The tell-tale creak of the seventh step, now followed rapidly by the ninth.

Kevin hung up the phone. Held his breath. Listened as his father burst into his room. Feet pounded on the floor. His breath was rapid, heavy.

“Kevin?” he called.

His whole body shook. He held himself in, tense, mindful that any movement could topple the mountain of things he now regretted keeping from his childhood, balancing on the hope of a moment.

He twitched reflexively against the keyboard when the bed legs screeched on the other side of the wall and the photo album moved backward a picture. Kevin squinted at it, heart squeezing up his throat. It was the woman from the bus, arms linked with Laura’s. The same squinted eyes staring at him.

His hand shook as he covered his mouth, in the same moment that his father wrenched the closet door open.

His face was carmine, as it had been earlier, and he stared down at the screen, grunting. “Claire never could let it go.”

Kevin breathed rapidly, unable to speak.

His father looked from him to the laptop, and back again. His face now twisted in disgust.

Kevin measured the space available to him. He might be able to squeeze his body through the gap, but not without a tackle.

“Have you phoned the police?”

“No! I swear!" Kevin stammered fiercely. "I wouldn’t!” His eyes flicked down to the scarlet spots on his father’s white shirt, and he sucked in a breath.

John smiled and lurched forward.


About the Creator

Katie Kelly Koppenhofer

Reader insights

Nice work

Very well written. Keep up the good work!

Top insights

  1. Compelling and original writing

    Creative use of language & vocab

  2. Excellent storytelling

    Original narrative & well developed characters

  3. On-point and relevant

    Writing reflected the title & theme

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Comments (1)

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  • Cara Wittekind2 months ago

    Whoa my god, that was intense! Your details - the things Kevin notices, and the things he doesn't - add to the suspense of the story well! My heart is still thumping...

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