James opened the door to his house slowly, and stepped inside. A musty smell hung in the air as dust swirled about the entrance. It had been a long time since James was last here; indeed, he was incredibly lucky that his parents had paid off the suburban property before they died, or James would have been left homeless.
James moved into the kitchen, turning on the refrigerator and stuffing some basic groceries inside. After food came warmth, and so James went to the boiler, praying that it would start up. Luckily, the boiler started without issue, and the smell of burning dust emanated from the pipes as it warmed up.
James then made his way upstairs, to his room. His bed had been left for months, and so he changed the sheets, stuffing them into the washing machine, only to find that he had left the house with no washing powder.
James trudged his way back upstairs, and dropped down on his bed. He sat with his head in his hands, staring blank-eyed into the corner of the room.
James had been involved in an accident.
Late one night, many months ago, he received a call from work asking him to return to the office to manage a last minute inter-branch transfer. The other branch was on the other side of the world, and time being of the essence, they couldn’t wait weeks for communications to proceed email by email. James distinctly remembered his boss chastising him about the necessity of ensuring that the transaction did not carry over into the next tax month.
James had dragged himself out of bed, into his car, and hurried to the office. On his regular route, there was a long stretch of straight road leading directly into the center of town. The housing estate had been constructed in a grid-like pattern, and the houses themselves all blurred into one in the dark as James made his way towards the office.
The city had been having issues with the power cables in the area, and the street lights had been temporarily taken out of service in order to fix them. On a cloudless night of the new moon, with no other vehicles in sight, the only lights available were James’ headlights and the distant glimmer coming from deeper into town.
He didn’t see the girl.
No-one knew why she was out that night. Her family had been ringing her friend’s parents, asking if she had gone home with them after playing, but none of them knew where she was either.
Regardless of why, Emily Johnson, 8, was struck by James’ car, and pronounced dead on scene by paramedics. The investigative report would later conclude that she had stumbled by the side of the road, her upper body falling into the line of the car. Upon being hit, her body was pulled under the vehicle, and either her clothing or her body was caught on the chassis, dragging her along until the vehicle came to a halt.
Needless to say, the funeral was closed-casket.
James found it difficult to recall the ensuing legal case, as he became trapped in a state of dissociative shock. His lawyer argued that the circumstances of the accident would have made it difficult for James to have predicted that an accident would occur, and that fact, coupled with the lawyer’s implication that the state could also be held responsible for the insufficient lighting, allowed James to receive a light sentence.
James was offered a deal: he would take responsibility for the incident, and have to carry out a jail sentence. In return he would receive full psychiatric support, and his license would not be suspended. This deal was not made public and was not included in the official case records, as it wasn’t made to him in the court. The deal came from the mayor, as election season was fast approaching, and a child’s corpse would not bode well for his chances.
James took the deal, mostly out of a sense of guilt. He had already plead guilty to the charges. It was his lawyer who took it upon himself to argue for a reduced sentence, but James simply wanted to begin his punishment.
James was sentenced to one year in county jail, but was released after 8 months on good behavior. The mayor had kept good to his promise, with James being assigned a doctor for psychiatric support during his sentence. James’ car was also relinquished after the court case concluded, but with no one to pick it up, it was auctioned off by the police. James received a portion of the money paid for the vehicle, which was actually more than the vehicle was worth. James learned from other inmates at the jail that there were buyers willing to spend large sums of money for objects used to kill, whether the death was intentional or not.
James had no interest in hearing any more about the subject, and spent many restless nights trying to forget this information.
But that wasn’t what plagued James’ mind the most. The thing that shocked him into a perpetual state of silent despondency was a fact known only to him, one that he didn’t share out of fear, and shame.
James had been speeding.
Normally an autopsy would be able to ascertain this fact, but due to how Emily had been caught under the vehicle, it was impossible to deduce the finer details of the incident. No forensic investigation was deemed necessary thanks to James’ compliance, and so only he knew the truth. This fact sat on his soul, crushing it with its weight, and inflicting upon him such a terrible fatigue that he began to lose control of his own mind.
At least, that was how he justified what he saw.
Emily stood in the corner of the room, staring back at James.
It was only a week after the accident that James began to see her. He hadn’t reacted then, accepting her presence as either a figment of his imagination or divine torture; either way, it didn’t really matter to him. He felt that he deserved it.
He told his psychiatrist about her once, and was prescribed medication. The pills did nothing, but James said that his visions had ended, and simply stopped taking them. This was his cross to bear.
Emily didn’t look like most typical depictions of ghosts that James had seen. She wasn’t see-through, and she didn’t glow white. She appeared much like a dead girl would, her face and limbs covered in discolored blotches breaking up the pallor, with several cuts on it that unnervingly lacked any sign of blood. The only thing that James considered to be otherworldly about her was a distinct shimmer of light around her outline, and the fact that he could see her no matter the lighting, though no light reflected off her.
She stared at him constantly, but that was all she did. She did not speak, she did not point, she did not do anything other than watch. The most she would do was follow behind him, so that he never left her sight. Occasionally he would catch her looking elsewhere, but the reason why never crossed his mind.
James sat on his bed staring back at the girl for several minutes, offering up a silent prayer for her soul. Then, he did what he had done every night for the past 8 months. He laid down, turned his back on her, and waited for the morning to come.
