Somebody was slowly killing off people in my little town of Greenside. The first death happened on Halloween, and it had been a huge shock: A little boy of eight was found in his backyard with his belly slashed open. Mom didn’t let me go outside for a whole week. In fact, she didn’t let me play with my friend, Taylor, at all. The town was scared, everybody was locked in their homes, and everything was quiet. Yet, somehow, the killer still managed to pick out victims and leave them sprawled on their backs, bellies cut open.
A week after the boy’s death they found another dead person; a woman who was the mom of a girl in my class. I felt so bad when I found out and I cried because it was unbelievable that the girl didn’t have a mom anymore. How could somebody die so fast, just like that?
The day after that there was another death, then another, and another, until the last day of the month, when they found Taylor’s body right outside my house. There were loads of cops outside but I didn’t see much because my mom told me to stay away from the windows. I only caught a glimpse of Taylor’s hand; the rest of her was covered in a white sheet as she lay on my lawn. She had been my best friend. We’d first met in kindergarten and had been in the same class ever since, until fifth grade. It made me sad to think that we wouldn’t be together in sixth.
The days passed and I had nightmares about dead people. At my house we were almost out of food, so Mom was constantly worried about that. And also, we got a call from the neighbors across the street, and they said that the Lettersons, a family down the block, had boarded up their house and left Greenside for safety. I asked Mom if we would leave too, but she shook her head and told me to be quiet.
It was December now and the murders had stopped. We heard that people started to get out of their houses to go shopping, but still, Mom didn’t want us to go out to the street. She said the killer might be lurking in the bushes or hiding behind a tree. So as other families went out to buy fresh food and stuff, Mom and I were stuck in the house like frightened mice, scared of a big, fat cat that waited patiently for us to poke our heads out the door. This went on until the neighbors came and convinced Mom that the killer was gone. Greenside was free to mourn for the dead.
Christmas and New Year’s Eve were cancelled in our small town. Instead of celebrating feasts and presents, we attended funerals and watched as polished coffins were lowered into the ground. Lots of people cried, but I only did at Taylor’s burial. I couldn’t believe that she was dead. She, the girl who had played and fought with me so much, was in that brown coffin, being buried forever. How was that possible?
February came and we had school again. It felt weird being without Taylor. When our teacher walked into the classroom, he asked for a minute of silence for her and all the other people of Greenside that had been murdered. When he began the class, I couldn’t concentrate. My mind drifted away and I found myself wondering about the killer. Who was he? And why couldn’t the cops catch him? Was he still in Greenside, or did he leave to kill people at some other small town?
During recess, I heard many stories about the killer. Some said he wore a mask and had a huge chainsaw. Others claimed that it was a ghost who was haunting the people of Greenside. But one rumor really caught my attention: Autumn Lanners.
Autumn was a girl my age, supposedly home-schooled. Many kids believed that she was the killer because she hadn’t been seen ever since the first murder. Their logic was the she would’ve said something if she had left town, or else her body would’ve been found if she had been killed.
But something didn’t make sense to me. If she was the killer, then where were her parents? They said Autumn was home-schooled, so that meant that she definitely had someone to teach her at home.
“What about her parents?” I blurted as I listened to their conversation over by the swings.
A kid turned to me and shook his head. “She killed them too. If she has parents, that is. Trust me: Autumn is crazy.”
Part of me knew that it was just a rumor, but the other part wanted to believe she was the killer. Autumn was crazy, actually. She dressed weird, with skinny jeans and over-sized T-shirts, and she always smelled strongly of bleach for some reason. Plus, she talked to herself. I’d only heard her voice once, and it happened one afternoon long ago when I was walking home from school along with Taylor. Autumn was sitting on the curb all by herself, talking about apples and trucks to some invisible person beside her. She didn’t even notice us when we walked by.
I never really liked Autumn, but I sometimes felt bad for her because other kids liked to make fun of her. They yelled in her ears, telling her she was stupid, or pushed her and spat at her face. She never defended herself; she only stared back and left without a single word.
Anyways, as the days crawled by the rumor of Autumn Lanners being the killer gained lots of popularity among the kids at school. They even added a part where Autumn had fooled around with witchcraft on Halloween night and had accidentally cursed herself, making her go completely nuts. Supposedly, she started killing because of this self-inflicted curse, but I didn’t believe in witchcraft, so I discarded this from my mind.
Then there was the Valentine’s Day murder. An old couple had been found dead in their home, still in bed like they were sleeping. Their little dog had barked its head off until a neighbor went to investigate and saw the bodies through the bedroom window. So once again, Greenside locked its doors as the police did their work and Mom and I weren’t an exception. I told her about the Autumn Lanners rumor, but she told me it was ridiculous, because a little girl would never do such a thing. To kill, she said, you needed a strong reason for it. I mentioned the curse part, but she said witchcraft wasn’t real.
A couple days after the discovery of the old couple, I was getting into bed when I heard a noise right outside my window. I peeked around the curtains even though Mom had prohibited it, but I saw nothing; only the fence and the neighbors’ house. I hopped back into bed and that’s when a stench reached my nostrils: Bleach.
In record time, I bolted from my room and hurled myself onto Mom’s bed. She asked what was wrong and I told her that Autumn was outside my window. Don’t be ridiculous, she said, and she took me back to my room. To our great surprise, my window was wide open and the curtains swayed gently with the wind. Mom scolded me for opening it, and she didn’t believe me when I said it wasn’t me. She shut the window and left me alone. She didn’t even ask about the nostril-burning smell of bleach that had invaded my room.
I got back into bed and pulled the covers up to my chin. And I watched. I watched as my closet door slowly slid open. A scream formed in my throat, but it didn’t come out. I simply lay there, eyes wide and peeing myself as Autumn Lanners stepped out of the closet holding a massive kitchen knife. In the dark I couldn’t make out her eyes, but I knew they were blue, probably bloodshot and tired like always.
She sat down by my feet and set her knife aside. “Turn on the lamp,” she whispered.
I nodded and reached out to my bedside table. Orange light filled the room and I gasped when I realized that Autumn’s over-sized T-shirt was covered in blood, as were her hands and forearms.
“They told me to do it,” she whispered.
I didn’t say anything. I wanted her to leave.
Autumn suddenly broke into a shy grin. She took one of her blonde braids and began to play with it, never taking her eyes off me. “They told me to do it,” she repeated.
I gulped. “Who did?”
She grinned again. “The voices.”
“It’s a secret. I can’t tell you. They told me on Halloween.”
I stared as Autumn took her knife again, and my insides lurched as she leaned over and pressed the cold steel against my cheek. The smell of bleach coming off her body made my eyes water.
“I like you,” she said. “You never make fun of me. You never push me. You never spit my face.”
I closed my eyes wishing she would take the knife away from my cheek. “Don’t hurt me,” I told her.
A sharp pain on my arm made me jolt, but she had only pinched me.
“I won’t,” Autumn said. “But only if you promise me something.”
Her eyes went wide. Crazy wide. “Promise me you’ll keep my legend alive.”
“And kill me,” she finished.
At first I declined her wish to be killed by me, but she threatened me with her knife and I had no choice. She made me swear that I wouldn’t tell anybody how she died, or where I buried her, so I’m sorry that I can’t tell you. All I can say is that she is gone and I kept her legend alive: Bloody Autumn’s soul lives in the small town of Greenside, and she haunts the streets at night. And if you ever make fun of her living memory, she’ll return and make sure it’s your last laugh.
by Ralph Serr