Mystery and Crime Fiction posted December 28, 2015 Chapters: -Prologue- 1... 

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A simple errand unveils a startling discovery...

A chapter in the book 2nd Time Around


by teols2016

The author has placed a warning on this post for violence.
"Cruel with guilt, and daring with despair, the midnight murderer bursts the faithless bar; invades the sacred hour of silent rest and leaves, unseen, a dagger in your breast."
Samuel Johnson, 1709-1784


... Her footsteps audible through the quiet neighborhood, Sarah Inez Griffin left her family's house and sprinted across to the Parkers' home. The early evening was quiet, decorated with a slight breeze and a sun just starting to descend. Eager to accomplish her chore, Sarah didn't pause to admire the orange glow cast over her.

Up and down the street, the colonial-style houses were quiet. Children were long-since home from school and engaged in homework while parents either prepped dinner or were still entangled in the evening commuter traffic. No one, including Sarah, had any reason to suspect anything was amiss in this definition of suburbia.

Arriving on the Parkers' front porch, Sarah noticed a strange green car in their driveway, parked right behind the all-too-familiar gray minivan. They must have company, she concluded, promising she'd be quick. Pushing some stray red strands out of her face, she rang the bell.

As she waited, Sarah considered when she'd have time to get a haircut. Her spring break wasn't cluttered with events and appointments, but she also wanted to keep it that way. She'd go once she got back to school. There was no rush. Plus, she liked that salon near her school. Maybe she could live in Washington and incorporate the place into her life.

There was no answer. Sarah waited half a minute and tried again. Still, no one came to the door. She listened but heard nothing inside. Was anyone even home? This was weird.

She tried a third time and was about to give up when the door opened. Dr. Ben Parker peered out at her. He was trying to catch his breath and Sarah could smell sweat. The surprised and distracted look on his face indicated she was interrupting something. The dirty sweatshirt and jeans didn't suggest he was entertaining. What was going on?

"Hello," Dr. Parker said in a quiet voice, still breathing heavily.

"Hi," Sarah said, forcing a smile. "Sorry to interrupt but my mom needs to borrow a bag of flour."

Baking was a pastime for Mrs. Elaine Parker and everyone knew she always had extra supplies in stock.

"Oh, sure," Dr. Parker said, sounding relieved. "Wait here a minute. I'll go get some. Just ... wait here please."

Leaving the front door open, he turned and headed down a hallway towards the garage, where Sarah knew the family stored their extra supplies. He looked at her over his shoulder every few steps. It was as though he wanted to make sure she stayed put. He was soon out of sight.

He was acting odd, or at least odder than usual. Being a dentist by trade, he always took too much of an interest in anything involving Sarah's mouth. Just a bit taller than her, he always had a good vantage point.

Then there was the fact he was attracted to her to an inappropriate level. He never passed up an opportunity to stare at her, often moving in too close without good cause. The feelings weren't mutual. With his persistent stubble, unkempt dark hair, and few extra pounds, Sarah did not find him attractive. He was just very plain-looking and she'd never see him any other way, his leering behavior closing the case for her distaste. In their interactions, he did all the staring.

Not today though. Dr. Parker hadn't even looked at her chest yet, not that this wasn't a nice change of pace. Sarah was wearing a t-shirt and shorts, an attire which normally caught his eye when she was out running and he was on his way to work. Now, she might as well be wearing a medieval suit of armor.

Wonder what I interrupted, she thought, unable to hear any other voices. Was anyone else even here?

Straining to hear anything, she caught the tell-tale sounds of a television playing cartoons. So, the kids are here, she concluded. She figured it'd be okay to go say "hello." She used to baby-sit them all the time until leaving for American University. Now a junior, she still sometimes watched them when she was home, like the previous Tuesday. But those occasions were infrequent and Alan and Stacey were crushed by her absence. They adored her and It seemed none of their current sitters measured up.

