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In the Still Dead of Winter
written by: Debbie Aruta
In the dead of winter the arctic air gripped my soul and to this day holds my heart encased in ice. I remember the frosty air stinging my lungs and the bitter taste of salt on my lips. I think of myself walking lifelessly down to the beach and meandering to the ends of the sea. Left, right, left, right, and before I had another thought I walked to the end of the frozen beach and climbed on board a boat leaving for Maine. How long had I been walking I pondered and I realized I could no longer feel my hands, they were dead weight lying by my sides. I was now iced inside and out.
I think of the atrocious scene that I had walked into that night and I thought, I have to vanish out of sight before I was tormented and murdered next. I could tell that night that I treated him in the ER that he was a killer. He could stare straight through a person. His eyes were vacant pools. He had confessed to the two of us that he had killed so many innocent women. He thought he was going to be dead in a minute, and now one of the two of us lay lifeless, so I was the only one left alive who knew his secret. He always left a mark on the victim’s wrists he said and there on Sues' wrist was his mark. A small arrow burned into her skin, probably while she was crying out in pain. I had to focus. I wondered if I could be his next victim!
I stumbled upon the immense slick coagulated pile of blood on accident. I hadn’t talked to Sue in a week as I was just getting back from my vacation, so I showed up at her apartment to surprise her and to confess my love for her, but there she lay next to the puddle of blood. I had seen some horrific incidents take place in my twenty years as an ER nurse, but this one hit home and my heart broke for Sue. I never got to tell her how I felt. I wanted to rush to her side, but I could tell she was gone. There was blood all over the floor, the walls, the marks left told a story I could not disturb.
I recall this scene was different from anything I had ever witnessed before. It was as if someone placed it in my way, so that I could discover it. The blood was a crimson red and reminded me of an ink blot test. I looked at it like one and decided it reminded me of a bubble you saw over snoopy in the comics. No confession was written in this blood. No murderer either, but there was a trail and I thought well than to follow it, I was trained to call 911. I felt that Sue was dead, my heart leaped out of my body when a neighbor slammed their door shut. I snapped out of my brain coma and called 911. I waited! It was the longest six minutes of my life. The 911 operator told me to wait outside, but I hoped that the crazed murderer had vanished. He tormented all his past victims and I feared I was going to be no different if he came for me. I wonder how he tormented Sue. No! I was not going to think about it, but why did she not say someone was bothering her, or trying to follow her, or whatever he was doing. She should have noticed something. Perhaps she did and I just would not listen. She had told me she loved me before I left for vacation and I could not respond. I was lifeless in my heart. I feared I could not love again, not after all my past.
Then the police arrived after what seemed to be an eternity. I was still standing in the apartment and they had to lead me out. I would always see Sue’s body in this twisted position and I would think back to this day until I was dead. I was suddenly filled with regrets. I should have told her I loved her. I should have canceled my vacation when she asked me to stay the week with her, but I was stubborn and went away, and now she lay dead. I felt like I could have prevented her death, but in fact we both might be lying there if I stayed. He could have killed us together.
I told the police about the gentleman, the name he gave us at the hospital, which was probably fake. I gave them his address he left and they said they would question him if they could find him. I informed the police that a photo was taken of him at the hospital due to the bruises and it possibly being a domestic abuse case. They said they would need a copy of everything the hospital had. I had access to get it, but was not supposed to hand that kind of information out, but I wanted him caught. I promised them I would get a copy to them the next day. They said that would be fine and I was told to go home now and try and rest.
I recall that when I arrived home my front door mat was relocated. I fixed it and thought nothing of it. I went inside, locked the door, and stumbled wearily to my bedroom. My comforter was rumpled up and I thought I had straightened it all before I left. I was too weary and blurry-eyed from all the tears that had welled up to care about removing my clothes or shoes. I fell into the bed, left everything on and cried myself to an unfathomable sleep.
