Fever Cabin [5/5]
I'm a criminal profiler and this is the end of my stay at Fever Cabin
I often think about the last summer I stayed with uncle Jonny.
We made quite the pair. Me, a sulky seventeen-year-old denied the company of his peers for two months, and him, a wheezy sixty-year-old man who liked smoking, watching TV, and occasionally building things out of wood.
There were few things more dull to my teenage self than nature and hearing an old man talk about how much bigger herring were ‘back in the day’. Though, I’m sure I wasn’t exactly the best company with all my eyerolls and sarcastic remarks either.
One day, we were out on the lake when we heard gunfire. It wasn’t uncommon in those parts of the woods. There were multiple campsites on one end, and a popular hunting lodge at the very heart of the forest.
“Damn little men gunna scare away all the ducks,” uncle Jonny grumbled, throwing another fist of crumbs at the water as he shifted his weight. He had gained quite a few over the years, and I was surprised the old wooden bench he’d constructed still held up so well.
“Little men?” I raised an eyebrow, watching the ducks fighting over the crumbs.
“It takes a little man-tah feel big when he kills something, Paulie,” uncle Jonny had this way of nodding as he spoke; a visual underscore to a point he was making, “The smaller a man feels, the more blood he’s willing-tah spill to feel big.”
I think that was the first time I really started thinking about why people killed anything, a thought process which eventually led me down my chosen career path. Even today, with all the different correlations and conclusions we’ve drawn from criminal behavioral patterns, at the back of my mind I still hear uncle Jonny talk about ‘little men’ and what they’ll do to feel ‘big’.
The lockdown took me by surprise. So much had happened since Camilla and I left the city that I was hardly prepared for the empty streets, closed shops, and occasional masked pedestrians scurrying in and out of buildings like rats. The GPS had started working again, and I let it guide me down the shortest route to our apartment. As much as I wanted to grab some things and keep going, the limits of the normal world were starting to kick in.
I barely made it to my bed before knocking out.
I don’t know how long I slept, but the world felt very different when I finally woke up. I was ravenous enough to find an old can of beans in one of the cupboards and gobble it down straight from the tin. As I ate, the events of the past few days played back in my mind; each more bizarre than the last.
Was I going crazy or was my wife really hanging out with a bunch of dead girls in the woods?
I laughed then. First a nervous laugh, then a full mad man’s roar. There had been too much nervous energy constricted in my chest and it felt good to let go. After calming down, I got out my laptop and connected to the Wifi. The time and date updated, showing me impossible numbers.
That’s how long it had actually been since Camilla and I packed up our things and rode off in the late afternoon, bickering like a married couple from the panels of a boomer comic. I guess that’s what snapped my mind back in place. Despite the absurdity of it all, the mere fact that so much time had passed proved the otherworldly. If I was only a crazy man stumbling around in the woods hallucinating a supernatural crime drama, how had I not starved to death in that time?
I grabbed my backup semi-automatic, plenty of ammo, and drove to my office. The entire building was in lockdown, and the sleepy guard shook his head at me, pointing at his facemask. After a frustrating back and forth through the glass with me waving my badge and claiming urgency, the guy let me in.
I headed straight to the storage room where we kept all the files for the machete case. I had a lot of the scans on my laptop, but not all. The storage box contained something of immediate importance to me now - a timeline of the crimes.
According to the lead investigators on the case, the first machete victim had been killed in late 2016. That timeline had factored into my profile, no doubt, as did the signature staging of the victim’s bodies in trees. Having learned about the death of Camilla’s biological mother, however, I realized just what sort of cunning individual we were dealing with. My initial profile had indicated a man with an average-to-lower IQ, who struggled in relationships with women, had a menial job, prior convictions of sexual assault, etc. That was Henry Briarwood all right, but it was not the profile of a killer who had managed to evade capture for three decades, evolving as he went along.
No, we were dealing with a chameleon, someone who had started young and honed his craft over the years. Someone who had kept a low profile for most of his life and knew how to make women feel comfortable around him. A man who probably had a wife, kids, maybe hosted some little league games. Someone who was meticulous and fully in control of his urges, never letting mishaps get in the way of his ‘work’. Something must have happened in the man’s life in 2016, something that triggered a killing spree that he disguised with a new ‘Machete-Killer’ signature.
