By John Quinn
Jasper Fielding gripped the steering wheel with both hands. It was a beautiful day. The sun was shining on a Friday evening. The beginning of a weekend. Jasper should have been enjoying the drive home from work, but he couldn’t. Not since he listened to the news. A sixth woman had gone missing.
…a Goddamn sixth woman…
The disappearances of these woman were all the talk in Jasper’s moderately small town. It was the topic of every check out line, water cooler and local bar conversation. Five weeks with one disappearance every week. Bang on schedule a sixth woman went missing just as the sixth week was coming to an end.
…what the hell are the cops doing?...
It had Jasper all worked up. Whoever was doing it was still on the loose, and Jasper had a wife at home to think about. He was sure his wife was fine. His hometown of Glenview was small, but not that small. What were the chances of his wife being a victim? Pretty low, he thought.
Yet he gripped the steering wheel tighter than usual. So tight that it hurt his hands. He tried to loosen his grip a little and noticed that his whole body was tense. He took one hand from the steering wheel and wiped the sweat from his face. It was hot, but not hot enough to sweat so much.
…calm down, calm down, just stay calm...
He looked at the speedometer. He was going seventy eight miles per hour, twenty three over the speed limit. He lifted his foot slightly off the gas. The car slowed a little. Better not to speed. If the cops saw him he’d get a ticket, but more importantly they would slow him down. He needed to get home. Jasper looked back to the road. He still felt tense. He couldn’t explain it. He just had a…bad feeling.
…a very bad feeling…
He couldn’t explain it any other way.
He kept thinking about the news story. He couldn’t help it. His grip tightened on the steering wheel again. His foot pressed down on the gas. The car returned to its previous excessive speed. More sweat broke out on his face and back. He needed to get home and see his wife. To make sure that she was okay. He wouldn’t be able to relax until he walked into his house and saw her there, serving his dinner just as he walked in the door. She always had great timing. Jasper just needed to get home.
But he had a very bad feeling.
After what felt like an eternity, Jasper arrived home. He pulled his car into the driveway and got out. He walked towards the door, telling himself to remain calm, that when he walked in the door his wife would be there, as always, and he would feel foolish for worrying needlessly.
He pulled his key out of his pocket and put it in the lock. He turned it and walked in the door. The lock always made a lot of noise, something he meant to fix but never got around to it. Usually it alerted his wife that he was home and she called out to him. This time a silence greeted him. Jasper’s stomach tightened. He checked his watch. Maybe he was home early and she hadn’t returned from the shops yet. He was driving pretty fast. It was a quarter to six, and he usually got home at six. Not such a big difference.
…she could be in the garden, or the basement, or the bedroom…just stay calm…
He walked straight through the hall into the kitchen.
“Julie?” he called.
“Julie, I’m home.”
“Julie, are you home?”
He waited for a reply, but none came. He looked around the kitchen. Everything was the way it should be, except for one small difference. His cup and plate from breakfast were still on the kitchen table. He usually left them there for Julie after he’d had his coffee and toast. He couldn’t remember any time when she hadn’t washed them and put them away. The knot in his stomach strengthened its grip on his intestines and his hands began to shake.
He ran back through the hall and up the stairs, taking them three steps at a time. He went straight into the bedroom. Julie wasn’t there. The bedroom also seemed fine, except that the bed hadn’t been made. Julie never forgot to make the bed.
“Julie, please, are you here?”
No answer came. Jasper left the bedroom and ran back down the stairs. He had no idea where his wife could be. She was always at home when he finished work. Always. The news report ran back through his head.
“A sixth woman went missing early this morning in Glenview. Police are yet to release all the details but it is thought that this attack was carried out in the same manner as…”
Jasper tried to put it out of his head. He couldn’t afford to panic. He stood in the hall thinking about what to do next. He looked to the phone. Was it too early to call the police? Maybe Julie was with a friend, or stuck in traffic. He caught the basement door from the corner of his eye. He hadn’t checked there yet. Sometimes Julie used the treadmill down there, and she had a habit of listening to loud music on her mp3 player. She might have been there all the time and not heard Jasper call her.
He walked towards the door. Fresh trickles of sweat ran down his back. His knees felt weak If he found her there he thought he would give her a piece of his mind.
He opened the door and walked down the stairs.
Jasper’s basement was small. It contained a washing machine, a drier and a treadmill. Otherwise it was empty. Jasper wasn’t much of a handyman so he didn’t have any tools or other “do-it-yourself” apparatus to store down there. He really had no business down there at all. His wife was the only one that used the basement. She was the house-wife, so she used the washing machine and drier. Jasper was very traditional in that regard. As for the treadmill, that was also for Julie. Jasper was a big fan of sport, but watching it rather than doing it.
The basement was completely underground so no daylight got in. A solitary light bulb hanging from the ceiling provided the only source of light. When Jasper opened the door, the light was off. He stood at the top of the stairs, staring down into the darkness. He was sure his wife wasn’t there, and he turned to leave. As he turned he flicked on the light switch, just to be sure. He was shocked by what he saw.
