“A third body has been discovered floating in the Escondido river this morning at approximately 5:00AM. There were ligature marks around their wrists, ankles, and neck. The bodies were dumped in areas that are surveillance free. Leather bags filled with the bones of small animals have caused the culprit to be dubbed ‘The Hexondido Killer’.
“All the victims have been female between the ages of 19 and 24. Experts are telling anyone matching this description to stay inside during the night hours. If you have any information regarding this elusive killer, please call the number at the bottom of the screen.”
Cassidy grimaced and pressed the power button on her remote. For the past month, paranoia and sensationalism had ruled the local news channels. Three bodies in three weeks, it was cause for alarm for any young female in the North County area.
She sipped her coffee and opened the blinds. The pale orange sunrise slipped through the double pane glass and set a peaceful ambiance thoughout the kitchen. The aroma of freshly roasted coffee beans did its best to cleanse the room of the news’ negativity.
A gray scraggly cat’s tail rose above her picket fence like a ship’s mast. Cassidy smiled and peaked out the screen door. The bowl of cat food she had left overnight for the neighborhood stray sat empty on her welcome mat. One day, she would earn its trust and give it a home.
“Shit,” she muttered as she caught a glimpse of the clock. She snatched her jacket off of the back of her chair and threw it over her shoulder. She should have been on the road five minutes prior.
She weaved in and out of traffic on the 405 as she headed to Oceanside. The 70 degree morning air hit her in the face and coaxed her from her morning grog. She squealed into the warehouse parking lot and slipped between a Corolla and a Datson. Rolling up her manual window, she locked her Taurus and jogged to the front of the building.
“Hey, Carlos!” she chimed to the security guard. The buzzer echoed across the pavement as he granted her entry. “Morning, ma’am.” The inside of the warehouse was a bustle of activity. Forklifts and pallet jacks zoomed
between hard-hatted workers on their way to pick up or deliver mechanical materials. Cassidy slammed her time card into the punch slot and flinched as it marked her tardiness.
“This is the second time your late this week, Cassidy.” Her boss stood behind her shoulder with his arms crossed. “Is this going to be a regular thing?”
Cassidy’s lips pursed. “It’s three minutes, Tom.”
“Three minute is still three minutes.”
“I’ll work on it, I promise.”
Tom clicked a pen and jotted down chicken scratch on his clipboard. “You’d better, reviews are coming up.”
Cassidy grabbed a hardhat and a yellow vest from the wall and headed onto the floor. Taking up her position at the dimpler machine, she started punching ventilation hoods together. Ava was from the front of the assembly line. A scowl burrowed deep lines in her leathery, sun-stained skin.
Cassidy buried her head into her work and listened to the hypnotic sound of the dimpler dimpling. The large analog clock hung fifty feet above the roll-up door and displayed each minute in neon red as it slipped into the past. This job was not her passion and it wasn’t her craft, but it payed the bills. Anyone in San Diego county who could get their nut with a single source of employment was fortunate.
The buzzer slipped into her ears through foam earplugs and signalled their lunch break. Cassidy flipped her safety glasses over her forehead and stretched her back. She maneuvered through the warehouse space and into the break room. She pulled a mug with a smiley face from the communal shelf and poured herself a boiling cup of joe.
Pulling up a chair, she sat and took a painful sip. Photos of a crime scene rolled across the small antenna tv mounted to the corner. A small leather baggy sat next to a blurred mound. Two inches of grimy, algae laiden waste water flowed through the waterway.
“Hexondido Killer strikes again!” was written in bold lettering across the bottom of the screen.
“Crazy shit, isn’t it?
Cassidy turned to a moustached middle-aged man. “You know it, Larry.”
She rolled her eyes and blew on her molten beverage. “No, I have a concealed carry permit.”
Larry let out a whistle. “Remind me not to mess with you.”
A woman stormed into the lunch break. Dark bags under her eyes hinted at a sleepless night. Her hands shook as she poured herself a cup of coffee. She stifled a whimper and wiped a year from her cheek. Taking a deep breath, she collected herself and sat in the corner of the room.
“What’s her issue?” Cassidy whispered to Larry.
“You don’t know?”
Cassidy rolled her eyes. “That’s why I’m asking.”
A shadow rolled over Larry’s face. “That’s Harietta Boris.”
The name sparked some recognition in her brain. “Why does that name sound familiar?” Larry pointed to the screen. Cassidy turned her attention to the TV set.
“The victim has been identified as Monica Boris.”
A chill wormed its way through her spine. “Wait, that’s her…” “Sister,” Larry finished.
“And she came to work today?”
“Some people work through the grief, I guess.”
