Chapter 7

Chapter 7

I realize that some of this may seem like it’s irrelevant. But the fact of the matter is that this is more than a confession or a memoir. It’s a story. And I need you to understand what my life was like before this all got out of hand if I can hope to inspire in you any sort of understanding of how it ended.

The rest of Sunday passed without incident. My friends and I hung out, laughed, and had a good time. Asking Donnie and Ellen about Carson slipped my mind completely, so no progress was made on that front.

Monday happened. I went to my classes, and then went home. After dinner, I headed over to work at the Reader. I got my article done early, so I decided to go ahead and work on some writing while I was in front of a computer anyway. My boss, Meg, was extremely cool about that sort of thing. As long as we got our work done on time and no one else needed the workstation, we were free to stick around and do whatever we wanted.

And I wanted to write. But not what I knew I was going to write. Jericho throbbed in my mind like a migraine. And by this time, I knew the cure. But I didn’t want to write it. The last time, I’d gotten off easy. No murders. But somehow I knew I wouldn’t be that lucky this time. This time, Carson would kill again. And if I wrote it, wouldn’t that put the blood on my hands?

I winced. Gritted my teeth. The pain was just too much. My fingers produced a capital “J” and already I felt the pain start to ease. As the “e” followed, I felt myself slip deep into the trance-like state I was beginning to associate with the damned story. By the time the “r” was onscreen, I was somewhere else.

Jericho Chapter 3

In Jericho, the most common form of nighttime illumination is the red and blue of police cruiser lights, mingled with the reds and whites of fire response and ambulance lights. Their sirens sing the sick songless lullaby of the night. Mourning the dead and warning the living: “Walk not alone in Jericho. It is not, will never be, safe.” And for the most part, these warnings are heeded.

Groups of friends walk through the night, occasionally bathed in the blue baptismal light of a cop car. Rarely are their feelings voiced, but they all think the same things. “They shouldn’t have tempted fate. Should have stayed inside. Should have stayed with people.” And then, “Thank God it wasn’t me. Thank God it was them, not me.”

Such were the private thoughts of Mary Reynolds as sirens screamed past her window. I wonder what’s happened? I wonder where they’re going? And then, quietly in the back of her mind. Thank God it’s not me.

Of course, Mary had no idea how misplaced her gratitude was. At that moment, the Bible Killer, Carson Quinn, was quietly picking the lock on her apartment door. Mary was the president of the Castle University Skeptics Society. Just last week, she’d written a very vocal letter to the school paper on the evils of religion. How it represented an outdated paradigm that had to be discarded for progress to continue. Many members of Carson’s church had been outraged, writing letters of counter-argument. Carson regarded it as an answer to his prayers. As another mission from God.

The front door opened.

“Sara?” called Mary, still watching the procession of light and sound outside. Jesus, some serious shit must be going down. That was the fifth cop she’d counted going by in the last ten minutes.

Behind Mary, the front door closed again. “I thought you said you weren’t going to be home tonight, Sara? Thought you were spending the night with Freddy?”

“Sara’s not home,” said Carson Quinn, grinning maniacally.

Mary swung around, a gasp escaping her mouth, which was working on a full-blown scream when Carson clapped his hand over the young woman’s mouth.

“You,” said Carson, his bright green eyes staring directly into Mary’s terrified brown ones, “are a false prophetess. Your attempts to sway the masses to your sinful rejection of God have not gone unnoticed by Him, and He has sent an agent to silence you.”

Mary’s struggles increased in ferocity. Her eyes hardened from terror to defiance. Carson heard a muffled utterance and though he could not hear her, he knew what she had said.

“Bible Killer?” said Carson, chuckling. “Yes, very good. First prize. You know who I am. And you know why I am here. And yet,” he mused, “you are not afraid.” He looked at her with consideration. “I am going to kill you tonight, Mary Reynolds. But I will let you speak to me if you agree not to scream. If you start to scream, I’ll cut out your throat instead of the relatively painless death I had planned for you. Do you understand?”

Mary’s eyes glanced at the knife in the Bible Killer’s other gloved hand. The one not covering her mouth. Blue police lights reflected off of its blade. Her eyes still full of defiance met Carson’s once more. Her struggles by now had stopped. She nodded slowly.

“Good,” said Carson, sounding genuinely pleased. He led her over to a chair and sat her in it. “Don’t get up, Miss Reynolds,” he said. “The penalty for getting up is the same as the penalty for screaming.” He positioned himself to her left and slightly behind her. She was still able to meet his gaze, but her body sat facing forward. No cute little kicks or other tricks. Carson positioned the knife just millimeters away from the skin of Mary’s neck and slowly removed his hand.

Mary regarded him with stone silence. A peculiar expression dominated her face. It was one Carson knew well, one he saw in the mirror each time he checked himself before one of his missions. It was the face of a warrior in service to a higher power. That sealed it, then. She was a zealot like him. His opposite. Carson felt a twisted sense of camaraderie. He knew it was wrong to admire an Enemy soldier, but there it was. Carson knew she could not be redeemed, but his respect for her meant he would still offer her the chance.

“Why are you not afraid, Mary Reynolds?” asked Carson Quinn, the Bible Killer. “Doesn’t death terrify the atheist in ways that I cannot even begin to imagine?”

Mary nodded slowly. “I’ve accepted death. That doesn’t mean I’m not afraid, but I’m at much at peace with it as I can be. I believe that the only way I live on is in what I leave behind. What impressions I’ve made on the world. And in that way, this death is quite suitable.”

Carson was puzzled. “How?”

“You,” she said simply. “By killing me, you only reinforce my claim that religion is an useless, tyrannical, and dangerous relic of the past. That casting it off is the next step in our social evolution. Just as you exalt those who died for your cause, I too will become a martyr. The skeptic community shall use my name as a rallying cry in their crusade against organized faith.”

Carson stared at Mary in horrified understanding. She was right. She would become their Saint Stephen. She would accomplish more in death than she ever could have in life. And yet she had to die. Carson Quinn had on his hands, a dilemma. Then it came to him.

She needed to appear to be the agent of her own demise. It needed to look like a suicide. But how?

No, he realized, that wouldn’t work. It might have worked for anyone else, but Mary was like him. Mary was a zealot. Mary was willing to die for her cause. But the roommate, she could be manipulated. She could do what he could not.

