Authors: Alex North
Tags: #Thriller, #Horror, #Mystery, #Suspense, #Adult
I felt spaced out as I drove to my mother’s house—so intent on getting there that I barely registered the journey.
That wasn’t entirely due to the inevitable drowsiness that came with lucid dreaming. Now that the idea had occurred to me, it felt important to get there quickly and see if it could possibly be true. On the face of it, what I was thinking was madness, and yet something had clicked into place, and I needed to check in order to be certain. And as I drove, it was as though my mind were already ahead of me, waiting there at the house, urging me onward to join it.
They’re all the same.
That’s why he won’t find it.
When I parked and got out, the street was empty. But, while it might have been my imagination, the air right then seemed to have the same off-kilter feel as it had on the day of the murder.
Once inside the house, I paused in the hall. At the top of the stairs, dust was turning slowly in the air, casually disturbed by the front door opening. The place was as silent as ever, but the heaviness in the air had taken on a different texture today. It was quieter and emptier,
and it felt like there was a sadness to the house, as though somehow it knew the person who had lived here for so many years was gone now, and the building itself was grieving for the loss.
I was still nervous about whoever had delivered the doll, but the need to know had overtaken that. I went upstairs to my old room and spread the contents of the box out onto the table.
The book with Jenny’s name on the cover.
I looked at those now. There were eight in total, and I’d paid little attention to them until now. My dream diary had been on top of the pile, the first one I’d opened, and I hadn’t been interested in looking through the others and reading all my miserable teenage attempts at writing. All the desultory attempts at storytelling I’d long since abandoned.
But now I picked one up and opened it.
Then I opened the third. And before me, I saw not my own handwriting, but Charlie’s tight, black, spidery crawl.
I closed it instinctively, my heart beating harder.
My mind returned to the first time the four of us had compared results, the lunchtime Charlie had performed the seemingly impossible trick of appearing to share James’s dream. How that day I’d noticed he and I had exactly the same brand of notebook.
It’s in the house now, Paul.
They’re all the same.
That’s why he won’t find it.
But Charlie’s diary was supposed to have disappeared with him. He and Billy both had theirs with them on the day of the murder—
presumably as part of the ritual Charlie had devised. Which meant that I was holding something that vanished from the world at the same time he did. There was an impossible piece of magic in my hands.
I scanned through some of the entries toward the end of the notebook. They were all variations on the same theme: Red Hands; the woods; Billy and James. Most of them were vague, but two entries stood out as being more specific than the others. There was a lengthy passage describing the dream in which he’d killed Goodbold’s dog, and further back, a similarly detailed entry about knocking on James’s door in the night. In both cases, of course, Charlie had known what he’d done in real life and had been able to be more precise.
I flicked back further, until I found the entry I was most interested in.
I am sitting with him in the woods.
It is very dark here, but I can tell he is wearing that old army jacket, the one with the weathered fabric on the shoulders that looks like feathers, like an angel that’s had his wings clipped down to stumps.
It was exactly as I remembered from reading it that lunchtime. Charlie had told James to pass me his dream diary so that I could see the truth for myself. Back then, I’d looked down at the same tight, black handwriting, with that day’s date recorded at the top, and the dream had been so close to what James had already described that it had seemed impossible for it to be a coincidence. And yet I hadn’t been able to explain how it had been accomplished.
I turned back a page and started reading.
I am sitting with him in the woods.
And then another.
I am sitting with him in the woods.
I kept flicking back. The entries for that whole week were all but identical. While Charlie had changed some of the words, the subject matter was exactly the same. In each one, a boy and a monster emerged from the woods and saw James in his backyard, looking back at them.
And after all these years, I finally understood.
Charlie had spent weeks seeding us with stories about the woods being haunted. Every weekend, he’d taken us in there, always insisting on entering them through James’s backyard. So it had been almost inevitable that all of us, including James, would dream about them eventually.
I thought about Jenny giving me the magazine. At the time, I’d imagined it had been a coincidence that she had brought it in on the same day I decided to seek her out and talk to her. But she hadn’t, of course; I’d gotten it backward. That was the day she’d given it to me simply because that was the day I’d spoken to her. She had brought it in every day, and whichever day I’d spoken to her, it would have seemed like a coincidence then too.
And Charlie had done something similar. He had prepared entry after entry, so that he had one ready for whenever James finally described something that was a close enough match.
It happened much sooner than I was expecting.