This will be a nice surprise, Sarah thought, seeing no harm in it. She stepped inside and headed down another hallway, somewhat surprised the kids hadn't already come running while she was speaking with their father. Must be one heck of a cartoon, she figured, passing an open door and stepping around Alan's discarded baseball glove.

She noted the familiar photos on the wall. There were shots featuring the kids' first day at Arlington's Long Branch Elementary School. There was a picture of the family during an excursion to nearby Washington, D.C. Other photos featured birthday parties and similar gatherings. One had Sarah in it, though she couldn't recall the occasion.

Not paying attention, Sarah bumped into a small side table the Parkers kept in the hallway. She heard something hit the floor with a clatter.

What the, she wondered, looking down. She saw a kitchen knife lying at her feet. It looked like the ones her father used to cut meat.

Why is this out here, she pondered. She picked it up and took it with her. It smelled a little weird, but she couldn't place the odor. The stench did seem familiar.

She walked into the nearby kitchen and set the knife down on the counter next to some grocery bags. Poking out of one paper bag was a bulging bag of flour.

Why didn't he give me this one? Sarah wondered. She looked back towards the door, considering the possibility Dr. Parker may have remembered these groceries and was returning from the garage.

Deciding not to dwell on the mystery of the flour bags, Sarah headed back out of the kitchen and further down the hallway towards the den, still hearing the television. She thought it was a cartoon but she wasn't familiar with it. As she got closer, she noticed an odd smell coming from the room. She realized it was the same smell as the knife and its source hit her.

She'd needed to have her appendix taken out when she was twelve. Waiting for the operating room to be prepped, she complained about the strong, chlorine-like smell. A nurse sympathized, explaining it was the industrial cleaner the hospital's maintenance staff used.

"I haven't gotten it out of my nose for the past five years," she'd remarked.

Sarah wondered about this. Had Dr. Parker moved his office to the house? She could not recall any other context for the sterile disinfectant smell. Sure, Mrs. Parker kept a clean house, but she wasn't obsessed or anything. Still, even eight years later, Sarah recognized that nauseating smell. She fought to suppress her discomfort.

"Hey, you guys," she said, turning into the den. "What are you ..."

She froze. Her heart rate sped up and her hands trembled. Getting her voice back, she screamed.

Lying on the floor on several plastic tarps, their throats slit and their chests bloody, were the bodies of Mrs. Parker and the kids, Alan and Stacey. A container of industrial cleaner stood near the corpses, along with supplies like sponges and paper towels. Despite there being pale spots on the black tarps where someone had already cleaned up, there was blood all around, some of it trickling off onto the hardwood floor.

The green rug on which Sarah had so often played with the kids was rolled up and moved against one wall. The tall lamp in the corner had been knocked over, its shade askew. Stacey's stuffed cow and Alan's Captain America action figure lay on the couch along with the TV remote. The cartoon was still playing. It showed some kids climbing onto a bus with wings. A milk crate next to the couch was also on its side, the toys kept in it strewn across the floor.

Horrified, Sarah backed towards the door. understanding what she'd interrupted, she had to get out. She needed help. Having surely heard her screams, Dr. Parker would be back any second. She had to get away. Somehow, she could not take her eyes off the bodies. She couldn't believe this.

She felt someone breathing onto the back of her head and realized Dr. Parker was already back. Whirling around and moving away, she saw him standing in the doorway, wielding a large kitchen knife like the one she'd picked up earlier. The light from the ceiling reflected off its blade and it looked sharp. In his other hand was the bag of flour she'd asked for.

Sarah took a few steps back but stopped when she realized she was getting close to the bodies, already stepping in the blood on the tarps. It felt somewhat sticky as she moved again and the plastic crunched as she put her feet on it. Looking down, she saw the dark red prints she was making with her sneakers. She froze, too stunned to speak.

"You weren't supposed to see this," Dr. Parker said in a low voice. "You were not supposed to see this."

