Trail of Blood

Written by Rachel Silva-Knepp

Genre: Mystery & Suspense 

Plot: Arriving in a Small Town That has a Secret

Words to use: cult, mystery, murder, power, stranger, newcomer, alien, weapon, silence, danger, police, hidden, map, discovery, bond

Part 1

What the once Detective Anne Sullivan needed was a change of scenery. She felt it deep down inside. The psychologist the department sent her to said “PTSD”, but she thought she was just tired. She desired to find something different. Get away from the memories and she will be perfectly fine. Being in danger so often weighs on your soul. 

Anne was alone in the world so she found herself reckless at times. She lost her mom when she was a teen and her father just after she became a detective. She knew of no other family. They all passed away at a young age according to her father. She had some friends but Jill Grady was her one friend who survived the events of growing up and becoming adults. Anne preferred to keep the circle of friends small. Danger can find you and those you love.

Anne was particularly good at solving puzzles..complex puzzles. Her work record within the police department was excellent. Her gifts were recognized and she was promoted within the department quickly. Nothing seemed to get in her way. Until tragedy. For Anne, one bullet changed everything.

The cold rainy winter had finally turned into spring and leaf buds were breaking out on the naked branches. The rain brought wild flowers, purple and yellow mixed in with the tall weeds along the sides of the highway. Anne Sullivan, former detective, watched the world go by through her dark sunglasses and windows of the bus, her lips parted slightly, sitting in her chair and toying with the silver necklace she wore to remind her of someone special. Someone who came into her life as a leaf bud on the tree branches but this one fell off prematurely. She started thinking about her mother, what she remembered. The pictures of the family home was a French beauty, a former model who fell in love with an American marine. Anne looked like her mother but her father’s discipline was deeply ingrained in her. As she watched the scene change outside the window, she felt like she was floating. The green grass brightly lit by the sunshine, offering hope. Maybe the grass is greener on the other side. 

Just as the bus arrived at the border of their destination was a  large sign that read,“Welcome to Oakwood”. The highway became the town’s main avenue and it brought them into the center of town. A circular street filled with businesses and government buildings all connected by a broad walking area for pedestrians, brightly painted crosswalks at each intersection. All the side streets jutted off in all the directions from the main circle that led to the town’s residential areas. Right in the center of the main circle was a large monument, a statue of a woman atop a horse and a water feature that surrounded it. Facing the statue and water fountain were a few wooden benches, their golden plaques sparkled from the sun and caught Anne’s eye as the bus drove around toward the main stop. The surrounding greenery made of boxwood and pansies was nicely maintained. The very low boxwood bushes were distinctly manicured into rectangular boxes that surrounded the mound of pansies which fluttered with the wind the bus made as it drove by them. The sound of water punctuated the air all around. The effect was serene and welcoming, but the benches were all empty of humanity. 

When the bus stopped, she put the necklace beneath her shirt, grabbed her distinctive multi-pocketed beige jacket and put it on. She had her shoulder bag sitting next to her and put it over head onto her shoulder across her chest. She wanted to get off the bus quickly but her exit was hampered by an elderly couple in the very front who held up the few people behind them. She fixed her gaze outside, she rubbed her right thigh with her free hand, and took deep breaths to calm her impatience. Her suitcase had been stored in the compartment during the trip safe and sound. All that she owned was in that case. The driver was taking all the luggage out of the cavity beneath the bus. She saw hers removed and she jumped with a thud of hard plastic on cement.

Around her were a few locals visiting the business whose attention was drawn to the new arrivals. Some that got off the bus were recognized as their fellow townspeople. She was new so the lingered looks were expected. Usually the appearance of a stranger in any small town brought curiosity but she was also very striking in appearance. It could have been either or both reasons for the looks she received when she was standing with her case in front of the bus stop. Tall and lean, dark brown hair that was wavy and dark eyes. She wore a button down khaki shirt over a white t-shirt, straight legged blue jeans and short heeled boots. The bus had been fully unloaded and was getting ready for the next trip. More people arrived to start their journey to the next stop the bus made for the day. She moved farther away to allow other people to bring their luggage closer for storage. She started to feel like an alien. All green and gangly limbs, but she didn’t let on. She casually looked down at her watch, the poker face showing nothing to her opponent. Eventually the newness of her presence will wear off, she thought hopefully.