“Get out your cell phone,” said Carson Quinn, “and give it to me.”

Mary did not comply. Instead she ran at the Bible Killer, flailing and kicking, snarling. Carson Quinn did not have time to figure out how to fit this into his plan. He only had time to act, and he acted on instinct.

Carson Quinn stood his ground and thrust the knife into Mary Reynolds’s throat. For the last time, her eyes met with his, eyes full of pride and vengeance. She died with a smirk on her lips.

Carson shrugged and began to spread out the pages he’d prepared for the evening. As long as he wasn’t going to be able to cover up the murder, he figured he might as well try and educate the masses. Perhaps she would be a martyr. But perhaps more people would rally to his teachings than to hers. But without these pages to illuminate his position, hers could only be dominant.

Carson Quinn smiled as he left the apartment and quietly left the apartment building. No one saw him leave the complex, and those he passed on the way home didn’t look too closely. He was walking alone, at night, in Jericho. And mysterious disappearances and deaths were easier to handle if one couldn’t attribute a face to the name in the paper in the morning.

I snapped out of my trance and read what I had wrote.

“Oh fuck,” I said, under my breath.

Chapter 6

Chapter 6

            I got home and sat down with my laptop. I opened up my word processor and went to open the notes I had been working on earlier. I was able to focus just fine on finishing transferring the longhand onto the computer. Not a single spare thought strayed to Jericho. I didn’t even give it enough thought to be thankful for.

            I went to sleep, and dreamed of a young man with golden hair. He spoke to me of choices and sacrifices. Of conforming myself to the will of God. Of the evils of temptation. And though I had never seen him before, I knew this young man was Carson Quinn. Upon waking I was reviled at how much I had honestly liked the young man during the dream. But then again, I knew well that that was one of Carson Quinn’s most dangerous qualities: He was imminently likable.

            I looked at my clock. It was ten in the morning. That meant I could get in another two hours of sleep before my alarm clock went off. I opted not to. Instead I went ahead and showered early and brewed myself a cup of coffee. Once it was ready, I sat on my (very) small porch and enjoyed a morning cigarette with my coffee.

            As I sipped and smoked, I allowed my mind to wander. Having actually spent a period of time apart from Adrienne, I began to evaluate my feelings towards her. There was no denying that I liked her, and that I liked her a lot. Furthermore, while I may be occasionally prone to misreading the signals I receive from a girl, I was one hundred percent certain that Adrienne was into me as well. Now it was just a matter of when.

            The more I thought about it, the happier I was with the situation. It had been a while since my last girlfriend and I had broken up. And longer still since I’d felt that instant connection with anyone. As David pointed out, the last girl that that had happened with was Theresa, my girlfriend for most of Junior and Senior years of high school. It had been good while it lasted, but the breakup had been somewhat messy. Theresa and I didn’t talk anymore.

            Some people might have been afraid that any relationship based on that instant connection was doomed to failure if they had gone through what Theresa and I had. For a little while, I had thought that way. I’d been wary of that connection, afraid it would occur at the worst possible time. In the last year or so, though, I’d grown a lot emotionally. I felt like if I could have had the chance to approach my relationship with Theresa knowing what I did now, we could have made it work. And so I’d stopped being afraid of that connection. And not long after, I met Adrienne. At the time, I felt like fortune was smiling on me.

            I know better now.

            Once my morning addictions were sated, I made myself a bagel to appease my hunger, which had apparently felt neglected while I attended to the caffeine and nicotine. The bagel was enough to satisfy my hunger for the moment. Looking at the clock, I saw that I had killed just over an hour. It was still way too early to head over to Donnie’s; after all, I wasn’t even supposed to be awake for another hour. Donnie and his fiancé, Ellen, would still be at church.

            Which brought me to an interesting train of thought. I knew that Carson Quinn went to a church on Castle University’s campus in Jericho. It was logical, then, to assume that if he was, somehow, real, then he would attend a church on Ross University’s campus in Jonah’s Cross. I made a mental note to ask Donnie and Ellen if they knew anyone who matched his description. Both of them were terrible with names, so asking after him by name wouldn’t help me at all. And, despite Kristi’s name in the story being similar but not identical to her name in the real word, I was somehow convinced that if he was real, Carson Quinn could have no other name than Carson Quinn.

            I screwed around on the internet for a while until my alarm reminded me that it would be time to head out soon. I decided that it would be a good idea to write for an hour and leave at one. So I set the alarm for another hour in the future.

            Once again, I had no trouble writing without Jericho invading my thoughts. Now that I’d transferred the longhand from the coffee shop, I was free to actually build more on that story. This kept me occupied until my alarm went off, letting me know it was time to leave.

            I saved the document, checked the weather online, turned off my laptop, packed it up, and stuck it in its case. It would be accompanying me to Donnie’s. I wasn’t quite sure what we would be doing at Donnie’s, but the laptop wouldn’t even have the chance of being useful if I didn’t bring it with me, so I did.

            Armed with the knowledge of the weather forecast, I threw on a light jacket, then slung the laptop case over my shoulder. I grabbed my phone and headed out the door. As per usual, I was careful to lock it. I lit a cigarette and began my walk to Donnie’s.

            Donnie lived on the other side of the campus proper from me. In this way, his apartment was similar to David’s, but their apartment complexes were by no means next door. Donnie and Ellen had been dating since just before Freshman year of college, and Donnie had popped the question this summer, on their second anniversary. She had, obviously, said yes. Seeing them together always gave me a good feeling. I was happy that someone in my group of friends had made it. And it looked like they would be the only successful couple for a while longer.

            David had never really been much for the ladies. That’s not to say he wasn’t interested, just that they weren’t his first priority. Finishing his engineering degree was first on the to do list. He had always counted on making time for love after graduation.

            Then there was Ed. Ed was Donnie’s roommate and a member of my close circle of friends. Ed went through women the way that normal people went through toothbrushes. The guy hadn’t had a steady girlfriend since high school. Ed and Donnie had gone to a different high school than David, Carl, and I had, so I wasn’t sure on the details, but to hear Donnie tell it, Ed had been in a really serious relationship for all of high school that had immediately dissolved when the girl went to a different college. Apparently, Ed had not been the one to initiate the breakup and it had hit him pretty hard.

