Elijah Walton Henry sat at a desk at Penman Press writing tabloids and local gossip when he stumbled across what would soon become the story of a lifetime. It wasn’t anything he’d planned but it just so happened to find him nonetheless, and find him it did, in the most haunting of ways.
Elijah Walton Henry was the youngest investigative journalist in a small office of twenty or so staff—ten of whom were established writers all competing for the next best headline—and now he was missing, and as those close to him would soon discover, that wasn’t all that would befall the besotted writer when he decided to branch out and write his first story.
“I have to think outside the box,” Elijah whispered excitedly over the wall of the shared cubicle next to him. It was nearing six-o’clock and he hadn’t heard a peep all afternoon.
“Archie…I’m serious, I’ve got to think of a way to get some money coming in. I work myself to death, over sixty-hours and I have nothing to show for it…unlike you. This can’t sustain me forever. I got an eviction coming up at the end of the month and I’m sure a demotion is right around the corner. I haven’t had any feasible prints…What do you think—an Elijah Walton Henry original Murder Mystery Novel? I’m sure I can sell you at least one…what do you say?”
Archie Thomas sat back in his chair picking at the frayed pieces of leather on his armrest as he thought back to the words his partner spoke only days before. Had any clues stuck out?
He stood peering over the shared cubicle wall wishing he had said something, anything other than the silence. It didn’t help that Elijah’s desk was a broad mix of organized chaos—but it was just as he’d left it.
Somewhere in the piles of paper and handwritten notes lie the next big story—or maybe some answers—Archie Thomas just didn’t know which. Maybe both? It was a wonder Elijah found any time to work in all that mess.
“Have you seen Elijah?” seasoned top-dog around the office, Jefferson Jones asked, a sly-smirk plastered across his face. He pointed to the board on the wall nearby— “Elijah’s not doing so good. His numbers are practically non-existent…just like him…but I might have something for him, some tip from a school…someone called and seeing as to how I don’t have time for such trivial stories, maybe it can get him placement back on the bottom spot, you know for old times-sake?”
Archie Thomas said nothing as he sat back down in his chair and picked once more at the frayed pieces of his desk chair. He was sure Elijah would have touched base with him by now but he hadn’t called him or met with him at the bar to swap stories or leads. Elijah Walton Henry was a private man but surely not quiet. This concerned Archie as he looked out over the cluster of cubicles towards the windows as his thoughts went back to the last conversation they had. Elijah was right, Archie was nearing his own third retirement, he was just there to pass the time, what else did he have to do? He owed it to Elijah.
Besides, Elijah was certain he had found something big. Archie recalled Elijah running down the steps of Penman Press as he hurriedly made his way over to his beat-up 1984 Toyota—a faded tan color with two broken door handles. Muttering something about a connection between a story that happened twenty-years before. Something about a school.
“Calm down” Archie’ d quipped, the unsaid mix of annoyance and worry was apparent in his tone— “what’s all the rush? Another few days won’t hurt. Do some more research and for goodness sake keep your cool…don’t get caught up in something over your head chasing about leads in a hubbub.”
“Don’t worry about it, don’t worry about me. I’ll be back in no time…I got to do this on my own. I will get with you later and explain everything.” Elijah said—a flushed whisper of excitement etching across his face as he jotted down something in his notepad before popping his hand through the open driver’s-door window and releasing the door handle for a final time.
That was the last time Archie saw Elijah as he sat strumming his fingers on the keyboard. His eyes traveled the crumpled and ripped out pages of handwritten notes that sat on his protégé’s desk. There were names, addresses, underlined words, and phone numbers. None of it made any sense. Archie collected all the scrap pieces of paper and put them into his pocket as he printed the last document Elijah had been working on before grabbing his tablet off the charging station.
“Did you say something about a school?” Archie queried, snatching the tip card from Jefferson Jones neatly manicured hand— “I’ll take that kind sir, never know where a lead will take you but I’ll be sure to pass it along to Elijah if I find him.”
The thoughts ran wild in Archie’s head as he looked around at the hustling bustle of Penman Press—it was their very own wall-street, and Elijah had to be somewhere close by. It angered Archie to think the world was just existing as though Elijah hadn’t vanished. No one was even looking for him, no one was concerned he was gone. Not to mention the phones were ringing off the hook with baseless leads and daily psychic readings. A few of the “regulars” visited every once in a while, for their weekly check-in’s trying to get their name printed in a story—any story—and Elijah was missing it. He was missing. Tip cards stacked in a bowl on Elijah’s desk, filling it to the brim and he wasn’t even one of the stories being mentioned.
All around was the typical and usual annoying hum of furious keys clicking mixed in with phones being slammed back on the receiver and the occasional aggravated rants. Archie grabbed his own keys and jacket and slipped out the side door, he had to find Elijah. But where?
He would start with where he last saw him, the parking lot. On his way-out Archie skimmed the opening few lines, this was quite the story, Elijah was onto something indeed, but what? Archie started reading the first chapter hoping it might give him some answers:
Some might say Demetria Rollins had been killed twice. The first being the day she’d been born—a quiet, fog-filled morning in September, nineteen-eighty-five and then again, the second time being exactly twenty years later on the eve of her birthday—a night that was anything but quiet; the night she actually died. But which was it? The stories were rife with rumor and speculation. Though many would argue Demetria Rollins had never actually lived.
