Authors: Tim O'Rourke
From the Chicken House Tim O’Rourke is a real police officer – so when he writes about detectives and crime, you know he knows … so be very careful of how you decide ‘who did it’ in this amazing mystery with the strangest twist. Can you trust what you hear and see? Who is telling the truth about flashes, premonitions and texts from the dead? Or is it all just to put you off the scent? I’m not telling.
OK, Tim – fair cop – I have an alibi, honest …
In loving memory of my friends Patrick Taylor and Richard
Bevan who flashed so brightly. I just wish you had done so for
longer. I miss you both with all my heart.
Charley – Tuesday: 15:59 Hrs.
didn’t know how long I’d been wandering round the narrow country roads that crept away from the area where Kerry Underwood had died. All I knew was that I felt cold and pissed off. It had been Tom’s idea to come out to the house, not mine. It was me who was doing Tom the favour, not the other way around.
It was bitterly cold and I longed to go home and sink into a nice hot bath. But I couldn’t go home. My father would be there and the first question to trip off his tongue would be, ‘How did breakfast go?’
What was I to tell him I’d been doing for the last few hours? ‘Breakfast was great, Dad. I ended up back up at that derelict house seeking out dead people in my flashes. Oh, and by the way, you were right about Tom, he was nothing more than a user.’
I couldn’t bear to get into another row with my dad and I didn’t want to see the
look in his eyes. Even if it meant freezing to death, I wouldn’t go home just yet. I needed time to get my head together.
Most importantly, I needed to figure out why the flashes had suddenly stopped. I’d never had any control over them – they controlled me. It was the flashes that decided to come; I had never been able to summon them. And that’s why I was never going to get my dad or someone like Tom to believe me. I sounded like a cheap fairground fake. I could give generalisations, nothing really specific. But I had seen the white car the killer had driven and the paint under Kerry’s fingernails. Hadn’t that been specific enough for Tom? Obviously not, he had wanted more. But was there any more to see? Would my flashes show me any more about the killer and what happened to Kerry?
The longer I walked, hands thrust into my coat pockets and head tilted down against the wind, the more my own frostiness melted towards Tom. Now, I wasn’t going soft on him because of his roguish grin, deep dark eyes and black messy-looking hair, it was more than his obvious good looks and cocky charm. I sensed that deep down he did believe me. His feelings of frustration weren’t so much to do with me, but his desire to solve the case. It seemed to really matter to him that he found out what had happened to Kerry Underwood. Despite his cockiness, there was a part of Tom that cared or a part of him that needed to prove himself to someone. I understood all about that. I didn’t know very much about the police, only what I had seen on TV but I don’t ever remember seeing anyone as young as Tom on any of the shows. The cops that always solved the cases were old with silver white hair and acted grumpy and pissed off the whole time. They usually had a problem with drink and even bigger problems with their wives. Most of them smoked like it was going out of fashion and they looked red-faced and stressed-out the whole time. Tom didn’t look
like any of the coppers I’d seen on TV Maybe he was trying to prove himself. Maybe like me he was having problems fitting in? Hadn’t Tom told me he was new to the area and had just joined the CID department? I knew what it felt like having to prove yourself the whole time. I would be doing exactly the same thing when I returned to college after the Christmas break. Now that Natalie was gone, I would be going back to college alone. It would be like my very first day. Trying to make a friend in the sea of faces that watched me as I passed down the corridors, sneering and pointing, laughing at the most recent posts on Facebook and Twitter. I knew what it felt like to be the odd one out and perhaps Tom understood that too. It wasn’t like I had a whole bunch of friends texting or calling me; inviting me out to Christmas parties.
Why did I even bother having a phone? I wondered, taking it from my pocket. I went to my contacts and looked at the three names. Dad. Natalie. Tom. There were just the three, and one of them didn’t even count anymore. My thumb hovered momentarily over Tom’s name. My heart sped up a little.
Should I call him? And say what?
I shoved the phone back into my coat pocket and walked amongst the mulch that had formed at the edges of the twisting country roads. With my fingers brushing against the phone in my pocket, I thought of Kerry’s phone and how the killer had thrown it away. Despite what my dad or Tom thought, I knew the phone would still be lying up near that house somewhere. I had seen it in my flashes. If I could find it that would prove I was right, wouldn’t it? Even if no one else believed in me, I needed to believe in myself. Perhaps that was the trick? Perhaps that’s what I’d been missing – something the flashes had been unable to show me. Didn’t I have to believe in myself first before I could expect anyone else to?
I walked on. It was getting dark and, now not feeling so bad about heading home and facing my father’s questions, I looked up to get my bearings. I gasped to find myself standing at the entrance
to the dirt track that led off to the railway tracks and the tumbled down house. It was like I had wandered around in a big circle and come back on myself or the house had somehow drawn me back. It wasn’t quite ready to let me loose yet. I looked back over my shoulder in both directions. The road was deserted. So, lowering my head against the howl of the wind, I made my way back up the dirt track. There were no lights this time, just the growing darkness that fell about me like a thick shroud. I made my way up the path that twisted its way like an ancient spine. With hands in pockets, I stood and looked at the derelict building through a gap in the trees. It almost seemed to be peeking back at me, its windows like soulless eyes.
