The Murderer’s Mask
My son, if sinners entice you,
Do not consent.
If they say, “Come with us,
Let us lie in wait for blood,
Let us ambush the innocent without cause;
Let us swallow them alive like Sheol,
Even whole, as those who go down to the pit;
We will find all kinds of precious wealth,
We will fill our houses with spoil;
Throw in your lot with us,
We shall all have one purse,”
My son, do not walk in the way with them.
Keep your feet from their path,
For their feet run to evil
And they hasten to shed blood.
Indeed, it is useless to spread the baited net
In the sight of any bird;
But they lie in wait for their own blood;
They ambush their own lives.
So are the ways of everyone who gains by violence;
It takes away the life of its possessors.
It was January ninth, four thirty-two p.m, exactly five minutes before a single, notable event would alter the lives of two, unspecial citizens of the Unified Counties. Neither knew the other, but such an event would be the catalyst of an unlikely friendship and many peculiar adventures.
The sun was beginning to set over the Morty Desert in Hart County. As could be expected, it was colder and drier than a dead man's bone. No true sign of movement or moisture existed in that forsaken place, being inhabitual for most humans. Such proof of life was buried a few feet underground, in the form of creatures sleeping inside their makeshift burrows, waiting for the darkness to hide their nightly deeds.
Three miles from the desert edge, one area defied the barren land, for water and human modernization were indeed present and visible. An old bridge of rusting metal and crumbling concrete traversed over a roving river, which was currently encased in a thick sheet of glinting ice. Just beyond the river stood the Sandstone Caverns, a natural cathedral of humming hollows and dizzying labyrinths. Though it was a favorite tourist attraction, it was considered a place of ill fortune by the locals. Strange stories of unfathomable and supernatural occurrences haunted the foreboding caverns, though the truths mostly consisted of odd injuries, unexplained noises, and disappearing young thrill-seekers who entered in hopes of finding the labyrinth’s end.
To seventeen-year-old, red-headed Alathea Winters, the caverns were a perfect excuse to be late coming home. Her father, who was very much an art lover, would be easily distracted by a dynamic photo of the famed caves. As long as they held his critical eye, he would pay little attention to the big, red F that marked her Biology test.
Her dark eyes gleamed with unrestrained anticipation as she stepped out of her little green Mosda and gazed at her inspiration. The foreboding hum of the hollow caves sent cold shivers down her spine, but the scene was breathtaking. The sinking sun lit the sky in brilliant red fire and poured luminescent gold on the frozen river below. The growing shadows stretched hungrily from the caverns like fingers. She eagerly lifted her camera.
After a few seconds, she lowered her camera with a thoughtful scowl. It was too easy. Anybody could take a picture from the road. She needed an unexpected angle, one you would not easily find on the Internet. The daredevil inside her took control, and she carefully climbed down towards the rocky bank, enjoying the small amount of adrenaline that surged through her veins in attempting her solo feat.
She did not know she was not alone.
Like a phantom from a tomb, a pale man stepped from the shadows of one of the caves and peered at her curiously. Though his face was concealed in a black scarf, one could still see his tired, stormy gray eyes, his ghostly pale skin, and his silvery white hair. He leaned wearily on the stone wall as he watched the young, pretty girl fiddle with her camera.
A sudden, conflicted, almost hungry look flashed in his eyes. He glanced about nervously, but seemed satisfied that no one else was near. While she paid attention to her work of art, he hesitantly climbed down towards her, removing and unsealing a glistening, needle-topped syringe from his pocket. For a brief moment, he gazed at the tube’s contents, a bright red liquid that could be mistaken for blood.
He snapped his attention back to Alathea, who was kneeling on the bank, an advantageous position for him. Before he lost the opportunity, he lunged and jabbed the needle into her neck.
"Hey!” She flung her arm and smacked his head with her camera. Momentarily dazed, the syringe slipped from his fingers and shattered on the ice.
Alathea jumped to her feet and shoved herself away from him, unwittingly putting herself in the middle of the river. “What did you do?” She squeaked, slapping her hand on her neck. The ice cracked underneath her.
“Here!” The man held out his hand. “I’ll pull you back.”
“What did you do?”
“It’s all right. It may not do anything, but you might become like me.”
“You may become like me. It’s not bad. I promise you. You’ll see. You’ll see everything! No one will deceive you.”
“What are you talking about?”
Suddenly, a loud bang permeated the air. Shock distorted the man’s countenance before life left his eyes. He fell forward into the ice, his corpse shattering it like glass before it sank beneath the surface.
Alathea screamed in confounded horror till the ice gave way beneath her feet and she, too, plunged into the river’s darkened depths. The freezing water punctured every inch of her skin and paralyzed her limbs before she was consumed by senseless panic. 'No! I don’t want to die! I don’t want to die!' Fighting through the hypothermia, she reached for the icy edge above her.
A strong pair of rough hands grasped her throat and squeezed, cutting any chance she had for air. Mind-numbing fear drove her to a futile battle as she clawed and scratched her sudden nemesis. Beyond the teasing surface of the rippling water, she could see the man with a murderous glint in his black eyes.
Like a roaring fire doused with snow, her desire to fight was extinguished. The unbidden fatigue resulted in an unmerited lack of further response. Odly, she felt comforted, calm, as if the freezing water was now a warm, soothing blanket wrapping itself around her. When the strangling fingers disappeared from her throat, she did not care anymore. She allowed the river to gently rock her to sleep, and carry her towards its depths.
It became a topic of constant debate between her and her future companion of whether or not she lost her life on that river bed. Though she adamantly claimed she had, she could never provide a satisfactory description of the ‘grim reaper’. Regardless, she could vividly recount half her rescue, when she came to.
Something thrusted hard on her chest. “Alathea!” A distant voice cried. “Come on! Wake up!” Her rescuer gave another, bruising thrust into her chest, forcing her to cough and sputter. “Oh thank heavens!”
“Mr. Evans?” She rasped as she identified her thirty-year old neighbor and friend.
Andrew Evans, his dark face contorted in a worrisome grimace, wrapped his arms around her. “I’m going to take you to the hospital.” As he lifted her up, she caught sight of the bloodied corpse of her would-be murderer lying on the bank of the river. “It’s okay! He’s gone. He won’t hurt you anymore.”
“Ugh!” She exclaimed in horror as her teeth began to chatter. “W-w-where’s-s-s t-t-he other?”
Mr. Evans did not respond as he huffed back up to the bridge. Alathea looked back, searching for the pale man. “T-t-the other….” As he placed her inside his car, she violently jerked as if she was shocked by an electric current. Her eyes rolled to the back of her head, and she slipped into unconsciousness.
Mr. Evans slammed on the accelerator and rushed to the hospital, leaving the humming, Sandstone Caverns to contemplate the strange, new occurrence. Another haunting, unsolved mystery was added to their tales.
It was just the beginning of Alathea Winter’s troubles.
I’m not completely sure about this story yet. I always love a good mystery, and I thought I might try to write one. However, this is still very much a fantasy. It’s pretty rough, but I’m hoping it’ll turn out. Thanks for reading! Edit: I haven't finished this story yet but I do have a couple more chapters. Figured I'd go back and edit a few things though.