Welcome to Part six of the current long story cycle (Cracked Windows). The links will be laid out in sections to cut down the total number we see on each post. You will be able to follow from week to week as needed when new sections appear.
Middle of the night. He could see it, or the lack of it when he looked at the time on his phone. Middle of the night, still dark, the house quiet, and Arial wasn’t sleeping beside him in the bed. He lay there for a few minutes an listened to the night sounds of the house.
The rain had stopped some time ago and the world outside held that preternatural quiet of night after a rain. The lack of sounds disturbed him more than the sounds he heard the night before.
Jerome sat up and placed his feet on the floor. Cold crept across his feet and sent chills through his body. He donned his robe and stumbled toward the bedroom door. Silence in the hall, she wasn’t in the bathroom, and he didn’t see light flowing through the house from the other direction.
In the living room he could take in the other areas she might have been. But there was nothing to see. His eyes had adjusted to the dim light that filtered into the house from the street lamps outside. He didn’t turn on any lights in case he found her sleeping on the couch.
She wasn’t there.
It wasn’t panic that filled him, but something approaching it. Through their time together, Arial had never been gone in the middle of the night. She slept through, only to wake to her alarm. Gone, like a ghost, she had slipped into the night and he couldn’t find her.
Adrenalin fueled his limbs as he searched through the house, a second time, and a third. She wasn’t there. Not even in the basement. That didn’t surprise him though, she had never liked their basement. Walls had it separated into different rooms, unlike the one she had grown up with that was a single unfinished room. There were too many places for things to hide.
He had turned on the lights as he raced through the house. Shadows and darkness were blasted away but she had not been revealed. Until he stepped into their garage.
She hadn’t tried to kill herself, he was sure of that. Hell, he never would have thought it of her to begin with. But she was dead none-the-less. She had fallen to the ground beside her car, keys in her hand. Still in her robe like she had stepped into the garage after she had gone to the bathroom instead of back to bed.
He shook her, pushed at her shoulder to wake her. She rolled to her back and Jerome’s stomach clenched into dry heaves. Blood trickled from her nose and mouth as well as her empty eye sockets. But it wasn’t the blood that startled him, not at first. Instead it was the pools where her face had touched the cement. Frozen shards of meat and ichor clung to the floor. Her eyes hadn’t been plucked out, they had shattered with cold. Her lips had cracked and turned blue, then black.
She had frozen to death on a hot summer night. Worse then that, he assumed hypothermia and frostbite had ripped through her body. The cold was still with her, and frosted his hands where he had touched her. He jumped away from her body and backpedaled into the house.
Jerome scrambled through their home in search of his cellphone. He had left it in his room beside the bed when he woke. With frozen fingers he stabbed at the screen in his attempt to dial 911.
The cold had followed him into the house. It crept through his body in a chase to find its way into his core. He clung to his robe and wrapped blankets around himself to fight it off but he could feel its icy grip on his frame. Through chattering teeth he managed to whimper that he needed an ambulance to the dispatcher on the other end of the line.
The cops had arrived first. They slammed him against the wall of his living room and slapped cuffs to his wrists when they saw the body in the garage. No questions, no commentary. He watched in mute silence from the back of the patrol car when the ambulance arrived. He never had a chance to see them roll Arial into the back of the ambulance. The patrol car was headed to the station before the ambulance had been loaded.
It had all slipped by in a blur. They locked him in a room, his hands chained to a desk. Though its wood had faded and chipped with use, the manacles and the bar they were connected to were new, the bolts in the table rust free and strong. It didn’t stop him from pulling against them in his attempts to free himself from the shackles. They hadn’t come to talk to him in hours.
Early morning light trickled through the room’s slim window before he heard the click of the door’s lock. A man in a faded brown suit walked into the room with a file folder in his hand. His too-small tie lay on the man’s belly when he sat down across from Jerome.
“Says here, someone called 911 late last night about a domestic disturbance at 1284 Maple.” He ran a finger across the top page of the file. “You know anything about that? Or maybe what happened to… Arial Peters? Did I say the name right? What’s your relationship to Ms. Peters?”
“It’s Mrs. Peters,” Jerome said. “She’s my wife.”
“That certainly explains your presence in the house. But why did you kill her?”
Jerome leaned back in his chair, at least as far as the manacles would allow. The thought had swum through his mind several times through the night but he chalked it up to misunderstanding. They couldn’t possibly have thought he did it. He called 911 dammit. This couldn’t be happening. “You’ve got to be fucking kidding me.”
The man flipped through the folder for a moment. “What do you know about the Millers? The family over at 1430 Maple?”
“They live down the street. Didn’t they lose their dog recently?”
“There was an incident.” He pulled a couple pictures from the file and dropped them in front of Jerome. Crime scene photos of a different woman, dead like Arial. Her eye sockets filled with blood, though her eyes were gone.
Jerome’s body shook with a shock of cold. “What the hell is wrong with you? I couldn’t have done that to anyone. I sure as hell didn’t murder my wife.” He pushed the photos away, couldn’t look at them anymore.
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