Sweat trickles down my forehead; I don’t bother to wipe it away, and my eyes sting from staring at the monitor screen for far too long. The office room I had rented for the short amount of time I’m living in this city was cluttered, and the mess almost filled to the maximum capacity of the room–files and recording tapes everywhere. Stacks of loose paper and documents threatened to topple and create more disarray in the ridiculously small room. But my busy mind was focused on the bright screen: watching, recording, and analyzing the data as I scroll down. Homicide recordings and death rates were unusually high in this particular area of the country, and I am sure I wasn’t the only newspaper reporter who noticed the spiking percentage of murder. Finally, I lean back in my office chair as I looked at a blurry photo of a man, supposedly taken by the victim at the crime scene. Or if it the subject in the photo was even human at all.
Lately, I’ve begun to notice a trend among the photos of the murderers, or at least among the ones I could manage to gather. They were always blurry, and most had traces of static or were distorted to a certain degree, but surprisingly, the photo I had in front of me was probably the clearest out of all the photos I had. The thing in the picture wore a brown trench coat, and bloody claws could be seen peeping out from the sleeves of the coat. The mask was deeply terrifying though, and at first glance, I couldn’t tell what it was, because of the amount of splattered blood. But when I focused my vision, I could see the mask was very cat-like, only so grotesque, it looked like a monster. Many of the killers in my photos had masks as well, some that were very simple, however, I remember one that was so startling, I swore the mask was the killer’s real face. One more common trend I noticed among some of these murderers, or at least what I thought I could see from these photos, was a circle that has been crossed out. Of course, when I tried to research the symbol, very few information appeared, and the information that I did find was not helpful.
At first, I was so busy focusing on the photo in front of me, that I didn’t notice a ringing noise in the dim office room. The annoying sound eventually penetrated my mind, and it appeared to come from my cell phone. I fumbled with the phone a little before I picked it up properly.
“Hello, Steven Terri of the Daily Herald here, how may I help you?” My voice was very dry, probably because I had forgotten to eat or drink for the past few hours, and I held in a yawn as the voice on the other side of the phone mumbled for a little bit before speaking.
“Uh, hello, sir? Mr. Terri? Well, you’re a newspaper reporter, right?” It was a woman on the other end of the line, who sounded very stressed and agitated. I sighed, and pinched the bridge of my nose. “Yes, I am, how may I help you?” I irritably repeated my question, and yet again I held in another yawn. “Mr. Terri, I think I have some information to help you, you know, with all the murders–”
“The murders, you say?” A tingle of excitement shot up my spine, and I sat up. “Come meet me here in the office of the Daily Herald–by today preferably, do you need the address?” The woman mumbled a little more, but she cleared her throat. “No, I know where the office of the Daily Herald is; I’m staying in a motel not too far from there. I think I can visit you in fifteen minutes or so. I just called now if anyone was here now, since it was a holiday…” I cleared my own throat and I stood up, stretching my limbs. “Well ma’am, it’s only me and the editors here in the office, but thank you so much for calling, I didn’t catch your–” I stopped myself, because I heard her hang up.
I never even learned the woman’s name, but it was no matter now. She had information, hopefully, or at least a clue of sorts as to where these killers were, or better yet, why they were killing innocent members of the populace.
The woman arrived sooner than I expected to the office, and I met her right at the door. Now that I can see the woman face to face, I could see that she was very pretty, but her orange hair was disheveled, and worry was in her blue eyes, making it appear darker than it was. She was always looking over her shoulder, worried as if something would catch her at any moment. Her eyes widened when I held out a hand for her to shake–I guess I looked just as tired and worn myself. She tenderly shook my hand, but made no move to speak, so I spoke for her. “So, uh, what’s your name?” She blinked once, twice. “Paulina. My name is Paulina.” I noticed she didn’t say her last name, so I brought that up.
She avoided my question and walked into the office behind me, sitting down in the nearest chair she could see, which happened to be the waiting chair right in front of my room. “Mr. Terri, I…I think I know where one of the killers is.” I leaned against the door of my office across from her, and I nodded my head, “Do you know the location of any of the other killers?” She fidgeted, and looked down at the floor. “No, but, I think knowing where one killer is…will that help you?” I sighed, and shrugged my shoulders. It would’ve been better if I knew where more of these killers were, but I could settle at least for one. “Okay, what do they look like? Where are they?”
