Until Death

 

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Written by

Matt Thrasher

 

 

September 4th

13

9:00 AM

The Vander Police Department was bustling with activity when Frank arrived at nine o’clock sharp, as it typically was on Monday mornings. Frank entered the briefing room still radiating contentment from the weekend, but was taken aback when he saw the front page of The Vander Chronicle taped to the whiteboard. The headline read “Angels of Vander: Another Woman Vanishes” in bold print. Frank scoffed at the newspaper’s melodramatic nomenclature as his good-natured attitude dissipated. He took a seat a split-second before Litchfield strode through the doorway. The Deputy Chief wasted no time before diving into the briefing.

“This,” Litchfield boomed, gesturing to the newspaper headline. “This is what our town is becoming. This is what is happening on our watch.” Jesus Christ,Frank thought, rolling his eyes. Just when his opinion of Litchfield was beginning to improve, the man uses a glorified tabloid for theatrics in a police briefing.

Frank managed to glean the important points, despite Litchfield’s song and dance. Vander’s newest missing citizen was Amanda Zaleski, known as Mandy to her family and friends, a thirty-three-year-old elementary school teacher and mother of two. Her husband Brad had reported her missing after she had left the house that afternoon to visit her sister across town and never returned. Mandy’s sister claimed that she never made it to the house. Her car was found on the shoulder of Pioneer Avenue with a punctured front right tire later that evening.

The briefing only lasted ten minutes, but it was enough to exhaust Frank. Processing the new disappearance while having to put up with Litchfield’s buffoonery was a lot to ask of one man. He walked to the station parking lot with his head down, the familiar itch of anxiety beginning to reappear. When Frank reached his cruiser, he slouched behind the wheel in contemplation as the automatic gate to the lot creaked open and shut. He kept the car off, ignoring the rising heat of the day and allowing himself a quiet place to think.

Frank would never hear the detectives admit it, but he knew that the investigation was at a momentary dead end. Their theory, as far as he surmised, was that someone was causing these disappearances, but unless a modus operandi magically revealed itself, the department was stuck spinning its wheels. Frank’s chest was gradually tightening, his breaths becoming more shallow. He thought of his wonderful weekend with Valerie and Cade, and his anxiety melted into irritation. He had only been offered a short reprieve from his internal disquiet before thoughts of the disappearances had invaded his mind once again, which didn’t seem fair. It was also becoming increasingly frustrating to Frank that the disappearances were causing this reaction in him at all. I’m a cop, for fuck’s sake.

Frank swiped at his brow with the back of his hand, his eye stinging from sweat that had found its way in. He turned the car on, blasting the air conditioning. As he threw the car in drive and exited the parking space, his irritation grew.I’m so goddamn useless in all this. Frank pulled up to the gate and stopped hard, tapping his fingers on the steering wheel restlessly while the mechanism creaked the gate open. I’m the asshole who’s gonna be scraping drunks off the sidewalk while there are innocent people missing. Parents, spouses, children worried sick. The gate finally stopped its painfully slow journey and Frank pulled erratically out onto the street. The dispatcher came over the radio.

“We have a drunk and disorderly outside Paul’s Liquor Store.” Frank checked his watch. 9:20 on a Monday morning. A drunk outside a liquor store, Frank thought. Now who could have seen that coming?He waited for someone else to respond. The radio was silent, and Frank sighed. Looks like I’m getting dealt shit cards today.

“Officer seven-one-two responding,” Frank uttered with a complete lack of intonation. He drove swiftly to the center of town, and as he approached Paul’s Liquor Store, he could see a small crowd forming. Frank pulled diagonally into the space directly in front of the store’s entrance, taking note of the disheveled, scraggly man shouting and swaying from side to side.

It was Keith Brenner, one of Vander’s most infamous drunks. He was wearing a torn flannel shirt despite the heat and tattered jeans that looked as if they had been soiled the night before. Matted tufts of hair stuck up in every direction, and his thick beard was damp with saliva and malt liquor, most likely from an Old English forty. Keith’s bloodshot eyes bulged wildly when he noticed Frank’s cruiser approaching.

Frank turned on his body cam. If history was any indication, his confrontation with Keith could turn violent. He was normally very respectful to Frank, at least when he was sober, but all bets were off when he was drinking. Keith was screaming at Paul Nethers, the owner of the store, who was keeping a safe distance from the deranged man but continuing to argue with him. Frank approached Paul from behind, placed his hand on his shoulder, and lightly nudged him backward. He shot a stern expression toward Paul, who understood the gesture and walked back inside his store. Keith screamed obscenities until Paul was completely out of sight.

“What are you doing, Keith?” Frank asked, speaking as if Keith was a teenager who had just broken curfew.

“It’s a FREE goddamn country!” Keith shouted, spittle spraying from his lips. He looked at the crowd that had grown to roughly a dozen. “What?! Mind your fuckin’ bisniz!”

“What’s the problem?” Frank asked softly. Keith snapped his wide-eyed gaze back to Frank.

“The problem?” Keith sounded offended by the question. “The problem’s that I’m out here, mindin’ my own bisniz, and this guy,” Keith said, pointing into the store, “he tells me to fuck off.” He raised his arms in mock bewilderment. “Just mindin’ my own bisniz.” Keith’s slurred diction was partially caused by the alcohol, but Frank knew that it was mostly due to his upbringing.

“Really? Because what I’ve been hearing is that you’ve been making the morning pretty unpleasant for the people around here,” Frank said, motioning toward the onlookers.

“I have RIGHTS. I can…”

“Why don’t you go home Keith?” Frank interrupted. Keith was visibly shaken by the question.

“I, umm, I can, there’s, umm,” Keith stammered. “I have the right…”

“What’s the problem, Keith?” Frank repeated, this time in a nurturing tone. He took a slow step closer. Keith looked once again at the crowd, then cast his eyes down toward Frank’s shoes. His shoulders slumped.

“Hilly kicked me out,” Keith muttered. He began to break down in tears and Frank closed the gap between them. He put his arm around the man’s shoulders.

“Come on, you can sleep this off at the station,” Frank said, ushering the sobbing man to the cruiser. He opened the rear door and helped Keith in, ensuring that he didn’t hit his head. He walked around to the driver’s side and got in, making no acknowledgement to the shrinking crowd. As he settled into the front seat, he flipped the bodycam off and fired up the engine. He left the liquor store parking lot, headed back to the station.

“I’m sorry,” Keith mumbled when they were almost to their destination.

“What’s going on with you and Hilly?” Frank asked earnestly. Frank couldn’t remember a time when Keith and Hilly weren’t fighting, but she rarely resorted to throwing her husband out onto the street. The department had responded to a few domestic disturbance calls at their trailer park residence over the last few years, each of which ended in the two of them reconciling their differences, at least until the cops left. Whatever Keith did to anger his wife this time must have been serious. When he received no response, he took a quick glance into the backseat. Keith was sprawled out, arm over his eyes, asleep. Frank let out a breathy laugh and turned back forward. Why help solve the real cases when I have this?

They arrived at the station and Frank helped Keith to a holding cell, where another officer would supervise the drunken nap. He guided Keith to the cell bunk where he sat down with a thud, tipped over onto his side, and immediately fell asleep. Frank gave the officer on duty an amused grin as he left the detainment area, walking back through the station toward the parking lot. As he walked by the break room, he noticed three officers crowded around the coffee pot, laughing and joking with one another. He changed course and entered the break room just as two of the three officers were leaving. He grabbed a plain white coffee mug out of one of the hanging cabinets and poured himself a cup. The one officer left in the room with Frank was Sergeant Maggie Arnold. Frank had attended the Academy with Maggie a handful of years before, and he considered her a good cop and a good friend.

“What’s goin’ on, Mags?” Frank said, nodding toward the two officers striding away.

“I had a very pleasant conversation with Gloria Wilson this morning,” Maggie said, grinning. She was more than happy to recount the story for Frank.

“Oh Christ, what’d she do now?” Frank asked, smiling in anticipation and taking a sip of the highly mediocre coffee.

“Well, not only is her nonexistent neighbor still working for the Soviets, but now he’s also the Antichrist and there’s a good chance he’s ushering in the end of days. I’ve marked my calendar for the rapture this evening, per her request,” Maggie said, smirking through the last few words. Frank had a mouthful of coffee as she finished, and he struggled to swallow and laugh at the same time. This caused both he and Maggie to laugh even harder.

