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Publisher Mark Stephens
Dylan is just a typical 17 yr old girl, anxious to begin her summer vacation, the last before she becomes a senior. A chance encounter at a beach party with the enigmatic, but handsome Jaron begins a whirlwind romance that finds her falling in love with this strange boy. But he is strange for more than one reason. And as she figures out what those eccentricities are, she discovers that she's unwittingly been thrown into a family feud, a murder investigation and the realization that the object of her affections is alot stranger than she ever would have thought.
Prologue – Discovery at 243 Willow Agent
Mark Fitzsimmons knelt beside the yellow tape outline around the young man’s corpse on the floor that had been left behind after the first two bodies had been taken to the cold truck out front. The body was naked except for a pair of tight swim trunks and one torn sneaker. Dark purplish bruises blossomed on the victim’s chest and face, puffing up around the eyes and nose and obscuring his features badly, but the brown haired man hadn’t been beaten to death. He had been impaled on the losing end on some sharp implement that had sliced open his arms and torso in several places along with the vicious stroke across his neck and a deep puncture just below his sternum. Wearing his powder blue latex gloves, Mark lightly touched the killing stroke, a six inch wound through the center of his body. The chest wound was fresh enough that the gash still oozed congealing blood when he pushed on the perforated flaps of skin. A line of red viscosity leaked out of the end, following the contours of the muscles to join the shiny pool of blackish-maroon already drying under the still form. He knew he’d have to wait for the CSU guys to verify his assumption, but he was relatively certain that the perps had vacated the premises only a few hours before the police had arrived. The FBI agent stood slowly, avoiding the numbered triangles that littered the floor. Two more identical yellow markings accented the dark paneling of the far wall where the eviscerated corpses had been hung. Several square discolorations were visible on the floor as well as sets of scratches and deep grooves leading towards the back door where heavy equipment had been placed and then removed quickly. He glanced up at the photographers and other crime scene investigators that milled about the room in their black stenciled jackets and blue gloves. Attached to the FBI- Special Divisions, the division that handled the weird and unexplained cases, he had been called in to 243 Willow Avenue from his temporary home at the Miami office with his partner, Angelo Rodriguez, and had just arrived on scene twenty minutes ago. His upheaval to the temporary digs had been the result of the string of murders that had been occurring along the Florida coast over the previous six weeks. Murders that had the strangely mutilated corpses hanging on the wall that he had grown accustomed to. Mark could see Angelo in the next room, the kitchen, having a heated conversation with the investigator in charge, the usual flap when the feds stepped into a murder scene and claimed jurisdiction. Nothing Angelo hadn’t handled many times before. Local authorities were always reticent on relinquishing their crime scenes to federal officers. Sweeping his gaze back along the main room, he replayed the sequence of events in the back of his mind, trying to garner a connection of some sort. Thirteen hours previous to their arrival, just 60 miles north of Melbourne, neighbors had called in a domestic disturbance on an abandoned house. They reported odd lights, muffled screams and loud crashes coming from the residence that had been empty for almost a year, Stuck in foreclosure and its previous owners long gone, they knew the house was supposed to be deserted and they feared that a meth lab or terrorists were moving into their peaceful neighborhood. Being such a low priority, the police had taken two hours to send uniformed officers, by which time the strange noises and lights had ended. Standing on their porches in the strobing red and blue lights and watching, the neighbors looked on as the police officers knocked on the jarred door several times and finally entered the unlocked residence, on alert because of the broken lock on the door. Their guns drawn and held before them rigidly, they shouted who they were and burst into the scene that Mark now surveyed. It had taken a scant thirty seconds for both officers to come rushing back out, bending down in the high grass to throw up repeatedly. Another two hours would pass before the streets were filled with flashing lights and news crews with a couple of helicopters overhead thrown in for good measure. The dead of night had been pushed back by the cacophony and brightness of an artificial day. The sounds of reporters filled the air with a lot of “no comments” following their incessant questions. The ends of the streets were barricaded and a wide perimeter had been established around the house, scooping out the adjoining families out of the domiciles quite angrily. Porches began to fill with families who had been rudely awakened in the middle of the night by all the noise and lights, curious as to the circus that had come to their street in the middle of the night. Spotlights had been brought in lieu of sunlight and illuminated the white