The passion, obsession, distrust, and paranoia of a romance leaves muder in its wake.
“Today’s Breaking News is the discovery this morning of a barely decomposed body that was found washed up along the shore of the Hudson River near Central Park,” Howard Mandela, announced in a bleak voice the shocking, latest news.
The dim glow of the television flashed through the room. Alexander Winter-Meyer, his girlfriend of three years, Helen Aprilsohn, and their best friend Juliet Peron, all stared in a trance at the changing colors being projected out to them. They were watching the news instead of all of the other shows and movies that they could be watching, because they were wondering what the star reporter would say next.
“Authorities that had been investigating the scene reported just hours ago that the body was that of 16 year-old Caitlyn Roswell, one of the promising young journalists for New York University’s Newspaper, NYU Today. She had disappeared for 3 weeks until sadly, her body was discovered. This most likely is another in the series of drowning murders that have been committed near the Hudson River and Central Park by a serial killer known only as the Hudson River Strangler. For now the police urge the Manhattan community to avoid the areas near the Hudson River and Central Park. We will inform you of any possible suspects,” Mandela said, before Alex cut the television off.
The reporter’s voice still seemed to echo off the luxurious floral-themed wallpaper of the Winter-Meyer’s second-floor of their 5 acre, 45-room summer estate in the small village of Tarrytown, New York. This village had the distinguished reputation of being right next to Sleepy Hollow--the town that--of course--Washington Irving named the famous short story, “The Legend of Sleepy Hollow” after.
“Well, you two girls may have nightmares about the “crazy killers” around town, but I’m going to sleep effortlessly with the security of knowing that I’ll still be alive tomorrow,” Alex jokingly said.
“That’s easy for you to say, we are right next to the Hudson,” Juliet glumly announced.
“Yeah, but we’re right next to the Hudson in my high-security summer mansion,” said Alex.
“Yeah, your high-security mansion with no parents around or security guards.”
“At least we have security guards. Everyone is only gone for today and tomorrow. Besides, I don’t see you with any security guards.”
“You’re forgetting as usual that not all of us are born rich.”
“Well, I guess not everyone can have the life…ok. Seriously, sorry…”
The next day Alex, Helen, and Juliet all awoke to the peaceful sunlight that shined through their window in a marvelous bliss. A dream-like feeling seemed to hang over the air, like there was a kind of strange beauty about the day.
It was officially the first day of summer. They were free at last. Free from the burden of grades and books and teachers. There was a kind of reassurance in the atmosphere that everything was going to be fine. It seemed that as soon as they wiped the sleep from their eyes, all of their worries were being wiped away with it.
“Summer has got to be the most heavenly blessing bestowed upon us soon-to-be Seniors,” said Alex serenely.
“You make it sound like Senior year is tomorrow. We have two and a half months of freedom until then. Either way, I can’t wait until I’m eighteen,” said Helen.
“You’re right. Tomorrow we still won’t be Seniors…But you will still be so beautiful.”
Alex was still lying in his king-sized bed with his red comforter pushed to his side. Helen was still lying in her cot with purple satin sheets that lied right next to Juliet’s cot, making it look like it was one bed. She pushed her covers aside and left her cot to go over to Alex’s bed, leaving Juliet to herself. Helen sat in Alex’s lap, her eyes as bright blue as the sky, and her blond hair shining as golden as the sun. She kissed his lips with a deliberate smile. Alex looked back up at her, his blue eyes bright with childish wonder, and then he looked over to notice that Juliet was staring disapprovingly at them.
“That’s for calling me beautiful,” she said playfully.
“You’re very, very much welcome,” Alex said flirtatiously, yet slightly embarrassed with himself.
“Well what should we get for breakfast,” Alex asked Juliet in particular. “What have you got?” Juliet asked.
“Almost anything that you can think of.”
“Then how about chocolate chip pancakes with lots of syrup. I’m starved.”
Alex and Helen laughed together. “Pancakes it is,” Alex cheerfully announced.
They all had a huge breakfast that Helen gladly cooked downstairs, and ate for a little over 20 minutes before they were full. When they were done, the girls excused themselves to go get ready for the day. Helen left without a second glance, but Juliet lingered for a moment and glanced at Alex, who glanced back up at her and gave her a crooked smile. Then they were gone, and Alex was left by himself.