“She gave me the same bit about Russian spies the other day,” Frank said after catching his breath. “That apocalypse thing is new, though. I’m gonna have to remember that one.” Frank downed the rest of his coffee and set the empty mug on the counter. He and Maggie stood in silence for a few moments, faces relaxed and content, enjoying the light atmosphere brought on by their laughter. Maggie’s expression slowly faded to one of somber contemplation.

“Can you believe what’s going on? Two weeks ago Vander was so quiet, you could have mistaken it for a ghost town,” Maggie said, looking blankly past Frank. His expression mirrored hers, and he looked down at his feet.

“I feel kind of useless,” Frank said, looking back up at Maggie. “What good am I doing chasing drunks and idiots around town when there are three missing people out there?”

“John and Oscar know what they’re doing,” Maggie said, locking eyes with Frank. “We’ll find them. Don’t worry, Franny.” She giggled as she walked past Frank, patting him on the shoulder and exiting the break room. Frank sauntered out a moment later.

He made his way to the Detective Room, where he leaned against Kotching’s desk and stared at the cluttered whiteboard containing information on the disappearances. At the top of the whiteboard, “Angels of Vander” was written in large letters. Frank groaned in disgust. The fact that The Chronicle’s phrase had infiltrated the department’s vocabulary was asinine. He shifted his gaze down to photos of Katheryn, Jackie, and Mandy that seemed to stare straight into his soul. Words covered every available inch of the board, color-coded to delineate personal information from possible leads. None of it was new to Frank. The longer he stared at the board, the more his skin began to crawl. For the first time in days, the urge to smoke clawed its way back to the front of his mind. Frank tapped his foot incessantly and chewed on his thumbnail as he thought about the “Angels”. He had no desire to imagine what horrors were being inflicted upon them, in fact there wasn’t even any evidence to suggest any kind of suffering as of yet, but found himself doing it nonetheless. Images of torture and pain flashed before Frank’s eyes. A young woman handcuffed to a radiator, most likely an image supplanted in his memory from a movie he watched too young. A dingy basement with a stain-covered mattress. Screaming and crying. A body found in the woods.

Frank shivered as a chill went up his spine. He removed his hand from his mouth, suddenly aware that he had been gnawing on his thumb. He hadn’t bit his nails since he was a child. He touched a hand to his forehead and felt beads of sweat, despite the air conditioner loudly cycling stale air through the department. The need for nicotine couldn’t be ignored now. Frank stood up from the desk and hastily made his way through the department. The further he walked, the faster his feet moved, and when he exited the building he practically jogged to his cruiser. He fought the impulse to smoke the Marlboro right there in the car, knowing that he wouldn’t be able to mask the odor and that any number of his fellow officers or superiors could see him. Frank got in his cruiser and tried to make a quick escape, but was stopped once again by the painful slowness of the automatic gate. Frank jittered and squirmed in the driver’s seat as the gate took a millennium to open and stomped on the gas as soon as there was enough room for the patrol car to squeeze through. He flew down the street, moving considerably faster than the speed limit. He caught himself biting his thumbnail once more as he shifted lanes, nearly clipping the bumper of the car in front of him. Frank was stopped by a red light at every intersection he approached, and had to fight the compulsion to flip on his lights and blow through each one. He would have done it if not for the threat of consequence if he was caught using his siren when there was no emergency. His insatiable nicotine addiction mixed with thoughts of the Angels, bloody, beaten, and miserable, and when he pulled the patrol car behind the Home Depot, he felt as if his internal organs were turning to mush and his chest was collapsing in on itself.

He parked the car with a screech and got out, leaving the door open wide as he popped the trunk and rummaged through his emergency bag. He removed the pack of smokes and lighter, feeling safe in the nook, surrounded by walls. In an instant, Frank had the cigarette in his mouth. He lit it and inhaled the bitter, gray smoke, feeling a wave of euphoria ripple through every fiber of his being. He closed his eyes and savored every last fleeting moment of the nicotine in his system. The cigarette burned down to the butt and singed Frank’s fingers, shocking him back to reality. He dropped it to the ground, stamping it out with the heel of his boot. He pulled a second one from the pack. This one seemed to last longer, the effects being less euphoric, but still heavenly. When it was gone, he stamped it out in the same fashion as he had the first, retrieving a third stick from the pack. Now that the first two cigarettes had soothed him, he decided to take his time on the third, leaning against the rear of the car and crossing his ankles. He thought he probably looked like a uniformed James Dean.

When he was almost finished, inhaling the last long breath the cigarette would permit, a tall, burly man wearing an orange Home Depot apron came around the side of the building carrying a wooden palette. He jumped when he saw Frank, unaccustomed to seeing anyone loitering behind the establishment. Frank was just as startled as the employee, snapping his head toward the man while letting the cigarette turn to ash in his hand. The two locked eyes, both unsure of what to do. The man nodded his head once as a hello, a gesture that Frank returned. The employee dropped the palette against the wall, turned around, and disappeared around the side of the building. Frank breathed a disappointed sigh, putting out the cigarette. He was disappointed in himself, and how he was making the department look. Instead of doing his job, he was parked behind a hardware store sneaking cigarettes like he was still a teenager back in Chicago. I need to quit, Frank told himself, just as he had a thousand times before.

Frank sprayed himself with cologne, popped a piece of gum in his mouth, and got back in the cruiser. He stared out the windshield at the beige wall in front of him. He was frustrated that his vice was interfering with his duties as a man of the law, but he didn’t regret indulging in it. His mind was quiet, and he felt ready and able to perform his job to the best of his ability. Frank pulled the car out from behind the store and was headed toward Frontier Avenue when the dispatcher’s voice resonated through the radio.

“Check welfare on a Patricia Buford, address 2670 Alta Vista Drive.”

“Seven-one-two en route,” Frank said into the microphone, making a quick u-turn. He drove toward Alta Vista Drive, his thoughts turning to Valerie and Cade. This was another routine, dull task, but this time, Frank was happy to do it.

 

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Dream Report

Here is a story,

written by Jaime Bennington

 

 

 

There is a woman speaking Mandarin across the way. She is by the laundry room in between worlds yelling about something I cannot know. Somewhere there is a child whining. The two are unrelated.

From where I sit, I listen.

I think about the dream I had last night where I was home, but you weren’t there. They went by the same names and said the same things, but their faces weren’t yours. There was dread near my heart. I felt that if I said anything about their fraud they would have made quick work of me.

Whatever that should mean.

And then without warning I was in another place. Gone were the walls and the people that had tried to feel so familiar, it was as if they were never there in the first place. I wonder if they were relieved to no longer need to hide in plain sight…

I was,

with friends.

We were happy, by a fire. Someone suggested that we go swimming. It was night and exciting. I said yes. It was nonverbal. We didn’t speak much.

We gathered around the pool.

It was open.

In a circle we wrapped ourselves, hand in hand.

So many of us.

I couldn’t see their faces if they had any. It didn’t matter though, because I knew them. I could feel that much.

Fingers met mine and weaved themselves to the knuckle where our palms met. I wasn’t alarmed.

I should have been, but they held my hand. It was a better feeling than the one that had been and the one that would soon be.

They bled each other with knives.

In the pool it gathered.

I ran. It might have been luck, but they didn’t come looking. Instead they laughed and they chased the others who had felt that what had transpired had been too violent. It had been.

 

I can’t ever tell when I am dreaming. There are people who can and I’ve heard that when they do they dream better because they can make a difference for themselves.

Maybe that is why.

Siphon Draw Apothecary

Six months ago I met Alan and Colleen Sinclair. Together they own and operate the Siphon Draw Apothecary in Apache Junction, Arizona where they sell a variety of organic handmade items that range from supplements to soaps. Just before Christmas Alan approached me about the possibility of doing not one, but two commercials for their business. I leapt at the chance to be involved.

 

Apothecary 1:

The first commercial was pitched to me as a concept. Alan first explained to me what the apothecary meant to him and then went on to explain that he wanted the audience to develop an emotional connection rather than a commercial one. Luckily, my job is by definition to create and/or enhance the emotional base of any given media. Alan then asked me to approach the commercial as I would a film.