Her life was clouded under much suspicion and it seemed no one knew for sure what really happened on that fateful night—but all that would soon change, the truth would eventually surface and it was much stranger than anyone could have realized. An unfortunate effect of having lived under such a strange existence.
Archie Thomas sat back in his own boat sized car—a bright rust orange colored vehicle with cream-colored leather bucket seats. He’d never heard of the name Demetria Rollins before, but as he read on he soon realized—Demetria Rollins wasn’t what one would call normal as it were. Archie Thomas flipped through the tattered pieces of paper that he’d taken from Elijah’s desk. Scribbled names, dates and locations; places that didn’t have a connection outside of anyone other than Demetria Rollins, a school named Harbor View and now—Elijah Walton Henry. He wondered, pondered, and fumed— “dag-gone-it. I knew he would do it, I knew Elijah would drag me into something.”
Archie slammed his hands down onto the thin metal spindles of the steering wheel as he contemplated reading further into the story. How far had Elijah gone? It seemed he’d dug himself into a little hole. He wondered why Elijah wouldn’t have just told him about Demetria Rollins and what the big mystery was.
He read on, curiously:
From all outward appearances it appeared Demetria Rollins lived a quiet, sheltered life— just like the rest of us in boring middle America. But, if you look close enough—there was something seething just under the surface, something very different indeed; something Demetria Rollins would stop at nothing to hide. And don’t get me wrong, it was nothing sordid or strange, or kill-worthy. Nothing like that, but maybe it’s better if you don’t know just yet, maybe it’s better if you find out exactly as I did, as we all did. Hell, maybe it’s better if we started from that night. The night she was killed, or maybe, the night she was born, or even the night she first died.
Are you confused? Good. I was too. It doesn’t matter where we start, the story will end the same. Demetria Rollins was a beautiful young woman, striking even but that wouldn’t be enough to save her. Those around her remembered her kind, inviting smile and how she lit up a room—all of the usual missives one would tell investigators and journalists after such a tragedy occurred—and she was no different.
Newspapers showed live photo reels of her, and for the rest of history she would be seen as a movie star. A tragic story, a ‘what-if’ with ravens-black hair cascading against her spine in waves, meeting at a crisp point just above her tailbone. While vivid blue eyes peered out from behind doe-filled lashes; looks that could see through the darkest night, even in death. Her pale moon-kissed skin stayed perpetually flush and rosy.
Demetria Rollins was everything you hoped your child would be but unfortunately for her, that was all anyone could remember—and what a shame that was. In hindsight no one knew much about her at all.
No one could quite recall having ever spoken to her. Every tabloid ran the same, monotonous story, using retouched photographs the newspapers printed with similar attention-grabbing headlines for all to read, the main caption glossed the front page in big, bold letters: Young, Pretty and Dead—and while it was true, Demetria Rollins was much, much more than that.
Her closest friends—those who knew her best had also been killed that night, right alongside her. No one was alive to tell the story now. Roommates and fellow students killed in precisely the same manner—but how they had been killed was beside the point but we will get to that soon enough. Their deaths would be talked about for decades.
It begged the startling question—who would be next, and who was responsible?
Interview after interview had been conducted on the front marble steps of the courthouse. Famed reporter Althea Lewis and Pearl Matthews sat in the trenches asking all the right questions, looking prim, proper and poised as though talking about the weather. Meanwhile local Apphians stocked up on self-defense classes and dusted off their use of stunning charms, traveling in packs and locking their doors—all in preparation for a battle they had yet to encounter.
There was unfettered access to the news if one should need it. The tip-lines were on every dial-up option on command. If only it had been this easy then Demetria Rollins, Lori Richardson, Serene Dawn and Ramel James would still be alive.
We wouldn’t be here discussing what happened or how these tragic events would set the stage for an even greater set of murders. What she, along with her three roommates would be best known for wasn’t pretty—even in death it wasn’t simply dying that made them famous, it was how they died.
The deep, defacing burns, eyes milky and glassed over—popping zaps of electricity still swimming in their glowing pools—the only remaining signs of life, if you could even call it that. There wasn’t much living to be had; the bodies were cold and rigid—aggressively so.
Men in stark white body suits fastened firmly up to their chins walked around the room. Strange breathing apparatuses adorned their faces. It took several hundred gallons of water to fully extinguish the roaring flames and yet, they still blazed on—untouched and creeping closer to the bodies with each passing gust of wind.
“Get this scene under control,” lead detective Rudy Jones barked. He was a standing in the doorway in a cerulean blue suit calling orders out over the nipping fires. It was clear he was in charge of what was left of the crime-scene—and even that was in jeopardy of being destroyed.
“Someone miscalculated the water…this fire’s still very active boys, we need to get a move on and get the bodies out of here, pronto,” he shouted, waiving more and more men with hoses and gurneys into the small space, hatchets knocking out surrounding walls—all in a failed attempt to contain the growing flames.
