The detective looked nothing like the typical Hollywood version of a female detective, young and blonde and busty beneath her pantsuit. No, the real life version – Detective Abrams, her badge said – was older, probably close to fifty, with graying hair cropped close to her scalp and overly large reading glasses, which had slid down the bridge of her nose as she bent over her tablet, the pen in her hand scratching furiously against the paper.
At the moment, it was the only sound in the room, and though he knew the silence would soon be broken by another question he’d be expected to answer, AJ closed his eyes, grateful for the temporary reprieve. Normally, he hated quiet; he was used to background noise – music, the drone of voices, the engine of a plane or tour bus – and for him, total silence was not only strange, but downright creepy. Even creepier than the steady blips and beeps of the hospital monitors, which his nurse had silenced, thinking it would help him sleep. But he couldn’t sleep, hadn’t slept without the help of drugs since he’d awoken here, and in the absence of the distracting monitors, he could hear their screams.
The pen stopped scratching, and AJ reluctantly opened his eyes to meet those of the detective. They were kind eyes, sympathetic to the horror their owner was forcing him to relive. Yet they were also deep, penetrating, as they searched his for answers. Uncomfortable, he looked away and refused to make eye contact with her again, even as she asked her next question.
“I know we’re getting to the most difficult parts to tell, AJ, but remember, the more information you’re able to give us, the more we’ll have to go off of to find the person who did this to you and your friends. So tell me… what happened once you awoke in the room?”
Closing his eyes again, he saw the room. Bright. Sterile.
The room reminded him of the place in a morgue where autopsies were done. It even had the stainless steel tables, five of them in a row, and strapped to each, with heavy restraints holding down their limbs and torsos, were the five of them. Kevin was on one side of him, Brian on the other. Beyond Brian lay Nick and Howie; he could just lift his head far enough off the table to see them. And when he lay his head back down, his neck straining with the effort of holding it up, he could hear them. Their heavy breathing. Their questions and their cries.
“Where are we?”
“How did we get here?”
“Why… why is this happening?”
“What do you think she’s gonna do? Oh God, what do you think she’s gonna do?”
AJ took a labored breath, the air rattling in his throat. It was with great effort that he spoke again, his voice hoarser than usual. “She took Howie first.”
Detective Abrams poised her pen over her tablet. “You said ‘she’ again, yet earlier you told me that your captor never spoke and was disguised the entire time. How do you know it was a woman?”
Against his wishes, his mind conjured a vivid picture of her: the blood-stained apron, tied around moth-eaten clothes; the tall black hat, concealing her hair; the mask, hiding her face. He shuddered, opening his eyes so that he saw, instead, the lined face of Detective Abrams. “I could just tell,” he answered. “Her… her shape, height, her hands… she was definitely female.”
He was sure of that fact, though it pained him to admit it. Somehow, his torturer’s gender made the experience seem even more nightmarish, even more unfathomable. AJ McLean had always adored women. How could one of them inflict so much pain and terror upon him? And why? Why? It was the question no one yet had an answer to, and perhaps they never would.
“I know you’ve been asked before, but think again… is there anything else you can tell me about her? Any other details you might remember? Anything that could help us find out her identity?”
Slowly, he shook his head. “I told you… she didn’t tell us her name; she didn’t tell us anything. She was all dressed up; every inch of her was covered. Even her hands. She had on wh… white gloves.” Briefly, they had been white, he knew vaguely. He remembered them better as red, saturated with blood.
“And a mask, correct?”
He nodded with mild annoyance. Why did she keep asking the same questions over and over again? Did she not believe him? Did she expect his answers to change? He tightened his jaw. “Yes,” he said stiffly. “I told you… it was an Abraham Lincoln mask.”
The pen flew briefly across the paper, underlining something, and then the detective looked back up at him, cocking her head slightly to the side. “Why Lincoln, I wonder? Do you think there’s any significance to that? It’s an odd choice of disguise.”
AJ shook his head, his annoyance growing. “Fuck if I know. She was a fucking lunatic; does she need a reason?”
“She must have had a reason for her actions. Finding out what that motive was will help us to understand why this happened to you. And from what I saw on the crime scene, insanity doesn’t cover it. This person was not insane. Mentally ill, perhaps – likely, even – but not insane. Her ‘work’ shows a great level of skill, of planning and resourcefulness. A truly insane person is not capable of such rationalization. She was perhaps a sadist, a sociopath, but also brilliant.”