Now it may go without saying, but to have full freedom over the musical direction of any given project is simultaneously the most freeing and most constricting thing that can happen to a composer. There is something about being able to go anywhere and do anything that makes you want to go nowhere and do nothing. However, by the end of our initial discussion I had, for the first time in my young career, walked away knowing exactly what I wanted to do and with what I wanted to do it.

Not long after that conversation I had sent Alan a rough cut of the cue to use as reference in the editing room and to my surprise he loved it so much that he asked me to develop the sections even further. This, for those of you who are unaware, is not a request that is typically made of a composer. Especially when they are writing for a commercial considering that you want to condense information not expand on it. Regardless, I did. In fact, by some miracle I did not end up rearranging or rewriting any of the music present in the rough draft. Which is a really big deal because this job usually revolves around the cutting room floor…I guess Alan didn’t get the memo.

 

 

 

 

Apothecary 2:

A few weeks later, I paired up with Siphon Draw Apothecary once more to produce another commercial. This time it was dedicated to the holidays!

[This next part is something I probably shouldn’t be writing down considering the fact that either Alan or Colleen could read this at any moment, but hey…I heard somewhere that transparency is a virtue.]

Admittedly I approached the project with a bit more confidence than I had approached the previous.

Or perhaps a better word is not confidence, but hubris.

I believe that it was equal parts my recent success and my general distaste for Christmas music that had me thinking that not only was I going to deliver once more, but that I was going to reinvent the Christmas music wheel. Of course only one of those expectations was in any way realistic. I did not reinvent the wheel…and I was hardly able to deliver.

Instead I spent the most part of two weeks biding my time. I came up with literally every excuse to restart or to work on something else. I had no idea what I was doing and I definitely had no idea where to start.

So, when Alan asked me if I could have the music ready by tomorrow I said something along the lines of, “I finished it yesterday. I’ll send it when I get home.” That was of course a rather considerably large bluff and believe me when I tell you this…I have never written anything so quickly in my life.

The next day I finished it. Or maybe it was that night. Either way I did the job and to be honest I did a damn good one if I do say so myself. Not only did I manage to reorganize the material from our initial commercial into a song-like format that pushed the music into vastly different places, but I also managed to sneak one of those classic Christmas carol into the back half of the composition.

 

 

P.S. This year I am going to focus more on producing sheet music from each of my musical projects. I didn’t really make an effort last year, which is a hypocritical thing to do considering that I get upset when my favorite composers don’t release sheet music. So, if you have any requests for sheet music or even full scores with relation to the music on the website or on my SoundCloud please let me know. Otherwise I am going to be putting together sheet music on a case-by-case basis!

 

See you in two weeks.

Until Death

Written by

Matthew Thrasher

 

10

6:30 PM

Frank pulled the cruiser into the department parking lot and killed the engine. He had scoured his memory on the drive over for any reason for this impromptu meeting, but had come up with nothing. He thought that it was highly unlikely this meeting had anything to do with his recent misconduct with Alex Verney. Frank would bet his next paycheck that Alex would keep quiet about the altercation that evening, not wanting to attract any more attention from the authorities. However, Litchfield repeatedly stated that he had eyes and ears all over the city, and at times it felt as if he might be Big Brother, so there was no telling what the man knew. When Frank knew he couldn’t stall any longer, he took a deep breath and exited the cruiser.

Frank entered the station to find the desks empty and the hallways deserted. He checked his watch and was surprised to find that it was already 6:30. Shit, Frank thought. He was supposed to be off duty an hour and a half ago. He considered himself lucky that he didn’t have a hundred voicemails from Valerie. It actually struck him as odd that Valerie hadn’t tried to contact him at all, but that was something to worry about later.

As Frank made his way through the station, he grew increasingly more worried that he had been called in to be reprimanded for that evening’s behavior. He tried to dismiss the thought and get himself under control, with little success. When he arrived at the Deputy Chief’s office, Suzanne’s desk out front was vacant. Frank assumed that she had probably gone home right after she had made the call to him. He approached the doorway cautiously, lightly tapping one knuckle on the door as he entered.

“You wanted to see me, sir?” Frank said. He was having a hard time controlling his nerves, but managed to keep his voice steady. Litchfield stared at his computer screen, never moving a muscle as Frank spoke.

“Come sit down, Frank,” the Deputy Chief said, his eyes glued to the screen. As Frank sat down in the chair in front of the desk, Litchfield clicked his mouse and turned to face him. The Deputy Chief usually had a terrible poker face, but at that moment Frank had no idea what the man was thinking. Frank’s heart was beating like he was a rabbit caught in a trap. Litchfield breathed a heavy sigh and rubbed his eyes with the thumb and forefinger of one hand.

“This has been a stressful week for all of us, Frank. The pressure of this job… not a lot of people can handle it.” Frank nodded his head slightly. “But over the years you’ve proved yourself a real asset to this department. You’re reliable,” Litchfield said. He tapped a case folder on his desk. “This shit made me realize that I need more men like you by my side. So, no more beating around the bush. How’s about we make you a sergeant?”

Frank was blindsided by the offer. He had been waiting to make sergeant for the last six months, and it only took two disappearances and a week of grueling emotional turmoil for him to finally achieve it. After shaking off the initial shock of the proposition, Frank was filled with immense gratitude.

“I’d be honored, sir,” Frank said with a smile on his face. The Deputy Chief returned a tired grin. Frank took a deep breath and chuckled, Litchfield furrowed his brow. “From the way Sue sounded, I thought you were gonna send me to the farm.”

Litchfield looked toward Suzanne’s desk.

“She’s been a little shaken up by everything that’s going on. You know, she’s got two girls of her own, one of them about the same age as Jackie Douglas.”

Frank nodded his head, emotions clashing within him. While he was incredibly excited by the promotion, it also doubled his internal pressure to find the person responsible for the disappearances. He had nearly lost himself in thought when he noticed Litchfield stand, an action that he mimicked from his spot across the desk. The Deputy Chief extended his hand, which Frank grasped and shook firmly.

“Go home, Frank. And congratulations.”

“Thank you, sir.”

Frank exited the office and headed to the back of the station to turn in his bodycam. On his way there, Frank pondered whether he could have been wrong in his initial impression of Litchfield. He had always thought of the Deputy Chief as a blowhard whose one-track mind only had one objective: rising through the ranks. However, it seemed that when the chips were down, Litchfield knew what he was doing. Frank was also shocked that the Deputy Chief had taken note of his work ethic, something that Frank never thought the man would ever acknowledge, even if he spent an eternity on the force. Maybe he was a good cop disguised in an asshole’s body.

Frank dropped off the bodycam and headed home. He was worried about what Valerie would say about him being almost two hours late, but was hoping that the good news might balance things out. He pulled the cruiser into his driveway and prepped an apology before he exited the car.

When Frank walked in the front door, he couldn’t help but smile. Valerie was seated in the recliner with Cade in her lap, both of them fast asleep. Frank tiptoed past, being extremely careful not to wake them, and scurried down the hallway. He changed into a plain white tee shirt and sweat pants, grabbing the Tom Clancy novel he had been reading slowly but surely off his nightstand, and crept back into the living room. He planted himself on the couch and began to read. He intended to wait until Valerie had woken up, but before he knew it Frank had drifted off to sleep. This time it was a black, dreamless sleep where time seemed to be nonexistent. Two minutes or two years could have passed before he was awakened by Valerie’s light shaking of his arm.

“Hey,” Frank said with a lazy smile. Valerie kissed him and sat down on the couch next to him.

“Hey yourself,” she said. Valerie was dressed in pajamas, her hair in a messy bun that resembled a bird’s nest. She was wearing glasses that would look more at home on a librarian than a stay-at-home mom in suburban Arizona. Somehow, someway, Valerie could still make that look work for her. Frank didn’t know how she did it.

“Have a good nap?” Frank asked, motioning toward the recliner.

“I could ask you the same thing. Tom Clancy is nature’s NyQuil, huh?”

“Hey, we don’t trash Clancy in this family.”

“Oh, was that in the monthly newsletter? I must have missed it,” Valerie said, giving Frank a sarcastic grin. Both of them laughed, making sure to keep it quiet so as not to wake Cade.

“I have some good news,” Frank said.

“What is it?”

“In the very near future, you’ll be married to Vander PD’s newest sergeant,” Frank said, beaming.

“Oh my God, that’s amazing!” Valerie gave Frank a long kiss. She pulled away and the two looked into each other’s eyes. “When will I get to meet him?”