The door slowly swung open as if inviting me in. Instead of inching backwards, I walked towards it, heart racing. That throbbing pain began to build in my head again. Then, instead of my head jerking backwards like it so often did when the flashes came, I lunged forward as if being shoved from behind. It was like the house wanted me.
I could see Kerry in the corner. Cowering. Her knees drawn up to her chest.
‘Please,’ she whispered, her voice floating around me like a chill wind.
‘You are going to die tonight,’ the man said. His voice was soft, gentle, as if he were trying to soothe her.
Kerry’s eyes, huge and tearful. Terrified. ‘Please don’t hurt me.’
‘I’m not going to hurt you,’ he said, in the same comforting tone. ‘But you will die.’
‘Please let me call my mum.’ Kerry’s mouth. Lipstick smeared.
‘Shhh,’ he soothed. His hand gently stroking her hair.
‘Please don’t touch me.’ Kerry’s hands pulling her clothes tight.
‘I’m not going to touch you. I just want to be with you for a while.’ His hands held out before him. Open palms. Shielding his face from me.
‘Why?’ Tears on her cheek. Rolling like liquid glass around the corners of her mouth.
‘How can I mourn for someone I don’t truly know?’ he whispered. A faint smile, but gone too soon for me to really see.
The sound of a child crying in the distance. Why is there a child crying?
Tiny white shoes. A child in a car. Crying.
Then, as soon as they had come, the flashes were gone. Those images were dragged so violently from me, I staggered backwards into the darkness of the house and screamed. I turned around and around in the dark, desperate to find the entrance and get out. It was like the place was haunted by the ghost of Kerry Underwood. But it wasn’t Kerry I was afraid of. It was that man. It was like he was slithering around in the darkness, just dying to reach out and touch me. I screamed again.
Hands gripped hold of me.
Get off me!’
I shrieked, my head feeling as if it was being crushed.
‘Charley,’ a voice said.
‘Let go!’ I cried out.
‘Charley, it’s me! No one is going to hurt you.’
I opened my eyes to find Tom holding me to his chest.
‘Get off me,’ I groaned, gently pushing him away. My head rolled on my shoulders and I felt sick. With the house seeming to sway back and forth, I staggered to the doorway. The cold night stung my face.
‘What did you see in there?’ Tom panted.
‘Just give me a minute,’ I gasped. The sick feeling in the pit of my stomach started to ease a little.
I got myself together and looked at Tom. ‘What are you doing here?’
I saw the concern in his eyes. ‘I came looking for you.’
He looked away. ‘I thought that you were right. We should find Kerry’s phone.’
I took a deep breath, that hadn’t been the answer I was hoping for. Nevertheless, it was clear that somewhere deep down, Tom did believe me. ‘The phone I told you the killer had thrown in the bushes?’
Tom looked back at the house. ‘What else did you see?’
‘He took Kerry in there. He took her into that house before she died down on the railway tracks.’
‘Why? Did he hurt her … ? You know …’
‘No,’ I said, shaking my head. ‘I don’t think so. I don’t think that’s his thing. He wanted to talk to her – get to know her.’
‘Did you see him?’ he asked, pen poised. ‘What did he look like?’
‘I didn’t see his face,’ I started. ‘I told you that.’
‘But you saw Kerry?’
‘It’s like I only get to see the person who’s dying or dead already,’ I told him. ‘The flashes show me them. The lights I saw earlier. It’s almost as if they’re some kind of energy left behind by Kerry – a
trail for me to follow – if that makes sense.’
‘Not really,’ Tom said, sounding disappointed I didn’t have a description of the man who had brought Kerry up here.
‘But I can tell you that whoever this man is, he isn’t married and is probably over the age of thirty, white and clean shaven.’
‘I thought you said you didn’t see him?’ Tom asked, confused. ‘How do you know he’s single?’
‘I saw his hands,’ I told him. ‘He held them up in the air as if to prove he wasn’t going to hurt Kerry. I could see he wasn’t wearing a wedding ring but there was a mark to show he once had, and his hands were white. His voice came through muffled and almost kind of distorted, but it wasn’t a young voice. It was too deep.’
‘Did you see anything else?’ Tom asked, taking out his notebook again.
‘Only the fear in Kerry’s eyes,’ I whispered, picturing them again in my mind.
‘You said he didn’t hurt her,’ Tom said. ‘But she ended up dead.’
‘He told Kerry she was going to die, but he wasn’t going to murder her.’
‘So why bring her up here to this place?’ Tom wondered.
‘He told Kerry he wanted to spend some time with her, before she died,’ I explained, and I shuddered as I heard his voice in my head again, his breath warm against my ear instead of Kerry’s. I suddenly felt a chill and pulled my coat tight about me.
‘Why would he want to get to know her?’ Tom asked.
‘I know it sounds weird, but he said he couldn’t truly mourn someone he didn’t know,’ I told him.
Tom went to say something, but before the words had even left his mouth, the lights started to appear again. This time, they weren’t winking on and off around the decrepit house, they were near to the ground, leading away from it, like the emergency lights you see running down the aisle on a plane.
‘What is it?’ he whispered.
‘Shhh,’ I hushed. ‘They’re back.’
‘Who’s back?’ he asked, and I caught him glancing around, with a look of worry on his face.
‘The lights,’ I said, following them.