His wife was sitting in a chair in the middle of the basement, tied up and gagged. Jasper didn’t say a word. He ran down the stairs to her. His legs were wobbly and as he reached the bottom step he tripped and fell, banging his right knee hard on the ground. He tried to put the pain out of his mind. His wife was tied up and he needed to get to her. He didn’t think that whoever did it might still be hiding somewhere in his house. His only thought was to untie the rope and take the gag from her mouth.
He scrambled over to her. He grabbed the rope around her wrists and tried to loosen it. His hands were shaking so hard that he couldn’t get a good grip. He looked at his wife’s face and saw the panic in her eyes. She tried to say something to him, Jasper couldn’t make out the words through the gag.
“Don’t worry, Julie. You’re gonna be okay.”
He looked down to the rope again. His hands still shook too much, and the rope was tight. He looked around the room for something to help him. A solitary knife lay on top of the washing machine. He didn’t know what it was doing there and he didn’t care. He could use it to cut the rope.
“Hold on, Julie. I’m gonna get the knife and cut the rope off you.”
Tears ran down Julie’s cheeks and over the gag. She tried to say something to Jasper, but he paid no attention. He wanted the knife. He got to his feet and limped over to the washing machine. His knee hurt a lot. He picked the knife up, noticing that the blade had turned brown with rust. He wondered how long it had been down there, and if it could cut the rope.
He limped back to his wife and knelt down on his good knee in front of here. He put the knife under the rope, getting ready to cut through it. He looked into her eyes.
“Don’t worry, honey. I’ll free you now and we’ll call the police. It’s gonna be ok.”
He tensed his arm and started to slice the blade through the rope. He made it halfway through when he suddenly stopped. He lifted his face and looked at his wife. He looked into her eyes.
They were the wrong color.
His wife had blue eyes. Light blue, like the ocean. The eyes he looked into were brown. He felt the knife fall from his hand. He looked at the hair. His wife’s was black, this hair was a light brown. Jasper let out a moan and fell backwards onto his ass.
“Who are you?” he cried.
The girl in the chair couldn’t answer because of the gag in her mouth. Instead she cried.
“Who are you and where is my wife?” Jasper screamed at her.
Jasper again got no answer, and if he did he wouldn’t have heard it. His attention had moved from the girl to what he saw lying against the wall behind her. There was something there, covered in a blanket. He couldn’t tell what it was, but he hadn’t remembered anything being stored in the basement before. He also noticed how the air smelled a little different. It smelled a little sickly, like spoiled meat.
He got up off the ground and limped around the girl, forgotten for the moment, towards the pile. The closer he got the more putrid the air smelled. He reached down with one trembling hand and lifted the blanket up. On the ground were five neatly stacked bodies. The smell hit him hard. Jasper turned away and let out a scream.
He stumbled back towards the other side of the room, covering his mouth and nose, trying not to vomit. All at once his memory came flooding back to him. He had no wife. She divorced him six months earlier, running off with some other man. He remembered believing those other women to be his wife when he saw them on the street. He remembered forcing them into his car. He remembered killing each of them when he realized what he had done. When he realized that they weren’t his wife. When something like eye color, birthmarks, or even the straightness of their hair destroyed his fantasy.
Now he had another girl. He couldn’t let her go. He knew that much. Just as he knew he couldn’t let the other girls go. She would cause trouble if she was set free. Jasper couldn’t allow that. He walked towards her and picked up the knife. For the first time he noticed that the brown stains on the blade were not rust, they were dried blood. Still he didn’t hesitate. He knew what he had to do. He put the blade to the girls neck and pulled it hard across her throat. He watched her struggle in the chair until eventually she died. He then cut the rope free and lay her body with the others, recovering them with the blanket.
He turned and walked towards the stairs. He made his way up to the hall and then into the sitting room where he lay on the couch. His head hurt. He knew he had a problem to deal with. He had six bodies in the basement and they were starting to stink. He needed to get rid of them somehow but he couldn’t concentrate his mind. His head hurt too much and he was too tired. He closed his eyes to rest a little. In just a few minutes, he drifted off to sleep.
Two days later Jasper was sitting in his car by the lake on a mild Sunday evening. Although his was the only car there, he saw the occasional jogger pass him by. He needed to get out of the house for a while. He had just watched the news and found it a little depressing. A sixth woman missing and the police still hadn’t caught the guy.
…just how exactly do the police earn their money anyway?...
Sitting by the lake in his car usually calmed him down, and that evening was no exception. His mind was soon clear and he could enjoy the view from his car window. From the corner of his eye he caught another jogger, a woman, making her way in his direction. He watched her as she got closer. He thought there was something familiar about her. He couldn’t quite put his finger on it, she was still a little far away. As she got closer he got a clearer look at her. He thought it was someone he knew. Someone he knew but hadn’t seen in a while, six months at least.
“Julie?” he muttered.
He got out of the car and walked towards her.
“Julie?” he called out, “Hey Julie, it’s me.”
He was confused because she didn’t answer. She didn’t even look in his direction.
“Hey Julie, it’s Jasper. How are you doing?”
Still she didn’t answer. But that was okay. Jasper could see that it was Julie. He was sure that it was her. He just needed to get her home. Then they could have a proper talk, maybe get back together, who knows what could happen?