            And then there was me. I tended to go for something of an unhappy medium between the two extremes. I went for long periods of time being single interspersed with the occasional relationship lasting for a month or two. I was cautiously hoping that Adrienne would break that pattern, but I wasn’t allowing myself to get my hopes up.

            I was vaguely aware that Carl might have had a girlfriend, but as I said, Carl and I mostly just stayed out of one another’s lives.

            I arrived at Donnie’s before David did. My knock at the door was met with a unison chorus of “It’s open,” courtesy of Ed, Ellen, and Donnie. Not one to refuse such an offer, I opened the door.

            All three of them were intently staring at the TV screen. A very close game of Mario Kart Wii was in progress.

            “Hey Murph,” grunted Ed, without looking away from the screen as I set down my laptop so I could take off my coat and hang it in the hall closet. Once that was accomplished, I sat down on the empty couch and turned on my computer.

            “Hey guys,” I responded. “Who’s winning?”

            “Donnie,” said Ed and Ellen as Donnie simultaneously declared: “I am.”

            “I see,” I said, nodding. “Anyone heard from David?”

            The race ended. I hadn’t been paying close enough attention to confirm, but judging from the looks on my friends’ faces, Donnie had managed to maintain his lead to the end. Grinning, he looked back at me.

            “Dave called and said he was on his way. Should be here any minute,” he informed me.

            As if on cue, there was a knock at the door.

            “Come in!” yelled all four of us in unison.

            The door opened to reveal David.

            “Good timing,” offered Ed. “We were just wondering when you’d get here.”

            “Speak of the devil and he shall come,” I offered.

            David shook his head, then looked at the screen, narrowing his eyes.

            “Who won?” he asked.

            “Donnie,” came the unified response. Donnie grinned sheepishly.

            David rolled his eyes. “I should have guessed. Shall we get started? What exactly are we doing this week?”

            “Well,” said Ellen. “I’m going to run home and finish up some homework. When I get back, I’ll bring Arkham Horror. I think Ed had his heart set on a few rounds of Halo 3 while I was gone.”

            Ed grinned at David and I. He knew we weren’t huge fans of first person shooter games, but we were plenty willing to tolerate it if it meant spending time with our friends.

            “Whatever,” I said. “If you’re just looking for someone to kill, I guess I’ll be the whipping boy, as usual.”

            “Hey,” protested Ed. “You’re starting to get better.”

            “Barely,” I countered. “The learning curve is really steep, you know. Even Dave’s good at this game and he doesn’t even like it.”

            David shrugged. “What can I say? Video games come naturally. I can’t help it any more than you can help sucking like a Kirby.”

            “We do not use the Pink One’s name in this apartment!” interjected Donnie.

            “I meant the vacuum cleaner, Don,” explained David.

            “Oh,” said Donnie. “Still, try not to do it again. That little guy is an engine of pure destruction. I don’t need that in my house.”

            “You do know he’s not real, right?” I asked while Ed set up the Xbox.

            “That, my friend,” said Donnie. “Is exactly what they want you to think.”

            “Slayer!” declared the television, as I picked up a controller.

Chapter 5

Chapter 5

            David had asked me what was on my mind. So I began to tell him about Adrienne.

            “I met a girl, David. She seems really awesome, too. This one might actually be a winner,” I admitted.

            “How did you guys meet?” Asked David. “I mean, this has to be pretty recent.”

            “She was reading at a poetry slam I went to because I find it very easy to write under those conditions. She read a poem that was too good to ignore.” I shrugged. “We talked, she gave me her number. We hung out today. It’s been a good time so far.”

            “Sounds like you’re in,” said David. “What’s her name? Tell me more about this whole situation.”

            “Her name’s Adrienne. She’s a creative writing major.”

            David sighed theatrically. He was an engineer and as such liked to give me a hard time about my choice to go into the Liberal Arts.

            “Another future hobo, eh?” commented David. “Maybe you two will be able to push your boxes up next to each other. And you can huddle together for warmth in the winter.”

            “Very funny, David,” I said, totally insincere. “I’ll keep that in mind. I’ll probably suggest it to her when I see her again.”

            “Yeah, maybe not, actually. So you think you might really like this girl, huh?”

            “Well, I mean it’s a bit early to be throwing around serious words, but yeah. I mean, I haven’t connected with someone this quickly in years. Not since. . . Theresa.”

            “Hey,” said David. “Try not to think about her. That business is long done and over with. But still if you connected with this Adrienne girl that fast, that’s something to be happy about.” He paused for a moment. “Tell me more about Adrienne. So far I know she’s a creative writhing student and a great poet.”

            “Well, I mean there’s not a whole lot else you need to know up front. Most of what I know about her came up organically in conversation, so that’s probably what’ll happen here too,” I said with a shrug.

            “There is one very important thing you’ve left out, Aaron,” said David.

            I looked at him confused. “I don’t know what you mean.”

            “Yeah you do,” said David, nudging me.

            I shook my head and shrugged.

            David rolled his eyes. “Is she hot, dude?” He looked at me with a totally unabashed grin.

            Now it was my turn to do some eye rolling. “What’s that got to do with it?” I asked, staring straight ahead with a smirk on my face.

            “Oh come on,” complained David. “I can tell by your face. I just need to hear you say it.”

            “Fine,” I relented. “I think she’s gorgeous. Is that what you wanted to hear?”

            “Yes,” said David simply. “Is that all that’s on your mind? You seem like you’ve got something else bothering you too.”

            I didn’t want to lie too blatantly. Normally, I was quite adept at deception, but David knew me well enough that he always seemed to know when I was flat-out lying to him. Half-truths and implications were the way to go with him.

            “It’s just,” I began, then faltered. “I don’t know. I’ve been thinking about that girl who got murdered, Kristi Dell.”

            David raised an eye, quizzically. “What about her?”

            “I just. . .I feel like whoever did it is going to kill again if we don’t find him,” I confided.

            “How do you know it’s a him?” inquired David.

            “It’s a very male crime,” I said simply. “Anyway, it’s just been on my mind for whatever reason. Been making me uneasy.”

            David shifted his weight uncomfortably. “I’m really not sure what to say to you about that. I mean, if we let ourselves be scared into inaction, then whatever sick psychopath did this will have won. We can’t let bad things or bad people control us.”

