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An excerpt from


Chapter 1



I flip through the headlines of the big city tabloids sitting on my desk. Normally I would roll my eyes at their dramatic hyperbole, but in this case, they aren’t all that far off. The scene at the house on the hill really was more horrific than anyone could have imagined.

I’ve been covering community news at The Wilport Herald for over a decade, and while we’ve had our share of crimes, none could have prepared us for what lay beneath the earth up on that hill.

It was anyone’s nightmare, and therefore, a reporter’s dream.

The young woman in question, Ainsley Price—also identified as “A.J.” by a close family friend named Sam—had never been suspected of anything before this moment other than leading a boring, rather anti-social life.

Post-mortem follow-up police work and reporting would later piece together her double life—one of sex, murder, and cannibalism. Police reports from the scene told of the butchered remains of dozens of men.

“Lila, why are you still here? Stop reading that filth. Go home.”

I jump at the sound of my editor Raymond’s voice behind me.

“I know. I will. I just can’t get my mind off this story, Ray. What would drive someone to do this?” I say.

And why can’t I get it off my mind, I wonder? Something strange is echoing inside me that I can’t quite put my finger on.

Ray watches me carefully.

“Who knows, sometimes people are just crazy. We can’t make sense of their actions. I know it’s your nature to dig, but I think, in this case, she was just a lunatic,” he says.

“Okay, maybe you’re right,” I say and sigh to myself.

Still, my eyes drift toward the photo on the front page of one of the tabloids—a shy young woman, a woman who could even be pretty if she wasn’t draped in drab, unflattering clothing.

It’s so hard for me to imagine this woman as a killer. Which is probably why she was so good at it.

What are you hiding, Ainsley…?

* * *

Later, with Raymond long gone and dusk settling in, I get in my car and start the ignition.

I’m still preoccupied by this terrible crime story. I’ve written a story acceptable for the paper based on police facts, leaving out any details too gory for a community publication. My story is rote and unremarkable for such a heinous crime.

But those are the rules, I guess.

The light changes and I hit the gas. Without fully realizing it, I make a left instead of a right, finding myself drawn to the house.

Ainsley’s house.

Most people
would call me crazy for wanting to drive up here in the dark. But, yet again, my curiosity has gotten the best of me. It wasn’t even a conscious decision.

* * *

I slowly make my way up the darkening gravel road leading to the house, set back high on a hill with darkness behind it. Her house. A flock of unidentifiable birds are disturbed from their evening perches and flap across my windshield, cawing angrily.

A chill goes down my spine as they disappear into the fading light.

I drive up as far as my nerves will let me, and then I park my car. After a few deep breaths, I finally drum up the courage to open my car door and get out. The air is eerily still. Another chill runs up my back.

The house and I stand face-to-face. It feels lifeless—yet not. Suddenly, I can’t get any closer for fear that it might swallow me whole.

Instead, I walk to the yard—or rather, what remains of the yard. Police looking for evidence—human remains—have torn the earth to pieces. Police tape flutters in the wind like sad flags of surrender.

I’m looking at a heavily raked-over patch of dirt. An open wound, a grave of the mingled blood from many deaths.

A crack sounds behind me and I turn quickly with a gasp. I see nothing in the growing darkness.

Time to leave, Lila.

I turn around one last time to survey this place of misery and death.

Where are you, Ainsley?

I’m trying to understand…

Beyond the torn-up earth, some dark shapes catch my eye. I walk farther into the darkness and the shapes become clearer: a row of crumbling tombstones standing watch over this shattered kingdom.

I feel the hairs on my neck stand up and sense that I’m being watched, but the only sign of life I can hear is my own breathing.

A light wind ruffles my hair and I catch a faint sound, like the flapping of the birds’ wings, but fainter.

Against my better judgment—and almost against my will—I follow the sound, slowly making my way in the dark, getting closer to those beaten stones, those beacons of death.

Almost at the foot of a tombstone, my trembling hand reaches toward the ground. Beneath it I can feel something; an object covered in filth. I lift and dust the dirt off of a small notebook. I use my cellphone as a light to look closer and peer at the handwritten lines on the first page.

Last night, I dreamt I ate Sam.

Both a chill and shot of journalistic jubilation shoots through my spine.

Notebook in hand, I slowly make my way back to my car in the dark. I turn once more to look at the dark house and hold the notebook close to my heart.

Others will tell a story. I’m going to find the truth.

“That’s a promise, Ainsley,” I whisper.

Because I am a reporter. And that’s what I do.

As I drive away, a shadow moves across the watchful tombstones. A shadow I don’t see, but feel.