It was inevitable that the route would take him through Grange Road and when it did the true madness of the situation hit home. Police were still on the blood soaked scene, there were pieces of animal everywhere. Cat legs drenched in dog blood piled together on a scratched pavement. Barton dashed through the area, no point alerting the police. As far as they were aware they were dealing with a pet killer and nothing more, they wouldn’t listen. He charged down the street and into an alley, stopping and staring down the walls. In the blood of cat or dog or both and dripping down the wall were the many ‘Ha’s of a psychopath. Haunted and grizzly laughter still ringing in the air and deep grooves in the wall from the claws, Barton continued undaunted. He was going to get there.
As he arrived at the small house at the end of the street, he banged heavily on the door. He pressed the doorbell and hammered on the letterbox, shouting her name desperately. The door opened and Olivia flung her arms around him.
“Oh thank god! It’s you! He’s been here, inside the house!” Olivia cried desperately “Come in, look what he’s done” They went through to the main room and stared at the slashed wallpaper and furniture. The television was impaled and all the books and magazines were hacked apart. And, in the feature wall at the head of the room, three words were carved violently in the plaster.
“Coming for you?” Barton thought aloud “As in, ‘one two, Freddy’s coming for you’?” He sat in the half destroyed chair and thought as hard as he could, Olivia sat on his knee and hugged him tightly.
“I’m scared, Barton” she quivered “What does he mean?” Fear entered Barton’s eyes, as though passing from Olivia’s.
“It means the next time he strikes, he’s coming for you” he said slowly “Either to take you or…” he shuddered and Olivia held him tighter, wiping tears from her eyes.
“Oh god, no!” she sobbed “Not…kill me like one of those poor creatures?” She let the fear flow from her eyes as she whimpered in his arms “Oh god, don’t let him do it! Don’t let him take me!” Barton held her in arms of care.
“I swear…he won’t lay a finger on you” he said in a firm tone “He won’t even get near you!” She kissed him softly and rose from his knee, wiping her eyes and arranging her hair. His eyes followed her, and then travelled back to the wall as the message glared back at him.
Leon and Chuck were down in one of the corner shops on the Bellfields outskirts, buying sweets and coke to keep awake. Leon had always been a master manipulator, he had once convinced one of his tutors that he had a chronic liver disorder in order to miss a PE lesson. This time it was more serious, he had shared his thoughts with Chuck and talked him into staking out the Bellfields old people’s homes along the outskirts that night.
“What makes you think he’ll move tonight? Won’t he wait another week again like the first time?” Chuck asked in his bland tone. Leon shook his head.
“That was a warning shot, a sort of break or pause for effect” he explained “No, his real pattern is making changes to his actions on a weekly basis. As in graffiti one week, murdering animals next week and soon. The truth is he could move at any time, but I know he’ll wait for the cover of darkness” Chuck giggled childishly.
“Maybe he’s a vampire or a zombie or something” he chuckled, Leon looked round at him with a harsh look “Hey, just kidding man, chill”
“He waits for night because he looks more intimidating in the dark” Leon said in a low voice “Picture it, a tall dark man in a long coat with Freddy claws and tall dark boots. It’s the stuff of nightmares” Chuck giggled and whistled the ten notes of the Nightmare on Elm Street theme to himself, but when everyone in the shop looked at him with harsh looks, he decided to shut up. They left the shop and went out onto the street “Smart move, moron, whistle that tune when there’s a copycat killer on the loose!”
“Hey, why shouldn’t I still enjoy the films just because some loser can’t tell the difference between fact and fiction?” Chuck said in a grumpy tone “Just what we need, some nut giving cinema a bad name”
“Because he’s a loser who’s clearly mentally unstable” Leon growled “People do terrible things when that happens to them” his phone buzzed in his pocket “Y’ello?...whoa! Calm down buddy, what’s up?...No way, on her wall?...God, how is this guy doing this? Sure the door was locked?...Hey, just asking, cool it…we’ve got to stop this guy!...Me and Chuck are going to set an ambush tonight…you in?...Right, of course…well, give my condolences to Livvi, will you? See ya” he beeped his phone off and turned to Chuck “I was wrong, I don’t believe it”
“What’s wrong?” Leon was almost shaking, his eyes were wide
“I…I couldn’t have overlooked that! I’m such an idiot!” he ran back into the shop and came out a few minutes later with a local area map. “Right, he first struck in Park Barn, right? Between TESCO and the community center, what’s there?” Chuck shrugged his shoulders with a vacant expression “Come on, Chuck, the school damn it! Now, look at this” he pulled out a group of newspaper clippings “All the animals in Park Barn were positioned with one leg sticking out, collectively they are all pointing to one place” Again he paused for contribution “The school you moron! That’s the link! This guy is obsessed with the school!”