A couple of weeks passed without much happening. In this time James was surprised to learn that he had not been fired from his job, when they called him to ask when he would be returning. He had not received any note to say that he had been let go, but given the circumstances, he had assumed as much.
James agreed to go back to work the next week. He had no desire to return, but despite himself he did not want to die just yet, and if he wanted to live he had to earn. To facilitate this, he decided to go out and buy a new car. This was a decision he regretted almost instantly upon sitting in the driver’s seat. A wave of nausea washed over him, and he had to fight back the urge to both pass out and throw up.
He ended up buying the car, out of requirement if not want, and certainly not because it was cheap; his insurance was as kind to him as one would expect. James ended up spending several hours simply sitting behind the wheel to become acclimated to it, after spending even more money to have the car delivered to his home.
At this point James could no longer complain about the reprehensible members of society who bid so highly on his previous car; if it wasn’t for them he would’ve had to tighten his belt for the foreseeable future.
The day of James’ return to work quickly approached, and James decided to do a test run to his workplace, to make sure that he was actually capable of making the journey without succumbing to panic.
Sitting in the driver’s seat of his car, James thumbed the controller button that would open the garage door. He didn’t press it, not because he felt like he couldn’t, but because there was something in the way.
She stood in front of the vehicle, and remained there, staring at James. James’ breath began to grow ragged. He had managed to become reasonably comfortable sitting in the seat itself, but with the symbol of his guilt standing in his way, the emotional wall within him began to crack.
“Please…” he whispered quietly, and his head dropped as he clasped his hand around the controller. “Please… Don’t…”
When James looked back up, Emily was no longer in front of him. He turned his head to look for her, and found her staring at him through the driver side window. She was closer, but no longer in his way.
James turned away from her shamefully, and pressed the button on the remote. The garage door opened, James turned the key in the ignition, and after a few deep breaths, he moved the car out onto the road.
James took it slowly at first, riding at around 10 mph under the speed limit wherever he went. This garnered him a few angry glares, but he chose to ignore them. Whenever he stopped, or looked to the side of the road, he would see a far more unsettling expression staring back at him.
Eventually, James began to speed up, driving at the same speed as everyone else. His nervousness began to abate, and he was slowly able to ignore the repeating face on the sidewalk.
As he began to return home, a sudden honk and a yell snapped his attention away. The source was a car that was reversing out of a driveway, beeping at a pedestrian that had stepped into their path. Seeing this, James turned back to the road in front of him.
And slammed on the brakes.
The car came screeching to a halt, and the engine stalled after a short but loud mechanical screech came from the gearbox.
James was panting, and sweat began to drip from his as he sat shaking. The reason he had braked so suddenly stared back at him with unfeeling eyes from in front of the car.
Nearby pedestrians glanced at James with confused and annoyed looks, and a car that had been behind him honked their horn as he sat in the middle of the road for no discernible reason.
Upon hearing the noise, James started back into action. Apologizing profusely, though only he could hear, he restarted the car and pulled it over to the side of the road. The other driver passed him by with an angry yell as he did, and James again apologized.
Emily watched through James’ window as James dropped his face onto the steering wheel.
“I’m sorry,” he whispered. “I’m sorry, okay? But I need to drive if I want to carry on working, and I need to work if I want to live. I know that I don’t deserve to, but I can’t just stop.” James stopped, and tried to swallow, but his mouth was dry. “So if you’re going to follow me could you at least sit in the car so I don’t get distracted and hurt anybody else?”
James hesitated, before slowly looking up. When he did, he was surprised to find that the girl was not there. As he looked through the windscreen, he noticed something in the corner of his eye. In the rear-view mirror, watching him from the back seat, was Emily.
James stopped for a moment. “Thank you,” he said quietly, and after taking a second to collect himself, set off once again.
James’ return to work soon came, and he awkwardly ambled his way into the office where he worked. As soon as he opened the door into the main room, the murmuring he could hear from down the hall stopped. The office wasn’t particularly large, but there more than a few people working there, and every single one of them glanced at James as he entered, before hurriedly looking away.
James hung his head low, and slowly made his way to his work station. When he got there, he could see signs that someone else had been using it. Unsurprised, but still unnerved, James turned on the computer. The stations were located inside small cubicles, so for now, James was free of looks from his coworkers.
Emily’s gaze still found him though, as she had followed him into the cubicle, and stood in the corner.
James had barely finished re-familiarizing himself with his work station when he was interrupted.
“James,” a young man called out as he entered James’ cubicle. He was Bradley, the administrator for the office: a rather low position, but he acted as the lubricant between the other workers, ensuring that everything ran smoothly. The person that he had taken over from was a woman, and far more amicable than he was, but James had always appreciated his bluntness.
“Good morning,” James responded hesitantly.
“I wish,” Bradley answered, and dropped a large pile of documents onto James’ desk.
James smiled slightly; it was the answer he had expected.
“What’s this?” James asked.
“Oh you know, toolbox talks, DSE checkups, the usual garbage. You’ve just got it all at once cause you haven’t been here.”
“Makes sense. Thanks.” James grabbed the documents and began to sift through them, but Bradley didn’t move, instead leaning on a small cabinet.
“Why did you come back?” he asked James.
“Why?” James asked, confused.
“Yeah, I mean, you must’ve known how things would be here.”
James looked down slightly. “I know they don’t want me here,” James said. “But I can take it, and I don’t have much of a choice.”