“How can you say that?!” AJ lashed out in anger, and the exertion brought his torso flying forward off the mattress. He felt both enraged and sick to his stomach. “She murdered my friends, my brothers! She fucking mutilated us! You call that brilliant?”
Detective Abrams seemed to realize she had gone too far; her face took on a stricken look, and she shook her head. “I apologize. I… I didn’t mean to sound insensitive. Please… lie back, take a minute.”
He didn’t want to obey, but he was too exhausted not to. Wearily, he let his body fall back against his pillows and lay slumped there for a moment, his chest heaving. Tears swam in his eyes, but he blinked them back, knowing he could not allow himself to break down yet. There would be plenty of time for tears later, but first, he had to force himself to tell this woman everything he knew, if not for her, then for them.
The perceptive detective seemed to sense his resolve, for after another minute of silence, she asked him gently, “Are you able to keep going, AJ? You said… ‘She took Howie.’ Can you tell me more? Where did she take him?”
AJ blinked rapidly, his eyes wandering anywhere but her face. He caught sight of the monitor off to the side of his bed and watched the numbers change to reflect his pounding heart, his rapid breath, his rising blood pressure. It was going to kill him to go on, to tell the rest of the story, but what did that matter? He had survived – technically, in the physical sense – but he felt dead already, dead on the inside, dead in his soul. How could he go on living after this? How could he live without them… and the way she’d left him? If the strain of answering the detective’s questions did kill him, he would welcome death.
So he started talking again. “There was another room… off of the one we were in. I never saw the inside, other than when she came and went from it. She kept the door closed the rest of the time. She… she took Howie there.”
“Where are you taking him?”
“Stop! Please, don’t!”
Their screams and their pleas made no difference. Without a backward glance, the short Abraham Lincoln wheeled the table holding Howie away from the others, into a room that appeared much smaller, though just as clean and bright. The door was slammed shut, and they fell into silence, listening in horror, straining for a hint of what was to happen to their friend behind that door.
“And then what?”
AJ shook his head, and the tears he’d been fighting streamed down his cheeks. He forced himself to keep talking. “I… I don’t know. We couldn’t see anything; we could only hear…”
The screaming came first, and oh God, AJ had never heard Howie scream like that. Beyond the screaming, he could hear a violent, rattling, crashing sound, and he knew, because he had produced a similar sound when he’d awoken here, that it was Howie’s body desperately slamming against the steel table in his attempts to free himself from his restraints. They had all tried, and failed, but the sound of the movement had reached a new level of franticness behind that door.
Then a new sound joined the chaos of the screaming and the banging, and it was even more horrible to listen to. It was a grinding roar, like the sound of a saw, and they all started to shout as they heard Howie’s voice crescendo into absolute terror. Their own screams soon died on their throats, and they could only listen, helpless and horrorstruck, as the saw muffled Howie’s shrieks. Yet the tortured screaming didn’t stop; it went on and on for what seemed like an eternity, strengthening from time to time, then weakening to a wail… then long moans of agony… then strains of whimpering…
And finally, though the shrill, grating sound of the saw continued, Howie’s voice could be heard no more.
Detective Abrams scribbled notes as AJ gave a shaky, faltering description of what they’d heard, and continued to write even after his weeping had rendered him incapable of speech. She gave him a few minutes to recover, to get a hold himself, and when the tears did not slow, she asked, “Should we stop now? I need the rest of your testimony, AJ, but I can come back, if that would be easier.”
Slowly, he shook his head. He wanted to wipe his tearstained face, but couldn’t, and when she realized this, she pulled a tissue from the box and did it herself, blotting the moisture from his cheeks and chin with surprising tenderness. The gesture warmed him to her, and he cleared his throat, willing strength into his voice. “No…” he rasped. “I’ll… I’ll finish. It’ll be easier if I get it over with now.”
The detective nodded. “I think so too. Take your time, but when you’re ready… tell me what happened next.”
But it was easier said than done. What had happened next would be much more painful to describe, and AJ felt a fresh batch of tears flood his eyes as he thought of what he would have to tell. Witnessing it had been torturous enough, but reliving it through his words? Watching what had happened to Nick was easier done than described.
Yet he had to do it. As much as he wanted to leave Nick with some dignity, he knew he could better serve his friend by telling the police exactly what had happened to him so that they could catch the person who had done it, bring her to justice, and avenge his brutal death.
He sucked in a deep breath, trying to calm himself, though he knew the effort was in vain. “The other room was quiet for a few minutes, and then she came back out…”
The sight of her brought another flood of hot, stinging tears to his eyes. The white apron she was wearing was spattered with blood.
