Maddy’s voice shrieked like a banshee. Sitting up in bed, her hand to her chest, she saw him again—the one about the man who hurt the woman in the forest years ago. The dreams were back with a vengeance. At five-years-old, she witnessed the beginning of what the police would claim to be the most horrific crimes in the city’s history. Women were taken into the forest and killed. All of them seemed to be in a ritualistic fashion. The one that Maddy saw was no different. After a year of therapy, her parents decided that she was okay and there would be no long-term effects. Until this week, there weren’t.
“Why? Why do I keep having this same dream?” she asked.
Twenty-five years had passed since the murders came and went, but recently the newspaper released a memorial page to the victims. Sadly, the killer still roamed free, and the police now considered it a cold case. For Maddy, it would always be in the back of her mind that he would come back. She was the only witness, and she knew that one day he would return. Little did she know, it would be her dreams he took. He was no Freddy Kruger. This man walked the earth looking like an ordinary citizen, not some burn victim with an attitude.
Soft knocking on the door brought her back to reality. The small thud next to the door let her know a package was delivered. Maddy waited till the footsteps disappeared down the hall. She wrapped a soft white terrycloth robe around her petite frame, opening the door only a small amount. The last thing she wanted was for her neighbors to come out and want to talk when she hadn’t even showered yet.
“What the heck?” she asked.
A small package now in front of her door was not one that UPS or even the mail service delivered. Pink with a white bow, this was something personal. Maddy wasn’t dating anyone, and her mother died years ago, so who?
“Looks like someone likes you,” her neighbor called down the hall.
Snatching the box, she retreated into the apartment, tossing the box on the coffee table. Nope. The gift couldn’t be for her. No one cared anymore.
Hours later, that box sat on the table like a beacon of light, drawing her back into the room—a lighthouse of sorts.
“Dammit, what the hell is in this box?” she asked.
Shaking the box, Maddy waited for the slight jingle inside to give her an idea of the contents. Nothing, not a thing. Whatever was in there was either packed tight or wrapped in tissue. Should she open it? What if it wasn’t hers? Sitting it back down on the cheap wooden table, she snatched it back up the moment her fingers pulled back. For a moment, Maddy heard her mother’s voice whispering her familiar line as a child.
“Curiosity killed the cat, Madalyn. One of these days, you’ll get into a mess you can’t get out of,” the voice said. It was her mother, but her mother was dead.
“Stop it, stop it,” she screamed, her voice echoing through the room.
She pulled the bow from the package and laid it on the table as though it was a crown jewel. That tiny little ribbon couldn’t have cost more than 50 cents at the dollar store, but it meant something to Maddy. At the age of thirty, she was still a virgin and never dated. Not that she tried, but she was what many called ugly. Short brown hair, big eyes covered by glasses, and her dental plan ran out when her mother died. She was never the kind of girl that a man gave a second look. That was the main reason she took a job researching at the local library. She could stay in the basement away from the world and live through the books that surrounded her. If you asked her, she was a world traveler, but no one ever knew that her passport stamps came from the vacation brochures that she filed.
She chewed her lip nervously, exhaling as she once again held the small box in her hand, twirling it between her fingers. Moving her nail under one side of the box to release the tape that held the lid closed, she repeated the movement on the other side.
“Come on, Maddy. Open the damn box,” she scolded.
If someone outside heard her, they would think she wasn’t alone, but she often talked to herself. If anyone were to ask her about it, she would lie and tell them she had a cat. No one knew she was allergic.
She pulled the top from the box. The paper inside was a soft shade of pink. Maddy dumped the tissue into her hand, carefully pulling it apart. That was when her world fell apart for the second time—dropping to the floor a small plastic white barrette, which you can buy for less than a buck. It wasn’t just any barrette, but the exact one she lost in the woods twenty-five years ago. When she ran from the woods, the tiny hairpiece fell, and she never went back. The police who investigated the case never found a trace of her other than a set of small footprints. At five years old, you can’t lie about something like death. She did witness that murder. She did speak to the killer. Well, he talked to her but only for a second.
“Get out of here now before you end up like that girl over there, you hear me?” he grunted.
Maddy ran through the woods. The five-year-old tangled her hair in a long branch of a tree, yanking hard to release herself. Her barrette lost in the battle. The last thing she remembered before running into the arms of her mother was his threats.
“One-day little girl, the boogeyman will come and get you. I’ll be waiting,” he laughed. That was the last she remembered before passing out.
On the floor were the remnants of the past Maddy was trying so hard to bury. Was he back? Of course, he was. Only two people knew about this: Maddy and the killer. No one else was alive.
“What the hell do you want from me?” she screamed.
She checked the box for a message, but nothing. Not a clue as to what this meant, but Maddy knew. She knew that he was back, and her time was running out. He gave her twenty-five years to prepare for his arrival, but she never thought he would return.