“Oh I’m not talking about the others in here,” Bradley responded. “I meant upstairs, the higher ups want you gone.”
“They do?” James asked, confused.
“…Do you even know why you were only given authorized absence, not fired outright?” Bradley asked.
Bradley sighed. “You never signed the form that waives your right to a limited work week,” he said. “By law, the company can’t make you work more than 44 hours a week. Your incident took place on a Saturday night, and you’d already gone over the limit during the week with them asking you to stay behind. The company’s lucky your lawyer didn’t find that out, but if they fired you, you can be damn sure he would. A good lawyer might be able to make the company culpable, and then they might have to pay you for every hour you would’ve been working if you weren’t locked up, plus punitive fees. They didn’t want to deal with that, so they let you stay, and hoped you wouldn’t talk.”
“…Oh.” James dropped his head as he came to a realization. “And now…”
“The sooner you’re gone, the sooner they can purge you from the system and pretend it never happened,” Bradley said with a nod. “Want my advice?”
“Go into the boss’ office and tell him you want out, but you want paying. You sign an NDA, they drop a nice fat stack of cash into your bank, you surf on that until you find a new job.”
“Or, you can stay until they let you go, and you take your measly severance package and a history of being fired.”
James said nothing, and after a while, Bradley stood up straight. “Well, you’ll do what you want,” he said, and began to leave.
“Brad,” James said, and Bradley stopped. “The others, no one wants me here. It’s understandable, after what I did…” James turned his head so his face was completely hidden from Bradley. “What do you think?”
Bradley looked down at James for a moment before answering.
“The company called you in in the middle of the night after overworking you, the council kept the lamps off while it was dark out, you weren’t paying enough attention and didn’t decline the company to begin with, and that girl was pissing around by the side of the road. As far as I see it, there isn’t a single involved party that wasn’t in some way at fault. She died, but it was an accident, and when the blame is split so many ways, it’s hard for me to hate any one actor in particular.”
There was silence between the two for a moment.
“Thanks Brad,” James said, and turned back to his work with a slightly lighter expression than before. “I think I’ll stay here for a while.”
Bradley snorted. “Don’t say I didn’t warn you,” he said, and left James to his work.
Bradley’s warning came to pass far sooner than James had expected. Wednesday of the next week, a mere ten days since he had returned, he was called into his boss’ office at the end of the day. Citing health and safety concerns, complaints from other, anonymous, employees, and a list of insignificant mistakes James had made in the past, James’ boss told him that it was decided he was to be let go.
James didn’t argue back, he simply gathered his things and left. Bradley shrugged at him with a wry smile as they passed, and James hung his head dejectedly. James dropped his things into the trunk of his car, and drove home. Once home, he crawled into bed, curled into a ball, and stayed there until morning.
James drowsily opened his eyes. He blinked at the light reflecting off the wall, as sun streamed in through a crack in the curtains. He groggily reached over for his phone, his eyes flicking over to the familiar figure staring at him from the side of the bed. His eyes closed in a squint as the phone lit up, before opening wide.
Seeing the time on the phone, James began to hurriedly untangle himself from his bed-sheets and prepare himself for work. Disregarding breakfast despite the pain in his stomach, he rushed to his car, and pulled out of his garage. He traveled along his old route to work safely under the speed limit, and frustrated with himself.
“Why didn’t the alarm go off?” he chuntered to himself as he turned onto the road that led straight into town. He had avoided going this way previously, but in his hurried state, he fell back on old habits.
He noticed what he had done as soon as he turned the corner and looked down that long stretch of road. His muttered stopped he passed by the houses, and drew nearer to where the accident had happened.
His body began to shudder, but he was too preoccupied to notice.
‘This is where it happened,’ he thought to himself as the site of the accident came into view. ‘That’s where I became a murder.‘ James’ knuckles turned white as his grip on the wheel tightened. ‘That’s why she follows me. That’s why I spent 8 months in a cell. That’s why I lost friends, my freedom, my job…’
James’ car slowed to a stop by the side of the road, as the realization hit James. He wasn’t shocked or angry, it was just as if the information appeared in his head, and a thick layer of dust smothered his insides, clogging him up.
James chuckled at his stupidity, and rested his forehead against the steering wheel. His chuckles quickly turned into sobs, and he drew into himself in mourning of his broken life.
A few minutes passed. Luckily for James, no-one came out to ask why he was parked by the side of the road, and eventually, he lost the will to cry. He looked up from the steering wheel and stared down the road, wondering what to do next. He felt his stomach shift, and was reminded of how hungry he was.
“Guess I’ll grab something in town…” James said to himself, not wanting to return home. He glanced up into the rear-view mirror, and saw a rare sight.
Emily wasn’t staring at him. Her head was turned, looking out the window. James followed her gaze, and found himself staring at a house.
“Is that where you were coming from?” James asked. The house looked a little rundown: maintained, but not with much care.
Emily did not respond of course, and eventually James turned the car back on, and drove into town. It was still quiet, and stores were just starting to open as James grabbed something to eat and aimlessly wandered around. He stuck to the main street, as he understood that if he tried to keep himself hidden away, he’d stand out more than if he just another face in the crowd.
James came across an empty bench on his meaningless walk through town, and decided to sit down. Resting his weary legs, he wondered what he should do next. As he thought, he glanced over to the young girl that had been following behind him. She wasn’t watching him again, but this time, there was something different:
Her face was turning.
