My heart is pounding in my throat as my feet rise, sink, and slide across the sandy beach. He is gaining on me. I cannot look behind me. I cannot afford a mistake. Should I chance the water? It’d be hours before I could reach the next shore across the grand lake. And it’s getting dark. I scream but no one is around to hear me. Or perhaps they are hiding. Better Edith Wallows than us. I can’t blame them. Had someone else been ensnared by the Carver, I would count my blessings that it wasn’t me. But here I am. Desperate and running. Several times I attempt to run towards the town, but each attempt seems to prelude his advances. He is so close. I will not escape this. I make another diagonal run and the sand proves too much for my feeble physique. My feet sink and slip. This time I fall forward. It’s all I can do to turn my body and raise my arms to shield myself. The butcher knife comes down. The doorbell wakes me in a sweat.
I rise to my feet in a panic. Did I remember to lock the windows and the front door? I shuffle to the window adjacent to the front door. I peel back the blackout curtains and peer through the slit in the blinds. I barely catch the helicopter drone heading away. Is someone spying on me? Is the Carver here to continue his haunt of this small beachside town? The uneasiness rises from my stomach and into my throat. I see the lock on the window is in the same position. Nonetheless, I try to pry it upward. When I fail to do this twice, I’m convinced it is locked. I test all my other windows in the same matter. A visual affirmation followed by a physical test. All five windows in my home show no signs of tampering. I breathe a sigh of momentary relief. Only one more thing to check. The door.
I take my time walking to the door. I see the deadbolt is set and the two latch hooks are in the proper spot. I move my step stool to the middle of the door so I can look out the peephole. I nearly fall off my step stool when I see it. A single, unattended brown package rests at my door. The drone must have left it. I wasn’t sure if those machines could carry such weight, but I didn’t have time to consider those things. I shakily step down from the stool and push it to the side with my foot. I turn the doorknob three times. Each time it doesn’t budge. I’m safe. It’s locked.
My frantic heart rampages against my will. I pace around my living room, searching for my cell phone. I call the authorities.
“This is nine-one-one. What is your emergency?” a young lady speaks.
“Hello. This is Edith Wallows. I need someone to come immediately.”
“Ms. Wallows? Hold one moment please.”
“Hold? I need someone now! It’s the-”
“What can I do for you today, Edy?” Sherrif Stone comes on the line.
“Oh thank god! I need you to come right away! He’s after me!”
“Is this about the Carver, Edy? We’ve been over this. He hasn’t been active for twenty years now.” His voice is calm and patient.
“This isn’t like the other times, Roger. He- God help me, he left a package. It’s outside my door.”
“Why don’t you call that young neighbor of yours. Tommy, right? Don’t you have an arrangement for him to get your mail and groceries?”
“Tommy left for vacation. He won’t be back for a week. I need help now! I’m being watched. They left a package and I just know that I’m next. Please come out here!” I beg.
“Edy, I can’t just-” Sheriff Stone sighs. “Will it help if I come over and check out this package?”
“It’d help if your department had caught him already! He’s still out there!”
“I understand, Edy. I’m heading your way right now. Okay? We both know it’s going to take me ten minutes. I’m going to hang up and call you back on my personal phone. You just wait by the phone.”
“Okay.” I breathe out.
Sheriff Stone, as always, is good on his words. The only policeman I wholeheartedly trusted perhaps because he was ten years too young to be involved in the Carver case. And, despite being an out-of-towner, he never looked down on us. Since the first time we met, he always treated me with kindness. He understood how the Carver had affected the residents with his brutal killings on all types of people. Man, woman, child. Anyone was a potential victim. It only mattered if his gaze landed on you. Sheriff Stone was right in that no bodies had turned up for twenty years now, but the Carver had broken his silence once before. It would never be safe while he still walked the streets unknown.
Sheriff Stone had talked to me the entire drive to my beachside residence. He eased my mind by catching me up on his life and local festivities. I sit in my recliner watching the locked door until he arrives.
“Edy, I’m here. I’m going to hang up now, okay?”
I could hear his voice on the phone and in person, though the latter was muffled.
“Edy, why don’t you open the door?” Sheriff Stone rose his voice now. “See for yourself that everything is okay.”
“I think I better not."
“Come on, Edy. Would I tell you to do something dangerous?”
“Not intentionally.” I argue.
“How about looking through the window then, huh? You’ll hardly be able to see it”
I walk to my window and push back the blackout curtains. I raise the blinds just past the lock. I look at the latch. It’s in the right position. I let out a shallow breath. Sheriff Stone smiles and waves at me. He lifts the package. Bile rises to the back of my throat.
