Star Murders, by Nathaniel Tower
Driving home through blackness, I knew the only thing that could keep me awake was talking to Susan.
“How’re you feeling?” I asked, not knowing where else to start.
I could tell she wasn’t fine. How could she be fine? The van had been filled with cheerful friends when we left for the stupid cabin four days ago. Now it was just Susan and me.
I allowed quiet for the next few minutes. When tiredness returned, I spoke again.
“What do you think we should do?” I looked over but couldn’t really see anything other than her silhouette. Just from the way she held herself, I knew she was still silently crying.
“Go home. There’s nothing else to do.” She didn’t look over at me.
“Don’t you think we should tell someone?”
“They won’t believe us.” Her voice was beginning to rise, like she was on the verge of hysterics.
Silence again. Tired again. I shook my head and thought about how we ran from the cabin to the van. How we managed to escape.
“But don’t you think we have to get our story out before someone gets suspicious? I mean, someone’s going to find out. It’s not like you can just hide the disappearance of five of your closest friends.” I clenched the steering wheel. I wanted to punch something, but it wouldn’t do any good.
“Disappearance?” she yelled. I could tell she was looking at me now, but I didn’t return her glance. “You act like they just vanished into the fog. Like they might come back. Like there’s some big mystery. They’re dead. We saw it. We saw them all slashed to death—”
“And you think we should just bury that? Those were our friends. Don’t we owe them something more than hiding everything?”
In my rebuttal of anger, the van started drifting. I swerved hard to put it back in the lane. The oversized vehicle rocked back and forth until it steadied itself. I sighed.
“You know, we might be better off if you just drive us off the road. What’s the point of going back? Do you really think we can live after this?”
Before I could respond, I saw the swirling blues and reds in the rearview.
“Shit,” I said.
“What?” Somehow Susan didn’t see the lights, the only break from pure darkness.
“I’m getting pulled over.”
“Shit,” she said.
“What are we going to do? What are we going to tell him? What if he searches the car?” My breathing became heavy pants and my hands trembled on the wheel. I didn’t slow down. My foot wouldn’t budge from the gas.
“What are you doing?” she said.
“I can’t stop here.”
“There’s no place to pull over.”
“Just stop. There’s no one else on the road.”
“Okay, that’s not why I can’t stop.”
“Because Jake’s body is in the back.”
“What!? Are you shitting me?” She smacked me on the arm. “Why the hell did you take Jake with us? Are you insane?”
“I don’t know. Maybe I thought I could save him. Besides, he had the most obvious marks on him. Don’t you think we should show that to someone? It might make them believe.”
My foot pressed harder on the gas.
“You’ve gotta stop the car!” she shouted.
The police car pulled closer, chirping its sirens at me. I knew the cop would soon take action if I didn’t stop.
“Now he’s going to search the car for sure,” she said before slumping down in her seat. I knew she was trying to disappear. We both wanted to vanish from the world. She was right. There was no point in trying to live our lives anymore. Not after what we’d been through.
“Okay, I’ll stop,” I said. Since there was no point in living, I had nothing to lose. Maybe the cop could help.
The van slowed to a gravelly stop. I watched the cop car do the same behind us, pulling so close he almost bumped the van. The cop stayed in the car for a couple minutes, probably radioing his location and the situation. Maybe calling for back up. I certainly didn’t blame him. Even without watching our friends slit to pieces, this place was just spooky.
“What’s going on?” she asked.
“He’s probably just running the plates,” I said.
The cop got out. He looked normal enough. Just a pissed off, tired cop. I wouldn’t have been surprised to see a vampire or werewolf pop out of that car. Not after what I’d seen.
I rolled down the window. The cop peered in at us with his flashlight.
“Everything okay?” he asked, trying to sound friendly.
“Yes sir. Just tired. We really want to get home.”
“Where are you coming from?”
“A cabin up at Camp Woodbridge.”
He pointed the light into the back where Jake’s body was buried under everything we’d managed to salvage.
“Kinda late to be heading home. Was there a problem?”