James followed her gaze once again, and found what she was looking at. A young man, hood covering his face with a backpack slung over one shoulder, was quickly making his way down the street. James was confused, scared, and most of all desperately curious about just why Emily was watching this man. He stood up, and hurried over to the man.
“Um, excuse me,” James said, reaching out and touching the man’s shoulder.
“I’m not interested,” the man said, and quickly tried to hurry off.
“Wait,” James said. This was the first time he had even noticed that the girl was looking at someone. He wondered if it was the same for all the other cases too, and had to find out what could be causing it. He sped up after the man, and grabbed his arm.
The man immediately spun around, and James jumped back out of shock. A flash of silver streaked by his throat, and James’ eyes widened as he saw a look of hatred and terror fill the man in front of him. James froze in shock as the knife in the man’s hand came for him again.
Then the man jerked to the side as another man slammed into him. James watched with confusion for roughly half a second, before the same thing happened to him, and he was taken into police custody.
The holding cell in the police station was almost comforting to James. He had it to himself at the moment, and it was very reminiscent of his time in jail. He had been questioned about his altercation with the knife wielding man, but they threw him into the cell after they realized James wouldn’t give them any answer. He had only responded with a dejected apology, no matter what they asked. He knew that the truth would only earn him the label of schizophrenic at best, and manipulative liar at worst.
The clacking of footsteps on the concrete floor alerted James of someone approaching. He looked up to see a police officer, one of the ones that had been present at his questioning, opening the door.
“You’re out,” the officer said as he opened the door. James continued to sit for a second, surprised.
“What?” James asked, confused.
“You’re being released, come on,” the officer responded, motioning his head away from James.
James stood up, and exited the holding cell. Once out, he stopped, and looked back at the unmoving officer. The officer said nothing, and James shuffled nervously as the officer stared at him.
“Why did you stop him?” the officer asked eventually.
James looked down. “Sorry,” he said dejectedly.
“Stop apologizing,” the officer said harshly. “I didn’t ask for an apology, I asked why.”
James was silent.
The officer sighed, and glanced down the hallway. “I know who you are,” he said. “The moment we put your name in the system it came up.”
James said nothing, and shrank away.
“That guy you grabbed was a murderer,” the officer said. James looked up at him questioningly, unable to believe what he had heard. “Earlier this morning, he walked into a jewelry store just after it opened. He walked up to the owner, slashed open his neck, grabbed some stones and fled the scene. You grabbed him as he was getting away. The reason we were able to prevent him from killing you is because we were canvassing the area looking for suspects. If you hadn’t grabbed him, we would have lost him in the crowd.”
James stared back at the cop, trying to process the information. The officer gave him a moment, before continuing: “So I ask again, why did you stop him?”
James looked down. He knew that any answer he gave here was off the record; the officer was only asking to feed his own curiosity, as the case was already solved. James didn’t have to tell him anything.
“I guess…” James said, looking up anxiously. “He just looked suspicious.”
The officer stared back at James. He clearly didn’t believe that what James had told him was the whole truth. “Suspicious, huh?” he asked, and James nodded.
“I guess murderers just have an eye for their kind,” the officer said.
James’ eyes widened and he stared back at the officer, before slowly turning to look at the real reason he had singled out the robber. The officer’s eyebrows raised at this response, and assuming that he had hit a nerve, gave James a light push.
“Come on,” the officer said, pulling James’ attention back to him. “You’ve taken up enough taxpayer funding living in a cell, you aren’t staying here.”
James followed the officer to the exit of the police station. “Thanks,” he muttered, and began to leave.
“Wait,” the officer said, and James turned back. “Listen, you did a terrible thing…” The officer looked at James, who dropped his down in shame. “But, you did something good today. That has to count for something.”
James looked back up at the officer, who was staring back at him. He might have only said it because he felt bad about his previous remark, but James felt his heart warm slightly nonetheless.
“Thank you,” James said, more sincerely this time.
The officer watched him for a second, before reaching into his pocket. “Hang on,” he said, and pulled out a pen and a notepad. He quickly wrote down on the notepad, and ripped the page off before giving it to James. James looked down at the note, and the telephone number written on it.
“In case you decide you want to tell me the real reason you stopped that guy,” the officer said. “Who knows, if you’re the real deal, we might have a job for you.”
James looked between the note and the officer, but before he could respond, the officer waved, and left. James stood in the door of the police station for several minutes, before stuffing the note into his pocket, and heading back to his car.
James got back to his car, and immediately set off. He traveled back along the path he had taken into town, and stopped at the scene of the accident. He glanced into the rear-view mirror, and as he expected, found Emily staring out the window at the house across the street.
He looked at the poorly maintained house himself. The grass was cut, but there were patches that were bare, thistles and bushes grew uninhibited, and a basement window at the bottom of the house was boarded up. Nothing could be seen through the dark windows, as each one had the curtains drawn shut, despite it still being the early afternoon.
James sat staring at the house looking for anything of note for a bit too long, as the owner of the house he was parked in front of became suspicious, and came out. The old woman walked up to James’ car, and rapped on his window. James jumped in his seat, much to the old woman’s amusement, and hurriedly wound down his window.
“Uh, yes?” James asked nervously.
“Are you lost or something?” the old woman asked, her suspicion alleviated a bit by James’ timidness.
“Um, no. Sorry.” James apologized reflexively, and glanced back towards the house that Emily was staring at.