The next day I awoke to the pounding on my door. The police had come to ask me some questions. I woke with this elephant pounding on my head. A weightlifter sitting on my chest was keeping me from breathing as they asked their questions. The officer went to the kitchen to get me some water. He came back with a cup of water in one hand and tissue in the other. I felt solemn. I was quietly contemplating Sue and her life. I had known her since we both attended Middleton High School in our junior year. We both just transferred in and became quick friends. Her loss hit me hard. I cried last night and today would be no different. The police asked me if I needed a minute. I said “no” and we kept on with the questions.
“How long have you known the deceased?”
I had to think and count years. I told the police roughly twenty years. He wrote it down in his book.
“How long have you worked with the deceased?”
I snapped “Her name is Sue”.
He apologized and asked again. “How long have you worked with Sue?”
I did more math in my head and said “Fourteen years, we went to nursing school together.”
He made more notes in his book and then he hit me with it, “This person of suspicion do you know him from anywhere other than the hospital? Perhaps an ex-lover?”
I said, “I was in love with Sue” and he stopped that line of questioning. He got up and said if I thought of anything else about this man of interest to let him know and handed me his card. He told me to stay put he would see himself out. I got up a few min later and locked the door. I looked out my window and saw an unmarked cop car watching my house. I felt a smidge safer, but not really. I figured they would put a car to watch my place. They assumed like I did, that I was next to die.
The reality in its entirety hit me. I felt like a house fell on me. I couldn’t breathe again. I hit the ground and begged God to bring her back. I felt so angry for what this stranger had done to Sue. The aching inside was splitting me apart. The anger, the pain, the loss collided into each other in my heart and head and just pissed me off more. I loved her Dammit! I was going to tell her, we were going to build a life together. Why did it take me so long to admit it? I could have been with her for all those years and now time is stopped and life is gone and I am on my apartment floor blubbering. We should have died close in years at an old age. Now is not the time to die Sue! Come back to me! My anger blinded me. I could see her body lay on a cold slab. She was stiff, not reactive, her heart not beating, and her lungs barren of the air she needed. She lay there naked, disfigured by him, and here I lay an emotional nightmare waiting to be killed.
Three days later and it was time for Sue’s funeral. I had arranged a lovely simple service for her at the hospital chapel with a ride to her final resting place after. It had taken some string pulling to hold the memorial part of the service in the hospital, but with everyone’s schedule this allowed them time to come on their own. Sue would remain in the hospital chapel for twenty-four hours, which would allow all staff to say their final goodbye. One by one the friends and co-workers trickled in. Doctors, nurses, janitors, and volunteers, everyone loved Sue. She was everyone’s friend. She was generous and kind and had a heart that helped all regardless of want or need.
The next day was Sue’s final ride. I had rented a party limo and played 80’s rock as we rode to the burial site. She would have loved that. She said to celebrate her life and through my heartache I was trying to honor her wishes. We turned the last corner to the cemetery and I turned off the tunes and Sue and I had our final talk. I told her how I loved her, but I was too late to tell her. I struggled to catch my breath again. I stumbled on my words, but she could tell I was trying. When we got to the burial site I noticed some flowers that were not in the chapel. A new arrangement had arrived. I sat as we went through another smaller service at the burial site. They lowered Sue into her final resting place. Everyone stopped to talk to me and offer any assistance if I needed it. I assured them all I was ok. Fragile, but I would get my strength back and be back at work before anyone knew I was gone. Everyone left and I went up to the floral arrangement. I looked at it closer. Something seemed skewed. In the middle of the arrangement was the arrow mark that was branded into Sue’s wrist. HE was here somewhere. The cops had come in case he made an appearance and came to me when I gulped the air and couldn’t breathe again. I was stunned into silence. I could only point to the mark and they scattered out to look for him while one police officer escorted me to his car to take me home. Terror had now replaced anger and I was terrified into being frozen again. I needed to get out of this town, my apartment oh my God, he moved my front door mat, and he was in my apartment. He was the one who messed up my bed. He was toying with me. He was waging war on my soul and I had no intention of letting him win. I thought quickly, I needed to escape somewhere neither he nor I would know to place us on equal footing.