“If you know what’s needed, get it done, I shouldn’t have to ask…we need to get as much DNA as possible off these kids. I want answers tonight.”
“Ten-Four Rudy,” a man’s voice squawked over the radio— “just how do you expect we make that happen, magic?”
“Don’t be smart Carl, just make it happen. Do something other than run your mouth for once.”
“We’ve used more than enough water, it’s clear this isn’t any normal fire,” a second man’s voice cut in, echoing over the receivers in their face-masks.
“You think,” a third man replied; it was obvious the fire investigators had no idea what they had stepped into.
“Besides, we tapped the line—all the waters been used. If we keep going it will kill us before we can put it out…”
“Whatever it takes boys, whatever it takes,” Rudy continued as though nothing had changed. “Just get it done. We don’t want the Magistrate getting involved. We already have the reporters hovering over. Get the tarps in place Steve. Let’s not make this more of a fiasco…”
Water dripped from every board and beam in sight, holes had begun forming in the ceiling as star-shaped pits gave way under the buckling loads of water being sprayed overhead.
Across the street two well-dressed men began their ascent. Passerby’s might not have even noticed their strangely over-the-top clothing or the fact they had just popped out of the sky. The men—Orkney P. Drummond and Homer Tinbaucher III looked rather normal, considering. Their sleek, buttoned up suits and crisply pressed lavender paisley silk shirts weren’t as out of place as the men in white body suits. At least they weren’t wearing cloaks like some of the other investigators in their department. Times had changed and luckily the Magistrate allowed them to relax the rules a bit, bending them in favor of more modern attire.
Orkney Drummond was extremely happy with this change—the new styles were rather accommodating to his figure. He never liked being swallowed by the drab, drowning fit of the cloaks and robes his predecessors wore. Besides, it seemed as though the crowd’s attention was focused elsewhere and it definitely wasn’t on the empty sidewalk or the loud cackling pop of their sudden entry into this part of the world. Not at all, it would seem the group was laser-focused on the front gates of Harbor View Technical School—a name neither man understood. There wasn’t a harbor or view in sight. In fact, the name didn’t invoke any sort of magical spark or connotation, completely unlike the circumstances for which they were here; maybe that was a good thing. It just so happened to be rife with its own disillusioned history that they almost felt bad.
“Can’t have too many curious eyes getting into Magistrate business,” Orkney Drummond mused, “imagine if they knew what went on in here, forget the murders. They would lose their minds.”
“Yeah don’t doubt it. They’re saying fire eh— are we sure it was a fire?” Homer Tinbaucher’s suspicious sarcasm masked the seriousness of the situation. It felt like the two men were walking with lead boots strapped to their feet, they just didn’t know it yet.
“The whole world will be watching us shortly. Got to get ahead of this…it will be the fire of the century once Althea gets here, just you wait and see…” Orkney muttered. His sharp eyes squinting as he bit his lip with much anticipation as he took in the scene around them.
“Yep, better get a move on…”
Normal, boxy wrought iron gates did little to keep the curious, prying eyes of onlookers out of the crime-scene. The two men were counting on this as they brushed off any remaining portal dust before pulling out their official Magistrate insignia—shiny, metal shields that looked similar to your standard issue police badges. Upon initial glance one wouldn’t question a thing. It was gearing up to be another normal, regular day at the office as they cut through hordes of reporters, finally reaching the crime scene taped barricades. The crime scene was buzzing with amateurs.
A warm, calming glow emanated from the two men’s hands as they passed, barely lifting a finger to tap the edge of either side of the gate—a hazy fog building between the bars—blocking their views in one immediate swoop.
The two men continued the task at hand, moving from person to person—asking one question and one question only— “what did you see,”—the answer didn’t really matter. Elimination charms and mind-erasing curses were dispatched at lightening speeds. Orkney Drummond and Homer Tinbaucher were ready.
“Looks familiar…” Orkney Drummond huffed, a tone of aggravation readily apparent on his face. “Seen this before, some twenty years ago; can’t believe it myself. I’m going to have to report this…”
Homer Tinbaucher’ s eyebrows furrowed curiously.
“Paperwork…” Orkney Drummond answered, before changing his tone— “and by the looks of it we are going to have our hands full. Make sure no one leaves the scene. Collect everyone, and I do mean everyone.”
Archie paused, hours passed and he read and re-read the last lines carefully looking for a sign. He’d wondered how close Elijah had come to being smack-dab in the middle of a crime-scene and what he’d stumbled upon. Their press-badges only got them so far. He must’ve been standing near-enough to see or hear too much. Archie proceeded to fold the pages, stuffing them into the confines of his center console as he jotted down his own set of notes. It was going to be a long night but he knew what he would have to do if he was going to save Elijah.
He couldn’t imagine what would happen next as he put the car into drive and headed towards Harbor View Technical School and wondered where Elijah could be.
About the Creator
Writing my escape, my future…if you like what you read—leave a comment, an encouraging tip, or a heart—I’m always looking to improve, let me know if there is anything I can do better.
& above all—thank you for your time