“Do you have business there?” the old woman asked.
“…Do you know who lives there?” James asked back.
“Oh yes, everyone around here knows about Mr. Miller,” the old woman said with a nod. “Knows to stay away from him, that is. Nasty old bastard, that one.”
“Really?” James asked.
The old woman nodded. “He used to live near to a friend of mine, back when his missus was still alive. Had two kids they did: eldest ran to get away from him, and the youngest died when he, ‘fell down the stairs’.”
“That’s terrible,” James said with a look of disgust.
“They couldn’t prove otherwise,” the old woman said with a shrug. “The only one who could have said different was his wife, but a couple of months afterwards she fell down the stairs too. Might have been literal in her case though, very frail woman she was. Miracle she lasted as long as she did.”
“…He sounds like a monster,” James said, his inkling solidifying in his mind as truth.
“Oh he is, and a bad temper too. Don’t mention his kids to him, he seems to think that he’s God’s gift to child-rearing, and doesn’t appreciate being reminded of his failures. Damn near killed Richards…”
“I see…” James brooded over the subject, and the old woman frowned as she watched his face.
“Say…” she said. “Do I know you from somewhere? You look awfully familiar…”
“Oh, no, I doubt it,” James said, suddenly worried that the woman might turn on him if she worked out who he was. “I come by this way often, you’ve probably seen me a few times and not remembered.”
“Is that so?” the old woman asked, only half convinced.
“Most likely,” James nodded. “Well, thank you for your help, but I have to get going.” James said, and prepared so set off.
“Ah, right. No problem dear,” the old woman stepped back, and watched him leave. “Oh, damn…” she said to herself as he disappeared into the distance. “I never found out what he was doing…”
James sat at home, deep in thought. He had a drive within him, pushing him to take action, but anxiousness kept him glued to his seat. The sun still hung in the sky, casting James’ shadow in front of him, steadily growing as the seconds ticked by. He held two items in his hand; his phone, and his keys.
He had a plan. It wasn’t an in-depth plan, nor was it a good one, but it was a plan. From what James had learned, it was likely that Emily’s gaze was drawn exclusively to those that had killed another human being. The man who had robbed the jewelry store, Mr. Miller, and the times he had noticed her look elsewhere while he was in jail all supported this.
If his hunch was correct, Emily had been out late on the night of the accident not by her own volition, but because she had been kidnapped. One thing had always confused James, but he had simply learned to accept it: the form that Emily currently took was covered in painful cut and bruises, but they couldn’t have come from the accident itself. If the damage on her ‘body’ came from the accident, she would barely be recognizable.
But, if she took the form of how she looked moments before she died…
‘If I’m right,’ James though to himself. ‘Then this Miller is a child kidnapper, and he has killed before… and there’s nothing to suggest that he wouldn’t do it again.’ James’ hands gripped tighter, and his phone creaked its displeasure.
James felt like he had no choice: he knew what he had to do, but the trembling wouldn’t stop. He glanced up, looking for anything that would give him another choice, an easier way out.
He saw Emily, staring back at him as always.
‘I’m so selfish,’ he thought to himself. ‘It’s not like I have much of a life left to lose anyway.’
James stood up, and went to his car. He drove back to the scene of the accident, turning off his engine while he was still moving down the road, and quietly rolling up outside the Miller house.
It was now evening, and the street was empty. Only the occasional car broke the quiet, as most people were either sat eating, or staring into their TVs.
James exited his car, and close the door as quietly as he could. He held his phone up, and wondered whether he should call now. He eventually decided against it, as he wanted to look at something first.
James approached the house, glancing back to look at Emily. She was stood directly behind him, so he couldn’t quite tell if she was looking at him or the house. James moved to the side, to take a look at the boarded up basement window. As he did, he noticed movement out of the corner of his eyes.
Normally Emily would simply follow him, and the only time she would appear to make a movement that wasn’t directly behind him was when he was in a vehicle and she wasn’t, as she would occasionally appear in front of him. But this time, she moved alongside him.
Emily was keeping James in between herself and the house.
The significance of this was not lost on James, and for the first time in almost a year, his expression hardened, and a firm sense of resolve filled his heart.
He approached the window, and crouched down to get a good look at it. The window had been boarded up from the inside, so James could tell that the reason was because it had been broken. James tried to look past the wood blocking the window, but it had been sealed up completely, with any gaps covered with sealant paste.
James felt vindicated in his suspicions, and stood back up. He held up his phone, and dialed 911. Without waiting for it to be picked up, he threw the phone onto the ground by the basement window, and walked up to the front door.
James hesitated at the door, unsure of whether he should continue on or not. He could leave now, and say that his phone had been stolen. He glanced over his shoulder, and saw Emily stood behind him.
James knocked on the door.
After a few seconds, a shuffling noise grew louder on the other side of the door. Eventually, the door opened, and revealed Miller. Miller was an older man, and it had begun to take its toll on his body. He had once been muscular thanks to his work, and while he still retained some of his past strength, his body had shrunk within his skin, which now folded around his flesh.
Light spilled in through the now open door, and James could see Miller’s face. There was an anger in his eyes that made James recoil slightly. Miller’s anger didn’t show in his face or his movements, in existed only within his eyes, a deep hatred for anything and everything that existed within his vision. James was silent, wondering what on Earth could have lead a man to be so bitter with the world.
“What do you want?” Miller asked with a growl, his age barely showing in voice.