exterior brighter than any sun could. The high wattage halogen lamp cast ominous shadows inside the residence, lending an eerie feel and look to an already eerie scene. By the time the sun started approaching from over the Atlantic, the local police had seen enough to know they were in over their heads. As soon as Fitzsimmons and Rodriguez had gotten to the office at eight, they were dispatched immediately as special investigators to the crime scene because of the similarities with their ongoing investigation. They had been assigned and relocated to this rash of mysterious killings six weeks ago with the discovery of the second set of murder victims due to the oddities that surrounded them. No details were given them over the phone, as per protocol, and they had been called out to unrelated cases a number of times before. So they weren’t expecting this one to be anything more than a false alarm again. Three hours later, they arrived on scene in their black government-issued sedan. Fitzsimmons and Rodriguez strolled under the thin plastic barricade, flashed their credentials, and walked past dozens of cops and official personnel. In their black suits and mirrored shades, they looked extremely out of place among the surrounding response teams, carrying themselves haughtily and importantly. Groups of twos and threes murmured as they strode past, fueling the flames of rumor which they so aptly ignored. As they stepped up the cement porch stairs and under the short eave, they immediately noticed the smell of decay and saltwater that came from the open door before they entered it, but neither of them covered their noses before wading in. It was a familiar smell by now. The living room was devoid of any normal furniture, just like the last four houses. The windows in this room were painted black from the inside, allowing only a hint of the morning sunlight into the darkened room. Tracks of disturbed dust on the floor revealed a few skidded footprints and the equipment that had been dragged out. Two naked bodies had been strung up on the far wall with some sort of heavy nail thrust through the thick rope that bound their wrists and into the framework of the house. Three sets of tubes hung from each side of the flayed carcasses right below the ribcage, dangling freely and dripping some sort of clear viscous liquid. Their skin had a bluish-green tint to it while their eyes were milky white, staring at the floor vacantly. Like the other crime scenes, it appeared that they had been attached to something else that had been absconded with the people who had committed these acts. In the corner stood a narrow metal table that had probably held medical instruments arranged neatly on them like a surgeon might in an operating room. The table had been left, but the traces of the instruments were gone. Splatters of blood decorated the smooth metal surface and floor beneath the victims as they had been cut open, revealing their internal organs and left to bleed out. Another congealed black pool had collected beneath each one, marred only by the mysterious liquid from the tubes. Agent Fitzsimmons viewed all of this as he had the first four identical crime scenes, almost nothing had changed between them. He knew the other rooms would be empty and it was likely that very little viable forensic evidence would be found I them. The seemingly random victims would be identified without any similarities or connections between them, but their athleticism and race. Except this scene was a bit different from the others. This one had a third body. Rodriguez had immediately noticed that addition also and both men moved together towards the one oddity, at least to them, in the room. Donning latex gloves from their jacket pockets, both of them knelt beside the dead man on the laminated flooring. He was naked except for a pair of Speedos and they could tell that his throat had been split open from ear to ear. He had been beaten savagely, sliced repeatedly and the coroner would have to decide which had killed him: the neck wound or the chest impalement. Although Mark was relatively certain, it was a matter of torture and the killing stroke was the puncture in his chest. But the official report might reveal more than his educated guess. On a first trivial examination, they could find nothing remarkable about the young man. He appeared to be in his early twenties with a swimmer’s build. His blondish locks cast him in the role of a surf enthusiast. He was maybe 5’11 and didn’t seem to have an ounce of fat on him. He was fairly muscular without being bulky. His features were average, although it was hard to tell with the bruising. They did note that his hands and feet were larger than they would have thought for a man his size, but that wasn’t much to go on. He could be one of a thousand surfers that populated the coast. On closer examination, Fitzsimmons saw three long faded scars cut horizontally on his abdomen and realized that they had mates on his other side. At first he had dismissed them as injuries, but they were clean and free of blood or inflammation of any kind. With his gloved fingers, he explored each groove, finding a slight flap of skin over each scar. Rodriguez had noticed the same thing. “What do you think, Angelo?” Fitzsimmons asked his partner. “I don’t know, amigo. We’ve never had a third body before. And this scarring is weird. I’ve never seen scars that are so uniform and neat. No jagged