Though he was only about half a foot taller than Sarah, he now seemed to tower over her as he stepped forward, wielding the knife. Menacing as he looked and sounded, his face a mixture of anger and determination, he didn't come at her. Sarah couldn't understand his hesitation and didn't stop to analyze it. She tried to figure out how to save herself, forgetting the blood on her shoes.

"How ... how could you?" she asked, hoping to buy time and come up with an escape plan. "How could you do this?! They're your family!"

Dr. Parker didn't reply. Instead, he took a few steps into the room, closing the gap between them, the knife grasped in his hand. Sarah saw her partial reflection in its blade and she felt as though the knife itself marked her for death.

She charged forward, hoping to slip around him and reach the door. Then she'd make it out. Once outside, she could scream and get the attention of anyone on the street who was home. Dr. Parker wasn't muscular at all while she ran every day to stay in shape, so she had the advantage. She was sure she could take this guy, murders or no murders.

But Dr. Parker swung one of his arms forward, hitting Sarah across the head with the bag of flour. With a dull thump and a tearing sound, the bag ripped upon impact. Sarah was coated in the white powder as she stumbled backwards, stunned by the blow to her skull. Her vision was hazy and the entire room was a blur as stars flashed before her eyes. It was as though she was temporarily blinded by the flash of a camera. Only here, the camera also caused a dull pain in her head.

Some of the flour got into her eyes, further blinding her. Wiping them with her hands wasn't helping as they too had flour on them. The stuff stung. Hearing Dr. Parker moving somewhere, Sarah stepped back again.

The back of her leg hit the couch. Trying to clear her vision and ignoring the pain in her head, she felt around behind her. She needed something to get the flour out of her eyes.

Her hand found Stacey's stuffed cow. Creeped out but having no other option, she yanked the cherished animal up and wiped her face with it.

Her vision clear again, she saw Dr. Parker advancing. Taking another shot, she charged forward and slipped past him this time, ducking under his outstretched arm. Escape being the only goal, she kept going and reached the hallway. Her breathing was short and rapid while her heart pounded in her ears. desperate thoughts bounced around in her brain, colliding with one another, but she could see the front door at the end of the hallway. She was almost there.

Her dash for safety came to a screeching halt when she crashed into the small side table, falling on the overturned piece of furniture and reducing it to splintered pieces of wood. A solitary crack illustrated how disastrous the collision was.

Dazed from the fall, Sarah shakily got to her feet, brushing wooden fragments off herself as Dr. Parker came out of the den. He repositioned himself, leaving her trapped between him and the wall.

He came at her once again. Sarah did the only thing she could think of and brought her knee up into his groin as hard as she could. Her aim was good and Dr. Parker stumbled backwards, hunched over and groaning in pain as he grabbed his crotch with his free hand.

Despite his obvious discomfort, he came at her yet again. Sarah pushed him back as hard as she could. Only then did she see the open door and remember it led to the basement stairs. It was right behind him.

"Look out!" she cried.

It was sheer impulse. When you saw someone about to fall, you warned them.

It all seemed to happen in slow-motion. Dr. Parker fell back again and let out a strangled cry as gravity took over, pulling him down the stairs. Desperate, he waved his hands through the air, trying to grab onto something to save himself. He found nothing and disappeared, crashing down into the basement. The knife hit the floor with an echoing clatter.

Sarah heard a sickening crack, after which everything was silent. It felt like time stopped. There was no sound. Not even the air was moving. Sarah was frozen, her feet not cooperating with her now-available escape route.

An eerie silence remained as time seemed to move again. Then, a train rumbled by outside, its horn letting out one long note. It was the Orange Line of the Washington Metro. Though the tracks were over a mile away, it sounded as though the train was going right past Sarah, its rumbling and the horn's blare filling her ears.