James hurriedly took a breath, and collected himself.
“My name is James,” he said. “I killed Emily Johnson.”
There was an immediate change in Miller. His eyes filled with suspicion, his aged muscles tensed, and he became much more aggressive in tone.
“Get out of here,” he growled, but didn’t attempt to close the door. He wanted to see what James would do next.
“You know why I’m here,” James said, hoping to pull some kind of reaction out of Miller.
“The hell I do,” Miller responded. “Now get out of here before I call the police.”
“I already called them,” James said. “Threw the phone down into your basement, I bet they’ll want to find it before they leave.”
“Liar,” Miller said, but his worry showed in his demeanor: he had started to turn around, but quickly stopped himself.
“If I’m a lair, then what does that make you?” James asked, then quickly shuddered. He could hear a car coming down the road.
‘Is it the police?’ he thought to himself. ‘If I mess up the timing of this, I’ll be arrested, and this guy will go free. I need to know. It’s not been long since I rang, but they could have had a car in the area. What do I do?’
“Innocent,” Miller said, and began to close the door. “Now get the hell off my property.”
“Innocent?” James asked, placing his hand against the door to stop it shutting. He was worried now, if he lost Miller he’d have no case, and he didn’t have time to look away. “We both know that isn’t true.”
“I don’t know a goddamn thing about the shit coming out of you mouth.”
“Oh yeah?” James quickly tried to glance down the road, but one of the overgrown bushes blocked his view. ‘Just going to have to go for it,’ he thought to himself, and took a breath to steady himself.
“Why don’t we ask your son then?”
Miller’s eyes widened in fury, and he flung the door back open. James stumbled slightly as the door he was pushing against suddenly vanished. James quickly pulled back to regain his balance, and for the second time today saw something flash by in front of his eyes. Miller had grabbed a small glass ornament off an old table that stood by the door, and swung it at James’ head.
Having narrowly avoided having his skull caved in, James now had to defend himself against the angry old man. Miller swung again, screaming in rage as he did. James held out his hand, and managed to grab Miller’s arm as he swung. James was not a strong man, and was not quite strong enough to hold back the rage-fueled old man before him. Miller pushed in towards James, and was about to wrench himself away, when a shout took them both by surprise.
The car that was approaching was the police car sent to respond to James’ call, and the police were not happy to see the two men fighting on the doorstep. Miller’s arms momentarily weakened in response, but James was on a mission. James pushed forward, and Miller lost his footing. Miller retreated deeper into the house, and James followed. The police were at the door now, and one of them rushed ahead to grab James, and pulled him away from Miller.
“What the hell is going on here?” the officer that wasn’t detaining James asked, stepping in front of Miller to keep the two separated.
“That man forced his way into my house and assaulted me!” Miller yelled, jabbing his finger in James’ direction. The police both turned to James, wanting to hear a reaction.
James had no choice. One wrong move and he would lose any chance to redeem himself. There was only one thing he could think to say, truth be damned.
“He’s holding a kid in the basement!” James yelled. “He’s been kidnapping them for years! I’m the one that called!”
The police both glanced at each other, then the one that was by James’s side pushed him against the wall, while the other turned back to Miller with suspicion.
“He’s lying,” Miller spat. “He’s insane! He ran a girl over outside my house, and now he wants to blame me for it.”
“That was you, was it?” one of the policemen asked James.
“Wait,” James said, sensing that he was losing ground. “You have to list-”
“Shut it,” the officer holding James said, pushing him against the wall harder, forcing the air out of his lungs. “You’ve caused enough harm around here.”
At that moment, the four men present suddenly froze. From beneath their feet, a crash was heard: the sound of furniture falling over. The police officers turned to look at Miller, and his expression told them all they needed to know. He had his face turned towards the door leading to the basement, his face was contorted with fury, and his mouth frothed with spit.
“Stay here,” the police officer by Miller said, as the other officer slowly released James to keep an eye on Miller. The first officer opened the door to the basement, and carefully advanced down the old stairs. The stairs were partitioned from the rest of the basement, so he wouldn’t know what was down there until he opened the second door at the bottom.
As the one officer slowly descended, the other release James. The situation had changed, and James was no longer considered a threat. The officer looked between Miller and James, and considering the age of Miller, decided that the old man wasn’t much of a threat either.
The officer leant into his chest, and reached his hand up to the radio pinned to his breast. James pulled away from the wall, and glanced at Miller, who had silently retreated further into the kitchen.
James saw Miller pull his hand out of a kitchen draw, and lift it up.
James cried out, having neither the time nor presence of mind to articulate, and shoved against the police officer next to him. The officer fell to the floor with a shout, grabbing James and pulling him down with him. They had fell sideways, and were now out of Miller’s line of sight.
James scrambled to get up, but the policeman was struggling too, and they both prevented each other from regaining their footing. Miller stepped into the kitchen doorway, and James changed his intent, now grasping at the police officer’s waist.
James lifted his arm, Miller pointed to James, and a deafening crack echoed off the walls.
Almost immediately James found himself being crushed against the floor. While James had been focusing on Miller, the police officer had recovered, and slammed into James, who had stolen his gun.
“MARK!” the police officer yelled out to his colleague, who had come bounding back up the stairs at the sound of the gunshot. “Fucker shot the old bastard,” he said angrily, as James frantically gasped and slapped his hand around as his body was deprived of oxygen.