He energetically strode over to the gigantic nineteenth-century couch that inhabited only a small part of the Winter-Meyer’s enormous living room. Across from the couch was another, smaller couch, and to his left was the TV. A small crystal chandelier hung from the ceiling that had been frescoed with interpretations of paintings by Leonardo da Vinci and Michelangelo. Two large windows surrounded the massive fireplace that had a deer’s head lurking oddly above it. The largest window was in the shape of an oval, and lied across from him. All around him were the antique furniture and luxuriant objects typically casual of the rich.
He grabbed the remote off the television and turned it on to find the news. Howard Mandela was reporting more about the Hudson River Strangler, “This just in…evidence has been found that the murder of Caitlyn Roswell was connected to the Hudson River Strangler. The Strangler has killed twice before: first in the unsolved case of 15-year-old Jennifer Hudson, who the police strongly believed was a chosen victim simply because of her last name, but didn’t have any suspects to find out more about the reasons she was the first victim of the Strangler. The second unsolved case was that of Miranda Perry, a 30-year-old waitress that was driving home one night in her car and when she stopped at the light, she was robed and killed by asphyxiation with her own stocking by the Strangler. All of these women had brown hair and brown eyes, but were in no particular age group other than that known of between 15 and 30, which the police believe may be partially mathematical killings, since it is a fact that 15 is half of 30, and all of the victims’ ages have been steadily increasing. Unfortunately, there is no other word on any definite suspects other than the family and friends of the victims.”
Throughout the rest of the news report there was one thing on Alex’s mind: All of these women had brown hair and brown eyes. It suddenly occurred to him more so than ever that Juliet fit the profile of brown hair and brown eyes, and not to mention, she was between 15 and 30: 17, actually.
What if the strangler was trying to kill by age after all? First it was 15, then 16, and then maybe the next victim would be 17, and it would go on…
Alex reassured himself that he was worrying for nothing. So what if all of the victims of the Strangler had brown hair and brown eyes, and their ages were a coincidence. That didn’t mean anything. Billions of people had brown hair and brown eyes, and billions of people--no matter the age--could be killed. How could the killer have even known what age they were? The next victim was one in a billion.
Besides, thought Alex, how did anybody know that the Hudson River Strangler was going to have a next victim? For all Alex knew, there was no next victim.
Alex figured that the Strangler can’t have many more victims. He can’t get away with it forever. With all of today’s forensic advances, the Strangler is bound to get caught.
He happily turned off the TV and went back upstairs to get dressed.
After five minutes Alex had thrown on his old navy blue polo shirt and some khaki shorts, along with his old Nike shoes, and was ready to go. He stood at his mirror for a moment to see how he looked. His black hair was casually ruffled. He thought that his lean shaped looked great in his clothes. Thinking about what he was wearing, he figured that he could wear a more expensive looking attire, but he settled for what he had on. All together his outfit added up to be a total of $751.35, but Alex just thought his clothes were worth the equivalent of pocket change.
Alex opened the door to find Juliet standing there. Her slightly plump figure was wearing a light blue Hollister shirt that showed her ample chest, and a short, white jean-skirt, with her brown Rainbow flip-flops.
“I have to talk to you,” she said
“You know what about.”
“Alright, come in.”
Alex lead her to his bed and they both sat down. Juliet was staring at his hand while she held it in her lap. She was trying not to look in his eyes as she spoke. “What happened between us last month--”
“Was the best thing that happened between us,” Alex happily finished her sentence.
“No…It was the worst thing. We had sex, Alex, and Peter, who should be coming over any minute--is my boyfriend. And you’ve been Helen’s boyfriend for two years now. I cannot do that to Peter and Helen ever again. We can’t be together.”
Juliet was on the verge of tears now, and she spoke with a frightfully shaky voice.
“But I can do this, Juliet,” he tried to comfort her by gently stroking her hair.
Alex picked up her hand into his lap now and held it there. His eyes were on fire with determination. He grasped her hand tightly.
“Helen doesn’t have to know. I love her, but I love you so much more. I will break up with Helen in a heartbeat if it means being with you.”
“How can you sit there and say that. We have to do the right thing here, Alex. The right thing is not to hurt Helen or Peter. I can’t do this anymore. I refuse to do this anymore. I’ve changed.”
“Like hell you’ve changed. You were the one who got drunk at my birthday party and seduced me. I remember how bad you wanted me. How you flirted relentlessly with me. How you said that you didn’t want to be with Peter anymore, and how you said that you had always had a crush on me. You know they say alcohol is like truth serum.
