Fever Cabin [4\5]
I'm a criminal profiler and my wife's letter has me questioning the entire Machete-Killer case
I’m sorry I went away.
I woke up and you weren’t there, but someone else was. I should have felt some sort of panic, maybe called out for you. I could hear you walking around downstairs, rummaging through the fridge. I couldn’t move, though. It was as though a hundred tiny pins were holding me in place, gently prickling my spine.
But I wasn’t afraid.
All I could think was how much the girl sitting at the foot of my bed looked like me. We had the same eyes, nose. Even her thumbnails were short and stubby like mine. She was much younger, however. A teenager.
Her face was alive with emotion, tears pooling in her eyes. The way she looked at me with so much silent affection made me feel like a child who had just learned to tie their shoelaces. It’s going to sound so strange, but something inside my head clicked in place and I knew who she was.
“Mom,” I mouthed, not quite able to produce a sound.
I never talk about my adoption and most people would never guess how often I’ve lain awake, staring at the ceiling just wondering who she had been, where she had gone. I suppose all adopted kids secretly hope that there is a justifiable reason for being denied the love and care of the person who made us. Still, there was no relief in knowing my biological mother was dead.
Again, I can’t begin to explain how I knew this to be true, but I did.
Downstairs I heard one of the doors slam as you went outside, and the girl reached for my hand. The moment my mother’s soft, pale skin grazed mine, the bedroom disappeared. Within a blink of an eye, I was no longer sitting on bedsheets, but a knitted blanket on the ground beside a lake in the woods. Despite the fog, I felt no chill.
“Joanna,” the woman still sat at my feet, holding my hand, “That’s what I named you when you were just a bean.”
“What happened?” I asked, trying to stifle the emotions bubbling at the back of my throat.
“I can’t blame them for not telling you about it,” my mother sighed, “I was already seven months into the pregnancy, though it barely showed. I was only sixteen and my parents wanted me to abort or give you up for adoption, so I just packed up and left my hometown behind.”
My parents had never so much as acknowledged my adoption, though I was the only light-haired member in a giant family of second-wave Italian immigrants. I had tried to ask questions, but they were always met with defensive, guilt-inducing retorts.
How could you think that, Camilla?
“I had no idea where to go or what to do,” my mother continued, “I was very hormonal when I left home and already seriously doubted I’d be able to keep you and me off the streets. I didn’t have much in the way of money, only enough for three or four more meals. I had hitch-hiked my way to an off-road diner.”
My mother’s eyes never left mine as she spoke. Even though the things she was telling me were incredibly sad, there was an air of removal about her. Like she was telling the story of someone very distant, a friend of a friend.
I still couldn’t say anything. Not until she finished her story.
“I took their cheapest meal, some eggs and toast. I refused the coffee because I’d read somewhere it was bad for the baby. I was sitting there, trying to come up with a plan, figuring I should get one last ride to the nearest city and find a women’s shelter. I’d be safe there until after the birth.”
“That’s when he slid into my booth and introduced himself as Jack. He was not much older than me; early twenties at most. Not handsome by any means, but not bad-looking either. He was confident and well-spoken, asking if I was okay.”
“It was kindness from a stranger and I took to it. Not long after that, I was in his car. I didn’t register it at first. That subtle transformation that had taken place when we were no longer in a public place. Jack was no longer cheerful and his voice had lost its softness. It made me uneasy and I stopped making small talk, wishing the city lines would appear.”
“That’s when he turned off the main road and into the woods. Though a part of me knew what this meant, a hopeful side tried to ask what he was doing, where he was going. He only roared at me to shut up. He was sweating and agitated; and after maybe twenty minutes of awful bumps and swerves, he stopped the car near a remote wooden shack in the woods.”
“At this point, I knew I was in a lot of trouble, and the fear had made me irrational. I jumped out the car and tried to run, but I was carrying low and every lunge forward felt as though my pelvis would shatter. I got as far as the edge of the woods before he pushed me belly first to the forest floor. The pain of the fall was nothing compared to the horror of knowing he had hurt not only me, but you inside of me. Instead of getting up to run, I rolled over on my back and stopped screaming. I think I even stopped breathing as I waited for you to give me a kick to let me know you were okay.”
“Just as I finally felt your movement, the man grabbed my legs and dragged me back to the shed. I resumed screaming, and tried to jerk my legs away by kicking, but he was too strong. He lifted me onto a wooden table, restraining me with rope and shoving rags in my mouth so I wouldn’t scream.”
“I struggled to breathe through just my nose, which was filling up with mucus because I was crying. I watched ‘Jack’ fumble with something in the corner of the shed. He didn’t say a word, but I could see he was tense. I wished I could talk to him, plead with him to spare me. Spare us. He didn’t look as though he wanted to go through with it.”
“When he turned around, I saw that he had a butcher's knife in his hands. He held it awkwardly as he stepped forward, then hesitated, then came up to my head. Every time I tried to scream, the rag in my mouth seemed to suck more air from my lungs."