“They…well, he–he’s in this area. I think he’s following me, which is why I wanted to contact you right away, after you put up that ad in the newspaper…” I knew what ad she was talking about. A week or so ago, I had asked my boss if I could put an ad in the newspaper asking for information on the killers or the murders in this area. “…and, well, he has a trench coat, and he has this–” She stopped, her eyes widening as if she remembered something. “He had this–I don’t even know if this is right, he had a cat mask, but I couldn’t really tell, I mean it was so dark and–” I stood up and laid a hand on her shoulder, which under normal circumstances, would be very rude, but these were not normal circumstances.
She was shivering and fidgeting, and she wouldn’t sit still. What was worse, she looked like she was ready to scream, and she kept looking side to side in the hallway, as if she expected someone or something to appear at either end. “Paulina, please, calm down, everything will be just fine.” It wasn’t fine of course, because suddenly the lights went out in the office. Paulina and I were close enough to the glass front door so the evening light could shine into the small hallway, but to the other side, it was too dark to see anything clearly. Damn, my coworkers just love to work with the blinds closed, and many miscellaneous objects covered the windows anyways. Paulina was so close to screaming, I had to put my other hand over her mouth, but that didn’t stop the scream from coming. Funny thing was, it wasn’t her scream.
Soon after, more screams followed the first scream, and I realized too late that the screams had come from the dark end of the hallway, where the main building was, and where the editors were working on the newspaper. Quickly, I ran into my office, leaving Paulina behind in the hallway, and I grabbed my cell phone and a flashlight I had on my desk–for emergencies like this. Well, not exactly this emergency, but nonetheless, the flashlight was useful. I handed my cell phone to Paulina, and I asked her to call the police. She nodded her head, and hopefully, she wasn’t idiotic enough to follow me, and I headed into the main building.
What struck me first was the smell, and I believed I could feel myself almost puking, because it smelled like fresh blood and corpses. To be honest, I always thought that the sight of a murder would strike fear into me, but instead, it was the smell that was truly terrifying. The smell only grew worse when I stumbled across the first body. I couldn’t even recognize whose body I had come upon, because their face was ripped to disgusting bloody shreds. Their torso was ripped open very painfully, and I could see many organs were punctured or ripped from the body. Stumbling backwards, I accidentally dropped the flashlight on the bloody ground. It rolled before coming to a stop, but for a second, I thought the flashlight caught something alive in its light. I looked twice, and nothing was there in the darkness. I was already feeling nauseous, and after seeing the first body, I didn’t want to continue further into the office, lest there were even more gruesome deaths within, and definitely, it was true.
I didn’t even bother to pick up the flashlight because it had stopped next to a severed organ, and I tried to walk back to where I originally came from. It was difficult however, partially because it was hard to see, and I was also in a numb shock. Here, my coworkers were slaughtered like animals at a butcher, and there was a possibility that whoever killed them was still lurking in the office. Of course, I was feeling paranoid, I didn’t know that murderers could be this gruesome in their little killing games, despite seeing pictures. I have read article after article of these sort of horrendous deaths, but I never imagined it to be this grotesque.
Thankfully, I heard police sirens outside the office, and I stumbled outside–eventually, I found myself to be escorted by two officers who helped supported me, because I could not walk functionally now. Soon enough, the officers investigating the scene questioned me. However, I was in a dizzy haze ever since I left the building, and everything just appeared to go faster than I could comprehend, so eventually, the investigation workers left me alone to search the newspaper office. I found myself sitting on the sidewalk next to Paulina, who didn’t seem any less different than the moment I first met her. She was smiling a little, strangely, which I found truly weird for a situation like this.