“Where’s Howie?” he screamed at her, hoping to startle her into speaking. “What did you do to him?!”
Abraham Lincoln’s face remained stiff and stoic. The stranger behind it said nothing. Her hands were behind her back as she walked calmly towards them, and at first, her posture made her look less threatening. Then she brought her hands out in front of her, and the illusion vanished. She was holding a large ax. AJ noticed its sharp blade gleaming in the fluorescent light before he realized that her formerly white gloves were stained crimson. They left wet, bloody prints as she moved them higher on the ax’s handle, like a batter choking up on his bat.
What a sick image she created: “Honest Abe,” the rail splitter, wearing a bloody apron over his clothes like a goddamned Civil War surgeon.
She raised the ax, higher and higher, as she made her way up to the nearest table, where Nick lay, strapped down and helpless, his blue eyes widening in horror as the ax blade grew closer. They all started to scream and rattle the tables again, but there was nothing any of them could do. Instinct told AJ to shut his eyes, but some impulse, just as strong inside him, kept him watching in horror, like a spectator gawking at a car wreck, as Lincoln swung the ax above the masked head and brought it down upon Nick’s unprotected neck.
They all screamed again, but Nick’s was cut short, choked out, and AJ’s died in his throat as he watched his little brother’s head tumble off its neck and roll back onto the steel table with a dull thud. The image was so surreal to his disbelieving eyes that it happened almost in slow-motion, like in the movies, except it was real, and the reality struck when the nightmarish Lincoln sent the ax clattering to the tiled floor and lunged for the rolling head, grabbing it by its blonde hair. She lifted it up, completely separated from the still-twitching body on the table, and AJ heard Brian cry out as the familiar blue eyes, still bulging with panic, blinked a final time and then froze, fixed and staring in death.
The headless body stopped twitching as the last nerve impulses quit firing through it, and the sound of Brian’s sobbing filled the room. AJ was dimly aware of the tears rolling down his own cheeks, but he didn’t cry out this time; he felt numb, frozen, incapable of sound or movement. He couldn’t believe it, couldn’t wrap his mind around the idea that Nick was dead, decapitated before his very eyes.
“What did she do with the body?” asked Detective Abrams, and AJ was jolted back to the present, where fresh tears were still rolling down his cheeks.
It took him a moment to find his voice again, to focus on continuing on when he had just had to relive Nick’s death again. He wished, as he’d wished then, that time could stop and let him grieve, but he knew he had to keep going, or he’d never be able to finish. “Sh-she just left him there,” he said, and he had another gruesome flash of Nick’s body, the river of blood flowing from the open neck. “She took his… his head… into the room where she’d taken Howie. When she came back out, she had a… a scalpel…”
Again, he saw the gleam of the metal blade in her hand; it was much smaller than the ax, but just as sharp, just as deadly. She carried it between the thumb and forefinger of her bloodstained gloves and didn’t hesitate as she passed the table holding Nick’s body, stepping over a small pool of blood on the floor, and walked up to the next table, where Brian was trembling, his face soaked with tears, his eyes squeezed shut, his lips constantly moving as he muttered desperate words of prayer, words AJ could not make out, unable to even clasp his tethered hands together.
He opened his eyes just as the scalpel touched his skin, and AJ saw them bug out of his head as the blade swept swiftly and neatly across his throat. Lincoln stood back to watch as blood began to pour from the slashed folds of skin, the jugular severed. AJ cried and shook his head as he heard Brian gag and rasp and choke, as he watched his friend’s small body writhe in pain and fear upon the table, powerless to staunch the deadly flow of blood from his neck.
It didn’t take long for his movements to weaken, and within a couple of minutes, the bright blue eyes dimmed and rolled back into his head, and the eyelids fluttered closed. Brian Littrell’s final breath, a deathly hiss, escaped his severed windpipe. It was the last they would ever hear of the voice which had taken lead on so many of their songs. And now it was Kevin’s cries that sounded the loudest, for it was only AJ and him left, and he had just watched his cousin bleed to death.
As he told this part of the story, haltingly, through his tears, Detective Abrams frowned at AJ. “Why do you think she slashed his throat? It seems out of character, compared to what she did to the rest of you.”
AJ shook his head. “How the fuck should I know?” he said raggedly, wishing again that he could swipe the stinging tears from his face. But he thought back to what had happened next and found he had an answer from her. “She… she took something from him. From out of his neck. She used that fucking scalpel, and she cut out his… his windpipe or his voice box, or… hell if I know what it is; it was bloody, and I… I didn’t want to…”
3000 words reached.