“Then, he brought down the knife and the right side of my head erupted in pain. Through water-filled eyes I saw him holding my bloody ear in his left hand, a small smile playing on his lips as he watched me writhe in agony. That's when a different, all-encompassing pain exploded in my midsection. It was my first contraction, and it was enough for the water to break and spill out of me, pooling between my legs before running down the sides of the table.”
“A look of horror crossed the man’s face and he set aside the knife. He ripped open my blouse and stared at my hardened belly. You were kicking, and when he saw one of your legs jab at my belly button, he cursed. He began pacing the shed, muttering something to himself and running his hands through his hair. I could see large, dark sweat stains on the underarms of his sweater.”
“The second contraction combined with my limited air supply and steady blood loss knocked me out cold. The third brought me back, and I saw that I was no longer in the shed, but in the back of the car with the rag still in my mouth. My body was in shivers, and my eyes couldn’t focus. I wasn’t sure if it was the fall, ear removal, or something else, but I knew then that I was dying.”
“The next and final time I came to, I saw a woman and felt water being splashed on my face. Cars zoomed past, and the woman was shouting something. I let go then, knowing you were safe, allowing myself to slip into the sweet unconsciousness of death.”
“Once I was removed from the tortures of the physical world, I watched them load my limp body into an ambulance, where the paramedics performed an emergency C-section to get you out. I could tell by their faces they didn’t think you would live, but you were a fighter. I wanted so much to go with you, to make sure they took care of you in the hospital, but I couldn’t. Not long after the ambulance drove off, I was back inside the shed, watching the man who claimed to be Jack sitting in a corner, crying.”
“Ever since then, I’ve been trapped in these woods, never making it far from the shed. The man was gone for a long time, and I think he moved away after what he did to me. It’s hard to tell how much time passes in these woods, but when he came back with another girl, he was at least twenty years older and entirely cool and collected. After his return, girl after girl died in the shed, joining me in these woods.”
“We all look the same, and we all feel the same things. We spend our days walking this forest, mourning our lost lives, wishing to see our loved ones out in the world of the living. But we can’t leave and we can’t rest. Not until the man who did this to us continues to roam free, eyeing his next victim.”
After my mother had finished her story we sat in silence for a long time. I had so many questions, but I couldn’t quite phrase a single one of them. After a while, my mother asked me about my life.
So, I’ve been telling her, little by little.
It was more of a dialogue when I told her about my childhood and teenage years since my mother would keep interrupting, wanting to know if my favorite ice cream had been mint chip, like hers, or if I liked drawing as she had done. It’s been a little sad since I’ve caught up to the adult years. She just listens, but she has nothing to compare it to since she essentially died a child. When we’re not talking, she watches me paint. Sometimes she will sketch with me, and I can see that had she pursued the talent, she would have grown into a great artist.
Paul, I felt you in the woods the other night. I felt you dying and wanted to help you, but no matter which way I ran, your cries grew more distant. I begged my mother to take me to you, but she just shook her head, suddenly serious.
“Your husband is the only one that can help us,” she said, “He got it wrong once, but he won’t this time. I believe in him.”
Paul, I held my breath as you teetered on the brink between life and death, and cried with relief when I felt you safe again.
I’ve passed along this letter in hopes that it will find you.
I don’t know if you feel it, but I do. I think the girls here feel it too. The trees are abuzz with it, the water ripples carry it onto the shore of the lake. We’re nearing the pinnacle of whatever this entire journey has been about. There’s a reason we ended up in these woods, and it wasn’t just our constant quarrels over the past few weeks.
In a twisted way, this entire thing started with me. Or, more precisely, with my biological mother, Leanne Somerson, dying thirty-two years ago on the day of my birth.
It started with me, Paul, but it can only end with you.
I love you.
I read the pages of Camilla’s letter over and over until sunrise, stopping only to wind up the flashlight. Eventually, I tucked the letter away into one of the pockets of uncle Jonny’s jacket and started making my way back to the cabin.
The forest was alive with the sounds of birds, insects, and leaves ruffling in the wind. Combined, the noises sounded like a consistent, low hum. Almost a cheer. The woods were egging me on, sending me off on a mission, but also eagerly anticipating my return.
Could I pull off what they were asking? I had already been mistaken once.
This new information about the machete killer’s timeline had just blown the case wide open. How did the investigators and my team get it so wrong with Henry Briarwood? The true unsub’s reign of terror had spanned decades, and probably involved several different states. Both his M.O. and signature had evolved over the years, and I wouldn’t be surprised if this guy staged the bodies in trees not as an act of some sick, twisted fantasy, but as a distraction. Henry Briarwood had been tried on five counts of murder, and suspected of maybe another two victims. There had been far more women in that clearing. Some were skeletal, which probably meant their remains had never been found.
I had no choice.
I would have to leave Fever Cabin and go back to the city to access the full case files and process the suspect list from scratch.