            “That sounds like something from a movie, David,” I observed. “But you’re probably right. Still, it just gives me the heebie jeebies.” I paused. Debated internally while David walked silently at my side. Finally, I broke the silence again.

            “If you thought you might know who the murderer was, but didn’t have any actual evidence to back it up, not even an explanation of why you think it’s that person, would you call the police anyway?”

            David cocked his head to the side as he looked at me. “Do you know something you’re not telling me?”

            I shook my head. “No, I just have this hunch about someone. It’s no one you know, don’t worry. But I don’t have any sort of rational explanation for my suspicions.” I shrugged, powerlessly. “I just wondered what you’d do.”

            Now it was David’s turn to invite the silence. We walked as he thought.

            “I guess,” he said slowly. “That I’d try and keep my eye on that person. See if I could see any reason for the suspicions to either increase or decrease. And if another murder happened, you might very well be able to get some really firm evidence, or at least rationale. So I guess my advice would be wait and see. If things start to look fishy, then call the police. If nothing else, they can watch too.”

            “Thanks,” I said. “That really does help me out. I think I’ll take that advice.” It was one of the first completely genuine things I’d said to him since we had started talking about the murder. I decided to turn the topic to something else again.

            “So are we still on for hanging out tomorrow?” I asked.

            “Sure,” said David. “We’re going to be at Donnie’s tomorrow, right?”

            “I think so,” I answered. “I mean, I’ll call you if I find out different, but that’s my plan for right now, too.”

            “Good,” replied David. “All this talking and walking has made me hungry. Let’s grab a bite to eat and then we’ll head back to my place.”

            “Food sounds good,” I agreed. “But actually, I’ll probably just head back to my apartment after we eat. I mean unless we go way out of our way, anywhere we go to eat from here is going to be much closer to my apartment, so it’d be silly for me to walk to your place and then back.” After a moment’s consideration, I added: “Of course, you’re welcome to come over if you want.”

            “I think I’ll pass,” said David. “I mean, I’ll be seeing you again tomorrow, right?”

            “Yeah,” I said. “That’s the plan.”

            “Okay. So anyway, where do we want to eat?” David was impatient for food.

            We grabbed a couple of sandwiches and said our goodbyes. I started my walk home feeling much better. Tomorrow would be a good day, and I intended to write something non-Jericho related when I got home.

Chapter 4

Chapter 4

I quickened my pace. A new chapter of Jericho burned in my mind. I reached my apartment without being aware of traveling the remaining distance. Hurriedly, I unlocked the door, closed it, relocked it, and opened my laptop. I had a new word processor document open and was just about to start typing when I stopped.

What on Earth was I thinking? The last time I’d written something for the story, it had come true. I’d promised myself I wouldn’t work on it anymore. And yet here I was, literally trembling with inspiration. I to distract myself, reasoning that the feelings might pass. To pass the time, I got out the notebook I’d been writing in at the coffee shop the night before. I tried to transcribe what I’d written onto the computer, but it was slow work. My heart was not at all in it. I longed to write Jericho, to return to the dark city that was the culmination of all my worst fears.

Finally, I gave up trying to fight it. I saved the document I’d been transcribing to and opened a new one. With a sigh of relief, I began to write.

Jericho Chapter 2

Carson Quinn looked at himself in the mirror. Looking back at him was a young blond man, just under six feet tall, green eyes scanning himself critically. He was fit, but not overly muscular. Carson always ate right and exercised. His body was the Lord’s temple and he worked every day to keep that temple in top condition.

Carson was vaguely aware that he was an attractive young man. He’d been told this by enough people and had observed the reactions of young women around him to confirm it. And though Carson was attractive, that didn’t really influence his life overmuch. He had no real interest in the opposite sex. A girlfriend would only distract him from what was truly important in life. And that was serving God to his fullest ability.

Carson had known ever since he had been very young that he was different. Special, in some way. For as far back as he could remember, Carson had been aware that God had a plan for him and Carson had dedicated himself to fulfilling that plan. When he’d arrived at Castle University, Carson had found his purpose.

The young man had found himself adrift in a sea of sinners. But this had not discouraged him. The presence of so much darkness only served to make Carson’s light seem brighter by comparison. It had strengthened his resolve. Carson had found a church and attended every week and was extensively involved in every activity he could for the church. And so much time spent in the presence of God had given Carson insight to the root of humanity’s sin.

It was women. Women were the originally tempted. Women went on to tempt men. Even the angels were not immune to their wiles, laying with them and siring heroes and giants. Woman was, by default, a creature more given over to sin than man. Which is why, when Carson realized his true purpose, he was unsurprised to find that it centered around these flawed second drafts.

Carson was to become a cleanser. Carson would find those persons who were sources of sin. Seductresses, false prophetesses, harlots and witches. He would find them all and he would end them.

He’d taken is first victim. Christi Dale had been a loose woman, leading good men astray with her feminine wiles. But it wasn’t enough to remove the source of sin. No, if any lesson was to be taught, the people would need to be educated. To that end, he had taken one of his many bibles and sacrificed it to exhibit her sins to the world.

The papers were calling him the Bible Killer. He was okay with that.

I looked at what I had written, astonished. I felt like all of it had poured out of me at once. I wasn’t consciously aware of having written any of it. As I reread the chapter over and over, I found myself occupied by a strange thought.

Now I know my enemy, I thought. A strange thought. I still had no proof that Carson Quinn was anything more than a figment of my imagination. And yet the thought was still there. I needed to think. And by extension, I needed to walk.

I saved the document and shut down the laptop. I threw on my jacket and walked out of the apartment, making sure that I locked the door this time. I didn’t want a repeat of last night. And though I felt overall more levelheaded, I was still leery that I might panic a bit.

Once outside I began to reason with myself. Honestly, this chapter didn’t seem too dangerous on its own. It had merely revealed to me the identity of my antagonist. That the Bible Killer was a fellow college student. Probably at Ross University, since Kristi’s doppelganger had been a student at Castle University, just like Carson Quinn.

That was another thing. I seemed to predisposed to think of Carson in terms of his full name. Rarely was he Carson. Often was he Carson Quinn. Maybe there was some significance to that? There was no way to tell, really.