“Hey Jill,” she said through a broad smile as she pulled up alongside her. She kept her sunglasses on. She was quite happy to see a familiar face. She opened the sticky passenger door with some degree of difficulty and pushed her suitcase into the backseat. After a couple tries, Anne got the door closed completely. 

Her watch said 10:33 am. The bus had been earlier than expected and there was still time to wait before their scheduled meeting. Jill had moved to Oakwood six months earlier and invited Anne to join her if she wanted to. She may have put her off longer if it hadn’t become so imperative to leave her life behind. The two women had been childhood friends and they have always kept in contact no matter what came up in life. Jill was the one friend who understood her and her connection to the past. They were very different people. Jill was petite and feminine, very light blond hair, bright blue eyes and freckles that dotted her nose. Their personalities were different as well but they had history and looked out for each other. Jill was a mother hen, making sure Anne ate and took care of herself properly while Anne with her training was looking out for her friend’s safety. 

She looked at the buildings that were there, a market, a bakery, and a small greasy spoon diner. Across the road, on the other side of the circle were the government buildings, the police station, courthouse, the town hall and the library. The buildings were a mix of old and new with quite a number of renovations. It looked like the local officials wanted to be up to date with the modern building codes. After standing by her case for a while, she decided to take her case and go sit down and wait. She had only one piece of luggage, a vintage hard suitcase her mom gave her when she was a child. It was getting old but still useful. True to herself, she started to think about all the secrets the people in this town had hidden. Like every other person she had met, they all had some secret to hide. Some benevolent, some dangerous. That sent a shiver down her spine. The sensation passed with the distinctive sound of a Volkswagen beetle coming closer. She recognized her friend’s car. She shook her head. Not safe at all.

“Hey Jill,” Anne said loudly over the sound of the car’s engine. Anne had a broad smile as Jill pulled up alongside her. Anne kept her sunglasses on. She was glad to see a familiar face. She opened the passenger door that creaked in protest. It opened with a degree of difficulty and she moved the front seat down and pushed her suitcase into the backseat. After sitting down in the front seat it took a couple tries but Anne got the door closed completely.

“You are gonna love the house, Anne. The room for you is just perfect. It looks out onto the back garden. Nice and quiet. Is that one case all you brought? We are going to need to get you some warm clothes for the winter.” She quipped, deftly maneuvering the stick shift into first and pulled away from the curb quickly, heading down the second right she came upon, heading west. The sun was high up in the sky for spring, the wind that went through cracks in the car was still cold.

“Yeah, I wanted to travel light. I will purchase the things I need soon. I am very excited for the change and to get settled. I was counting the days till I could leave. I just got rid of most everything I had in the old house. I just want to have everything completely new. You understand.” She took a deep breath and looked out the side window. 

“Yes, I get it. One step at a time.” Her response was subdued, giving her friend space. Anne would get everything she needed. Always the well-meaning mother hen. Their friendship was decades long but things had changed the last few months before Jill moved away. A small wedge between the friends. Silence overtook the drive toward home. They passed some small industrial buildings soon as they turned right. They crossed a couple intersections where it quickly turned into a residential area. The streets of asphalt were lined with gray cement sidewalks and green rectangular areas that separated the properties from the roadways. The road was spacious. Cars lined up on both sides but still offered enough space to drive for two way traffic. Very different from the city. Anne actually felt a calm wave through her chest. She hoped this may be a home, a sense of freedom from her problems. Her shoulders relaxed and breathed easier than she had in months. The therapist she was sent to was the one that told her she may need a change of scenery. Not to run away but take some time to heal. It couldn’t hurt and it may help. Her leg had started to give her more discomfort and she shifted in her seat.

”How is your leg healing?” Jill inquired cautiously. Anne gently straightened with one swipe of her hand the fabric of her jeans over her right leg. She took hold of the necklace around her neck, nervously sliding the crystal charm along the chain from short side to side movements. Her face in a slight grimace.