Frustration rolled through me. How easily I could have stopped
everything back then, if only I’d realized. That lunchtime, the three of them had been watching me, waiting for my response to the diary entry, and I remembered how powerless I’d felt. The whole time, all I’d needed to do was turn back one single page.
And if I had, none of the rest of it would have happened.
I closed the diary.
“How did you get this, Mom?” I said quietly.
The house, of course, remained silent.
I walked through to my mother’s bedroom. I drew the curtains and stared out at the street. The sun was beating down so hard now that the air above my car was shimmering in the heat. There was still nobody in sight; the town was dead and silent.
At my side, the diary felt heavy in my hand.
How did you get this?
The question made me feel sick. Because, while there were numerous possible explanations for its presence in the house, they all ultimately came down to the same thing.
My mother had known more about Charlie’s disappearance than she had told me.
I looked up at the ceiling, picturing the red hands in the attic and the boxes of newspapers my mother had collected. When I’d first discovered them, I’d imagined she had hoarded them over the years, taking it upon herself to protect me from the knowledge and the guilt.
But now I wondered if that guilt had really been her own. If she knew what had happened to Charlie, then at least some of the blame for the copycat killings rested with her. She could have done something to stop them.
And yet, for some reason, she had not.
I looked down, out of the window again.
And the street was no longer empty.
A figure was standing at the far side of my car. They were slightly
silhouetted by the sun behind, their features occluded by the haze above the vehicle, but I could tell they were staring back at me. I recognized them immediately, and twenty-five years fell away in the space of a single heartbeat.
The figure raised a hand.
After a moment of hesitation, I did the same.
I left the dream diary on the bed and then went downstairs. Outside the door, the warmth and brightness hit me. The figure was walking away now, heading slowly off up the street. But there was no need for me to chase them. I knew where they were going.
I turned around and locked the door.
And then, moving slowly myself now, I began to follow.
For the second morning in a row, Amanda found herself sitting in the Gritten Police Department cafeteria, hunched over her laptop. Depressingly, it seemed to have become her office for the time being. She took a sip of the coffee. It hadn’t improved.
Nor had the overall situation.
They had three murders so far, with each of the victims connected to the original Red Hands killing. While Amanda didn’t understand what was happening yet, she didn’t believe that was likely to be the end of it.
They needed to find Paul Adams.
Officers first thing had found a booking for him at a hotel in Gritten. There was an irony there, she supposed. She hadn’t been able to find him last night because he’d taken her advice to get out of the house. But according to the hotel, he wasn’t in his room and his vehicle wasn’t in the parking lot. She figured that meant he was most likely at his mother’s house, and after discussing matters with a still-reluctant Detective Graham Dwyer, Holder had been sent out to Gritten Wood to see if Paul was there.
She glanced at her phone now, resting on the table beside the laptop.
Attempting to distract herself, she turned her attention to her laptop. The scene in Brenfield was still being processed, but the family’s history was on file.
Carl and Eileen Dawson had moved to Brenfield just over ten years ago. The reason for the relocation seemed to be so they could be closer to their son, James. Reading between the lines, it appeared that James Dawson had struggled badly in the aftermath of the murder in Gritten. He had left for college, but then dropped out after two terms, and most of his life since had been itinerant. There were minor drug convictions on his record, as well as a few for low-level antisocial behavior. There was also a long list of addresses on file, with gaps between them suggesting he had been homeless at times.
All in all, it reminded Amanda of how Billy Roberts had lived following his release from prison. Except that James Dawson had people who cared about him. Ten years ago, Carl Dawson inherited money after the death of his mother. He and Eileen had bought the house in Brenfield, which was where their son was loosely based at the time, and James had lived with them from then on.
The sacrifices parents make for their children.
And yet, from the details on-screen, there was evidence this particular garden had not been entirely rosy. Police had been called to the address on several occasions by concerned neighbors, and one time Eileen Dawson had actually been arrested and removed from the property. No charges were pressed, and the woman eventually returned. Amanda was more used to the scenario being the opposite way around gender-wise, but that did nothing to make it any less depressing. Not least because it was one reason why those same concerned neighbors had not immediately called the police in the early hours of yesterday, when they had heard shouts and screams from inside the Dawson house.