Again I returned to the idea of the dangers of this chapter. I mulled it over for quite a while and decided that I didn’t really need to feel guilty since no one had died in the story. For that matter I didn’t need to feel guilty if someone had. The more I thought about it, the more the Kristi Dell case seemed like it had to be coincidence. There was simply no rational explanation otherwise. And the realm of the irrational, especially in this case, was thoroughly terrifying.

I needed something to distract me from this story. When I’d been around Adrienne, I’d been able to stave off thoughts of Jericho. Maybe I just needed to keep my mind occupied. And away from the computer.

I flipped open my cell phone and dialed David Wright. David had been my best friend since high school. He and I had plans to hang out the next day, but I figured I’d check and see if he was busy today.

Three rings and then David picked up.


“Hey David, it’s Aaron,” I said.

“Hey Aaron. What’s up?”

“Not a whole lot,” I lied. “You free at all tonight? I got a few things I’d like to talk about.”

“Uh,” said David, unsure. “Hold on just a second.” I heard the sound of paper rustling. “Um, yeah, sure,” he said. “I’ve only got a couple pages of reading left before I’m done with this homework. I should be able to get it done by the time you make it over here, assuming you’re walking from your apartment?”

“I’m just outside it, but yeah,” I said. “The timing should be about the same.”

“Okay,” said David. “Sounds good. I’ll see you in a few.” He hung up.

I began making my way to David’s apartment. He shared a two bedroom apartment with another friend of ours, Carl Norris. I say friend of ours, but Carl and I didn’t really get along that well. We were both friends with David and we were civil with each other when he was around. But when he wasn’t, we mostly ignored one another. Carl and David had been roommates since freshman year and had gotten used to living together. David had invited me to live with them, saying we could get a three bedroom apartment, but I had declined. I’d gotten pretty used to living on my own. I’d managed to grab a single in the dorms my freshman year and had lived in the same single apartment from sophomore year on. I’m sure Carl had been relieved when I’d turned down David’s offer. It meant not moving and not living with me. Both things would have been a lot of hassle.

I got to David’s apartment having kept myself preoccupied with the question of what exactly I was going to use to fuel conversation. I couldn’t exactly just say that I thought I was writing a novel that killed people. I decided that Adrienne would be a good topic to start with and let the conversation develop organically from there.

I knocked on the door to the apartment. Carl answered the door.

“Aaron,” he said, simply.

“Carl,” I responded.

“Can I help you?” he asked, coolly.

“Yeah, I, um,” I said. “I’m here for Dave.”

“Just a second,” he said and started to move away from the door. He turned back to me and added, “come on in.”

I stepped inside the apartment and closed the door behind me. Carl knocked on David’s door.

“Aaron’s here,” he said through the wood.

I heard David’s muffled reply of “one sec!”

A few moments later, the door opened and out stepped David.

“What’s up, Aaron?” he asked as he made his way to the closet, retrieving his coat.

“Just wanted to take a walk and get a little talking done,” I said with a shrug.

David turned to Carl. “I’ll probably just grab dinner while I’m out, cool?”

Carl shrugged noncommittally. “Sure, I’ll probably just warm up some of the leftover Chinese.”

“Alright,” said David. He turned to me and gestured at the door. “Let’s get to walking.”

I opened the door and we both left the apartment.

“So,” said David. “What’s on your mind, Murphy?”

Chapter 3

Chapter 3

I woke up around noon on Saturday. As is so often the case, my fears from the night before seemed exceedingly foolish in the daylight. I turned off the excess lights in the apartment and made myself a late breakfast. After some hesitation I opened up my laptop and turned it on.

I felt a sense of apprehension as I watched the computer boot up. I had promised myself that I would not react the way I had last night. I needed to stay clam, and act rationally.

I logged onto the computer and opened two documents. The first was my notes from my interview with Dana Miles, Kristi Dell’s roommate. The second was the first chapter of Jericho. For the first time, I actually compared the facts of the interview to the narrative. The similarities sent a chill down my spine.

There was no way for me to know if the conversation between Kristi and the killer had actually happened. That didn’t especially make me feel better. The fact remained that there was no reason for me to be writing it again any time soon. But something in the back of my mind was morbidly fascinated by the prospect. Some dark part of me really wanted to experiment with this. But I pushed that deeper into my subconscious.

Instead, I decided to call Adrienne.

I found the coat I’d been wearing the night before and fished the napkin out of my pocket. I entered Adrienne as a contact and then dialed the number.

Three rings, then: “Hello?”

“Adrienne? It’s Aaron. From last night at the Bean.”

Her voice perked up. A good sign. “Oh! I was wondering if you’d call.”

“I did,” I said and immediately felt like a tool. I was grinning like an idiot and very glad she couldn’t see me at the moment. “So are you up for maybe hanging out?”

“Sure,” she replied. “Where do you want to go?”

“I just woke up, so coffee at the Bean sounds pretty good to me right now,” I suggested.

“Great!” She said. “I’ll meet you there.”

“Okay, see you in a few. Bye.”

I grabbed my jacket and headed over to the Bean. Adrienne apparently lived closer to it than I did, because she was already there waiting for me when I got there. She waved at me from the table she’d secured.

I smiled and waved back. I made my way to the counter and got my drink, then headed over to the table with Adrienne.

“Hi,” I said, unoriginally.

“Hi!” was her equally creative response.

“So what have you been up to today? Anything exciting or productive?”

Adrienne shook her head. “Not really. I woke up about a couple hours before you called. I spent most of that time cruising Facebook. Speaking of which, you need to confirm my friend request when you get home.”

I laughed. “I’ll get right on that.”

“I’m really glad you called,” admitted Adrienne. “I was afraid you’d think last night was just a fluke or something.”

I shook my head. “No way. I haven’t connected that quickly with someone for a long time. There was no way I wasn’t going to follow up on that.”

“Believe me, it’s a relief,” she said, then took a sip of her coffee. “I spent a lot of time last night way over thinking it.”

“I bet you weren’t half as worried as I was,” I said with a grin. I saw no reason to let her know exactly what had inspired that worrying.

“So Aaron,” said Adrienne. “You mentioned last night you’re something of a writer. What is it you write?”

I shrugged. “A little bit of everything. I’ve written a lot of short stories, but never finished anything novel-length. I always seem to run out of steam a third of the way in.”

“Maybe you should stick to short fiction, then?” offered Adrienne.