“Why are you smiling like that, Paulina?” I managed to ask, as my paranoia grew a little more. She looked at me, and stopped smiling. “…He didn’t get me.” She only said, before looking down at the road. “Who didn’t get you? Who is he? Do you…know him?” I quietly demanded, but she didn’t give me an answer. Paulina was abnormal, and she possibly had a few mental issues. Sighing, I stood up, and I shoved my hands into my pockets. “So, Paulina, do you want me to walk you back to the motel? I think I know which motel you’re staying in, because it’s the only one for several blocks, and I happen to live there was well.” She looked up at me, and quietly stood up, nodding her head. I shrugged, and we began to walk on the sidewalk in the direction of the motel.
“Well, it’s best not to travel alone, Paulina, especially since that…thing–or whoever killed my co-workers, is still running around.”
It was only two days later since Paulina arrived at my office, but already, murders have been reported left and right. One man was found with a decapitated head a block from the office of the Daily Herald. A family of four missing from their home a few blocks from the motel–and only empty bodies remained. I didn’t dare go back to the newspaper office since the horrendous murders, and so instead I worked at my motel room. Paulina currently lived in the room several doors down from me, and she often visited me after I asked her to do so the night of the first killings.
Paulina was a difficult witness to work with. I thought that she had useful information, but most of her information was gibberish, and she often couldn’t remember any vital facts about the murderer or his companions. If this killer even has companions–of course, I don’t have enough information for that, because Paulina doesn’t remember. For sure, I know that there are better witnesses in the state than Paulina, but she’s been the only one that contacted me, and I have to work with what I have.
However, as time ticks down and more deaths are reported every day, I start to question the validity of Paulina’s information. She repeated information, and she didn’t answer most of my questions directly. In fact, the moment she appeared, these murders happened, and with each hour the death rate increases the longer she stays. Paulina only talks to me because she’s uncooperative with the police, and of course, I refuse to work with the police as well, because they’re idiots. Despite this similarity, however, Paulina obviously doesn’t trust me. I can’t help but wonder: What is Paulina not sharing with me?
I need to lay down the facts: This city is well known, sure, but not particularly famous for anything, and its only neighbors are the local forests and highways. The citizens are more or less normal, and no one is too rich, so the killer is targeting random people, it appears. The murderer–unless there were more like him lurking around, is obviously insane, and because he seems to go with a cat theme, he could possibly have an affinity to play with his victims. And, my god, are the victims left in gruesome ways. On another topic, Paulina has some sort of connection to this killer, and she isn’t sharing her background with me.
What kind of relation does Paulina have with this killer? Well, she could be a former victim who has managed to survive, though I find it hard to believe that she would survive if she were a former victim. Family member? It’s a possibility, though there would be too many reasons for this murderer to be hunting Paulina, regardless is she is a family member or not. Besides, there is no hard evidence as to why this killer is hunting Paulina, or else he would have killed her by now. What if…what if she was helping him?
I almost laughed, because damn, that was a stupid idea. A stupid idea that does have a little credibility, nonetheless. I was brushing my teeth when I thought of this idea, and I almost scoffed it off until I delved deeper into it. Maybe it was because it was late, or it was my intense paranoia that caused me to put my back against the bathroom sink to look at the small bathroom, but I couldn’t help but think of the idea. Ever since Paulina answered my newspaper ad, the amount of deaths increased dramatically in the suburban area. She refuses to share any information with me, and it was obvious that she knew this killer, because whenever she talks about him, she speaks as if he was a former acquaintance. And I have to admit, I have been following her.
The first time she went out, it was late at night, and she visited the bar. She spent an hour inside before leaving, and she almost caught me, but luckily, I was hidden in the shadows. It was on her trip home, that she encountered a dead body by the side of the road. I didn’t want to call the police, because it would attract her attention and ruin my cover, but she didn’t react to it like a normal person should. Instead, she turned her head away and became startled by a figure in the dark. I was surprised myself, because I didn’t see the stranger either. Regretfully, it was too dark to see who it was that Paulina encountered, but I had assumed that it was the killer. Paulina and the stranger looked at each other before the murderer vanished into darkness, and Paulina continued on her walk.