“I’ve seen how Peter is around you. He doesn’t love you like how I do. He doesn’t even look at you, Juliet. He’s always had his eyes set on Helen, but she was always too busy looking at me. Well, I don’t want her anymore, and Peter doesn’t want you, so it’s about time that you face up to that, because I know you know it’s true. I’ve seen it in your eyes; they’re always sad around Peter when you think no one is looking. But I’m looking. I’m always looking at you when you don’t realize it. I always will be…”
Alex was leaning closer and closer to her now. He spoke irritably, possessively, and above all, seductively. He had a determination to have his reason rub off on her.
Juliet was crying hysterically and shaking her head back and forth in denial. Her mind was made up to not believe anything that Alex was saying. But she knew that it was true. She did love Alex, and she knew that she did. But she couldn’t accept it.
She rushed off of the bed and flung toward the closed door. Alex pined her to the doorway and forced his lips onto hers. His kiss was filled with passion.
He let her go with a satisfied smirk on his lips. She slapped Alex’s face. Before he could remove his hand from his sore face, she had escaped from the room without a trace.
Alex impulsively leaped through the door and ran after her. “Juliet, wait! I’m sorry! ” He cried. He stopped at the top of the stairs and looked down the stairway. But it was too late. Juliet was already making her way onto the bottom floor.
He heard the sound of a door closing. Alex turned around to see Helen coming out of the guest bedroom. Her model-slim figure was covered by her blue shorts with her red chemise, that showed a hint of cleavage worn loosely around her waist, her pearl earrings, and her black flip-flops. She gracefully stood in front of the window at the end of the hall.
She looked every bit of the actress that she was. She had been one of the best performers in all of the school plays. Alex loved her best as Helena in A Midsummer’s Night Dream. For the moment, her face elegantly expressed a sympathetic bewilderment.
“Alex, are you okay? You look sad.”
Her hair, tied up in a ponytail with her long white ribbon, was illuminated around her face like a halo as the sun from the window shined down on her. Alex couldn’t help but pause from answering her question to stare in awe at how beautiful she looked in the light. At the same time though, he felt that her charm was slowly failing to please him anymore.
“I’m fine,” he decided to lie quickly, “I was just rushing to get dressed is all.”
“Downstairs. We don’t want to keep her waiting. Let’s go,” he said with a fake smile.
They held hands as they walked downstairs. Helen was fumbling with one of her pearl earrings; it was crooked, and she couldn’t get it to fasten.
Alex paid no attention to her, but instead couldn’t get his mind off of Juliet. He didn’t want to stop thinking about her.
When they made it downstairs, Juliet was no where to be found.
“I thought you said Juliet was here?” Asked Helen.
“I did. She’s probably outside.”
They went out through the double doors in the living room. Juliet was there. She was on the patio that overlooked the woods, and their friend Peter was standing beside her, holding her hand.
“Peter! So good to see you, dude!” Alex embraced him like a long-lost-brother with open arms. “Good to see you, too. I missed you, man.”
Peter Gosling was tall, with long legs, and slightly more muscular that Alex. He had short, blond hair, and large, piercing blue eyes. His eyes tended to have the effect of making it seem like he was always looking at you, but they always had an air of kindness about them that only Peter could have.
Peter went over to hug Helen. She was still fumbling with her pearl earring. She
dropped it by accident just as Peter caught it. “I always thought you were a pearl of a girl,” Peter said as he handed Helen her pearl earring, “It’s been such a long time for a year. I missed you too, Helen. Let me tell you, boarding school sucks.” Helen hugged him back and laughed serenely at his last remark, “Good to see you, Peter.”
Peter had been expelled from their school the previous year for getting caught selling Oregano that was inconspicuously (or so Peter thought) disguised as Marijuana. Peter was middle-class along with Juliet. His family used to be rich, but Peter’s father was cut off from his fortune for marrying his mother, who was the daughter of one of his grandfather’s many enemies.
“Juliet’s family’s business almost went bankrupt. The only reason for why they could still go to Alex and Helen’s school was because of Alex and Helen’s family’s charity to their children’s friends. They could relate with each other for being one of the few non-rich kids at their school. When Peter was expelled, they always kept in touch, calling each other multiple times every week, with Peter visiting for much of the summer, holidays, and some weekends.