As much as I wanted to hole up for the next three weeks, reading over every crime scene and coming up with a new profile from scratch, I knew that time would not allow for it. There were greater forces at play here; forces that had Camilla.
So I pulled up the documents on the other two suspects; the two men I had dismissed almost instantly for not fitting the original profile. One was a thirty-year-old campground peeping-tom.
Too young, I thought.
The second, however, was starting to look more probable. Richard Sutton was a fifty-four-year-old local freight company owner. He was a native to the area but had moved west for college, where he met his wife and settled in her hometown. He had moved back to the area following a messy divorce in 2016 and set up a new office branch in the city. The cops had pulled him in for questioning in 2017 due to harassment complaints from women who had seen the local media coverage of the case and feared that they could have been potential victims.
This guy did fit the rough new profile, and I wished I could remember questioning him, but my mind kept drawing blanks. There had been nothing remarkable or memorable about Sutton, nothing I could put my finger on, especially after he’d been so obviously overshadowed by Briarwood. I couldn’t remember what he even looked or sounded like.
A perfect chameleon.
My next move was purely intuitive, but a total breach of protocol. I pulled up the guy’s address and took off to go see him. I didn’t know what I was expecting to find or what I would do when I saw him. Honestly, at that moment I felt like a mere marionette with an invisible puppet master tugging me along on a blind adventure.
I pulled up to Sutton’s house, a neat two-story in one of the city’s nicer suburbs, and rang the doorbell. No one answered, but I thought I could hear feet shuffling on the other side of the door.
“This is agent Fever with the FBI,” I called out.
The door opened a sliver, with the chain still in place. A bloodshot eye peered out at me.
“Mr. Sutton, I’m here to ask you some questions,” I announced, flashing the man my badge, “I promise to remain at a safe social distance and not touch anything if you let me inside.”
I was pushing my luck and I really hoped Sutton would bite.
The door slammed with a crash, and I heard footsteps hurrying away. Drawing my weapon, I jumped a gate and made my way to the back of the house, scanning the windows for signs of activity.
I tried the backdoor, not really surprised to find it locked. This was the moment where my actions stopped being questionable and became downright illegal. There was no time to think, only act, as the surreal urgency of my ‘mission’ crept up my spine. I could lose my job for this. The whole vigilante arc rarely fared well for agents, but there was no turning back now.
I shot the lock and the door swung open. I darted indoors, not waiting to see the curious heads of neighbors popping out to see where the noise was coming from. A disturbing scene greeted me inside as I realized the wealthy suburban facade only spread to the exterior. Sutton’s kitchen was absolutely disgusting. There were dirty plates scattered on every surface and takeout containers littered the floor. Countless empty vodka bottles lined the walls. The smell of rotting food and stale booze made me cover my nostrils with my left elbow as I moved further into the house with my weapon drawn.
The living room was much the same at first glance - a typical hoarder’s dwelling, with more booze bottles, old newspapers, and random piles of trash scattered about. A second look revealed a more sinister truth behind the stack of old newspapers on the coffee table. I walked up to the yellowing pile of papers and felt my stomach sink as I saw that they were actually a gathering of carefully selected articles. The top one was a well-preserved two-page spread about the tragic death of a pregnant girl by the name of Leanne Somerson, an out of town hitch-hiker who had mysteriously died on the side of the road thirty-two years ago.
Unable to help myself, I leafed through the other pages. Dozens of light-haired, blue-eyed dead women looked up at me. Different ages, a variety of counties and states, a broad spectrum of deaths - some suspected of foul play, others simply missing person’s reports.
My trembling hands dropped the newspapers as I struggled to keep my breathing steady. I’d stepped into the monster’s den only half-expecting this to actually be the guy. I threw another appraising glance at the room, trying to find potential hiding spots, but couldn’t see any.
That left upstairs.
I took careful, deliberate strides as I ascended the steps, cursing every squeak my old leathers produced. Without backup, the odds were in Sutton’s favor, and I could easily be walking into a trap. I stopped before reaching the top of the stairs, wiping sweat off my face as I gathered the courage to face a man who practically killed for a living.