“I’ll introduce you tomorrow,” Frank quipped back. He loved their playful banter, but didn’t see much of it when times were stressful. He was beyond grateful to see it now.

“Alright Sergeant, let’s go to bed.”

“Ten-four,” Frank said. For the first time in the last week, Frank finally felt like himself again.

 

September 1st

11

7:00 AM

Frank awoke to the decadent smell of freshly-cooked bacon wafting through his bedroom door. He sat up in bed, deeply inhaling the aroma as he stretched and rubbed his eyes. The first touches of morning light were peaking through the window, illuminating the room in a soft, comforting glow. It seemed as if everything in his life that had been insanely hectic for the last week had faded away, so Frank took a moment to bask in the serenity of the year’s first September morning.

Frank was scheduled for the night shift, and he intended to utilize every available moment of daylight to spend with Valerie and Cade. He climbed out of bed and watched as the sun crested Callaway Creek Mountain, appreciating the natural beauty that Arizona had to offer. Frank could feel no trace of the near-crippling anxiety that had almost consumed him and hoped that it was gone for good. Thoughts of the two missing girls still itched at the back of his mind, occasionally gaining some of his attention, but he was able to brush them off for the time being. He was determined to let nothing ruin his time with his family.

Frank walked out of the bedroom toward the kitchen, where he found Valerie finishing up breakfast. Cade was in the living room sitting against the couch, playing with his favorite Thomas the Tank Engine toy. Frank went to Cade first, sitting down cross-legged on the floor next to him. Cade paid no attention, completely engrossed in his attempt to chew Thomas in half. Frank started slowly walking his fingers across the floor, which caught Cade’s eye. The kid was smart enough to know what was coming next. Frank started tickling Cade around his midsection, causing Cade to laugh hysterically and drop his toy under the couch. Frank retrieved the toy and handed it back to his son before standing up with a grunt and meandering over to the kitchen.

Frank wrapped his arms around Valerie’s waist and kissed her cheek as she scraped scrambled eggs from a stove pan onto the two plates in front of her. The breakfast that she had made included scrambled eggs, crispy bacon, and two slices of buttered toast each, a monumental step up from Frank’s usual breakfast of soggy oatmeal and black coffee on the way out the door. Frank took his plate and seated himself at the head of the dining table, making sure that he could see Cade. Valerie sat in the chair next to Frank and they both took a moment to admire their son as he slid Thomas the Tank Engine back and forth across the carpet. Frank couldn’t believe that the pure-hearted bundle of joy seated in the living room was truly his flesh and blood, his DNA.

When Frank had first heard about Valerie’s pregnancy, he initially had reservations about being a father, but after seeing Cade’s face for the first time, he knew that everything had turned out right. Cade had been a fairly easy baby to raise compared to some of the horror stories he had heard other new parents tell. Cade wasn’t colicky, he hardly ever fussed, and he seemed curious and inquisitive about the world around him.

“That kid is going to be smarter than the both of us,” Valerie would say occasionally.

“Dear God, let’s hope so,” was Frank’s usual response.

Frank turned his head to Valerie who met his gaze, and they both smiled. Frank knew that they were thinking the same thing. How did we make something so perfect and pure? Frank personally didn’t have the slightest clue.

He took a bite of his eggs and before he knew it, he was devouring the entire plate like a feral animal. The bacon didn’t stand a chance; it was gone in a matter of seconds. The stress of the last week and Frank’s constant mental frenzy had caused his meal schedule to be thrown out of whack, and he was compensating greatly.

“Don’t just inhale it,” Valerie said, the look on her face a combination of amusement and horror.

“Sorry Hun,” Frank said, wiping his face with a napkin, “The food is amazing.” Valerie chuckled and rolled her eyes before continuing to eat her breakfast.

“So I was thinking that maybe we could take Cade to the park today,” Frank said, just moments after clearing the last bits of food off his plate. Valerie’s eyes lit up at the proposition.

“That’s a great idea!” Valerie shouted. Cade turned his head, curious as to why his mother had raised her voice. After the momentary distraction, he returned to the important matter of picking up Thomas the Tank Engine and throwing him onto the ground repeatedly.

“I thought it would be nice for him to play around in the sand and maybe I can push him on the swings. Who knows, he might make a little friend or two,” Frank said.

“I’ll get ready for the day and then we can go right on over,” Valerie said, beaming with joy. Frank leaned in and gave Valerie a kiss. Just then, Frank felt a tug at the bottom of his shirt. He turned to find Cade standing right next to him, his trusty Thomas held in one hand. Frank figured that Cade must have waddled over in the short time that he had turned his head to look at Valerie. Kid is like The Flash, thought Frank. Cade lifted Thomas above his head, offering him to his father as a grin spread across his infantile face.

“Thank you, Cade,” Frank said. He accepted the gift graciously and picked Cade up, placing him on his lap. The two pushed Thomas back and forth to each other on the table as Valerie finished her breakfast and left the room to get ready for the day. Frank played with Cade until Valerie was out of the shower, at which time he handed Cade off to her and took a shower of his own. He got ready much quicker than Valerie and found himself in the living room with Cade as he watched a television show that was supposed to be good for developing brains. As soon as the episode ended, Valerie was ready to go and the three of them hopped in the family SUV and made their way to the park.

When they arrived at Hammond Park, Cade immediately made a beeline for the playground sandbox. He planted himself in the center and went to work repeatedly picking up handfuls of sand and letting it slip through his fingers. Frank and Valerie occupied the bench closest to the sandbox, where Valerie took out a book and began to read, glancing up every few pages or so to make sure Cade was still his happy-go-lucky self. Frank was staring into the space in front of him, letting his mind wander while Valerie kept her nose buried in the book. The novel she was invested in was Gone Girl by Gillian Flynn, and Frank thought that the book completed a comical picture of the two of them.

His mind kept trying to pull thoughts of Katheryn and Jackie to the surface as he let it wander and he had to make a conscious effort to suppress them. He would focus all of his attention onto what Cade was doing, and that helped to keep his mind occupied. At that moment, Cade was using a plastic shovel that someone had left in the sandbox to make an enormous mound of sand in front of himself. Birds were singing in the trees and the sky was clear and blue, the perfect setting for a day at the park.

After a while, Cade grew tired of the sandbox and meandered over to his mother, lifting his arms in the air to indicate that he wanted to be picked up. Before Cade could reach her, Frank swooped in and did the job for her, carrying him toward the swing set. Valerie smiled and waved to Cade, who returned the gesture with a giggle.

Frank placed Cade in the bucket swing and began to push him, much to Cade’s amusement. The higher he was pushed, the louder his laugh grew. Frank pushed the swing reflexively, looking around at the different types of people that frequented Hammond Park. There were two mothers shooting the breeze on a bench near the jungle gym as their daughters ran rampant around the playground, as well as a father and son tossing a Frisbee to their golden retriever. There was also a woman in a bright pink track suit speed-walking down the runners’ path near the parking lot, where she passed a bench that was occupied by an elderly man in a black jacket. The man had a snow-white goatee and was wearing a gray ivy cap pulled down low. He seemed to be doing nothing more than enjoying the sound of the birds, but the man had Frank’s undivided attention from the moment he first caught sight of him. Frank’s palms became sweaty and his mouth dried out, and he couldn’t help but feel like somehow he knew the man, although the face didn’t ring any bells. The anxiety that Frank had been keeping at bay suddenly came rushing out, congregating in his chest and squeezing his heart until it felt ready to burst. Every breath became a struggle, and Frank felt like his lungs might wither and die.

Suddenly, the bucket swing that Cade was seated in struck Frank in the chest on a backswing, knocking whatever air was left in his lungs out of him and doubling him over. He winced and took a few seconds to regain his breath, glancing up at the bench afterwards. The elderly man was gone. Frank looked in every direction but could not seem to find any trace of him. Oddly enough, Frank’s anxiety had dissipated and he felt just as good as he had that morning. Maybe what I needed was a sharp blow to the chest, Frank thought.

He began to push Cade on the swing once again when he noticed Valerie standing near her bench with a concerned look on her face. Frank flashed a cheesy fake smile in her direction to indicate that he was okay and that he did realize how dumb he must have just looked. Valerie rolled her eyes and shook her head, smiling. She sat down and delved back into Gillian Flynn’s world.