“Hey Peter, why couldn’t Justin come for the bloodbath?” Alex asked.
“It’s a retarded joke I heard from Justin about how school yesterday was a bloodbath.”
“Oh! Justin had some other bloodbath to attend to, and by that I mean Jake’s little soiree.”
“I didn’t know Jake was having a party!”
“Of course you didn’t. Jake hated you ever since you stole Helen from him.”
“Oh yeah, right…”
“Awe, it’s okay, man. So what are we doing today?” Peter chuckled.
“Well, I don’t really know. Any suggestions?”
They all replied no. Everyone was silent for a long time. “I know! Why don’t we play Hide-and-Seek! I haven’t played that game in ages!” Exclaimed Peter.
“Of course you haven’t played that game in ages. Hide-and-Seek is a child’s game,” replied Helen.
“Of course it is…Well, I don’t know about you guys, but I feel like being a child today.”
“Then it’s settled, Hide-and-Seek it is. But who is going to be “It” ?” Asked Alex.
“You are, Alex!” Helen said banally.
“But where will we play?” Asked Juliet.
“How about the woods?” Peter asked Alex in particular.
“Sure, the woods are gated, so its safe. But we could always get lost, so we have to stay close to the house.”
“Alright then,” said Peter.
They all made their way into the woods. Each of them hid in various places that they figured they wouldn’t get found at.
Alex rushed through the forest, eagerly searching with the enthusiasm and curiosity of an energetic child. He was smiling, and on the verge of laughing from the anticipation of finding his friends. After a while, he had spent 10 minutes frantically searching with all of his five senses to find everyone. He stopped next to large tree surrounded by shrubs. Noticing a large shadow in the clearing that looked like it had long hair, he slyly realized that one, or even both of the girls were behind it.
He swiftly and silently edged his way toward the tree and hid against its side. Springing in front of the tree, he tagged the girl in front of it with a relaxed hug. “Gotcha, Helen!” Alex exclaimed.
Alex realized the girl in his arms was not Helen, but Juliet as she shrieked from surprise. His smile slowly faded as he realized who it was. Juliet stared unsurely back up at him. Their faces were close and their lips only inches apart. Alex slowly bended forward and gently placed his lips upon hers. She didn’t struggle, but instead wrapped her arms around Alex as they embraced. Juliet was the one who ended the kiss.
“I’m sorry I can’t,” Juliet blurted out.
“Why not? Juliet, I want to be with you. I can’t wait any longer,” Alex asked her. He was clearly irritated.
“I just don’t want Helen and Peter to find out. I don’t know what I would do if they ever did.”
“We can keep a secret,” he urged.
“What’s the point of being together, if we have to spend every moment in secrecy, trying not to get caught. I don’t want it to be like that. It’s wrong…”
Alex exhaled an exhausted breath, and looked Juliet straight in her eyes. He paused in thought, as he stared at her, and raised his hand to gently cup her cheek. He ran his fingers gently over her hair, slicked back into a ponytail by her blue ribbon. She waited unsurely for his answer.
“Whether it’s wrong or not, I would rather spend every moment with you in secret, than none at all.”
Leaning forward to her lips, he met them passionately. She did not stop him. They kissed without thought or worry of ever being caught. When he released her, he said his good-bye, and slowly backed away from her to wonder off into the woods. As he left, she stood and waved him good-bye in an almost embarrassed, infatuated fashion.
Alex had gone, and Juliet was left by herself. As she idly leaned against the tree, plucking the leaves off a small branch while she said, “He loves me. He loves me not,” for every leaf that fell to the ground. The last leaf was plucked as she said, “He loves me.” Juliet noticed that the woods were quiet and peaceful. There were birds chirping, and she could hear the sound of the small creek. Even with her tranquil surroundings, she did not feel any peace--as she couldn’t take Alex off her mind.
“Of course I love you,” a voice chuckled behind her.
Turning around, she was surprised to find Peter approaching her. She nervously faced him, and failed to make a convincing smile.
“Are you alright?” He asked her.
“I’m fine. I just bruised my leg a little. It doesn’t hurt anymore,” she quickly lied to him.
“You and the woods. I’ll have to be sure to keep my eyes on you more often. I forgot how clumsy you can be sometimes. Are you sure you’re alright?”
“Yes, of course,” she managed to smile without showing her nerves.