“No,” Susan snapped without looking at him. “Everything’s great with us.” Her voice quivered. If it wasn’t a dead giveaway, then this cop would believe anything. Maybe it was best just to tell him.
“Why didn’t you stop right away?” he asked in a just-curious voice.
“I was looking for a place to pull over. I’ve never been pulled over before. I got a little nervous I guess. I wasn’t trying to run away from you or anything.” I looked at the cop, right in his eyes. They were brown and forgiving.
“Well, you did speed up for a bit.”
“I was hoping there was a place to pull over around the bend. I didn’t want to seem like I was trying to get away. Just wanted to pull over as soon as I could.”
“Fair enough. Can I see your license?”
I pulled out my wallet without a word and handed the license to him.
“Is this address correct?”
“Okay, James. Do you go by James?”
“Most people call me Jimmy. But James is fine.” Jimmy seemed awfully childish after what had happened at Camp Woodbridge.
“Okay, Jimmy. I’ll be right back.”
The cop walked back to his car and I rolled up the window, locking some of the chill inside the vehicle.
Susan and I didn’t say a word.
“What’s taking so long?” Susan said after a few minutes.
“He’s just checking my record. He wants to confirm I haven’t been pulled over before and that I’m not driving a stolen vehicle.”
“Should we tell him?” she asked.
“I don’t know. He seemed nice enough. But it’s too crazy. He won’t believe it.”
“What if he searches the van? Shouldn’t we tell him before he finds Jake?”
“If he finds Jake, we can show him the marks. Then he’ll have to believe us. No human could make those marks.”
“I can’t believe you kept his body. You’re an idiot. A crazy idiot.”
“That body might save our lives someday,” I said, not really knowing what I meant. Truth is, I only took the body because I couldn’t bear the thought of leaving Jake behind. I’d never admit it to anyone—especially not Susan—but Jake was a lot more than a friend to me. At least I thought he was. Jake didn’t have a clue. Luckily, Susan didn’t either.
I saw the police door open behind us.
“Alright, hush. He’s coming.”
We waited in silence, our hearts pounding over the humming engine.
I put the window back down. The officer didn’t shine his light in this time. He handed the license to me.
“These roads can be dangerous, you know,” he said. “You should watch your speed. I saw you swerve pretty hard back there. I pulled you over because I thought something might be wrong. Like you might be drunk or something.”
“No, sir. I don’t drink at all. I’m just tired. It’s been a long weekend.”
“Where did you say you were again?” the cop asked. His voice changed from the just-curious tone. It wasn’t quite suspicion, but I didn’t like where things were going.
“Camp Woodbridge,” I said.
“Interesting. That place has been closed for five years. They shut it down after those murders. Do you remember those?”
I looked at Susan and shrugged. She didn’t know what the cop was talking about either.
“Never heard of those. Are you sure you’re not thinking of a different place? We had a reservation and everything.” I reached for some papers in the center console. “Here’s our receipt.”
He looked over the wrinkled documents. Then he looked back at me, this time with the light again.
“Are you trying to pull something over on me here?” the cop asked.
“What do you mean?”
“Step out of the car, please.”
“Wait. What’s going on?”
He pulled the door open.
“These papers are dated from five years ago. They’re dated the same day as the murders. How have you never heard of the famous Star Murders?”
I shuddered at the word “Star.” I had never heard of the murders, but I knew exactly what he was talking about.
“I didn’t move to this state until three years ago,” I said.
“Really? Because your record shows that you’ve lived in Maine for the past eight years.”
Confused, I stepped out of the car. I didn’t know what else to do.
The cop moved back, ready to strike in case I made a move.
“There must be some mistake,” I told him.
“There sure is. There’s a big mistake somewhere. Why were you at Camp Woodbridge? Five-year anniversary party?”
I didn’t get what he meant at first. “Susan and I have only been married for two years,” I said.
“Very funny. You know that’s not what I mean. It’s been almost exactly five years since the Star Murders. What the hell were you doing at that god-forsaken camp?”