Harietta glanced over at the pair. Cassidy averted her gaze. “I would be destroyed. I can’t imagine what she’s going through right now.” The one minute bell echoed through the building. Cassidy lifted the mug to her lips and drained the rest of the steaming brew.
“The dimpler is calling.”
Larry stuffed the last half of his chicken wrap in his mouth. “Thtay thafe out there.”
“Thanks, Larry. I will.”
In the back of her mind, a question bounced around the inside of her skull. Had she locked her door before she left?
She pulled into her driveway at half past 6 The sun hovered over the San Diego hills in a blinding brilliance. The Santa Ana winds blew crisp leaves through the streets and carried the desert bugs with it. Mosquitoes and gnats buzzed, waiting to catch Cassidy off guard.
She shut her car door and walked up to the welcome mat. Pulling her keyring from her purse, she inserted the house key. The knob turned. Inwardly, alarm bells shouted. She could have sworn she locked it, but she was in a rush. Gingerly, she stepped inside.
The TV whispered from the kitchen just as it had been in the morning. The door to her room remained cracked the same amount she always did. Her bathroom and closet doors were closed.
Nothing seemed out of place, yet she couldn’t shake the feeling that something had trespassed into her abode. It was something in air, an electricity or almost a smell. The word feremone danced around her prefrontal cortex.
She gripped her purse where her 9mm Glock pistol was holstered and placed her hand on the closet’s knob. She twisted, threw the door open, and stepped away from the door in one motion. Shadows of dresses and blouses hung from wire coat hangers. Stilletos and tennis shoes were lined up on a shelf like soldiers in formation. The bathroom was clean and empty, as it should be.
“Paranoid much?” she asked herself as she tossed the purse onto her nightstand. She ran her fingers through her hair and sighed. The murders were getting to her. Harietta’s face was burned I her memory. Would anyone mourn Cassidy the way Harietta mourned her sister?
Cassidy moved to the kitchen and pulled a bottle of red wine from the wine rack. With a pop, she pulled the cork and poured herself a healthy helping. She sat in the counter chair and flipped open her laptop.
A gruesome image of a bloated body popped up on her home page. She grimaced and quickly typed Facebook into the search bar. The local news story was plastered across each of her friends’ pages along with shocked emojis.
She hovered the cursor over the link but paused before she clicked. She didn’t need any more paranoia for the day. YouTube it was.
Bringing the laptop into the living room, she took a sip of her wine and settled into the couch. The gentle sounds of herbs being chopped and the sizzle of garlic in a pan lulled her into an almost hypnotic state. Cooking videos were therapeutic, even if they did encourage impulse eating from time to time.
Soon enough, the sun had dipped below the foothills and the temperature had declined. Placing her computer back on the charger, Cassidy shut it down. She slid the sliding glass door open and pulled the cat food bowl and opened a tin of tuna.
“Here, kitty kitty!”
She scanned the yard and street for the elusive feline.
“Here, mew mew!”
After a few seconds of waiting, she gave up and set the food on the welcome mat.
Slightly dejected, she shut the door and flipped the lock. She rounded the house and latched the windows shut, pressing against the lip to test it’s strength. Once confident, she set her alarm and climbed into bed. After a second or two, she got up and pulled her pistol from her purse and placed it on her bedside table. Once confident in her safety, she tossed and turned into a restless sleep.
It was a warm night. A sliver of a moon hung in the astral realm like the smile of the Cheshire cat. A lone car drove down the street and bounced reflections off of windows into neatly arranged yards.
A man stood outside of the house, a black hoodie was pulled over his head and neck, covering his porcelain skin. His arms hung with purpose at his sides. His glove laden hands twitched with anticipation. His watch read 1:32AM.
He moved close to the ground, slinking along in silence. An owl hooted in the background and provided a soundtrack to his ritual. The picket fence had been left open, not that it mattered. Patchy grass was littered across the front lawn. She should have provided it better maintenance. A gray cat sat hunched over a food bowl. It never saw him coming. With a quick twist of its neck, the mammal fell limp into his hands. He inspected the emaciated cat. Its small skull would fit perfectly in his leather pouch.
Bending down, he sniffed at the bowl. The salty scent of tuna wafted into his nasal cavity. He lowered himself to his hands and knees and dipped his mouth to the ceramic dish. The flesh tasted of the ocean and tin. Tuna was not his first choice, but she had provided it. Whether she had known it or not, she had nourished him, and she would again. He licked up the last bite and stood to his feet.
Adrenaline heightened his senses to the utmost. With a grin, he let out a pur. It was time.
Josiah Arsenault is a writer based in the Pacific Northwest. He wrote his first novel nine years ago at the age of 13 and has had the writing ‘bug’ ever since. Some of his influences have been Jon Krakauer, Isaac Asimov, and Avi.