Peter wrapped his arms around her. “Are you sure?” He asked her still unsatisfied.
“Yes, I’m sure,” she said smiling more convincingly than ever now. Leaning into him, she gave him a quick kiss. “Why don’t you go on ahead and finish the game. Afterwards, you can meet me in the guest bedroom. Its completely unoccupied, if you know what I mean.”
At this Peter gave her an even shorter kiss on her cheek. Juliet was slightly annoyed, but hid it, and kept on smiling. He had never shown enough affection towards her. “Alright. I’ll meet you later,” he replied.
Peter went off into the woods as Juliet stared at his turned back in deep sadness. She turned around again and immediately began to worry that Peter might one day find out about she and Alex. The woods suddenly seemed to become unnaturally quiet, with the bird’s chirping as the only audible sound.
Helen had hid behind a large oak tree. Smiling to herself for finding such an excellent hiding place, she peaked over the tree to see if anyone was coming.
A black-gloved hand appeared from her behind and grabbed her by the hair. She turned around to see a dark figure standing silently there. The figure had a large rock raised high above her head in their hand. Before she knew it, the rock came down on her head. She fell to the ground.
Alex froze where he was walking. He heard the high, spine-tingling scream echo all around him. The birds’ chirps had been so peaceful earlier. Now there was just a riot of violent crying, as if they were in pain. They gathered in flocks, and flew away, leaving behind them an unsettling fear pollute the air from their grotesque cries.
When the scream was suddenly cut short, it still seemed to haunt the air around Alex like an invisible ghost. He stood motionless in horror for an endless moment.
After regaining his awareness of what had just happened, he realized that there was an eeriness about the scream that made him wonder if it wasn’t just from playing around. The scream sounded almost ominous, as if there was a horrified urgency being translated through it.
It suddenly came to him that there truly was something very disturbing happening. Alex began to walk again--slowly at first--then faster and faster, until he was running and his heart was pounding like a time-bomb ready to explode. He had to see if there really was something wrong after all.
“Helen! Juliet!” He desperately cried. He was rushing to save them from any harm. The forest was beginning to have a strange influence on him. As he became dizzy, the trees seemed to twist and contort.
He began to sweat from fear--fear that he was too late. The thought of something bad happening to any of his loved ones sent a shudder down his spine. That was a thought that he could not bear if it came to realization.
As he ran, he realized that he had passed the same tree before and was almost about to pass it again. He had gone too far. Neither of the girls were within his sight.
Exhaustion made him stop. Everything began to spin. His legs had gone numb and his throat was dry, making it hurt to swallow. Once more he wrapped his hands around his mouth and called, “Helen! Juliet!”
Sliding down the base of the tree, he sat on the ground to catch his breath. He couldn’t go on any longer. His worry began to fade. Why would anything be wrong? Alex thought. After all, the woods were gated. He figured that Peter had scarred Helen or Juliet as a prank. Peter was after all, known as a huge prankster.
Alex looked up at the tree. It was a large, old oak with moss growing on it. He noticed that the sky was getting dark. He realized that the ground he was sitting on was moist when he felt his pants were getting wet, and he stood up.
He brushed the dirt off his pants and as he did so, a thin, coiling white ribbon caught his eyesight. He realized immediately that this was the same ribbon that Helen had worn earlier. He remembered how lovely she looked with it on her golden hair. As he bent down to pick it up, he observed the ribbon more closely.
A mist of small red stains had blotted together, and covered the ribbon. Alex stood--frozen--as he realized that the ribbon was covered with Helen’s blood. He forgot to breath, and stared in horror at it. When he became aware of the bloody ribbon, he caught his breath in deep inhalations through his chest. Soon he began to hyperventilate. He could feel his heart pounding like it would cave in at any moment. Alex felt helpless and scarred more than he had ever been in his life. He tried to scream, but his voice was trapped in his throat.
It seemed to take all of his energy to move his frozen muscles, but he managed to put the ribbon in his pocket, as he stood up.
Standing there for a moment, he worried frantically about what he should do. Alex decided to find the rest of his friends, and he prayed that Helen was with them. He didn’t know what he would do if something happened to her on his watch.
Alex was about to run and find them, when a hard blow struck the back of his head. He felt the air rush out of his body. Before he knew it, the ground was in his face, and he could taste the dirt in his mouth, as he lied there. His surroundings faded fast to black. Then he passed out.