Shadow Unit

Case Files

Teasers & Deleted Scenes

Arlington, VA, October 22, 2008, 3:27 AM

All he knows about the room is that it's cold, and mostly dark. There's a light over his head, like in old movies when the police interrogate someone. This light isn't as bright, and it's higher up, more like a spotlight. He wishes it were like the movie ones. If it were closer, it would be warm.

It makes a puddle of light on the floor around him. Maybe it would shine on things close to him, but there isn't anything close to him. That's good, right? There's worse things than being alone.

If he could get out of the puddle of light, his eyes might adjust. He could see the room, find the walls, maybe figure out where he is. Find a door, find a window.

His hands and feet are numb, though. He's not sure they'd work. It must be from the ropes, because he can still feel those. Pretty soon his butt will be numb, too. Damned hard chair.

A voice comes out of the dark to his right, a familiar voice. He whips his head around so fast the pain goes through his skull like a bullet and makes him want to puke.

"I bet you expect me to clean up after you," she says. "Well, fuck that. You can take care of yourself or you can go to school smelling like piss. There's free will, you know. It's a free fucking country. Take a little goddamn responsibility."

He was right about the light. He can see her, just enough to recognize the narrow lips with the sunburst of smoker's wrinkles, the deep-cut lines between the corners of her mouth and the triangle of her short nose, the narrowed eyes with a smear of blue shadow on each lid. Her small, hard hands with their painted nails move restlessly through the space between her chin and her waist, as if hoping to find a cigarette there. He can smell old tobacco smoke and the sour-milk odor of her sweat.

She's dead, and in hell, probably, however much he wanted to love her and be loved back. Is that where he is?

They wouldn't need ropes in hell, would they?

She's gone. Did she step back into the dark? Did he imagine her? How could he not have seen where she went? Now that she's gone he has room in his head to be scared. His heart is kicking at his chest.

A shoe scrapes the floor on his left; something moves in the dark.

"Please. Please, where--"

"Not a sound! Do you hear me?" The crack of the ruler against wood makes him flinch. It always came before the sound of it on skin.

The source of the voice moves closer, and the light assembles him out of parts. He's like a bodiless head, the tight white collar a socket into which his short neck fits. His heavy gray jowls droop over the cloth. His black suit and shirt are invisible.

"Christ told us to pray without display. God wants to listen to your hearts, not your tongues. Those you dirty every day with blasphemy and foul language and subjects unfit for His creation. Do you think any word that comes out of your sullied mouths goes to His ear?" Spittle flies as he speaks. He beat a boy who'd called him "Father Firehose," and that night the boy had peed blood and cried because he thought he was dying and was afraid to ask to confess his sins.

That was me, he realizes. Why had I thought it was someone else? How did I forget?

But it isn't him crying now. It's a woman, a girl. She's somewhere in front of him in the darkness. He sees what might be pale hair on a head shaking with racked breathing and fear.

No, he thinks. Not you.

"I didn't. I did not!" He knows what she's answering. "I didn't say that, and I didn't want you to, not ever!" She stops speaking for exactly long enough to accommodate the words he replied. When she reaches the edge of the light, he can see her tangled white-blonde hair fallen across her face.

What hides her features, though, is her hands. They fascinate him now as they did then. Little-girl hands decked with cheap rings from Hot Topic and Claire's. Baby-blue rhinestones glinting on a fist wrapped around a yellow number two pencil as it filled in ovals on a test paper. He wants to say her name. His voice is frozen with terror and lust.

She lifts her head. Her eyes are red and swollen. Now he can see the blood on her upper lip, smeared on her mouth and down her chin. He licks his own lips, but they're dry and tasteless. The bruise on her left cheek is already dark. "The hell I will. My mom will tell Sorensen. I hope you go to jail and I hope they fuck you in the ass!"

She's too loud. Someone will hear her. If she'll just shut up and give him time to think--

But she didn't.

So of course he knows she's not here, either. And like the others, she's vanished somehow without him noticing. Ghosts. But ghosts couldn't have hit him, tied him up. There's someone here.

"Please. Whoever's out there... My name is Joshua. Josh. I'm a junior high teacher--"

"If that's supposed to make me like you, let me just say you are way off the right road."

That voice he's never heard before. It's male, light, unemphatic. Not frightening at all, except for the dark and the ropes. "Who are you?" He makes a demand of it.

"Just a mirror." The figure who comes into the light this time is a stranger. Tall and gaunt, brown hair falling over a brown forehead and a long, sharp nose poking out from under it, wide mouth relaxed and a little lopsided. As if in embarrassment. As if maybe this would turn out to be a mistake, a joke. The stranger may be his own age, not even thirty yet. His right hand hides in a trouser pocket; the left hangs at his thigh and in darkness.

"I...have a wife. Marcie. I married my college sweetheart."

The stranger frowns, rolls his eyes, shakes his head. "Getting colder."

"What do you want?" In spite of the chill, he can feel the sweat under his arms, down his back, in the hair of his chest. He can smell his own stink.

"Not really your problem," the stranger says kindly. When he talks, his front teeth show, one overlapping the other a little. "What you want, there's the rub." Three casual steps put the stranger behind his right shoulder. "Like Monica Fiore."

His stomach churns. This is not a joke, or a mistake. "I didn't mean to--"

"Right now you don't. But you will. Because you can't stop thinking about how right it feels."

"You're nuts. That's not true."

"Josh, of course it's true. I told you. I'm a mirror. I can't show you anything that isn't there."

There's a new voice behind his shoulder. He recognizes it immediately.

It's his own.

It's saying aloud things he would never let onto his tongue, his profaned tongue, because God must never hear those things. His own mouth is closed, but with each breath he makes a grunting, whimpering noise in his throat that he can't quite muffle. Something hot tracks down his cheeks.

"They'll find you eventually," the stranger's voice continues. There's no threat in it. He might be telling him the time. "Probably within the week. They're really good."

"Oh, god. Oh, my god. Please don't leave me here. Please. I'll starve to death."

The stranger snorts. "Do you know how long starvation takes?"

"Listen, I've got money--"

This time the stranger actually laughs. "A junior high teacher?"

"I can get money!"

The stranger pats his shoulder, a feathery double-tap, and he jerks aside. "They've found her body. They're looking for you. It's either them or me, and in a lot of ways, I'm easier. All you have to face is yourself."

The stranger's hands reach down over his head on either side. The wire he holds is a bright arc in the light from above.

The stranger's not going to let him starve. It's almost funny. He'd laugh, but his chest is so tight with fear he can't get a breath.

"This isn't quick," the stranger says. "If you want to pray, there'll be time."


You wake sweating, something cutting across your throat. Ligature strangulation. You never let anything touch your neck anymore. You clutch. Fingernails scrape your skin. Defensive wounds. Something catches your fingers and you hook, yank, gasp so loud you almost don't hear the cloth tear as it bites into your shoulders.

Your t-shirt, twisted by restless sleep.

Just a dream. Not real. Always the same dreams, even though they're all different. Just a case from down the hall.

It wasn't even your dream. Just the nightmare of a monster, reflected in the mirror. If you were the mirror held up to a dying monster, did that mean the death-blow was suicide, too?

Did his last breath fog your surface?

You clutch your knees, rocking. As if there's any kind of comfort that works at times like this.

You need sleep. You crave it. You should get a scrip, but then you'd have to tell someone about the dreams. The dreams that are just dreams. No matter how Pete Pauley's report on Joshua Lynch had ended.

You can't imagine sleeping sound in Idlewood.