Curtains had still twitched, of course. Shortly before dawn, one of the neighbors heard the Dawsons’ front door open, and they had seen
a man dressed in black emerge from the property. The neighbor assumed it had been Carl Dawson, but it was dark and they had no real description to go on. At any rate, there had been something disturbing enough about the whole scenario for her to pick up the phone. Attending officers found two bodies in the front room. While the scene was still being processed, it appeared that Eileen Dawson had been dispatched quickly. And then the killer had taken more time with James.
Amanda’s heart broke a little at that.
From everything she’d read online about the history of the case, she found it hard to picture James Dawson as anything other than a small, vulnerable child, and learning what had become of his life in the years since only increased that impression. He was a boy who had never fully recovered from what had happened. The supposed friends he had embraced had groomed him, intending to kill him, and as an adult he had clearly struggled to find a niche for himself in the world. It was as though he had been stuck in a nascent state, never growing or flourishing, just remaining frozen forever, his existence defined by a moment of trauma.
If you tried, Amanda thought, perhaps you could make an argument that what had happened to Billy Roberts amounted to some kind of justice. But there could be no attempt to do so here. Whatever the damaged furniture of his life, James Dawson had not deserved an ending like this.
Was he the person behind the CC666 account?
It seemed likely; a computer had been recovered from the house and was being analyzed. But if so, she didn’t understand
Regardless, the most important question right now was where Carl Dawson was.
The door to the cafeteria opened. Amanda looked around to see Dwyer walk in, bringing the smell of cooked food wafting in along with him. He moved over to her table and sat down opposite, landing so heavily that she wasn’t sure the furniture would stand the
impact, then put a greasy wrapper down on the table and began extracting a sandwich from it.
“Holder just checked in,” he said. “He told me there’s no sign of Adams at his mother’s house. His car’s there, though.”
“That’s sort of a sign.”
“Holder’s not very bright.”
“Has he checked inside?”
“House is locked. He did look through a few of the windows and nothing was obviously out of place. No probable cause to break in. Maybe Adams just went to the shops.”
“We need to find him.”
“So you say.”
There were a few seconds of silence, as Dwyer swallowed and wiped his lips delicately with a napkin she hadn’t noticed. Then his manner shifted a little.
“I was there, you know,” he said.
“What do you mean?”
“Just what I said. I was the attending officer that day. I was at the playground when the girl’s body was found. And then there were two of us that went to Adams’s house afterward. I got to have a look around while we were waiting for his mother to get back. At that point, me and my partner, we both thought he did it.”
“Obvious, right?” Amanda said.
Dwyer took another bite of his sandwich. She waited for him to chew and swallow it.
“In hindsight, that was unfair of me.” He shrugged. “You play the odds, right? There was something weird about Adams—about all of them—but my hunch that day was wrong. Maybe what I’ve been thinking now is too. You think this guy—Carl Dawson—is involved?”
Amanda leaned back.
“In some capacity?” she said. “Sure. I mean, his family are dead
and he’s gone missing. In a situation like this, it’s a natural assumption to make.”
“Like I said, you play the odds.”
“You do. But whether he’s
I have no idea. And we can’t place him at the scene for Billy Roberts yet.”
“We can’t be sure that’s even the same perp.”
But if Dwyer was still half clinging to his original theory, he no longer seemed as convinced by it as he had been yesterday. It was just too much of a coincidence. Billy Roberts and James Dawson—two boys who had been involved in the killing here twenty-five years ago—had been tortured and murdered. And however much he might not have wanted to rake up the past, she could tell he was just as concerned as she was.
“Dawson knew all three victims,” he said. “I like him for it.”
She was about to answer when her cell phone started ringing. The screen told her it was Theo.
She answered the call and pressed the phone to her ear. As always, the soft sound of his computers and their ghosts was humming the background.
“Hey, Theo,” she said. “Amanda here.”
“Hello there. You wanted the phone number for Paul Adams, right?”
“He’s actually on a pay-as-you-go, but I got it from his card details. Don’t ask me how, but here you go.”
She made a note of the number he gave her.
“There’s something else. I’m going to have to pass this on to the relevant authorities but I figured I’d tell you first. I’ve got a number for Carl Dawson too.”
Her heart leaped. And as she noted it down, something else occurred to her.
“Can you tell me where Dawson is?” she said.
“You want the moon on a stick, Amanda. But yes, probably. Just give me a second. The more towers it pings, the easier it is.” She heard him typing in the background. “Ah—bingo.”
“You’ve got him? Where is he?”
“About two miles away from you,” Theo said. “In Gritten Wood.”