“For the most part, that’s exactly what I do.” I paused. “What about you? I know you’re a great poet, but have you ever tried your hand at prose?”

Adrienne shook her head. “No, not really. I mean, I’m sure everyone has tried to write some sort of really short story at some time in their life or the other. But it’s just not the same as when I write poetry. The words just sort of seem to flow out of me when I’m doing a poem and when I try and write prose things get all clunky useless. It always feels forced and just. . .yeah.” She looked annoyed at her own inability to aptly sum up her thoughts. She turned her attention back to me. “And what about you? Have you ever written any poetry?”

“Who hasn’t? I’m pretty sure that every American high schooler has had to write poetry for an English class at some point or another. And of course there’s a fair bit of short story work in the introductory courses for Creative Writing. But I’m kind of like you in reverse. I don’t really do the whole poem thing. Prose is just a lot more agreeable to me. Not that I don’t enjoy poetry, just I can’t really produce it.”

Adrienne smiled. “My coffee is over,” she said, turning the empty mug upside down over the table between us. “What do you say we stop with the sitting and take a walk around campus?”

I quickly gulped down the last swallows of my coffee and agreed. We disposed of our cups and stepped outside.

“Where did you want to go?” I asked Adrienne as I held my lighter to the cigarette in her mouth.

“No where in particular,” she admitted, already walking as I followed. “I just wanted to stretch my legs a little. I think better when I walk.”

“Oh, I totally get that. I usually walk around for about an hour before I sit down to write anything. In fact, a strange desire to avoid collisions with cars and my fellow pedestrians is the only reason I don’t just walk around scribbling furiously in my notebook.” I grinned.

Adrienne laughed. “It’s so nice of you to sacrifice your muse for the good of yourself and others.”

I laughed with her. We made the rounds of the college, talking, laughing. At one point Adrienne asked me for some writing advice.

“I’m sure that I’m not done with prose yet, so tell me: Do you have any advice on improving? Any quick tips that I can keep in mind for writing fiction?”

I thought about the question for a moment before answering. “It’s pretty much a cardinal rule of writing that you have to kill your darlings.”

Adrienne looked at me quizzically. “What do you mean by that?” she asked.

“Well,” I began. “It’s like this: When you’re writing something, sometimes you can’t see that the things you think are best about the work are what’s holding it back. And it’s not until you cut these out that you can actually realize your full potential. Hence, killing your darlings. It’s one of the most consistently articulated points I’ve heard when it comes to writing advice.” I thought for another moment, then added: “That and write everyday. But that’s more for people who want to get really serious about writing. But it seems to me that you just want to get the prose over with so that you can focus on poetry. Still, it couldn’t hurt.”

Adrienne smiled. “Thanks, Aaron. I’ll keep it in mind.”

“No problem.”

We walked and talked some more. Eventually, we reached Adrienne’s apartment complex.

“It’s been fun,” she said. “But I do have to go work on some homework. And I told Meredith, my roommate, that I’d watch a movie with her later tonight. Kind of a “girls’ night.” Hopefully I’ll see you again soon? What are you up to tomorrow?”

“Tomorrow’s not good,” I said apologetically. “I’ve got plans to hang out with some friends already. And then Monday I have to do some work at the paper. Tuesday should work though.”

“Tuesday it is, then,” said Adrienne. “I’ll see you then, Aaron.”

“For sure. I’ll call you after I’m done with classes.”

I headed for home. As I walked, the euphoria from hanging out with Adrienne began to fade. Instead, I could feel a story taking shape in my mind. The next chapter of Jericho.

Chapter 2

Chapter 2

[Editor's note: I've supplemented Aaron's writings with certain documents that I think are relevant. As far as I know, he hasn't read the following document.]

From the diary of Adrienne Harris.

October 17th, 2008

Dear Diary,

Today I did a bad thing. I followed a boy home again! I don’t know why I did it. It’s been over two years since I last had an incident. Dr. Ward told me I was making real progress to finally overcoming the compulsion. Good thing I go in for an appointment on Monday anyway, otherwise I’d have to try and schedule an emergency appointment with Dr. Ward.

I know it was wrong, but I felt a little bit of guilty pleasure as I did it. I mean, I was very good. We just met tonight, the boy and I did. He had heard my poem at the slam and said he really liked it. So we ended up talking for a long time. I gave him my number. I did everything right. But I guess I was just afraid that he wasn’t going to want to call me. So when he left, I followed him home.

Like I said, I was good. He must be a little paranoid, or maybe it was because at the coffee shop we’d talked about that girl Kristi’s murder. Either way, he kept checking behind himself as he walked. It was challenging, but I avoided being seen. I know I shouldn’t think like this, but honestly, it’s kind of good to know that even being out of practice for so long, I can still shadow with the best of them.

But no matter what, I’m not letting this one get out of hand. I’m going to come clean with Dr. Ward on Monday and together, we’ll work through this little lapse to keep it from becoming a full-blown crisis. I haven’t stalked anyone since I got to college and I don’t intend to start back up again. No matter how perfect for each other we are, it is not appropriate to obsess over someone to that degree. If it’s meant to be, he’ll come around. If it’s not, then at least there’s no reason for me to be criminally investigated.

* * *

[Relevant information ends here. I now return you to the next chapter of Aaron's manuscript.]

I returned home and kept trying to shake off the feeling that I’d been followed. I turned on all the lights in the apartment and I was still able to be startled by even the slightest noise. It was times like these that I didn’t like being in a first-floor apartment. The constant groaning of my ceiling as the upstairs neighbors moved around was unsettling when I was in this sort of mood.

Finally focusing enough to overcome my silly fears and anxieties, I started up the computer and searched for the first chapter of Jericho. And find it I did.

Jericho Chapter 1

Jericho is not a friendly place. Jericho is our world reflected in a dirty and ancient mirror. The shapes are recognizable, but the details are eerily dark and hazy. To walk alone at night in Jericho is to take your life into your own hands. Every shadow holds a more horrible secret than the last.

Christi Dale knew that she wasn’t alone in the apartment. Living in Jericho sharpens certain instincts for survival. Unfortunately for her, her attacker was too fast for that intuition to be useful. She felt a cord wrap tightly around her neck. Immediately, Christi began to kick behind her at her unseen attacker and claw at the garrote. The attacker ignored her struggles and simply pulled the cord tighter.

