Officer Jack Ballinger receives a phone call from the chief of police in the early morning hours regarding a dead body at an apartment building in a quiet neighborhood in the small upstate New York town of Black Falls. A female student lies in a pentagram outlined in her own blood, clutching a rosary. Ballinger and his former partner Officer Cory Ryan interview tenants in the building about the girl’s death, but are met with more questions than answers.
When another body is found in the same apartment building a few hours later, Jack knows something is wrong. As he ciphers through a patchwork of unexplainable clues, the investigation detours when Ryan disappears from the case and cannot be found.
With his future as an officer in question, will Ballinger be able to deal with the truth of these crimes once he discovers everything he thought he knew was a lie?
I’ve been sitting in the dark for an hour in front of the rain-streaked balcony window on a rattan armchair I found at a yard sale a few months ago.
An old relic is somebody else’s fortune, my mother once told me. It’s got a couple more good years left, I surmise, as I pour three fingers of vodka into a tumbler half filled with melting ice and take a slow sip, chips of broken ice sliding down my throat like shards of glass.
This is the only time I am by myself, a cosmic stillness, to think and rationalize.
Staring out at lines of rain crisscrossing down the sliding glass doors, I see a young dead girl lying in her own blood, clutching a rosary, her face distorted and covered in blood from a deep knife wound.
What does it mean? I wonder, tipping the glass and emptying the vodka in one long pull.
I refill, wishing I had bought two bottles, when a single soft knock at the door rattles me, and I lose my grip on the bottle and glass.
My drink spills across the scattered rug, and the edge of the glass smashes against the armchair at a ninety-degree angle, slivers of glass splintering across the floor.
There’s another knock, harder, more urgent.
I stand, wiping beads of alcohol off my hand and arm, and turn, staring at the closed door.
The time on the microwave reads 3:36.
Nobody visits this early in the morning. I wait and listen, hoping whoever it is will go away.
Five seconds. Ten. Fifteen.
Two raps, hard, forceful and demanding to be answered.
I shudder, and my heartbeat rages in my ears.
As if paralyzed, fear traps me in place, and my hands are trembling and clammy and cold.
But I conjure up enough strength to yell, “Hello?”
I hear mumbling, but the words are unclear.
I swallow hard and step over broken glass, walking in the semi darkness to the edge of the mini kitchen, inching closer to the door.
“Hello?” I say again, reaching for my gun on the counter and cocking the hammer.
There is no answer.
I skulk to the edge of the door and lean up against the peephole, straining to glimpse a tall lean shadow stretching across the far wall in the hallway.
Stepping back, I aim the gun at the closed door, hearing my neighbor’s voice in my head.
Tall. Thin. Ghostly.
“Who is it?” I yell.
I am buzzed from the booze, my head swimming with unpleasant thoughts. I step towards the door and unlock the chains, my hand hovering on the handle.
I look out through the peephole; the hall is empty.
I aim the gun out in front of me as I turn the bottom lock counterclockwise and pull the door open slightly, the chain link lock still affixed, clattering in place.
Staring out the crack, I don’t see anybody. “Hello?”
But there is no response.
I close the door and step out into the hallway, slowly, cautiously, looking left to right. Right to left, aiming the gun in every direction.
At the far end of the corridor, near the stairwell exit, I see a figure, masked in a dark hoodie, staring out the window to the tenant parking lot below.
“Hello?” I yell.
The figure turns in slow-motion, and I catch a glimpse of his long face in the bright moonlight spilling in from the high window.
The end of the whole dilemma eight months ago resurfaces like a nightmare that won’t stay dead, as I glare into the face of my past sins.
Thomas Grant Bruso graduated from SUNY Plattsburgh in 2004 with a Bachelor’s in theatre performance and English writing. He knew at an early age he wanted to be a writer. He has been a voracious reader of genre fiction since he was a kid. His literary inspirations are Dean Koontz, Karin Fossum, Jeffery Deaver, Joyce Carol Oates, and John Connolly. He loves animals, book-reading, writing fiction, and prefers Sudoku to crossword puzzles. He writes book reviews for his hometown newspaper, The Press Republican. He lives in Plattsburgh with his husband, Paul, and their miniature pincher diva, Riley.
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