”All the sitting is causing some soreness but it is healing up pretty well. The physical therapist said I need to rest it, elevating it up when I can.” She spoke freely, straightening herself in her seat and pulling her button down shirt downward.

”We have a few trails around if you want to get some exercise and the neighborhood is safe to walk. You will be fully healed in no time.” Jill smiled reassuringly. Anne just smiled slightly and turned her head back toward the passenger window but didn’t respond.

The house wasn’t too far from the center of town. A small craftsman bungalow, surrounded by roses and flowering plants. An arbor held a jasmine that offered its sweet fragrance to any who passed by.  The house even a white picket fence. She thought it was quaint. She was rearranging her buttons on her shirt and running her fingers through her hair. Her friend had pulled into the driveway, the car made a jarring shake as it found its way up to two thin sheets of concrete that lead from the side way toward the back of the house. Between the two cement sheets was pea gravel and a few dandelions. The garden on closer inspection was so weedy, with more dandelions and some pearlwort. There was a detached small garage farther in the back of the house. It was more like a large shed. The white paint on the lapboard of the sides of the house’s structure was starting to peel in some parts but the windows were pretty new. This was the ideal situation her friend told her. Jill had fallen in love with the house and she was hoping that was going to be true for her friend too. No disappointments so far. Anne was smiling to herself as she maneuvered herself out of the car and into the yard.

She left her case in the car for now and they toured the yard first. She had her hands in her pants pockets while she followed behind Jill who was describing the yard and some of the neighbors. The patio in the backyard had a small seating area of metal chairs and sun bleached pillows and cushions with a large umbrella and a low table for coffee mugs. There was one birch tree in the back right corner with a few more rose bushes along the ten foot fence. The roses were both beautiful and a way to keep people from jumping over the fence without getting scratched by thorns. They turned around and quickly returned to the car for Anne to grab her case and her brown leather shoulder bag.

Jill led the way up the short stairway up to the front porch. Under the window were two rattan rocking chairs with thick cushions and pillows. Climbing the three stairs made Anne wince slightly. Jill unlocked and held the opened door for her friend.

“Welcome to your new home” Jill said with a large smile filling her freckled face and wrinkling her eyes shut. Anne had finally taken off her sunglasses. The bright sunshine from the outdoors was juxtaposed to the interior darkness. The front entryway opened up to the main living area. The room was filled with an overstuffed sofa and antique wood tables. Anne knew that Jill probably found all these things at the thrift store.  They were quite worn. There was one front window looking out to the road with two sets of curtains, one sheer and one thick golden brocade, both drawn shut.

“There’s still life in them.” Jill reassured her when Anne asked about the furniture. Although the house was small, it felt spacious. Jill was a diligent cleaner. The rest of the house included the kitchen with an eat-in dining area, one large bathroom and a laundry area that was set behind sliding doors in the hallway. One side of the house was the two bedrooms, a bathroom and laundry with storage for linen. Anne’s room was in the back of the house. A door to the backyard was on the other side. Outside the door was filled with pots of plants, an interest of Jill’s. To Anne that back door was not as  secure as she’d like but she would bring it up later.

Anne’s new bedroom was simple. Two windows, one one the side facing the back patio and the other facing the backyard. There was a queen bed with a wood carved headboard, white sheets, a couple pillows and a large country quilt. There were a few pieces of artwork on the white walls. Both bedrooms had a short loop woolen carpeting while the rest of the house had the original wood floor with a high polish. The one bathroom was to be shared but it was spacious and had a double sink, a shower integrated with the claw foot tub, black and white tiled floor and white subway tiles on the walls around the tub and toilet areas.There was extra storage just behind the door way.

Jill excused herself and left Anne in her bedroom to unpack. She went to make some tea and sandwiches. It was lunchtime and she figured that Anne was extra hungry after her journey. It was quite a long drive. Anne turned to sit down on the bed and turned herself to lie down, the boxspring squeaked with her weight. She put one of the pillows under her leg and looked up at the ceiling with a grave expression. She rubbed her leg and her thoughts went back to the event that gave her this problem with her leg. A gunshot wound from a suspect that got the better of her. She cringed. How could she be so dumb.