Sleep that night proved to be almost impossible, but she opened the small bottle that she dreaded for the first time in years. Sleeping pills scared her because of the dreams she once had, but he was already back, so how bad could it be?
Coughing in the corner, the male sat there for what seemed like hours. He knew she would wake soon. As long as he had watched her, she always woke at three in the morning, crying in fear. Even with sleeping pills, she wouldn’t disappoint him.
“Time to wake up,” he said.
She was sitting up, her hand once again to her chest, and beads of sweat ran down her face the moment she heard the voice. It was that voice. The killer’s voice, and she knew this was it. Had he come back to take her this time?
“Who are you?” she asked.
As the male sat in the corner, his face shielded by the darkness, he laughed. It wasn’t a chuckle, but the laughter that set every hair on her body on end, chilling her bones like a corpse in a deep freeze.
“You know who I am. Don’t you remember me?” the figure asked.
Maddy’s voice cracked as she spoke. She was scared, maybe more than when she was a child. As an adult, she knew of the world and the horrors that could happen. She also knew this day would come.
“You’re not real. The therapist told me that you were a figment of my imagination,” she whispered.
He once again laughed at her innocence. Was she stupid? He warned her years ago that he would be back for her, which was a promise he planned on keeping.
“Are you dense? Of course, I’m real. Who else would have slaughtered all those women in the forest? Haven’t you ever wanted to know why?” he asked. He had all the time in the world. She wasn’t going anywhere, and this was the first time he had a live audience to listen to the rants of an insane man. For years he had to keep quiet to risk arrest, but before dawn, the only witness would no longer be able to talk. His secret would be one she took to the grave.
Nodding her head, Maddy twisted her fingers in the crisp white sheet. She was scared, but if she was going to die, she wanted to know why he chose her and why now?
“Yes, I want to know. Tell me why you hurt all those women,” she asked.
Pulling a cigarette from his pocket, lighting the cancer stick, he exhaled before speaking. He thought for a minute, what would you ask for if this was your last day on earth? He wanted that damn cigarette.
“Nasty habit, but then again, so is murder,” he laughed. Pulling in another drag, he spoke as he exhaled. “You were there for the first one. The name was,” he stopped, tapping his temple as though he had forgotten the woman’s name, “Debbie Anderson. Striking woman. She worked in a pool hall that I frequented. She flirted with all the men but never with me. She said that I reminded her of her ex-husband, and that was enough to keep her away. That made me madder than a wet hornet, but it was that moment that I knew she was going to pay for saying something like that. Never compare a man to someone else. Disrespectful if you ask me.”
“But why? You killed her because she didn’t want to date you?” Maddy asked, sitting higher in the bed. Curiosity always got the better of her.
“Shut up and let me speak. Goddammit, woman, do you always interrupt a man? No wonder you never married,” he cackles with laughter. “Are you done asking me questions?” he asked.
A simple nod of her head gave him the response. She knew it was the time she should be using to get away, but then again, she was Maddy.
“Alrighty, so Debbie always walked to work. I knew this because I followed her, but she never knew that until it was too late,” he stated. “She caught me one day and said she was going to tell the entire town that I was a creeper. Can you imagine what would happen to me? It’s a small town, and people would stone me verbally,” he growled as the anger built. “I took her into the forest, and she begged for me not to touch her,” his voice shook. “I would never do something like that, but she kept saying it repeatedly like she was a broken record. I knew she would claim that I tried, so I stabbed her. Not once, but twenty-six times. She was dead after three, but I couldn’t stop. She insulted me with saying that,” he whispered.
Was it sick that she wanted to hug him? Maddy wanted to comfort this killer? God, what was wrong with her?
“You came in just as I was going to bury her, but dammit, child, you came in and did this? I had to make it look like a serial killer was on the loose. They would have known it was me if only Debbie were dead,” he complained. He pinched the tip of the cigarette, the cherry-red end dying out. Exhaling, the man took out the box and slipped the butt back in, saving it for later.
As much as Maddy wanted to hate him, she couldn’t. She didn’t hate this man, though she had every reason to hate the man who took her life.
“Welp, it’s time to go unless you want to ask me more?” he asked.
Silent, should she ask him, or get it over with and stop prolonging her death? He wouldn’t allow her to live, so why sit here and have a conversation with a cold-blooded killer? She never allowed herself to live because of this fear, so it was time.
“Just do it,” she said.
“I said do it already,” asking again.
“Did you fall asleep?” she asked.
She reached over to flip on the light, knowing he would have to kill her then. She would be able to identify him. Flipping on the light, her eyes on the man for the very first time.
“NOOOOOO,” she screamed.
The man had died sitting there. He confessed his sins and died. He didn’t kill her like he promised he would, but she was dead anyway in the end.
“Daddy, please no,” she screamed. Finally, she realized what her mother meant.
“Curiosity killed the cat, Maddy!”