“Who-whose it from? Where?” I ask through the window.
“There’s no sender information. Or any information.”
I watch him turn the package over curiously but my vision is darkening. I grip the curtains. My feet are shaking. It’s just like the other packages.
Roger runs to the window and bangs on it.
“It’s okay Edy! It’s probably a gift from Tommy!”
Tommy wouldn’t be so cruel. He knows I can’t stand containers. If something has to be kept inside a container, he knows it has to be clear. I can’t stand the surprise. The knowledge of what can be kept in a brown package has tainted me since that incident.
“Talk to me Edy.” Roger calls to me.
“He’s after me.”
“The Carver isn’t after you. I promise. An unmarked package doesn’t mean dangerous. I’m still here and I’m going to look at it for you. Can you look at it with me?”
“I can’t.” I nearly whimper.
I unclench the curtains and refocus my attention outside.
“There’s that beautiful face!” he beams at me. “Ready for the unveiling?”
I rub my hand over my arm in an attempt at self-comfort. I nod weakly.
Sheriff Stone uses a utility knife to first cut the rope that keeps the package bundled up and then to open the box. He folds the flaps outward and pulls out several wads of newspaper.
“What the-” he drops the package.
Time slows as I watch the head roll out. A cold engulfs me and my vision clouds and darkens. I sink into the darkness. I’m not sure how long it takes me to hear the banging on the door. I don’t want to move. If I don’t move, he’ll think I’m dead, and he’ll move on to another victim. He won’t chop me into pieces and wrap me in brown packages for unsuspecting victims to find. Like me, thirty years ago.
I was nineteen and living the reckless life. Drinking, partying, sleeping around. I didn’t want to slow down. I could go outside then. Hell, I’d stay outside all hours of the day. Now, shadows sent me scurrying. And this particular shadow has risen to reap what haunted torment he had sown in me that day on the beach. The day I had stumbled backward over the package of the third Carver victim while playing volleyball. The smell hit first, but it was the screaming, bloated face that never left me.
“Edy! If you don’t open up, I’m barging in!” Roger warns.
If he keeps yelling, the Carver is going to get him first. I think while I lie on the floor, unseeing. Maybe that’ll satiate the monster’s appetite and he’ll forget about little Edy. I can stay on this floor alone and safe. I hear the crashing of the door. All at once my senses are on fire. My vision is returning, and I see a man tower over me. I scream. I raise my arms like I have so many times in my hopeless dreams.
“It’s me! It’s me!”
Sensibility returns to me. I realize it’s Roger trying to help me off the floor. I allow him to do so. He walks me to my recliner and I collapse onto it. He fetches me a glass of ice water. I take several shallows sips. Roger sits on the couch next to me.
“Edy, I’m sorry. If I’d have known what was in there… you know I was just trying to help, right?”
“Don’t you have to call a coroner? See if they can identify the body?” I say numbly.
“Identify? Oh god, no! It wasn’t human, Edy. It was a hog head.” Roger clarifies. “I can see how the shock confused you. Hell, for a second I thought it was human. Do you have any idea who’d play such a terrible prank on you?”
I manage to look him in the eyes. I let him see my words rather than hear them. He nods in understanding.
“Anyone else? Any local bored kids?”
“I’m sure everyone talks about me.”
“Has Tommy mentioned anyone?” Roger suggests.
“No. And it wouldn’t have been Tommy.” I state firmly.
“You said earlier you were being watched. Did you see anyone?”
“No. Just a drone.”
“A drone? What did it look like?” Roger perks up.
“I don’t know. What all those flying things look like. I didn’t get a good look at it. It was already flying away when I saw it.”
“What direction did it go in?”
Sheriff Stone spends the next hour going over every detail several times since I woke up until the moment he arrived at my home. He borrows a pad and pencils and writes everything down. He then asks my permission to take the package back to the office. I grant it on the condition that someone watches my house until I feel safe again. Or safe as I did before that package arrived on my doorstep. The sheriff agrees and offers to call a maintenance man to repair and reinforce the locks. He waits with me until the worker arrives. Roger tells the man only what is necessary before returning to me.
“I’ll be back before the day is up.” He promises.
“And you’ll keep me updated?”
“Naturally.” He flashes a smile. “You take care, Edy.”
“You do the same, Roger.”