I decided to rent a cabin in the woods in northern New Hampshire. In an area I felt sure that neither of us knew. The police had him in for questioning, which would give me a head start to get the supplies I needed and lead him to me when I was ready. I stopped at a local hardware store and stocked up on batteries, rope, zip ties, and food for the cabin. I stocked up on chocolate as well as I was a wreck and would need to eat my feelings out in chocolate. I also bought some firewood for when I ready to lead him right to the cabin. I went to ask the cashier about the delivery of more wood and she said it could be arranged. I thought I might need to just burn the cabin down with us both inside.
I arrived at the cabin just as night fell. The cabin was small, but quaint. It had a tiny porch and swinging screen door. It felt just the right size to kill someone. One bedroom, one bath, and the living room, tiny kitchen, and dining area were one room. In the living room was a stone hearth and fireplace. Perfect for a cold night to snuggle with the one you love, or lead a killer to your whereabouts to murder him. I set out my supplies and put away my food. It felt like I was on a vacation again, but this time I had a mission. While putting my things in cupboards I noticed a silver machete in one of the drawers. I checked to make sure it was sharp and kept it with me all night under my pillow. I did not know whose it was, but I sensed it would come in handy. This murderer killed Sue and he was coming to kill me. I remembered he wanted to torture his victims first, but I would not let him get that close to me.
I put the wood in the fireplace and placed kindling around it. I put candles all over the house and disconnected the electric from the panel. I wanted to control the light and what he saw and when he saw it. I wanted to toy with him like he had with Sue and like he had with me. I wanted him to be played with like a cat and mouse game. This time he was the mouse and he would die for what he had done to Sue.
The police called my cell to tell me they had to let him go. He had an airtight alibi. I told them I appreciated the heads up. They mentioned that the car watching my place had not seen me in a while. I told them I went away and hung up. They called right back and I turned off my cell. I did not need distractions while I was planning a murder.
I tried to go to bed that night. It would be early the next morning that he would find his way to this town. I had left all sorts of clues along the way. I stopped for gas and was seen by many people. I stopped to eat. I stopped and made sure I told all the locals where I was from. All he had to do was talk to people along the way and he would get to this town easily. All I would need is to light the fireplace to lead him directly to me back here in the woods.
With the first morning light I heard a noise outside. I peered outside and saw no one. I turned around from the window and there he was inside the house. I gasped for air, I stumbled to speak. He grabbed me and threw me down hard on the wooden floor. My world went fuzzy for a moment and I was out cold. When I came to I was tied up with my own rope. I had my hand's zip tied together. I was in total distress. I had become the mouse and he was going to torture me.
He reached down and I tried to jerk back. He said Sue and I should have let him die. He wouldn’t have had to kill us. He found my machete while I was unconscious. I tried to scream, but knew that we were so far out no one would hear me. He had started a fire. I could see something metal lying in it. It was the iron for branding me with that damned arrow. No way was I letting him do that. I had a small pocket knife up my sleeve and I got the rope untied and worked on the zip ties. I did not stir, so he did not see I was free. He came to me with the poker and I lunged at him full force. He was knocked off-balance and the poker fell to the floor in the struggle. We both lunged after it and while he was thinking I was going to grab it, I reached under the couch cushion and pulled out the machete. He was stunned. He held the poker and I head the machete. I lunged at him with all of my might. He was only a few feet away and it hit him squarely in the chest with the machete. I lunged again at him and shoved it in deeper. I felt it puncture his heart. He fell down on me and tried to hit me with the poker, but it fell out of his hands. I watched his blood coagulate like Sue’s did. I watched him die. I lay there for what seemed like forever and then the police rushed in. They took in the scene and knew I finished the job.