“Dude, get off him, look,” the other officer said in a state of shock, pointing down at Miller. The officer pinning James glanced over, and relaxed his grip a little once he noticed the gun besides Miller’s corpse.
The officer pinning James looked back and forth between Miller and James a couple of times, before quickly getting off James’ back. “Christ man,” he said. “Sorry ’bout that.”
James could only cough and splutter in response, but he nodded to let the officer know that there were no hard feelings.
“Right in the ticker,” the other officer said, looking at the killing wound on Miller. “Nice shot.”
“Did you get the basement?” the officer by James asked.
“Not yet, give me a minute,” the other officer said, and began to head back down.
The officer that had been pinning James turned back to him. “I’m going to have to put you under arrest,” he said. “But, just sit tight for a minute, yeah?”
James nodded, and the officer called in on his radio to inform the station of what had happened, and to call for an EMT. The other officer would soon return, bringing with him a young boy that had been locked up in the basement. He had been tied to a chair, and upon hearing the commotion upstairs, had managed to push himself over onto a stack of boxes, sending the whole lot tumbling down.
As the officers did their job and secured the scene while they waited for the ambulance to arrive, James was staring out the door. Outside the house, having refused to come in, was Emily. Her body was free of cuts and bruises, and her pallor had lifted from her flesh. James gave her a small smile, grateful that he had been able to, in some small way, make up for what he had done to her.
Emily smiled back.
Emily stuck around after the death of Miller. At this point it became very clear that Emily was not a mere figment of James’ imagination, as she regained her autonomy. She was unable to make any noise that James could hear, but they talked extensively using binary answer questions as they waited for the impending court case regarding Miller’s death.
James learned a bit about the girl, and a good deal about the nature of those that do not leave after they have passed. Emily was bound to James upon her death because of her distress and hatred for the one that had stolen her freedom, and her life. Eventually, she had come to forgive James, as it was clear to her that he had not meant to hurt her, and was deeply suffering because of the incident. Miller, on the other hand, she could not forgive, so her curse was only lifted upon his death.
Emily now seemed free to do as she pleased. They discovered that she could go as far from him as she wanted now, and upon asking, James found out that Emily had a feeling that she could ‘move on’, though she couldn’t seem to understand herself what that would mean for her.
The court case regarding the crimes, and subsequent murder, of Miller did not last long. The evidence of his wrongdoings and the testimony of the officers made it very clear who the villain was in the situation, if not necessarily the aggressor. Questions were asked about why James was there at all, but James was able to deflect them with allusions to suspicion and intuition. Once it was done, the court found James innocent of murder on the grounds of self-defense, and was in fact lauded by the judge for his actions in the event.
The hearing was public knowledge, and reporters swarmed the courthouse as it came to a close. The lawyers went out to speak to them and promote themselves, while James was allowed out a side door to avoid being molested. As he left the court, he came across the figure of a woman he first saw almost a year ago.
Emily’s mother had been waiting for him.
A few minutes later, James and Emily’s mother were sat in a small diner, and had ordered a drink each. James held a sorrowful and shameful expression: Emily’s mother had deteriorated since he had last seen her at his trial, and she her face looked worn. Emily sat next to her mother, giving her a baneful look, as her own mother failed to notice her presence.
They sat in silence for a while, neither of them wanting to be the one to break the silence. But, after a few minutes, Emily’s mother spoke.
“Thank you,” she said quietly.
James’ face screwed up in discomfort. “Don’t thank me,” he responded hoarsely. “Not for this, not after what I did.”
“No,” Emily’s mother shook her head. “I can’t forgive you, but if it wasn’t for you, then that man might never have seen justice.” she swallowed, and began to choke up. “I’m sure that, if Emily could see, she’d be happy…”
Emily’s mother bent over and began to sob, prompting Emily to silently shriek at her mother’s distress, and attempt to hug her. James felt his heart wrench as he watched on, and almost doubled over because of the pain. Confusion replaced sorrow for a moment though, as Emily’s mother’s sobs turned into a soft chuckle.
She looked up, and with tears still streaming down her face, she smiled. She saw James’ confused expression, and almost laughed at herself. “I don’t know,” she said. “I can’t help but cry when I think about her, but right now, I almost feel like she’s still here.” She wiped her face, and bowed her head. “Thank you,” she whispered. James could tell that this time, she wasn’t speaking to him. Whether by coincidence or intuition, she was looking right where her daughter was, as the young girl looked up at her grieving mother.
Emily’s painful expression twisted into a smile, and she nodded her head before moving in as close as she could to her mother.
They sat like that for a while longer, but eventually, they had to leave. They went their separate ways, and to James’ surprise, Emily decided to come with him.
“You’re not going with your mother?” he asked as they approached his car.
Emily shook her head sadly.
“…Okay,” James said. Their communication was limited, so it would be difficult to ask why, and he felt that he shouldn’t pry for an answer right now anyway. Before he reached the car though, Emily ran ahead, and passed through the door to get into the passenger seat. James noted that it seemed to take effort on her part to pass through it, and opened the driver side door.
“Excited about something?” he asked.
Emily nodded in response.
“What about?” James asked, forgetting in his bewilderment that she wouldn’t be able to answer.
Emily smiled, and pointed forwards.
“Wait and see, huh?” James mumbled to himself, and shrugged. “Okay.”