“What does that have to do with wasting pets every evening?” Chuck shrugged, Leon pondered with wide eyes
“It…doesn’t!” he suddenly concluded “A distraction, an elaborate and twisted distraction! To hide his primary objective, now give me a minute I need to think” he paced around for at least five minutes before spinning around with a ‘eureka!’ look on his face “Us! It’s something to do with us! It’s so obvious that I missed it and so will the police!” He ran up to Chuck and grabbed him by the arms “We’re his asphyxiation, the class of 2006! Think about it! He strikes Park Barn at the community center, where we held the reunion, and at TESCO, where we always used to go for lunch!”
“But what about Grange Road? And Bellfields, what does that have to do with it?” Chuck suddenly asked, Leon stopped in his tracks and slapped his head
“Blast it all to hell! Bang goes that theory! Oh nice one Chuck!” he cursed “Right, I’ve called in J’onn and Chris, they’ll join us here at 11:45 this evening. My guess is…the killings start at midnight. And this time we’ll be ready for him!”
Gangs. Many were disbanded by police in 2008 during the cut down on British Knife Crime. But many still roamed the streets, most of them were harmless youths out to spend time together. It was a rare occurrence that you would encounter the alpha-gang, the primary ruling gang of an area. These were the violent gangs who would start fights for no reason, ambush someone at night or just be loud and rowdy in the streets. Most of them stayed at home now, quarantined by their families in light of the recent attacks, but there was one in the street.
A small gang of youths, staking their claim to the streets in the dark of the night, roamed the estate of Bellfields. They were there in answer to a challenge from an older gang, who were too afraid to go out at night, to go to the nearby park and write their gang logo on the ground. If they succeeded, the mantle of alpha-gang would be theirs, if they failed they were never to show their collective faces again. Arrogant and self-assured, they had taken to the streets.
Down the road, the group was gathered. J’onn, Chuck and Leon met at the shops and were disappointed to hear of Chris’ last minute bail. The trap was ready, they moved into the jungle of council houses and positioned a small, black soft toy in the shape of a kitten just outside of a streetlamp’s glare. Then they gathered behind a wall and began to talk amongst themselves, before silencing. Leon poked his head around the corner and cursed under his breath.
“We may need to abort, boys” he whispered back to them “There’s a gang coming this way, curse them!” talk of distaste was shared between them as the gang passed without a second glance “No, we’re still on” he checked his watch, 0:02, then looked into the street “Showtime”
The streets were silent, even the gang confined all necessary talk to a whisper as they approached their destination. In the distance, the silence was broken by the unmistakable sound of feline agony. He was at work again and close. Leon looked down the street with a strained look on his face.
“Come on you bastard, make a move!” he cursed. He strained his eyes and gazed down the street, only to leap back in shock as the half mutilated body of a cat crashed down the road. Heavy footsteps grew closer and the distinguished sound of blades clanging together and scraping grew louder. A dog’s whine broke the silence and the footsteps stopped. Leon sat back against the wall and wiped sweat from his brow “The animals can tell who he is” he said quietly to himself. Another yelp from the dog and it too came crashing down the street, in synchronised horror with the sinister chuckle of the approaching madman. The group moved back into the alley as the tall figure stopped in the opening.
He stood there for some time, his face forward, and yet it was like he could see them anyway. Slowly, he lowered his head and looked down to the small cat shape on the floor and, without a second thought, lifted his booted foot and stamped it down. The fabric ripped and stuffing poured out as he scraped his foot along the floor, before reaching down with his clawed hand, picking it up with the blades and flicking it into the alleyway.
“This belong to you?” he growled, the group yelped in fear and began to scramble down the alley. The figure stepped into the darkness and dragged his blades along the wall before plunging them into the back of J’onn’s leg and tugging him to the floor. He scrambled across the ground, kicking his other leg out to deter the shadow of a man that stood over him, before rolling over and screaming after his friends. They turned as he felt the smooth leather glove grasp the back of his neck and lift him to his feet.
“Let him go you son of a bitch!” Chuck yelled back with unknown fury. The man tilted his head and then tilted J’onn’s as he slowly lifted his claw arm over his own head and raised his hat from it. They couldn’t see any hair on his head and his face was too dark to distinguish before he moved into a bow. Leon went to attack, but he threw J’onn forward and spun about, his coat flowing in motion, his hat replaced and his laugh ringing from the stone walls.
In the nearby park, the gang of kids gathered around the largest area of open tarmac. Write the logo big and write it proud, they figured. So, each of them having brought their own spray can, they set about making the super-sized logo. So busy were they, that none of them even heard the heavy footsteps behind them. The dark figure grew closer and towered taller over them as his shadow stretched across the ground. It was only when he lifted his claw arm, with the intention of being seen and feared immediately, that the kids suddenly screamed in terror and started to scatter like cockroaches from a light. The blades came down and there were crashes into the gravel as the night dragged closer to the dawn…and safety.