She looked back and forth between the front door and the door to the basement stairs. It was so easy to get out now. She could yell and scream and alarm the whole neighborhood. If her parents were home by now, they'd get her in the house and barricade the door while calling the police. Mr. Powell, two doors down, would come running with a hunting rifle in his hands and two pistols clipped to his belt. Mr. and Mrs. Quigley, who lived next door and used a walker and scooter respectively, would let her in to call for help.

But Sarah didn't know if any of these people were home. And, what if, even now, Dr. Parker was getting to his feet to come after her again? What if he wasn't? Could she leave him down there, alone and likely hurt?

Then, she remembered the knife. The knife he'd been holding, intending to kill her with. It had fallen with him. She'd heard its clatter. She needed to make sure he couldn't get it again.

Sarah gathered her senses and hurried towards the door and down the stairs. Things became even quieter. There was only the squeaking of the steps as she kept going. The dim light, which someone had left on, cast her shadow behind her. It was as though she had a silent observer accompanying her through the tableau.

Her foot hit something and she froze. Hearing the clatter, she realized she'd kicked the knife. It had landed on one of the steps and she just sent it down a few more. She kept going, moving even slower as to not repeat her previous action.

She found the knife a few steps further down and picked it up. With the weapon in hand, she could turn back and get away. But could she leave Dr. Parker down there?

Taking a deep breath, she knew she needed to keep going. She needed to know what happened to him. Raising the knife in front of her, she kept descending.

Dr. Parker was lying motionless at the bottom of the stairs, one hand on his chest, his fingers slightly curled. The sight disarmed Sarah as though he'd leapt up and grabbed the knife out of her hand.

She moved closer, tightening her grip on the knife, wanting to convey the message that she didn't intend to hurt him more but she would if he tried anything. She noticed blood trickling onto the concrete floor from the back of his head.

"Dr. Parker?" she asked, not knowing what else to say. What did people say in this situation?

His eyes were still moving and they focused on her, registering fear. Sarah froze, holding the knife out in front of her. She didn't know what she should do ... what she could do. Was it too late?

Dr. Parker remained still. He let out a low, rattling groan and his eyes seemed to lose all sense of awareness. Then, there was a long hiss, the sound of air being let out of a balloon.

"Oh God!" Sarah exclaimed, trying hard not to vomit as she stepped back. "Oh God!"

She scrambled up the stairs, stumbling on almost every step. Seeing her own bloody shoeprints as she went didn't help. Her wails drowned out all other sounds and she lost her grip on the knife, her hands trembling. She didn't even try to go back for it despite the clatter ringing in her ears.

Once she reached the top, she broke down sobbing. She knew she needed to get help. Stumbling back into the kitchen, she grabbed the phone, tears streaming down her face as she drew in deep, shuddering breaths. With trembling fingers, she began pushing buttons, misdialing on the first three tries.

"Come on," she pleaded as she again heard the voice telling her the call did not go through. "Come on."

She tried again.

"9-1-1," The operator said, answering her call when she finally got it right. "What is your emergency?"

Sarah was stunned by how calm this person sounded. Four people were dead. How could anyone be calm now?

"Hello?" the operator asked. "Is anyone there?

Now there was a note of concern. Sarah realized she had to say something.

"I ... I need the police," she said. "My neighbor just tried to kill me and I pushed him down the stairs. I think he's dead! His family's dead too. Oh God! Oh God! I need help! Please come quick!"

Unable to hold it back any longer, she gagged, heaved, and vomited all over the kitchen floor. As she gagged and groaned, the operator tried to get her attention again, saying help was on the way.

"I'm tracing your call," he was saying. "Stay with me. Stay on the line. Help is on the way ..."


Cast of characters:

Sarah Griffin: resident of Arlington, VA, and student at American University. Walked in on her neighbor, who had just murdered his wife and children, and pushed him down a flight of stairs.

Dr. Ben Parker: local dentist in Arlington, VA. Murdered his wife and two children and tried to kill Sarah. Died when Sarah pushed him down a flight of stairs.
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