They spent another hour at the park, running around in the grass and helping Cade traverse the jungle gym. Valerie didn’t end up doing all that much reading, but she was okay with that. She would much rather play with Cade. By the time the three of them left the park, he had fallen asleep.

 

When they got home, Frank used the time that Cade was asleep to fix the malfunctioning garage door that he had been meaning to get to for some time. The door would open properly most of the time, but occasionally it would get stuck halfway or not move at all. It took a few hours, but Frank finally got it back in suitable working condition.

When Cade awoke from his nap, Valerie thought it would be a good idea for the three of them to watch one of Cade’s favorite movies together. She put Toy Story in the DVD player and they watched it uninterrupted from start to finish. Frank had to admit that he loved the movie just as much as anyone else, but the best thing about watching it was seeing how captivated Cade looked during every scene. The kid was mesmerized by the Pixar characters and it filled Frank with joy to see how much happiness Cade radiated while watching the film, even though it was about the 12,000th time he had seen it.

The rest of the day was fairly uneventful. Frank prepared his equipment and uniform for his shift, Valerie decided to clean the bathroom, and Cade played with various toys in the meantime. Frank made spaghetti for the adults for dinner and a small bowl of macaroni and cheese for Cade. Frank and Valerie thought their dinner was delicious, and Cade wore most of his on his face instead of eating it. After Frank and Valerie finished tucking Cade into bed a few hours later, Frank opted to get a few hours of shut eye himself before he went on duty at 1:00 in the morning.

 

The night shift was long and tedious, filled with mental malaise and wandering thoughts. Frank spent the majority of the night trying to keep his mind occupied, but the most exciting task he was assigned was crashing a party on 16th Street. The neighbors had made a noise complaint and there was a variety of cars on the street, but when a teenager opened the door to speak to Frank, he was the only person who could be seen. A fold-up table was placed in the center of the living room and red solo cups were strewn about the room haphazardly.

“You have a little party going on in there?” Frank asked.

“Just have a few friends over,” the teenager said. He was choosing his words deliberately and carefully.

“Where are they at, then?” Frank asked. The teenager hesitated for a moment.

“Upstairs.” Frank nearly smirked at the succinct response.

“Okay, well you guys keep it down, alright? I don’t want to have to come back here,” Frank said, turning and walking back toward his car.

“Yes sir, Officer,” the teenager mumbled, miming a sloppy salute. Frank had to hand it to the kid, the sober act was pretty convincing up to that point. He also found it impressive that everyone in the house managed to hide and keep quiet so well. He chuckled as he walked back to his patrol car.

Frank parked at the end of the street, far enough out of view to not be seen by the partygoers but close enough to see them come out of the house. His plan was to wait until the inebriated teens stumbled out of the house and stop the prospective drunk drivers before they could ruin anybody’s life. I’m a glorified babysitter, Frank thought. He couldn’t wait to get home and spend the rest of the weekend with his family.

 

September 3rd

12

9:20 AM

Valerie sprinted down the middle of Wright Street as Catholics of all ages cheered her on. She was breathing heavily and her legs were tired, but she was determined to finish the race on a high note. She had known that she wouldn’t be in top fighting shape for the 5K, but she was running out of steam faster than expected. In her prime, Valerie could finish half-marathons without a problem, but this race was kicking her ass. Every time one of her Nikes hit the pavement she felt the needle in her fuel tank dipping closer to empty.

Valerie was having one of the best weekends she’d had in recent memory, and finishing this race would be the cherry on top. On Friday, Frank had suggested that they take Cade to the park, and seeing the two of them interact warmed Valerie’s heart. It was also great to see her husband’s usual personality shine through the stress and anxiety that he had been experiencing the previous week. She was even able to poke jokes at him and he would give them right back, just like they were in college again. Saturday was just as good as Friday, most of the day being spent lounging around and watching movies as a family. She even found time to finish Gone Girl, and was excited to pick up another Gillian Flynn novel as soon as possible.

It had been a relief to Valerie when she learned that the church was still putting on their annual 5K for Leukemia that Sunday. She had been uncertain about whether it would still happen in light of recent events, but believed that it was important that the show go on. The event was for a good cause and was the first race she had been able to run in two years.

Valerie spotted Frank and Cade in the crowd as she inched closer to the finish line. There was a light breeze blowing through the Sunday morning air and Valerie was extremely grateful for it. Beads of sweat dripped down her face intermittently, but she paid no mind to them. This was the final stretch, and Valerie kicked into the highest gear that she had.

She crossed the finish line in front of the church a few seconds later, clocking in a time just under twenty-two minutes. A few racers had finished before her, but she was still in the top ten. She slowed to a walk and paced around with her hands on her head as Frank walked over to her with Cade in his arms. Cade was clapping his hands together and was wearing an ear-to-ear grin.

“That was incredible!” Frank exclaimed as he leaned in and gave her a kiss in between her gasping breaths.

“Thanks,” Valerie managed to force out, flashing a smile. She noticed some commotion near the church and saw that members of the congregation were taking photos with the winner of the race. Valerie recognized the woman from Sunday mass, but was unsure of her name. Mindy or Mandy sounded vaguely correct. Good for her, Valerie thought. That’ll be me again soon enough.

Frank couldn’t have been more proud of his wife. After taking off two years due to the pregnancy and raising Cade, Valerie finished in the top ten during her first race back. He was truly amazed by her. This was the one of the best weekends the family had ever had together, and Frank loved every second of it. He remained in the same state of joy until he learned of Vander’s third disappearance the following day.

 

A Case Study: John Williams

I started this project just over two months ago. When I started I didn’t know how it would end and I certainly had no idea what I was doing. All I knew was that I wanted to learn all that I could from my musical endeavors without always having to start from scratch. In school, you are never forced to just make up something to learn (could you imagine that) that would be insane. Instead you are assigned to a class with a specific educational goal, like international sports or film production. And in the parameters of those classes you are given assignments in effort for you to learn as much as you can about one thing. So, that’s what I did.

Last time I presented to you a set of themes that I had written in the style of John Williams. Arguably those themes are some of the best music, if not the best music, I have ever written. I can still say that, though in my mind they are considerably lesser to this piece I am about to show you.

Weirdly enough this piece actually began with the middle section. I had hoped, as I always do, that the music I was writing at the time would have been fulfilling and eye opening, but at the time it was only fulfilling. It was derivative. And I even claimed it was when I posted a variation on it called the New Republic theme suite. It was only after I wrote the theme suite that I realized the potential of what I was doing and so I seized that potential. I wrangled it for a few months all the while balancing my social life and my schooling and what have you until I had finished the Family That Stray Together Stays Together theme suite (a theme suite that took me a whole month to write). Then, I knew exactly what I wanted to do…and two weeks later I am here with the most intense four minutes of music I have ever written.

As I have mentioned before, this music was set to a scene in a novel at the end of a trilogy where everything was at stake. That is kind of how I felt writing this music, because as the due date approached I realized I would have to cut many grand ideas out of my final product in order to publish it on time. How could I possibly end the piece when it was unfinished? I had so many reservations about what direction to take the piece in when I started, but as I got into the writing process I suddenly had no reservations at all. I only had possibilities, and now those possibilities had to be thrown to the wayside because I put a deadline on myself.

Now with all of that being said and done, I am glad to say that I have come to a wonderful agreement with myself about the music: It is complete. All themes are present in this piece of music, even if only briefly, and I am so proud of the amount of Star Wars that I captured here that I just want to brag about it! I won’t though. I have heard that such actions are unbecoming. Rather I will explain to you how it is that I feel this piece should be listened to. First of all, it is to be treated as a singular cue in a much bigger scene. That is why the music sounds like it will continue, and why it does not. Secondly, as a listener it has always been a fun game of mine to try and spot the little thematic variations and developments. So, listen carefully for those. Lastly, I would like to put a disclaimer out there that I have in fact used a very small amount of actual Star Wars music. When you here it, know that I do not own it and I do not intend to profit off of it. I simply couldn’t resist the urge when I saw the opportunity. (Let me know if you can hear it).

 

LESSONS LEARNED:

Returning to the analogy of using classes and musical artists I would like to express the things I have learned over these last couple of months writing all of this music. After all, that is what these Case Studies are be about.