She didn’t lay there long and she got up from the bed and grabbed the case, flinging it on the bed to unpack her things.  She systematically organized her clothes into the antique dresser with the mirror attached on the back, hung up the few blouses and trousers in the small closet that shared the wall with the bathroom. In the middle of her clothes was a case which she put in the drawer in the side table next to the bed. When she was finished, she put the case on the top shelf of the closet to store and went out to the kitchen. She had taken off her short boots during this process and with only her socks on her feet, she slipped while walking down the hallway.

The tea was about ready, Jill told her without looking up, “It’s about done. I thought we would have a nice homemade lunch then figure out dinner.” She was finishing up the sandwiches, placing them on old ironstone plates. Lunch was set out on the vintage metal diner style table with matching chairs. Jill sat down after pouring the tea into the pretty floral tea cups and they both started to eat a lunch of cold sandwiches and some scoops of potato salad. Anne didn’t think she was that hungry but it hit her while she ate and was focused on her food.

“Just out of curiosity, did you bring along your weapon too?” She asked out of the blue, her gaze remained downward toward her task. Anne was taken aback by the question and sat looking intently at her. She allowed the shock of the question to ease itself away before she answered.

“My weapon? Of course, why? Did you want me to get rid of it? I hope it doesn’t make you nervous.” Anne didn’t think it was going to be a problem. Maybe her friend was nervous about being in a home with a gun now. Jill should have known that she was most likely to bring it with her when she moved. It was a gift from her father when she graduated from the academy. She didn’t know what she would do if she wanted her to get rid of it. It was Jill’s house and she didn’t want to upset her. It was also the way her friend asked the question that made her stomach churn slightly. There was a meaning behind it.

“Oh no. It isn’t that I am nervous. On the contrary, I think it will make me feel better.” She placed her free hand on her chest and got teary eyed. The look of concern crossed Anne’s face. “What happened?”

“Nothing to me. But.. Well, I didn’t mention this before because I didn’t want you to worry, but we have had a bit of a mystery going on here in this town.” She paused briefly, thinking about her next words, but still thought it better to be honest. “It involves murder.” Anne let out a sigh with the word murder. She wiped her mouth with her napkin and put it down next to her plate. She turned herself more toward her friend and was demanding an explanation.

“So what happened? Give me some details please.”

Anne hesitated. ”Are you sure you want to know?” The question made Anne irritable and her tone became choppy.

“Absolutely yes. How can I live in a town with something like that happening. Yes I had an issue but I can take it.” Her full focus was on Jill sitting across from her. She had planted both of her feet firmly on the floor under her chair and waited for her to start talking. Jill took a deep breath and said “Okay, if you’re sure.” Anne told her that she didn’t know all the details but what was generally known by the public was what she could tell her. 

“It happened a few weeks ago. A body was found. A woman’s body, that was later identified as Claire Smyth. She was found just outside of town near the old forest. She was fully clothed but it was ripped and she had many knife wounds to her body. Obviously it was ruled a suspicious death from an unknown perpetrator. That was all that the police reported.” Anne nodded. Of course they were going to hold back information from the public. Sometimes things got out though, whether the authorities wanted it to or not. That was normal Anne told her with authority. 

“There’s other things going on too but probably not linked but kind of suspicious to me. Rumors are circulating about a secret cult but it’s only whispers. Probably nonsense. I only catch portions of conversations at the diner. No one really talks about it openly and when it is mentioned I tend to not ask too many questions. I think that the rumor gets dismissed, but…” Jill had the far away look that made Anne uneasy. The knife was still in her hand from making sandwiches which she was now using to cut through the sandwich into smaller pieces. Anne was waiting for her friend to finish her story but her voice had trailed off. Anne had reassured her friend that the police of course had it in hand. She knew the usual procedures but having a murder here made her feel anxious. The conversation changed quickly. They started chatting about what Anne was going to do now that she was free and their past adventures together in the city, laughing at the funny events with friends and family. They speculated about what has happened with mutual friends from the past. The story of murder and mysterious cults were forgotten for the time being. Even while they reminisced about the past, murder lingered in the back of Anne’s mind. She doubted that the rumors were true but she didn’t know anything more about the case. She didn’t want it to be her business anymore. 


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