“We were just camping. We had it reserved.” I began stammering like a buffoon. I’m not sure half of what I said next. I may have told him everything, but I think all I really said was nothing. Susan just sat in the car. I was waiting for her to bolt out and run for the woods.
The cop looked at the paper again. “Your reservation says seven people. Where are the rest?”
“Still at the camp,” I said. It was almost true.
“You know, five died in the Star Murders. At least there were five bodies found. Who knows how many really died.”
The cop glared at me, trying to force a confession out of me. I didn’t say a word.
“Are you part of some crazy cult that worships the Star Murderer?”
“No. I’ve never been in a cult. I don’t even know who the Star Murderer is.” I tried to regain my composure.
“No one does,” he said. He flashed his light over at Susan. She was paralyzed in the seat.
“Can I look in the van?” he asked.
“Sure, I said. Look all you want.” It was a stupid thing to say, but for some reason I thought it was some brilliant reverse psychology move. The guy hadn’t called for backup yet, unless he’d done it when he went back to the car to look up my info. If I told him it was okay to look, he wouldn’t look.
My trick didn’t work. The officer went straight for the backdoors, like he knew the starred body was waiting there for him.
“Wait!” Susan yelled. She jumped out of the seat and ran back to the cop. She wrapped her arms around him in a desperate pleading hug.
“Let go of me,” the officer said. He tried to free himself, but Susan’s grip was somehow unbreakable.
“I can explain everything,” Susan said. “Just don’t open the door yet!”
She let go of him. He didn’t reach for the door. He just stared at her, waiting for her next move.
The stare down didn’t last long. Susan launched into an explanation of the whole thing. I wanted to run. We were obviously going to jail.
The cop didn’t move a muscle while she told the story. She told the whole thing. About the drive. About the skinny dipping. The truth-or-dare drinking games. The orgy. None of it had anything to do with why our friends were dead. She paused before getting to what had driven us away terrified. The cop tried to utter something, but he was too shocked. And she hadn’t even revealed the worst of it.
“You don’t have to do this,” I said to Susan. The cop glanced at me then looked back at Susan, beckoning her to spill her guts.
“Yes, James, I need to tell him. We need the world to know about this.”
She opened the door and started pulling out the bags and tarps until Jake’s mangled body lay there uncovered.
I waited for the cop to pull a gun, but he didn’t. He looked at the body. Susan rambled on about the murders, how something she couldn’t describe slaughtered the bodies, one at a time. The thing was too fast for us to see, but we saw them die. We saw the star-shaped holes punctured all over the bodies, like someone had pulled a star out of the sky and burned it straight through their flesh.
Some of the details Susan shared weren’t true. At least I hadn’t seen them. She couldn’t explain how we escaped. I couldn’t either. But somehow we had defeated the thing. Somehow we had sped away. Somehow I had thrown Jake’s body in the van before we did, the rest of our friends left in the cabin, their bodies mutilated by star holes in their eye sockets and their chests and where their genitals should’ve been.
The cop ran his finger along the star holes. I wasn’t sure if he believe any of it, at least not until he touched the wounds.
Susan and I looked at each other, uncertainty plastered on our faces. I nodded my head towards the woods. We needed to run. We needed to run fast and far. The woods would become our home.
“I don’t understand,” the police officer said. “This happened so long ago. This is impossible.”
He didn’t look away from the body. He never looked back at us. We were deep in the woods, our hearts pounding, before he could’ve known we were even gone.
We had escaped the Star Murderer. We could easily escape the cops. We knew we could survive in the woods. There was nowhere else to go, so we became part of nature.
Nathaniel Tower writes fiction, teaches English, and manages the online literary magazine Bartleby Snopes. His fiction has appeared in almost 200 online and print journals, and he has a novel and novella out through MuseItUp Publishing. When he isn’t writing or doing any of the other standard things writers do, he can be found joggling (running while juggling) through the streets. Visit him at NathanielTower.WordPress.com
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Tags: death, Nathaniel Tower, paranormal, spirits, time