“No. I was just looking,” she answered as she drew Grady away from the grave site.
They wandered around like that, Violet stopping abruptly at several distinct echoes that managed to unravel themselves from the rest. She stopped at the strong smell of coffee to read a marker for a man who had died in his early thirties…over forty years ago.
She had the feeling that every inch of her skin was being softly raked by a thousand downy feathers, making her pause at the site of an infant who had died just days after he was born…eleven years ago. Violet felt a sense of sadness as she thought about what might have happened to the baby to give him a tragic echo of his own, and she had to walk away, feeling uneasy and dissatisfied.
When she first heard the sound of the bells, they were so clear, so crisp, that she was sure they were part of the real world. She was certain that she must be near a clock tower, somewhere in the cemetery, as it chimed the hour. There was something hauntingly melodic about the sound, though, something too heartrending to be real. She glanced around her, sweeping a quick look over to Grady to see if he’d noticed it too.
Not surprisingly, though, there were no clocks to be seen, no towers, and from the look on Grady’s face it was clear that he hadn’t heard what she had.
It was an echo.
And more than that, Violet was certain that this was Brooke’s echo. Compelling and strong.
Violet brushed past Grady, consumed by the need to find the source of the bells.
It didn’t take her long. The musical chiming served as a beacon, making it easy to locate the grave. Fresh flowers cascaded down from the top of the headstone, avalanching onto the grass below. Silvery Mylar balloons, still suspended by the helium within, swayed back and forth in the autumn breeze. Violet had to bend over once she’d found the site to clear the mementos out of the way just so she could see the name on the marker.
It was her:
BROOKE LYNNE JOHNSON
Just seeing the date of her birth, followed by that of her death, made Violet’s knees feel weak and unsteady, and she sank to the ground, ignoring the cool dampness that saturated her jeans. They had been so close in age, and had once lived so near each other. As comfortable with death as Violet had always been, this girl’s brutal murder was just too real to her.
She closed her eyes and listened to the bells. They resonated sweetly, reaching to her core, very nearly reaching her soul, the sound vibrating throughout her as it moved with a life of its own.
She memorized it.
It was an auditory echo. And it was still strong, not yet faded from the passage of time. Violet would be able to track it. She would recognize the sound anywhere. Anytime.
And the man who wore this imprint was oblivious to that fact.
She suddenly felt like the predator, carrying the most powerful weapon of all. Now she would become the hunter…and he, the hunted.
She waited only a few moments longer than she needed to, silently thanking Brooke for sharing this time with her…for sharing her heartbreakingly beautiful echo.
Grady was waiting for her at a respectful distance.
When they walked back through the graveyard, Violet let all the echoes, including Brooke’s, fall back into one harmonious static hum, filling her with tranquillity once again.
They were bodies at peace. Ripped from this world before their time, but laid to rest by those who loved them most. And they were in harmony.
HE WORE THE COVER OF DARKNESS LIKE A NIGHTTIME shroud. But even though the blackness shielded him, he couldn’t help glancing around one last time as he closed the trunk of his car as softly as he could.
He didn’t need a flashlight out here, even if he’d had a free hand to hold one with. He knew his way by heart; he had practiced this route many times before, in anticipation. He had memorized each step until he could pace it with his eyes closed. That was how it needed to be, because his load was heavy, and he didn’t have time to spare finding his way.
He hauled the musty military-grade duffel bag up from the ground, the unwieldy contents shifting, straining his back even before he started moving. He slung the long strap across his chest, using his upper body to help balance the weight. His pace was stable and sure, despite the burden he carried, his feet finding their way around the natural obstructions hidden in the blackness.
He counted each measured step until he reached his destination, and then he dropped his cumbersome load. His pulse had quickened, and his breathing, which had already been labored, now grew even more ragged and unsteady. He felt a familiar eagerness, something he hoped he would never grow accustomed to…. It thrilled him to his very bones.
He loved this part of the game.
He bent down, savoring the work ahead, and he unzipped the bag at his feet.
The unmistakable metallic scent of blood lingered with the wispy trace of barely decaying flesh. He inhaled it all deeply. In a moment it would be over, and he would never smell this particular girl again.
He turned and dropped to his knees. He used his hands to sift through the soft soil and the leaves where he’d previously prepared the dump site. The dirt was heavier now, after a fine autumn drizzle, making him labor a little more than he’d anticipated. But he didn’t mind; this too was a part of what he appreciated about the hunt…this final act, in which he released the girl, once and for all, burying his secrets along with her.
By the time the hole was ready, he had broken out in an icy sweat that was chilled by the night air. He lifted one end of the canvas bag and jerked it so that the body inside shifted, falling through the open zipper and landing with a heavy thud inside the superficial grave. He felt nothing for the girl as he used his hands to cover her with the freshly sifted earth.