Christi’s assailant moved his head into her field of vision as her struggles began to subside. Her body no longer had the oxygen needed to continue the fight. As her eyes struggled to stay focused, she took in the appearance of her killer. He was tall, blond, and some part of her mind even registered him as being very attractive. This attraction was of course, overridden by the more immediate hostility he was demonstrating. Still, it was there.

“Christi,” whispered her attacker. “Do you know why you have to die?”

Christi was, of course, unable to answer.

“You are a nonbeliever and a fornicator. And to top it all off, your very name is an affront to Christ. An account of your sins will surround your empty body, so that you may serve as an example to others like you.”

I slammed the lid of my laptop and ran outside to light up. Once outdoors, I just started walking as quickly as I could from the apartment, wanting to put as much distance as possible between me and the laptop. It took me about ten minutes of mindless flight before I calmed down enough to think closely about what I’d just discovered.

My story had happened. It had come true. There were some differences, but those were small enough that I felt they actually strengthened the prophecy aspect. The only real question left was one of causality. Did the murder happen because I wrote it or did I write it because it was going to happen? I hoped with all of my being that it was the latter. If the former, then that meant that I had killed someone. And not just anyone. A girl my age, with hopes dreams, friends, family. An honest to God flesh and blood human being. And I was pretty sure I wouldn’t be able to handle that knowledge.

Which of course, left me in conflict. If I tried to write more of Jericho, if I tried to force it, and found that it happened, that wouldn’t really answer either question. If I forced it and nothing happened, that would lead me to believe I was predicting things. If I turned out to be predictive sometimes and not at others, especially if these instances lined up well with an inspired/uninspired dichotomy, then in my mind I’d definitely feel that I was somehow receiving premonitions. After much consideration I decided that I’d try to avoid writing any more of Jericho. No matter what happened, my conscience would suffer. If I was the cause, well, I didn’t want to be a killer, no matter how obliquely. If I wasn’t the cause, I’d feel powerless. If I went to the police trying to stop one of the murders by showing them stories I’d written describing in detail the deaths of people, they’d probably be suspicious of me instead of grateful for the tip.

That was an interesting problem to consider. Could I honestly account for where I’d been on the night of Kristi Dell’s murder? It didn’t seem likely that I had any sort of fugue, but stranger things have been known to happen. There were many problems with that hypothesis, foremost among the fact that I don’t believe I’ve ever even owned a bible, much less killed a stranger over some religious issue. And I was fairly certain that once I’d calmed down a little bit more, I’d be able to remember exactly where I had been on the night of Kristi’s murder.

So I’d ruled myself out as a suspect. It was around this time that it struck me how very far from home I was and how late in the evening it was. Jonah’s Cross is a college town, so rarely do the lights go down. Still, to get back to my apartment, I had to walk through quite a few dark stretches. And rereading Jericho did not make the prospect of walking home alone any easier. As I walked on, an even more unsettling realization overcame me. I hadn’t stopped to lock the door. My ground floor apartment was currently open to anyone who decided to try the doorknob.

Abject terror doesn’t even begin to describe the emotions I felt at that point.

Despite myself, I managed to keep from breaking out into a full-out run. But I did walk back very briskly. At the entrance to my apartment, I hesitated. My mind was alive with images of serial killers and dead co-eds. I probably stood in front of that door for a full fifteen minutes, completely immobile. Finally, I opened the door, bracing myself to be jumped. Naturally, I was not. I locked the door behind me and proceeded to turn the entire house upside down looking for anyone who might have snuck into the apartment. After twenty minutes I finally climbed into bed and stared at the ceiling with the lights on until I woke up the next morning.

Jericho: Chapter 1

Chapter 1

I’m writing this down not because I expect it to be believed, but because it’s true. I’m not sure if I can define a beginning point for the chain of causality that culminated in all of these events, but I do know where the story starts.

The story begins on a Friday in October, when I met a girl at a coffee shop. Her name was Adrienne and she was a poet. There was a slam at the coffee shop, a place named the Village Bean. Her poem was titled “My Jericho.” It spoke of walls and words. Of a man who can tear down stone with song. It was beautiful. She was beautiful.

Her face was hard lines and sharp angles. That description might make her sound unattractive or harsh, but really it was just the opposite. She was beautiful in the same way that a sword can be beautiful. The angles came together to form something that was decorative and practical. As attractive as I found her, it might be hard to believe that that wasn’t what caught my attention about her first. It really was her poetry. I had come to the Bean knowing that that slam would be happening that evening. I find that the poems, which are on average extremely mediocre, make good background noise for writing. I probably should mention that I write. It’ll be important later.

So there I was, writing in the coffee shop, cheerfully ignoring the poetry around me. And then I hear Adrienne’s voice. My writing reverie was gone, shattered. So I looked up from my notebook only to see her. So you see, her appearance was the second thing that caught my attention. After her poem, she got in line for a drink. To this day, I’m not sure what possessed me to get in line behind her, but that’s exactly what I did. I didn’t even stop to think about it, I just acted.

“That was a fantastic poem,” I said.

She smiled at me. “Thanks,” she said. “I was really nervous. I’ve never read anything in public before.”

I smiled back at her. “I’m glad you did. It was way better than the stuff I usually hear at these things.” I held out my hand. “I’m Aaron. Aaron Murphy”

“Adrienne Harris,” she responded, shaking my hand.

We ordered our drinks and she turned back to me. “So would you like to take this conversation to one of the tables outside?” She asked. “It’s a really nice night.”

“You read my mind,” I told her.

So after our drinks were ready, we slipped out the door, taking two seats at one of the vacant outdoor tables.

“So did you really mean that about my poem, earlier?” She asked.

I nodded. “Definitely. I come to these things all the time to write. You’re the first person that’s ever made enough of an impression to make me look up from the notebook. I can’t believe you’ve never done anything like this before.”

She turned a little red. “I just don’t usually show my poems to anyone. I’m not really sure why I even read My Jericho today.” She shrugged. “I guess I figured that if I never let anyone hear them, I’ll never know if anyone thinks along the same lines.”

“I think I see what you mean. I’m similar with my writing. I never let anyone see it, then I wonder why no one is aware of that side of me.” I laughed. “Look at me playing the misunderstood artiste. I feel like an idiot.”