“Richard, I’m just here to talk!” I called out into the silence, trying to garner some sort of reaction, a hint of the subject’s location, “Look we can still sort this out. I know you’ve been going through a tough time,” the state of the house indicated a major lapse in control, which meant Sutton was spiraling, probably experiencing some sort of mental breakdown.
Nothing, no response, not even a creak from a floorboard.
The first room to my right was the master bedroom, and I threw the door open, rushing inside with my back to the wall and gun at the ready.
I didn't see him. Not at first.
He looked so small, crouching down in the farthest corner of the room; his bloodshot eyes half-glazed, glued to mine. He stared intently, raising the shotgun with trembling hands until he'd pressed the tip of the sawed-off barrel to his quivering lower jaw.
I knew I had seen him before, recently at that, but couldn't quite place the face of this reduced, disheveled man until he opened his mouth, releasing that signature moan that will forever haunt my dreams. That guttural, mechanic wail that escaped a gaping, dark hole of a mouth.
I'd recognize it just about anywhere.
"You," I gasped as the tongueless man shoved the shotgun in his mouth and fired, painting the walls of the bedroom a nauseating mix of blood and brain matter.
There is no logical explanation for what happened next. I did not call an ambulance. I did not call any of my superiors, attempting to explain the circumstances under which I had discovered Richard Sutton’s last act of defiance. Only one thought ran through my mind as I wrapped up his mostly-headless corpse in sheets.
You do not get away this easy, you son of a bitch.
Though he was surprisingly heavy for his lean frame, I still managed to carry Sutton’s body outside and dump it in the back of the pickup. I hoped the sheer fact of broad daylight and my confident manner wouldn’t arouse too much suspicion from the neighbors. Though, honestly, I was past caring at that point.
Hitting the gas pedal, I barreled through city streets until I was on the road leading back to uncle Jonny’s cabin. I slowed down when I got closer to the place where my wife and I first spotted Richard Sutton running out of the woods. I didn’t know how we had crossed from one world to another, and the last thing I wanted was to show up at the real Fever cabin with a dead body in my pickup and no evidence of any sort of paranormal activity.
Again, I wondered if I was just a raving lunatic, and again my intuition told me that no, I wasn’t. I was never one for supernatural stuff and always snickered at the psychics who were sometimes called upon in cases. But even I, with my limited views on these things, could see how decades of inflicted pain and terror could thin the divide between this world and the world of the wronged.
After an hour of driving, I started losing faith in finding that same dirt road that had started this entire ordeal. Frustrated, I looked at the GPS which was still working.
Another sign of failure.
Finally, I decided to just turn off the road and try driving down the next dirt road into the woods. Within five minutes the GPS started lagging before turning off altogether. I kept driving, vaguely acknowledging that I had taken a turn to one of the many lake’s uncle Jonny and I used to visit all those summers ago.
“I thought I’d escaped it,” an unremarkable voice spoke at my side, and I nearly swerved off the road when I saw a young Richard Sutton sitting in the passenger seat.
Panicking, I hit the breaks and turned to face the man who had brutally murdered dozens of women across the country. I reached for my weapon, knowing full well how futile of a thing it was against a dead man.
“Don’t worry,” Sutton emitted a small chortle, “You’re not exactly my type.”
I stared at the youthful monster as he peered into the thick forest around us. He was just as Camilla’s mother had described. Neither handsome nor unattractive. Not short or tall, just average. There wasn’t a single detail to latch onto, not a mole or a twitch, a funny-looking sweater, an odd haircut - nothing. Everything about Richard Sutton was forgettable, and I realized that this was deliberate.
Curiosity stirred in my temples, and I found myself wishing we had more time to talk. I wanted to dig around in Sutton’s brain and learn the hows and whys of his life, but that’s not what this was all about.
“It’s really not that interesting,” Sutton offered a response to my thoughts, “And it doesn’t matter now. I don’t want to tell you that your job isn’t important, because in some ways I’m sure it is. In other ways, it completely misses the mark, since it doesn’t account for the fact that some of us are just born this way. I know you’ll be looking into my life, agent, and I can tell you now that you’ll find nothing. You won’t find any problems with my mother or father. You won’t find any hints of me abusing animals as a child or being socially awkward with my peers. I’m the average Joe on paper, and my compulsion to kill has roots in something that a data scientist can hardly hope to explain.”