1) Translating a harmonic language is more than half the battle. John is famously known for mostly being a neo-romantic composer and to discover what that meant I had to break my personal and academic sense of tonality in order to do it. I can’t say that I have mastered his tonal language, but I can say that now that I have used it and I have begun to understand it; it will never leave me.

2) Time is fluid, and so my manipulation of it has to be as well. I maintained 4/4 for most of the piece, however when it came time to switch between styles or even break up tonality in order to introduce other motives I had to be able to cycle through time signatures like crazy. Overall the result is pretty satisfying.

3) Sometimes all preconceived notion have to be thrown to the wayside. There is a section in here that is unlike anything I have ever written and it came from a moment when I thought: What would being shot down feel like? What would that sound like? And so, one of the most nonsensical things I have ever written throws all notions of harmony away for an extremely jarring moment that gave me some great responses from my test audiences.

*Stay tuned, later today is the last post of Until Death for the rest of the year. There are some exciting things in store for you!*

 

A Case Study: John Williams

John Williams:

American film and concert composer, 85, with a decade that spans over six decades into the modern day. He is one of the most influential American composers whose work includes classic films that shaped the film industry today like: E.T. The Extra Terrestrial, Star Wars, Indiana Jones, Jaws. These works have earned him countless awards alongside the reputation of being the only living person with 50 Oscar nominations and hundreds of Academy Award nominations. Williams’s body of work also includes over forty modern concert works including over 11 concerti of which are performed around the country. Recently, he was awarded a lifetime achievement by the American Film institution.

 

 

Personally, John Williams has been one of the most influential musical forces in my life thus far, and for many reasons at that. His orchestrations have consistently mesmerized me and the level of characterization that he brings to each and every project that he is involved with is something that I have always found to be transcendent. If the digital albums I have on my phone could be played back as physical records, I would have worn each of the scores that I own out three times over. In other words, I really enjoy his music.

Some of my favorite music of all time comes from his film discography (i.e. the Book Thief, the Empire Strikes Back, E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial, and his most recent collaboration with director Steven Spielberg the BFG). Each of the aforementioned scores employs wildly different techniques that sound so surreal they force me to stop and think about what I just listened too. Whether he is capturing the sleepy adolescents of a girl under Nazi occupation with a dark secret hidden in her basement, or exhilarating an audience with a space opera that balances the pastoral with the frenetic, John’s music never fails to place exclusively human emotions in all of their depth into the capable hands of a live orchestra.

About two months ago I decided to attempt to understand the musicians, which I admire most. And of course I didn’t want to start with someone easier to understand. So, I jumped right in with the plan to write a few themes suites of which would be incorporated into a much larger work that would do its best to inhabit the spirit of John Williams’s music. However, a problem emerged almost immediately: there is no one John Williams sound. Every film is vast and complex and ultimately totally new. How could I possibly hope to sound like John Williams when John Williams actively tries to not sound like John Williams? That is a complicated question with a simple answer. I would just have to choose one of the many universes he has created over his insanely long career and find a way to work within those parameters.

Now, I am an insane Star Wars fan. Interestingly enough it wasn’t until The Force Awakens that I actually cared about it the way that people had been caring about it for the last forty years. I mean it was cool and I was always aware of its existence, but I never really considered myself to be apart of the fandom. It was the collaboration between J.J. Abrams (one of my favorite creative peoples of the modern era) and John Williams that sparked my interest into a relatively hot fire and I have yet to look back. One of the reasons that I find the Star Wars universe to be so interesting is the fact that it is FUN. What a wild place to find yourself in. It is this thought exactly that I decided to orient my study of John Williams in the Star Wars area of his career.

Part 1:

I only wrote two themes suites for this project because I had no idea how I was going to come out on the other end by the time this whole thing was over. These suites are set to the context of the final novel in Chuck Wendigs Aftermath Trilogy, Empire’s End. I did this because I didn’t want to try and overwrite the preexisting material composed by both John Williams and Michael Giacchino on the last eight films. In fact, I was terrified that I if I had tried I would be too close to the material and would not be able to create anything truly original, because I am familiar with all of the incredible thematic and motivic details of the main saga and Rogue One.

The first theme is one that I spent nearly the whole two months trying to write. Why did I spend so long writing a single theme? Because I am a technically challenged individual and John is not. This theme modulates four separate times to what are considered distant key centers. The form looks like this: Introduction in D major, ‘A’ section statement in D major, diminished transition to Eb Major, ‘A’ section statement with variation in Eb flat major, transition to Gb Major through the applied fifth (Db Major), ‘A’ statement with variation in Gb Major, diminished transition to ‘B’ section in G major, ‘B’ statement in G major, transition passage modulating to D major, ‘A’ statement with variation in D major, closing material (plagal cadence).

 

There is a reason for the rigid structure of the music, I promise. This theme represents the team led by Nora Wexely and Wedge Antilles throughout the entirety of the trilogy. For those of you who are not familiar with the story, the team is kind of thrown together and none of them really work well together. However through their trials, hunting down high-ranking imperials for the New Republic leadership, they learn to take care of each other until their final battle on Jakku, which leads to the destruction we see at the beginning of the Force Awakens. Likewise, I found it conceptually satisfying to have the theme restart a few times before it could be fully stated and to then have it dissipate into an unfinished statement of the theme in the home key.

The second theme was surprisingly easy for me to write, because it likes to stay in mostly one place. There aren’t many ‘firm’ key changes in this suite and when there changes in the tonal center they are verbatim transpositions that thread together two individual themes, which sound amazingly powerful when played together. The form looks like this: Introduction in Bb major, ‘A’ and ‘B’ statement in Bb major, ‘A’ and ‘B’ Statement with minor variation in G minor, theme two introduction and development section, them one and two statement, theme one and two variation and development, transition passage with modulation home key, verbatim repeat of first section, closing material in Bb major.

 

This theme is a straightforward march with two themes and variation and development that represents the fledgling New Republic. I think it would be fair to put a disclaimer here acknowledging the fact that this suite shares many similarities with the March of the Resistance by John Williams form the Force Awakens. In fact, I would be fine calling this work derivative considering that the New Republic eventually forms the Resistance seen in the film. I rather like the idea that conceptually my theme evolves into the March of the Resistance; it creates a sort of musical continuity between the Return of the Jedi and the Force Awakens that makes Star Wars so much fun.

Thank you for tuning in! In two weeks I’ll be finishing this year off with an incredible supersized post that is guaranteed blow your sock off! Don’t Miss It.

 

 

 

 

 

Until Death

Written by

Matthew Thrasher

 

August 30th

7

 

8:30 PM

Frank had finished his shift and gone home for the evening, where he now stared mindlessly at the television from his living room recliner, clad in sweat pants and an old Academy tee shirt. He was looking at the pictures moving on the screen, but he wasn’t seeing anything. There was too much on his mind to focus on the hijinks of some nonsensical sitcom family.

Frank had smoked every day this week, each day smoking one more cigarette than he had the previous. Today he burned through three, but the familiar act of gripping the smoldering stick between his fingers had failed to stop his mind from racing and the calming effect of the carcinogen inhalation was now almost negligible. He was starting to leave these sessions just as anxious as he had been going in. Valerie knew that he had been smoking, too. Frank could see it in her eyes when he spoke to her. He had been making less of an effort to hide it, and maybe even subconsciously wanted her to know. It was growing increasingly bothersome to Frank that she was ignoring his nasty habit rather than confronting him about it.

There had been no new leads or recent developments in the Katheryn Jennings case. Frank had even driven past the tattoo parlor parking lot a few more times, hoping to spark an epiphany or make a groundbreaking discovery, with no luck. The pain and tightness that he had been experiencing in his chest recently had subsided to a dull throb. He could hear a faint hum in his eardrums and his body felt as if it was an idling car whose engine was begging to be given a rest. From the hall, he heard the door to Cade’s room close and the soft shuffle of his wife’s footsteps toward the living room.

Valerie took a seat on the couch adjacent to the recliner and faced Frank, grabbing the remote off the coffee table and muting the television. She took a deep breath and allowed her eyes to wander while she searched for the right words.

“You know that you can always talk to me, about anything, right?” Valerie asked earnestly. Frank hesitated before answering, retracting the recliner’s footrest and sitting up straight in the chair.

“I know that…” Frank muttered. He could see the worry culminating behind his wife’s emerald green eyes.