Familiar news on another familiar day for Barton Arthur, he had struck once more and much closer this time. His own neighbourhood was under attack by this guy now, he had made his move and it was a shock change of tactic. The reporter’s face was stained with trauma as she read out her script.
“Tragedy strikes yet again as the small Bellfields estate is struck by the Message Murderer and the toll is higher than ever” she said shaking “A further seventeen animals murdered on the estate, their bodies cut repeatedly and tossed over various distances, bring the killer’s total to fifty-eight. But there is a far more disturbing twist to this tale. In addition to the seventeen cats and dogs killed last night, the bodies of a small gang of youths were found, brutally slashed to death, in the local play area. On the ground around their bodies, in the normal scratched form, are the words ‘Chavs, pikeys and gangs beware, you are all marked now’ From what forensics can gather from the area, there are at least another ten dead, all aged between nine and fourteen”
Coke flung itself from Barton’s mouth as he stared in disbelief at what was being said to him. His hands trembled and his glass fell to the floor, shattering and plunging him into a dark space. He floated through his own thoughts, a tunnel of creativity and ingenuity coupled with a burning desire. And at the end of the tunnel, backed by a raging storm and with weapon at the ready, the dark figure laughed down the pathway. He heard a phone ring and leapt from his unknown sleep, but when he turned to answer, there was no reply only the words of the reporter.
“Police have also taken in a group of nineteen year olds who claim they were setting an ambush to capture the killer” Barton sat forward, they could only mean Leon and the others “One of them, J’onn Martin, was mildly injured in the back of the leg when the man pursued them down an alley. None of them were seriously injured” The phone rang again, this time it was Leon calling from the station.
“Hey buddy, look the police need to see you and Olivia straight away” he said slowly “It’s important”
“How did you know Olivia was spending the night here?” Barton suddenly asked, as Olivia came down the stairs in a bath towel and into the kitchen.
“Well, she obviously wasn’t at home, because it’s been burnt to the ground” came the solemn reply “How soon can you get here?”
Barton had always hated police stations. He didn’t know why, it was just something about the feel of it that just made his skin crawl. It wasn’t crawling now, he wouldn’t let it, as he was holding Olivia close to him as she cried into his chest. The officer came through and sat down in front of them, soon joined by a female officer with blonde hair who comforted Olivia.
“I’m officer Bryson, John Bryson. We noticed the threatening messages scratched into your wall outside and inside” he began “Do you think it’s possible that the Message Murderer is someone from your past? Angry ex-boyfriend perhaps?” Olivia shook her head, Barton could feel her shaking as she slowly sat up and kissed him as thanks.
“Why didn’t you report the messages?” the female officer asked “We could have arranged protection for you” Olivia suddenly snapped.
“It wouldn’t have made any difference!” she shouted “He would have got in, killed me in bed if he had to! This guy doesn’t take no for an answer, he probably set up a gasoline trail when he wrote the messages so he wouldn’t need to get close! He’s just that kind of person!” the look on the officer’s face told her all she needed to know “There was a gasoline trail, wasn’t there?” he nodded slowly “Oh my god, I could’ve been dead” she flung herself into Barton again and proceeded to let the fear flow from her eyes once more.
“Look, exactly how close are you to finding this guy?” Barton asked, but again the answer was obvious “You’re no where near getting him are you?” the male officer sat forward.
“You have to understand” he started “He leaves us nothing to go on, no prints, there aren’t even a lot of footprints so we can’t track him. He’s a master at what he does, he may be mad but he’s a genius in murder, he knows precisely what we’re looking for and cuts us off at the source”
“That’s why we asked you here, you and your friends” the woman said “It’s clear you excel at analysing this person, you set a trap for him after all so you obviously understand him”
“Well, understand is a bit far-fetched” Barton interrupted “But, yeah we can pickup on what he’s driving at. Leon’s come the closest to figuring him out, have you asked him?”
“He said we should get you two in, you and all of your classmates” the woman said “All of them, he feels this is some kind of education based obsession and that the animals are merely a distraction to lure us away from his real target” When Barton looked at her with a ‘which is?’ look, Olivia lifted her head once more.
“Is he…does Leon think he’s after me?” she asked “I’ve had the most terrible dreams of him and he singled me out. Does that mean…I’m the asphyxiation?”
“I don’t believe so” Barton suddenly said “He’s after me too, I’ve seen him. In my dreams and in reality, in broad daylight. He’s always there, taunting me and watching me. And I have a strong feeling he got those claws from me too, my replica Freddy glove was stolen at some point in the last few weeks and my Freddy hat”“We need to speak with your friends alone and analyse what is going on here” the male said “But we need to talk to them when they aren’t trying to defend themselves from our questions. We have parental consent from all their families, we’re calling in a hypnotist”