Which comes first, the ending or the beginning? If you see a body lying in a pool of blood, is it the beginning of the story? Or is it the end? I suppose it depends which story you are interested in. If you want to know how the body got there, it’s the ending, and you need to work backwards. If you are interested in what comes next, it’s the beginning. One story stops. Another starts. Connected by this scene.
I am the man, lying in the pool of blood.
I was home by myself. Finished with dinner, I was cleaning up, washing dishes, when I heard a knock on my door. My home is out of the way of nearly everything. Empty lots on either side give me a measure of privacy. I’d lived there nearly three years and had yet to even see my closest neighbors. Halloween had been a week ago, and no trick or treaters had stopped by for candy. A knock on the door when I wasn’t expecting company was unheard of.
Looking out the window, I saw a woman in her late twenties or early thirties and a young girl – only nine or ten – standing next to her. They were not dressed for the early November chill. Fear covered both of their faces. I didn’t hesitate to open the door.
“Please. Let us in,” the young woman implored.
Saying no didn’t even cross my mind. I moved to the side and led them to the living room. They sat on the couch. “Can I get you anything? Tea? Blankets?” I wanted to ask what had happened, but I didn’t want them to sit there shivering.
The young woman shook her head no, but I saw the girl’s eyes light up when I mentioned blankets, so I retrieved one from the closet and gave it to her. She wrapped up immediately.
“So what are you doing all the way out here? Did your car breakdown?”
The young woman still looked frightened and just shook her head once more.
“So what happened?”
The girl, perhaps emboldened by the warmth of the blanket, spoke up. “We escaped!”
Her companion tried to shush her, but I continued. “Escaped? From where? From who?”
Undeterred, the girl continued. “From bad men. They wanted to run tests on me. They said they wanted to see if I…” The young woman finally clamped a hand over the girl’s mouth.
“It’s better you don’t know. They are coming. They will be here soon. You are in danger because of us. I’m sorry about that, but we had no other options.”
“But who is after you?”
“It doesn’t matter. They’ll be here soon!”
“Okay. I’ll hide you, but then we will…”
“No. That won’t work. They know we came this way. They won’t believe your lies.”
“So what should I do? Drive away with you?”
She shook her head a third time. “They’ll just follow. We need to convince them we’ve gone off somewhere we haven’t.”
I was about to ask for suggestions when I thought of one of my own. I pulled back the rug revealing a trap door to the cellar. “Here. You two go down there. And don’t make a sound. I’ll take care of this.”
I wasn’t sure I believed anything they had said, but what I had planned wouldn’t hurt anyone, though it would probably annoy the sheriff. So if this was all a hoax, I could laugh it off. And if it were serious… Well, then this might work.
First, I called the sheriff’s office. “Oh my god!” I yelled into the phone. “He’s dead!” Then I threw the phone, still on, into the corner.
I grabbed some stage blood I had left over from my Halloween decorations that no one had had a chance to appreciate. I splashed some on my arms and face, then poured the rest onto the rug covering the trap door.
Finally, I left the front door ajar and laid facedown in the pool of blood. I hoped it looked real enough. I wanted whoever was coming to think the girls had been taken while I had been killed. The sheriff’s arrival would prevent a thorough search. I hoped. All I could do was wait.
Someone did show up. They walked over to my body and looked around. There was nothing to find. The sirens on the sheriff’s car scared them off a couple of minutes later.
I explained to the sheriff that it was a practical joke gone awry. Annoyed, but finally convinced, he left, too. Unfortunately, the cellar was empty. The exterior door was open, and the girls were gone.
As I said, one story’s ending. But somewhere, there are other stories, of which this is but a piece.