“I know you’ve been smoking…” There it was. Frank felt a wave of relief, but before he could get a word in, Valerie continued. “I saw the story about the missing girl on the news. Is that why you’ve been acting so strange?” Frank swallowed hard.

“You know I can’t talk about open cases,” Frank said, his face becoming stern.

“I know, I know you can’t. But you can talk to me about how you feel, Francis.” Frank nodded silently, frustrating Valerie. “You can’t just nod your head until I stop and then keeping brooding like you have been,” she said, beginning to raise her voice. Frank stared at her unflinchingly. Valerie uttered a deep sigh and walked over to Frank, sitting down on the arm of the recliner and taking his hand in hers. “I know you, Francis. I know that it’s not easy for you to open up. But everything that’s going on is obviously upsetting you, and I want you to know that whatever you’re going through, you’re not going through it alone.” He wrapped his arms around his wife, leaned his head against her, and held her tight.

“Thank you,” Frank said, on the precipice of tears. They sat together in a comfortable silence and before Frank knew it the anxious haze that had shrouded him had dissipated. It occurred to him that never in his five years on the force had a missing persons case involving a teenager resulted in anything but an eye roll and a slap on the wrist. The situation was tragic, but it was standard police work. When he had joined the Vander police force all of those years ago he witnessed a murder so grisly he has yet to see anything like it again. At the time it had shaken him so badly that Valerie had taken notice as she had now, but that case was the exception not the normal. So why should this one get under his skin? He tilted his head to look at Valerie, eternally thankful to have her by his side. She met his eyes with a warm, loving gaze.

“Come on, let’s go to bed,” Valerie spoke softly, almost as a whisper. Frank’s mind remained relatively unburdened by thoughts of the case for the rest of the night as the couple retired to the bedroom.

 

August 31st

8

9:00 AM

Frank was greeted the next morning with the news that there had been yet another disappearance. Information was being spewed left and right by his fellow officers, and Frank was having difficulty making heads or tails of it. He was still trying to comprehend the situation when he was pulled into the briefing room where Deputy Chief Litchfield began to lay it all out for him.

“Okay, listen up people. At 6:00 o’clock yesterday evening, fourteen-year-old Jacquelyn Douglas was reported missing by her mother Angela,” the Deputy Chief stated, gesturing to the wall behind him, where a photo of Jackie had been taped next to one of Katheryn. “She was last seen at 3:00 PM getting off the school bus at the corner of Sonora Street and Gilmour Avenue, just two blocks from her home. Jacquelyn is a young pianist and honor student, and her instructors are being questioned as we speak. As of now, there is no evidence to suggest that the disappearance is connected to the Jennings case in any way, but we will not rule out the possibility. As always, keep your ears to the ground and report to Kotching and Atencio if you come across anything. Alright, let’s get to work.”

Frank left the briefing room speechless. One legitimate disappearance in Vander was shocking enough, but two in the span of less than a week was unheard of. He felt like he was in an episode of the Twilight Zone. He tried to dispel all thoughts of the two missing girls as he made his way toward his cruiser, placing all of his effort into focusing on the tasks before him.

 

The first call that Frank responded to was from one of Vander’s most notorious frequent callers, Gloria Wilson. Gloria’s house doubled as Vander’s hub for feral cats, which was how she occupied the most of her time. The woman was a widow in her late seventies who lived in a neighborhood a few blocks south of the Hayden Grove Cemetery, and she was crazier than a shithouse rat. When Frank arrived, she spun him a story that the department had heard so many times that most officers could recite it like Homer reciting the Odyssey.

“That Kenneth Fillmore is spying on me! He’s got cameras all around the neighborhood. I’ve seen them myself! But every time I go to show anyone else, poof! They’re gone! He’s trying to make me seem crazy, I know it. I think he might be working for the Soviets,” Gloria spouted. Frank nodded and pretended to be enthralled by the story, even going so far as to pretend to take notes. Talking to Gloria was about as fun as getting teeth pulled, but the more she thought you believed her, the quicker you could get off her front step. If he pointed out the fact that Kenneth Fillmore had been dead for the last year and a half and the house across the street had been vacant ever since, he feared he might send her into a frenzy. The last thing that you call crazy, is crazy. He told Gloria that he would talk to Mr. Fillmore and get to the bottom of everything, at which point she let him go.

For some time after, Frank sat at the bottom of the hill facing Frontier Avenue, pulling over the occasional speeder. He received a call from the dispatcher in the early afternoon about a public disturbance at a nearby convenience store, but when he arrived, order had already been naturally restored. It was clear to Frank that whoever had been causing problems had high-tailed it out of there when they heard that the 5-0 was coming. He spent the rest of the afternoon staring out the windshield of his cruiser at the bottom of the hill with thoughts of Katheryn Jennings and Jackie Douglas scratching at the back of his mind. He tried to push the thoughts away and found that a knot was forming in his stomach. Frank closed his eyes and leaned his head back, the urge to light up slowly creeping upon him. After his conversation with Valerie last night, he wasn’t keen on giving in to his bad habit. He breathed in for five seconds, held for five, then out, repeat. In, hold, out. In, hold, out. In, hold, out…

 

Frank opened his eyes and found himself kneeling in front of the altar of Saint Bernadette’s Catholic Church, facing the pews. Every seat in the church was filled with quiet, motionless churchgoers dressed in black, all staring unblinkingly toward the altar. Frank searched the crowd and found that he recognized every face that his eyes passed over. His mother was seated in the front row wearing a long, A-line dress, just like the ones that she would wear every Sunday when he was a child. He saw Valerie sitting in one of the middle rows, looking exactly as she did the first day that he had met her in college. Frank noticed Chief Ellerton and Deputy Chief Litchfield seated toward the back of the church as well. Most of the crowd was full of former teachers, friends, and members of the Vander community, but his heart stopped when he noticed Katheryn Jennings and Jacquelyn Douglas sitting in the farthest corner of the church.

Frank felt a wave of sickness rush over him and tried to stand up to leave, but found that he was unable to move anything but his eyes. He began to panic and felt a hot coil wrap itself around his lungs. The church bell began to ring, its sharp peals echoing throughout the building. The crowd rose in unison and turned to face the wide double doors at the back of the building. Frank watched the churchgoers stand together and noticed something near him out of the corner of his eye. It was difficult to determine what the object was in the periphery of his vision, but Frank was almost positive that it was a casket. The realization sent a wave of sorrow and guilt rushing over him and tears began to flow down his cheeks uncontrollably as the doors to the church burst open.

Standing in the threshold of the doorway was a malevolent being that Frank knew could only come from Hell itself. The creature was gargantuan, towering over every patron of the church, the doorway stretching to allow its entrance. As the demon stepped into the house of the holy, its cloven feet clacked on the hardwood floor and its menacing horns scraped the ceiling. Every inch of the being was as black as the midnight sky, and Frank knew that the demon was there for him. The colossal hellspawn picked up the basin of holy water from where it resided in front of the doors and began walking slowly toward the altar. As it approached, Frank could see nothing but fire behind its eyes. The crowd’s gaze followed the demon as it meandered up the center aisle and stopped in front of Frank.

Frank quaked with fear as the demon raised the basin above Frank’s head. A curling, evil smile stretched across its face as it tilted the basin, pouring the holy water onto Frank’s head. When it touched his body, the water felt like molten magma. Frank attempted to scream as the holy water began burning his skin away, but was unable to utter a sound. As Frank started praying for death, the pain ceased and he opened his eyes.

He was standing in the middle of a dense forest, twilight tinting nearly everything in view black. Suddenly, he heard Tyler’s scream ring out through the trees and found himself running toward the sound faster than his legs could carry him, running for what felt like an entire lifetime. When his legs eventually collapsed on him, he found himself at the base of the largest tree in the forest. Halfway up the tree he saw Tyler, nailed through the hands and feet in a morbid representation of Christ. Instead of blood, a black, viscous liquid dripped from his wounds. Maggots had eaten away through his mouth and cheeks, leaving something that resembled a smile permanently on his face.

“Cleanse your soul of evil and sin,” Tyler barked, causing Frank to recoil. Tyler’s body began to spasm while Frank looked on in horror. Tyler opened his mouth, letting out a stream of black smoke that began coalescing at the base of the tree. Frank was frozen in fear as he witnessed the black mass transform into his demon. In one swift movement, the demon brought its leg up over Frank’s head and stomped down, crushing his body into a pulp.