I want to ask him to stay, to not leave me alone with this stranger. But, Roger is a busy man. I reluctantly watch him leave. Before the stranger can make small talk, I shuffle to the bathroom. I lock the door. I sit on the edge of my tub, watching the door in silence. The stranger is dangerous. He knows the layout of my house, the weakness in my defenses. But if I stay here silently he’ll eventually leave. A full hour after he announces his departure, I finally peak my head out the door. Cautiously, I search my home for all the places an adult man could hide. He is not there. I am alone and safe. Good Roger Stone returns as he said. He calls me on the phone to announce his arrival.
“Looks like he did good work on the locks.” Roger references the maintenance man. “He didn’t give you any trouble, did he?”
“Not any more than anyone else. You get any clues?” I ask.
“Actually, that’s something I wanted to talk to you about. May I sit down?”
I nod, unable to speak. I take my recliner. Roger takes the couch.
“We found more packages. All with no labeling. All containing hogsheads. Eleven total.” Roger speaks slow, studying me.
“For Eleven victims.” My voice trembles.
“The locations weren’t haphazard, either. All of them were at houses in which past or present residents had discovered former victims. Some houses had two heads if multiple victims were found together.”
“Do you see it now, what they couldn’t stop? And he knows our identities. He knows where we live.” I start to cry.
“We won’t let it get to that. It could still be an awful prank. Every local knows the gist of the case. Anyone can look up who found the bodies and their residency.” The sheriff tries to reassure me. “And if it is the worst case scenario, I will not rest until we solve this, alright?”
“I’ve heard that before.” I huff through sobs.
“Not by me you haven’t. Have I ever gone back on my word, Edith?”
“No, and I’m not going to start now.”
I wipe my tears and look at him. Fierce determination illuminates his eyes.
“I want your help, Edith.”
“I’m no good.” I shake my head.
“You know this case better than anyone. You lived through it. You can provide the local perspective.”
“I-I don’t know. I’ve tried not to think about it for so long.”
“Come on, Edy. You could be the one to solve the case. You could make the town safe again.” he encourages me. “Who did you think it was?”
“I-I was never certain. But… I know there were several potentials.” I rack my brain, trying to remember what I normally try to forget. “It’s all in a binder. In my closet there.”
Roger retrieves the item in question with a thin layer of dust that he blows off the top. Inside is collected newspaper clippings and notes that I had jotted down. I hadn’t ever dreamed of becoming a crime journalist or anything. I just wanted to not look over my shoulder every time I was outside.
“This’ll help a lot.” He smiled. “Can I take it with me?”
“Of course, Roger.”
“Let me know if you remember anything else. We’re going to solve this, Edy.”
Roger leaves in a confident stride. That night I lay in bed with a feeling I'd forgotten, hope. New, hungry eyes were on the case. It can be solved. The nightmare can end. I sleep with no dreams to haunt me. Sheriff Stone visits me daily to go over the case. I open the door to let him inside my home but I do not cross the threshold myself. One cannot put too much faith in the world. We learn early on several suspects, like the local butcher, are long dead but other suspects remained viable. The theory of a traveling maniac with a penchant for destruction seemed unlikely but not impossible. They could have returned to reminisce. Roger would follow up on this thread on his own. The suspect I put the most emphasis on was the now retired Deputy Frank Swan.
Frank Swan grew up a butcher’s son and had a military background. He had the know-how and the strength to perform the murders and carving of the victims. He also had the law on his side. The police force refused to consider one of their own. Roger had no ties to the old law enforcement. He’d conduct a thorough investigation on the deputy.
Weeks pass. My uneasiness returns. I overestimated Roger’s capabilities. The Carver is too smart. He will evade the law once more. He’ll start killing again. He’ll start with the people he sent the heads to. I am in danger. I am not safe. I cannot escape. The doorbell interrupts my thoughts.
“Edy, can you come to the door? It’s Sheriff Roger Stone.”
I open the door but keep the latch hooks in place until I confirm it is Roger. I let him inside.
“Can we sit down?”
My heart drops. It’s begun. The Carver has claimed a new victim and it’s a short list until he reaches Edith Wallows.
“We caught him.”
The words wash over me like a baptism.
“How?” I whisper.
“You. Your research. Add in a pinch of police investigation and forensics. His coffin is nailed shut”
“Who was it?”
“Frank Swan.” He confirms my long-held belief.
“Why did he do it?”
“I’m not sure we’ll ever know. But we’ll have a long time to try.”
Roger spends the next hour describing how it all came together. When he goes to leave, I walk him to the door. He bids me goodnight and heads for his car. I tell him the same and I linger at the threshold. I take a breath and take a single step out. My nerves tingle but I take a few more steps forward. I reach the sand a foot away from my door.
“Edy? You alright?” Roger yells from his car.
“I think I am.” I smile.
For the first time in too long of a time, I wriggle my toes in the sand.