She laughed, too. “No, it’s fine. I know what you were getting at even if it did come out a tad pretentious.”

My eye lingered on the ashtray in the middle of the table. The craving for a cigarette was beginning to hit me pretty hard. I debated internally for a few minutes whether or not to let Adrienne know I smoked. Some people were really bothered by it, but in the end I decided that if she couldn’t handle it, there wasn’t going to be too much point in continuing the conversation.

“Do you mind if I smoke?” I asked, trying to sound as nonchalant as possible.

A look of relief washed over Adrienne. “Oh thank God,” she said, pulling out a pack of cigarettes. “You have no idea how much better I feel now. I was so afraid you’d be one of those people who can’t stand a smoker.”

I chuckled. “Actually, I think I have a pretty good idea how you feel,” I said, producing my own pack. “I was worried about the same thing.” As I lit my cigarette, the sweet smell of cloves permeated the air. My tobacco preference did not go unnoticed by Adrienne.

“Expensive tastes, eh?” she said, cocking an eyebrow at me playfully.

I grinned sheepishly. “I’ve tried more traditional cigarettes, but once I started smoking these, I found that I really just couldn’t stand them anymore. Even though I really can’t afford to keep smoking these, I do.”

“I understand completely,” she said. “So what’s your major, Aaron?”

“English,” I said. “Yours?”

“Creative Writing.” She let out a small laugh, not quite a giggle or a chuckle, just sort of a light hearted scoff. “A fellow future welfare recipient.”

“Looks that way, yeah,” I agreed. She smiled at me and took a long drag on the cigarette and I felt alive like I hadn’t in a while. “You work at all on campus?”

She shook her head. “Nah. Occasionally I usually wait tables at one of the restaurants in town, but I’m between jobs this semester. Taking a break, as it were. What about you?”

“I’m a reporter for the Reader,” I said.

“No shit?”

“No shit.”

“You like it there?”

“It’s alright.” I paused to take another puff. “Most of the time it’s pretty banal, but every once in a while, something big happens. Remember that murder that happened a couple of weeks ago? I interviewed the victim’s roommate for the article we ran on it.”

“You’re kidding,” she said, eyes widening. “What was that like?”

“Really morbid, unsurprisingly,” I admitted. “But sort of interesting in a way, too. I mean, the whole situation was pretty messed up. Apparently there were bible pages strewn around the body. The girl, Kristi, she’d been strangled to death. She was just lying there in the middle of the ground in the middle of all the pages when the roommate got home. I feel really sorry for her. She and Kristi had been best friends since like, seventh grade.”

“And have they caught the guy who did it, yet?”

I raised an eyebrow at Adrienne. “You don’t know?”

She looked slightly embarrassed. “I don’t actually read the Reader all that often. I usually forget to grab a copy on my way to class.”

“Don’t worry about it,” I said. “Anyway, the police don’t really have any leads. They figure it’s probably a religious nutcase of some sort. Apparently the bible pages were all concerned with the evils of prostitution and so forth. Lots of harlots and Jezebels. It seems that even though she was pretty well liked by most people who knew her, Kristi had a bit of a reputation for sleeping around. It doesn’t seem like any of the men are suspects though. They’ve all got rock-solid alibis.”

Adrienne shook her head. “That’s so sad. Things like that just reinforce my beliefs on religion.”

“And those are?” I asked.

“However lofty the aims of a religion, they invariably seem to get twisted and dangerous as soon as you have any substantial of people involved.”

“Yes, but people like this killer would probably be fucked up with or without that framework.”

“Yeah, but it’s not just the crazies that get caught up in it. You can have someone who’s totally rational most of the time, but totally goes nuts if someone is telling her that God thinks something is wrong. I’ve seen really nice people do a complete 180 when they’re dealing with someone that doesn’t totally embrace everything they believe. And don’t even get me started on all the persecution that gets perpetuated by the major religions. I mean the ones who are just irredeemably crazy help to solidify it, but really it’s the fact that so many otherwise sane people are easily turned into a mob when you bring religion into it. That’s the scary part. And the fact that a lot of the extremist faction leaders legitimately believe that they are obeying God’s will by doing all these terrible things. . .” she trailed off. “It just really pisses me off.”

I shrugged. “I can see where you’re coming from, but I mean, religious types get a lot of good done in the world, too.”

“For any good thing a religious organization does, there’s usually a secular alternative that doesn’t try and cram their beliefs down your throat in addition do the help they give.” She looked at me, curious. “You don’t seemed especially bothered by my little tirade. What’s your take on the issue?”

I shrugged again. “I’ve never really given much thought to it. I’m just not really wired to worry too much about it. In general, I figure if I play nice, I’ll be much better off. I just never could get into the whole church thing, but at the same time I don’t really get worked up over it. Then again, I don’t get too worked up over much at all.”

Adrienne nodded. “I see where you’re coming from, and that’s cool.”

Something in the back of my mind was starting to bug me, but I was a little too preoccupied with Adrienne to really give it any thought. But there it was, nagging at me regardless.

Adrienne and I talked for another hour or so, and then decided it was probably time to leave.

“I had a lot of fun tonight, Aaron. We need to do something like this again.” She took out a pen and scribbled on my napkin for a second. “Here’s my number. Call me sometime this weekend and we’ll hang out, okay?”

“Most definitely,” I said, pocketing the napkin.

As I walked home, the giddiness from spending the evening with an attractive girl began to fade. Slowly, uneasiness replaced it. I felt like I was being watched, followed. Normally, I try to ignore that feeling, since it’s pretty well omnipresent. But in light of the fact that there was, in fact, a killer on the loose, I gave in to my paranoia, checking behind me every few steps. I never did see anyone there.

As I let my fears run wild, I realized what had been bothering me earlier in the night. Talking with Adrienne about the murder made me realize that the circumstances of Kristi Dell’s death seemed oddly familiar. Like I’d read about the murder before. And I was fairly certain I knew where.

A few months ago, I had written the first chapter of a story I called Jericho. In that chapter, a college student fell victim to the devices of a serial killer colloquially known as the Bible Killer. He strangled the woman and left pages of the bible detailing her sins in her apartment. I hadn’t really been feeling the story, so I’d shelved it. But the fact that it seemed now to have been prophetic, coupled with the fact that its title was eerily similar to that of Adrienne’s poem made me feel like I should give it another look.