At the end of his speech, the young Sutton opened the car door and jumped out of the pickup, leaving me with the following words, “I should really get going, not sure I want to stick around for what happens next. You just keep going until you reach the lake, agent. It all ends there.”
So that’s what I did, shaken as I was. I just kept going, my mind racing but also going ever-so-slightly numb. I guess at that point I just didn’t know what to expect anymore, and, if anything, that gave me the advantage of accepting whatever came my way.
The lake was still and haunting, a soft mist playing on the surface of the water. The forest trees assembled around the shore in dreary attendance; their tall shadows moving on the ground below my feet as I walked with Sutton’s lifeless body in my arms. I’d left the sheets behind, and it was hard to look away from the remaining half of the face of the man who had caused so much devastation in these very woods. Upon reaching the shore, I let his body drop into the shallowest part of the water, sending ripples across the lake. I took some steps back, distancing myself from the body, waiting.
Some emerged from the woods, others rose out of the water. There were too many to count, though I did get to the number seventeen before giving up altogether. They were all beautiful and young, dressed in a variety of fashions that reflected the trends of their time. Blue eyes glimmered in the twilight; some with tears, others with a vengeance.
The victims of Richard Sutton approached his body, some kicked at it, others screamed. The spirit of Katie Reader, the one who looked so much like Camilla that I recognized her immediately, spat right into what remained of Sutton’s gaping, tongueless mouth.
“I took his tongue, you know,” Katie said to me, smiling, “He had driven up here with his last victim just before you and Camilla came. She was so much younger than the rest of us, only eleven. When he killed her our mutual rage grew into a force that helped us permeate the physical world, and I tore that tongue right out of his sick face.”
The youngest victim appeared beside Katie, her eyes pleading, “Please Mr. Fever, please find the shed. My body is still there and my parents need to know.”
“Of course,” I murmured, then louder, “All of you. I will find every one of your cold case files and make sure the world learns the truth about your deaths.”
Many women smiled at me, others nodded in appreciation. To my side, I heard footsteps and turned to find Camilla walking out of the woods with a girl that looked like her younger sister.
“Fucking took you long enough,” Camilla laughed, running up to me for a kiss.
“You’re a lot more eloquent in your letters, you know?” I teased, wrapping her in a tight embrace.
“This is my mother, Leanne,” Camilla pulled away to take the young girl by the hand.
“Nice to meet you,” I nodded, feeling the familiar pang of anxiety that always accompanied seeing an in-law, and shaking my head at the absurdity of that feeling given the current circumstances.
Leanne Somerson gave me a shy smile as she shook my hand, but said nothing, turning instead to Richard Sutton’s body. The other girls drew back and fell silent as the very first victim approached the corpse.
Camilla’s mother bent down and put a hand on Sutton’s chest, “I will never forgive you, but now I can forget you.”
As soon as she said it, the sky above the forest exploded in a bright, purple glow; the same tinge of color that had saved me and healed me from the leeches. The victims of Richard Sutton stared up at it. Some were laughing, others smiling. Many cried tears of relief. One by one, they floated up into the sky, letting the purple flames envelop them in eternity. Camilla’s mother was the last to go. After her, the glow began to fade until it transformed into a beautiful, otherworldly purple sunset.
“I can’t go until you clear my name,” a familiar voice sounded from the woods behind us. I turned to see Henry Briarwood watching Camilla and me from a distance.
“I will re-open the case as soon as I can,” I promised him, feeling the all-encompassing guilt of having cost an innocent man not only his freedom but his life as well, “I’m so sorry.”
Briarwood gave me a brief nod before disappearing back into the woods.
“I really screwed that up,” I told Camilla as we walked back to the pickup.
“No one’s perfect, Paulie. Ya did the best ya could,” I heard my uncle’s voice ring through the woods. I stopped dead in my tracks, peering into the dark trees to either side of me.
“Did you hear that?” I asked Camilla, who had kept walking in front of me.
“Hear what?” she threw me a questioning glance.
“Nothing,” I said, shaking my head and smiling as I followed my wife out of the woods.