 

9

 

4:30 PM

Frank awoke in his patrol car with a gasp, drenched in sweat and shivering uncontrollably. He looked around frantically, trying to readjust to reality. Frank shook his head and rubbed his eyes, slowly remembering that he was on duty and parked in his usual spot for catching speeders. Whatever dream he had just experienced, it had not been a pleasant one. He could only remember kernels of information: a church, some trees, the color black. The memories of the dream were fading with every passing second.

Frank could feel the cloud of anxiety expanding inside him once again and thoughts of the missing girls could no longer be ignored. What good was he doing sitting on his ass when he could be out helping save them? Frank began working over the facts of the case once more and had a sudden revelation. He knew that the last place that Katheryn had been seen was in her class at Vander Community college, and while the detectives had already spoken to the professor, days had gone by and the case had made no noticeable progress since then. Frank thought that giving the scholar a second pass couldn’t hurt and could possibly unearth new information. He called the college and found that the professor was named Martin Calhoun and was currently teaching a class in room 214 in the West Building. He thanked the woman on the other end of the line and sped off toward the college, hoping to catch the professor as class was ending.

Frank arrived in the nick of time, walking up to the door of room 214 just as a bald, bespectacled man with a double windsor knotted tie emerged. He was carrying a briefcase in one hand and a stack of papers in the other, leading Frank to believe that he was the professor.

“Excuse me, Martin Calhoun?”

“Yes?” the professor responded, looking up from the papers in his hand.

“Do you have a moment to speak with me about Katheryn Jennings?” Frank asked. The professor furrowed his brow.

“I already spoke to two detectives about it the other day and I told them everything I know, but if you would like me to talk to you again, I would be happy to help. It’s just that I have errands to run before my next class,” Martin stated.

“It will only take a moment.”

“I wish I could, but I really must get going. If you come back after my class tonight, I’ll sit down with you and tell you everything I told them. Now, if you’ll excuse me.” The professor began striding away toward the parking lot.

“Dr. Calhoun,” Frank said, taking a few steps in pursuit.

“Excuse me, officer.” The words stopped Frank in his tracks and he watched the professor walk briskly away. He took a deep breath and exhaled forcefully. Back to square one.

Frank checked his watch, which informed him that it was ten to five. He decided to cut his losses for the day and head back to the station to finish off his shift. As he drove through the streets of Vander, he couldn’t help but feel dissatisfied with how things turned out. He arrived in the department parking lot and was walking toward the station’s front door when he saw a young man in his late teens cautiously approach him. He had shaggy brown hair and was wearing an AC/DC shirt with worn-out jeans and a pair of Chuck Taylors.

“Excuse me, Officer…” the young man said, leaning in to see Frank’s nameplate, “Bailey. Umm… I think I might have some information that could be helpful in the Katheryn Jennings disappearance.” Frank’s blood began to pump faster and had every intention of seizing this opportunity. He ushered the young man into the building and sat him down with Detective Kotching. He remained close by so that he could hear every word.

“What’s your name?” Kotching asked.

“Max Johnson,” the young man said, visibly nervous but maintaining composure.

“Okay Max, tell me what you know.”

“Well, I’m not sure if what I know is actually helpful. I just remembered something from class that I think it would be better if you knew, just to make sure.” Kotching nodded patiently. “Okay well, Katheryn and I have Spanish class together and she’s basically a local celebrity, so I took notice of her right away.” Max began to fidget slightly, uncomfortable with divulging this information. “But so did Alex Verney, another guy in our class. So one day I see Alex trying to make a move on her, and she rejected him. I didn’t hear most of the conversion but I think she said something that hurt his ego and he made a big deal out of it and stormed out of class. Not too long after that, Katheryn goes missing and Alex hasn’t been to class since. Seems a little strange and I thought the police should know.”

“Do you know where this Alex Verney lives?” Kotching asked earnestly.

“Yeah, he lives at the Sun Springs Apartment Complex, I think. I’m always hearing about parties he’s got going on over there,” Max stated. Kotching copied the name of the complex onto a slip of paper.

“Thank you, Max. You’ve been a huge help,” Kotching said while shaking the young man’s hand.

“I hope you guys find her soon,” Max said before getting up and exiting the station. You and me both, kid, Frank thought.

“Alright, let’s go see what the guy knows,” Frank said to Kotching. The detective glared at Frank.

“Are you crazy, Bailey? I’ve got two cases in my lap that both have a dozen possible leads more likely than a college kid with a bruised ego. I’ll send someone over to talk to him tomorrow.”

“But John…”

“Frank, I know what I’m doing. You did your job, now go home to your wife and kid.” Frank would have continued to argue, but he knew the detective well enough to realize that he wouldn’t get another word out of him. Frank walked out of the station and before he reached his patrol car, he had already decided what he was going to do.

He searched for Sun Springs Apartment Complex on his phone and called the number that he found. The man on the other end of the line informed him that they don’t divulge resident information, especially not on the phone, but if Frank came into the office to prove that he was an officer, then the man could help him. Frank hung up and jumped into the cruiser, speeding off toward Sun Springs.

When he arrived, the man informed him that Alex Verney resided in apartment 143. Frank walked up to the door, the anxious feeling slowly subsiding. He rapped his knuckles on the door three times in succession, and upon receiving no response, knocked again. Suddenly, Frank heard the muffled sound of shuffling feet and the door opened a sliver.

“What?” Alex snapped.

“Alex Verney? I have some questions for you about Katheryn Jennings.”

“I don’t know anything,” Alex said, and tried to close the door. Frank shot his hand out to stop it from closing.

“If you could just speak with me, I would greatly appreciate it,” Frank said. His words were amicable, but his tone was threatening.

“Come on, man! Leave me alone,” Alex shouted. Frank pushed on the door, opening it a few inches wider.

“What do you know about Katheryn Jennings? I’ve been hearing that you two didn’t get along so well, so I don’t buy that you don’t know anything about her.” Frank’s stare was cold and intimidating.

“Alright man, Jesus,” Alex said, letting the door swing open. Frank was surprised by the young man’s disheveled appearance and could tell that the apartment was in disarray. “Yeah, I know Katheryn is missing and I know that the last thing I said to her… well, I wish I hadn’t. But I swear I don’t know anything.” Just then, an African-American teenager that Frank recognized as Tre Voss, one of Vander High’s most notorious weed dealers, emerged from the hallway.

“A little bit of a young crowd to be hanging out with, don’t you think?” Frank asked Alex. He raised his voice so Tre could hear him. “You know anything about Katheryn Jennings, Tre?” The kid remained silent and shot daggers at Frank, who returned his attention back to Alex.

“I’ve been told that you and her had a fight not too long ago. Nothing about it seem pertinent to her disappearance?” Frank asked.

“I asked her out and she rejected me, that’s all that fucking happened. What are you saying?” Alex asked, raising his voice.

“You were one of the last people to have a hostile encounter with Katheryn. I’m just trying to get the facts straight,” Frank responded.

“Jesus H. Christ!” Alex shouted, “I like the girl is all, okay? I asked her out and she rejected me and I lost my cool for a second. That’s it, that’s all that happened! If you’re suggesting that I had anything to do with her going missing, then fuck you.” Alex slammed the door in Frank’s face. Frank was taken aback and hesitated a moment before pounding on the door.

“Alex! Open the door. Open the goddamn door!” Frank beat his fist against the door a few more times before turning around and walking away in a huff. He was breathing heavy and felt like his head was stuck in a pressure cooker. Frank got inside his patrol car and took multiple deep breaths to calm himself down. When his blood stopped boiling, he realized how far he had flown off the rails. Christ Frank, you need to get yourself together, Old Boy. He hit the gas and pulled out of the Sun Springs parking lot, needing to distance himself from Alex Verney and the hysterical thoughts creeping into his mind. He drove and continued to do so until he no longer remembered why he was driving in the first place.

It was only when Frank’s phone began to ring that he had realized how long he had been out driving around. When he answered, it was Suzanne, Deputy Chief Litchfield’s secretary on the other end of the line. While her demeanor was normally friendly, her voice now sounded grave and concerned.

“The Deputy Chief needs to see you in his office. He wants you back to the station, now,” Suzanne said. Frank felt like a rock had been dropped in his stomach. Shit.