The second time she went out, she was just going for a walk, meandering for what seemed like hours in the quiet downtown. We both didn’t encounter any dead bodies, but I swear to god, she passed by a streetlight and the killer’s mask was illuminated. For the first time, I had a good look at the killer, with his horrendous cat mask. I can’t even describe the details of the mask, because I realized that he was looking directly at me, and immediately I had to run to the nearest source of safety: a grocery store, so he wouldn’t get me. That was the last time I chose to stalk Paulina, but I needed to confront her now and get hard evidence concerning the killer.
I can’t confront her at the motel, because I know the place has security cameras, even inside the rooms, and I couldn’t push her for evidence in any public place. My newspaper office…I don’t even want to go back there anyways, so the only available option I had was in the nearby forest. After all, there was nobody around to hear a tree fall in a forest, so certainly no one would hear Paulina scream–no, more like…uncooperative. I wouldn’t be aggressive with her, if it would get that far, but I’m just only…roughly interrogating her. I needed the information from her, before anyone else is killed. I’m just only doing my job.
I’m not stupid, so I decided to visit the forest during the middle of the day after I would convince Paulina to come along with me. She was in her motel room when I knocked on her door, and she stood in the doorway as I tried to create a good explanation for her to come along. “Listen here, Paulina, I received…an anonymous call that there’s some evidence in the woods that you should see–because, I thought you may recognize what it is, because it’s related to the killer, obviously.” I said as she leaned against the doorframe, suspicion on her face. “And…why should I come with you?” Damn, I forgot she didn’t trust me.
“Well, you see Paulina, the evidence is,” I tried to think quickly. What kind of killer’s evidence would be left behind in the woods? Bodies? Weapons? Suddenly, I remembered something I’ve seen from several pictures in my evidence folder. “the thing is, someone found a sort of circle-thingy symbol on one of the trees, with an ‘x’ in the middle? Yeah, and I was wondering if you can help me figure it out–maybe you might remember something?” Paulina paled, and stepping out into the hallway, she closed the door behind her. She began to quickly walk, and I followed her, surprised.
“Wait, Paulina, do you know what I’m talking about?” She didn’t reply, and after awhile I stopped pestering her with questions. We caught a taxi together, and I paid the driver to take us to the edge of the forest. From the tiny road outside of town, Paulina and I entered the forest, where light splattered the ground through the canopy of leaves. She looked at me to lead the way to the fake evidence, and so I took the front. Dead leaves crunched as Paulina and I walked deeper into the forest, the quiet atmosphere interrupted by the irritating sound of breathing and crushed leaves. As we walked, my logic began to question my reasons for bringing Paulina into the forest. But honestly, I was impatient with Paulina, and the amount of dead bodies I’ve seen this week is too much for me. If anything happens to Paulina while we’re both in the forest though, then it wouldn’t be my fault. And anyhow, no one would miss Paulina, right?
I stopped in my tracks in the middle of the forest when I felt that we had walked in far enough, and I slowly reached into my coat. I saw Paulina’s face was full of question–and then of shock when she saw that I had a gun in my hand, pointed directly at her. With my other hand, I reached into my pocket to pull out my wallet, which I flipped out to reveal a police badge. “Miss Paulina, do not attempt to run, because this gun is loaded and I am not afraid to shoot you.”
In her surprise, she had backed away too quickly and tripped on her own feet, as a mumble of confusion escaped her lips. “Ma’am, I’m Agent Neilson, undercover policeman working as a journalist at the Daily Herald to investigate the murderer, and I believe you are withholding information from me. I’d like to repeat that I have authority to shoot you, and I will shoot you unless you give me answers, Miss Paulina.” She only stared at me in fear, and I only raised my gun to her face. “Well?” I demanded, before she happened to glimpse behind me, and her eyes widened even more. Only then did I realize that someone was behind me, and I didn’t turn around fast enough before a hand grasped my head and slammed it against a nearby tree trunk.
When my senses started to return, I had a piercing headache, an equally excruciating pain in my left arm, and I could feel a chill wind. Opening my eyes, despite seeing black spots, I knew that it definitely wasn’t day anymore, because the forest was pitch black. My only saving grace was a flashlight next to me that beamed its light into some nearby trees, though I wasn’t sure how it appeared next to me. I made a move to grab the flashlight with my left hand, despite the pain, but…there was no hand. In fact, there was no arm at all, and only a stump remained, tied coarsely with bandages to stop the bleeding, though it appeared to have stopped a few hours ago. I held back both a scream and the desire to puke, and I picked up the flashlight with my shaky remaining hand.