They drove back to James’ house, and once they arrived back, Emily rushed to his room. James followed behind, eventually finding her pointing at a stack of paper and accumulated rubbish on his desk.
“Here?” he asked, sifting through the pile, laying out each individual piece for Emily to see. James had allowed his cleanliness to lapse in recent weeks, and whenever he put clothes to wash, he would simply dump the contents of his pockets onto his desk.
Emily quickly pointed out the thing she was looking for, and James picked it up to see.
“This thing?” James asked; it was the phone number given to him by the police officer, offering a potential job. “You think we should?”
Emily smiled, and nodded.
“Good afternoon, PI Biscoe.”
“Please, my license hasn’t come through yet.”
A police officer and an older James walked through the police station. It had been 5 years since Miller’s death, and James had been hard at work since then. He got his start working a desk job for the police, before getting a part-time job in a local private investigation firm. Many sleepless nights were spent studying for examinations to help hurry the process along, but starting from scratch in a new field still took time.
In the meantime, he had downsized to a smaller house to free up money for expenses, and had taken up smoking, against both his better judgement and Emily’s approval. Emily was walking alongside the two as they approached their destination: a small room holding two recently apprehended suspects. It wasn’t standard procedure to hold them both in the same room, but it wasn’t standard to have James question them either.
During his time at the police station, James earned himself a reputation among the staff by being able to accurately point out who among the officers had ever killed someone. Hearing about this, the higher ups decided to try him out against a few line-ups, and once he proved his capabilities, with Emily’s help of course, they decided to have him act as a specialist contractor whenever a relevant case came up.
Those cases being of course, murder.
James and Emily entered the room holding the two suspects. They were handcuffed to two separate tables, and had been allowed to speak to each other. James found that when they were allowed time to form an argument, it caused a greater shock when it all came crashing down.
The two were young men, and prior to the incident in question they had only ever been apprehended on misdemeanors. Now, they were arrested for murder: a member of a street gang, found beaten to death with a pipe. Forensics found that the fatal wound was not inflicted by a powerful force, but an unluckily placed one. The officers believe that the guy’s death wasn’t intended, but an accidental one occurring as the gang member was being beaten. They were positive that they had the right guys, but they lacked the evidence to prosecute with certainty, and that’s where James came in.
“Man, you got us locked up in here for nothing,” one of the men said. “We didn’t do shit.”
“He’s right, you better let us out, or we’re gonna sue your ass,” the other said.
James glanced down to the side, and saw Emily nod. James’ posture didn’t change, and he kept a stern expression on his face as he lifted his hand, and pointed at one of the men.
“Murderer,” he said, and then shifted his hand to the other man. “Murderer,” he repeated.
“You can’t accuse us without proof,” one of the men said.
“What makes you think I don’t have plenty?” James asked, prompting the two to glance at each other. James looked down at Emily, who pointed to the man on the left and nodded, then she pointed at the man on the right, and shook her hand in a flat position.
James pointed to the man on the left. “You, you’re the one that beat him to death, and you…” James turned to the man on the right. “You held the guy down.”
The two men started, and glanced at each other in shock.
“Now you two have a think about how I might know that, and I’m going to tell you what your options are…” James said. “You can confess, and make all our lives easier, or you can be obstinate and plead innocent.” James shrugged, and pulled out a cigarette, sticking it into his mouth. “Just remember, if you plead innocent, and you’re found guilty, the judge isn’t going to be happy that you wasted their time.”
James opened the door to the room, and a couple of police officers came in to remove the one who had directly killed the man.
“Oh!” James said, turning around. “One more things, plea deals.” He looked back at the two men. “If one of you turns the other in, you might get a reduced sentence for your own crime. Something to think about.”
The man who had committed the murder was pulled away from the other one, to be kept separately. “Wait,” he said urgently. “You can’t…” Realizing that they in fact could, he turned back to his associate. “Don’t say a word,” he growled, and his accomplice shirked away from him.
“Thanks for that admission of guilt,” one of the police handling the man said. “We’ll be sure to use it in court.”
“Wait, no,” the man quickly lost his cool. “You didn’t read me my rights!”
“We read you them at the door, now quit messing around.” The officers practically lifted the man off his feet, and proceeded to drag him to another room.
“Well that shook ’em up,” the officer that was keeping an eye on James said as James walked to the exit, cigarette in mouth. “Should be able to get at least one of them to confess now.”
“If you’ve got any amount of information over someone, and they don’t know how you got it, you can get a lot out of them,” James said. “I’m just doing my civic duty.”
“How do you tell?”
James stopped, and turned to the officer with a smile. “I’ve got a guardian angel on my side,” he said, giving a quick wink in Emily’s direction, who returned a thumbs up for a job well done.
“If you say so,” the officer said with a shrug. “How’s the office coming along?”
“It’s coming. Damn expensive setting up your own business though, if I don’t get cases quick I might end up broke before I solve a single one.”
“Hey, you’ll always be welcome back here. You come up with a name yet?”
“I’m thinking Raven’s Eye, has a nice ring to it.”
“Any particular reason?”
“Well considering my specialty, I figured it was appropriate.”
“How do you mean?”
“Didn’t you know?” James opened a fire door leading outside, pulled out a lighter, and lit up his cigarette. “Ravens are known as a harbinger of death, and are thought to guide lost souls to the afterlife.” James took a drag of his cigarette, and turned an eye towards his companion.
“Basically, it’s because ravens can see the dead.”