I attempted to stand up several times because of my queasiness and my trembling legs, but I managed to do so. My severed arm rested against a bloody tree trunk not too far from where I stood, and so I quickly turned around to go the other way. During my slow travel through the dense, foreboding trees, I realized that my gun was taken from me, but it wouldn’t have helped anyways, since I only had one arm at this point. I’m surprised that I didn’t even bleed out, but I assumed that whoever bandaged my arm was not as clumsy as I thought. It struck me, as I was walking, that Paulina was gone, and I cursed myself for letting her get away.
However, my curses faded once the quiet night tampered with my paranoia, and I kept thinking I saw something move in the night. I tried calling out several times, but only silence answered me, and I truly despised the lack of noise right now. Besides, my main priority now is to find my way out of this forest, before anything else happens to me. As time passed on slowly, which agonized me, I felt as if I were traveling deeper into the forest, and it was becoming darker despite my flashlight. My experience only grew worse as the flashlight flickered, and the sound of static faintly appeared in my vision every now and then. I also knew for sure that something was following me, and I knew, for sure, that it was the murderer plaguing the city.
Paranoia compelled me to start running, despite feeling weak, but I couldn’t stop running, because the man who was following me was now chasing me. Somehow, I knew that he could overcome me and kill me quickly, but instead he chose to toy with me–to make me suffer for as long as he pleased. I was too busy with my thoughts to notice any object in my path, and I was running quite quickly for a man who recently lost an arm, so I tripped easily. Well, rather I slipped easily, because whatever was under my foot was soft and squishy, but I couldn’t focus on it because I landed quite hard on my chest. I couldn’t break my fall because my only hand was holding the flashlight, so I had my breath knocked out of me.
As I lay gasping on the ground, I felt a deep uneasiness in the air, when suddenly, and hand grabbed my right leg. Immediately, I could feel the first shot of pain race through my body as something sharp dug into my leg. I knew it was the clawed weapon that the killer was using, and damn it was painful. I still couldn’t breathe properly, and sweat poured down my face as I bit back the urge to scream, which was terribly difficult. The killer seemed to want me to scream, because he dug his claw through my leg even more in a cutting fashion, sawing my leg like a piece of wood. Oh my god, for a second I blacked out, and the next moment I could hear a scream resonate through the forest. I dimly realized that it was my scream, but I was in too much pain to care.
I didn’t know when he stopped, or when he disappeared, but I was woken up by the light of my flashlight hitting my face, which annoyed my eyes. I was lying on my stomach when I grabbed the flashlight with my hand to turn away the beam of light. I painfully rolled over, shaking in fear to see my dismembered limb, and I knew that monster cut off my leg, much like he cut off my arm. This time, I didn’t see my missing leg, but I saw the rapidly bleeding stump that was the right leg. In the light of the flashlight, however, I saw something else in a pool of blood a few feet away from my body. I couldn’t tell at first what it was, but I could see that it was a pink tongue that I presumed was what I slipped on.
Just seeing that misplaced organ in the bloody pool, and seeing and feeling the pain of my missing limbs, right then and there I decided to give up. I let my flashlight roll away from my hand as I looked up into the barely visible leaves of the trees above me, and I knew I was going to die tonight. I heard a sound in front of me, and I weakly raised my head to see the killer illuminated by the flashlight. His cat-like mask mocked me with its bloody and grotesque teeth, almost as if it were smiling at me, as he sat a distance away from me. He began to crawl towards me, and I began to see and hear static as he crept closer and closer to me. I was the mouse, and he was the cat about to catch me.
Paulina didn’t know how she ended up back at the entrance of the forest, but she found herself to be bloody and missing a tongue. She looked back at the forest in fear, only glimpsing a bloody cat mask before it disappeared. Paulina blinked several times, but she didn’t see the mask anymore, and she didn’t want to see it ever again. She fell to her knees and wept silently, not able to speak anymore, as the horrifying cat mask etched into her memory.