edges. No discolorations. They’re old and healed, not caused when he was killed. But I can’t think offhand what would cause an injury like this.” Mark looked up at the hanging bodies, seeing the identical, if discolored, slits that each of them shared. “I don’t think it’s a coincidence that this guy has the same scarring where our bodies have fresh wounds.” Angelo nodded his agreement of the assessment. He was the brawn, not the brains. Plus, he knew his partner’s instincts were razor sharp and usually right on the money. “Maybe the doc will be able to tell us more.” Mark’s analytical mind whirred with possibilities as it attempted to come up with plausible theories to this massacre. But, as it had encountered at the previous sites, there was just too much missing information to discard any theory, no matter how far-fetched it might be. “Well, tell the authorities here to bag and tag everything and I’ll call it in. Make sure every scrap of evidence is taken and everyone signs a confidentiality agreement. I don’t want any physical leaks to the press. Maybe someone at the warehouse will be able to make sense of this mess.” After another cursory examination of the third body, Agent Fitzsimmons stood up slowly, tore off the blue latex gloves with a snap and tossed them into a corner. Speed dialing the office from his cell, he ordered an extraction team and spoke to the regional bureau director to give him an update. Barely within earshot, he could hear the ensuing harsh words and raised voices as his partner pulled federal jurisdiction on the commanding officer on scene, much to his ire and disdain. By the time early afternoon had arrived, the extraction team has absconded with every bit of evidence, including photographs and statements. The bodies had been put on ice for the federal coroner to examine as soon as they arrived at the warehouse. A minimum contingent of local police had been left behind to guard against curious onlookers and reporters while Rodriguez had agreed to ride along in the truck to the warehouse facility in North Miami where they had begun storing the path of destruction that these mystery killers had left in their wake. That left Mark Fitzsimmons, alone with the ghosts in the house. He sauntered through the living room, using his investigative eye to peer into every nook and cranny he found. But, like the other crime scenes, he would find nothing amiss and he knew it. And he was also sure that no surmountable information would be gleaned from forensics. Remembering the previous autopsies, he knew that the two victims were early to middle aged and they had simply drowned. The tubes would be connected directly to their lungs and, for some unknown reason, a thick, viscous liquid had been forced into them, effectively drowning them from the inside. The oddity that had brought him and his partner into the investigation was the kind of water that the local coroners had initially found and the unknown chemical additive found in the lung tissue. On further chemical analysis, the base composition of the water was seawater, heavy on salt content with an unknown substance mixed in. They still could not figure what that substance was and each victim seemed to have a higher concentration of it. They knew it was terrestrial with a carbon base, but beyond that, they were stumped. Each victim had varying degrees of saturation before expiring and different levels of this mysterious compound. And, if that wasn’t strange enough, it appeared that the lungs had undergone some sort of modification on the genetic level. Hence, the ongoing theory was that someone was conducting illegal human experimentation to adapt lungs into breathing underwater. But this new body was a wrinkle, and a welcome one at that. If what he suspected was true, then these renegade scientists had perfected the genetic manipulation and this new dead guy had been a success. What didn’t make sense was why were they still altering the parameters of this experiment when they had already met with success. And it was obvious that they had succeeded awhile ago, since this new body was fully healed. Still too much not adding up Mark thought to himself. But he had to admit he felt jazzed. Despite all of the dead ends he had come up against, now he felt like he had a new starting point in his investigation. Before today, he had been banging his head on a brick wall trying to make sense of all of his unanswerable questions and he was basically conducting mop-up operations after the fact. He couldn’t even find a research facility anywhere in the world that was pursuing this line of experimentation. No doctor or expert interviewed had even considered it or heard of it as a viable strand of research, especially not one so far along as to be in human trials. None of the government agencies admitted to this testing, but he realized that could still be a possibility. Not one substantial lead had been culled from four, now five, crime scenes. Not even a stray hair had been found. The investigation was essentially DOA. He knelt down to brush his bare fingers against the bodiless outline, hoping that the tactile impression would give him some hidden insight. Because he knew at this point this dead young man and his involvement were his only leads into this case. After a minute, he stood up from his crouch, took one more look around and turned to leave. Something tingled in the back of his mind as he left the suburban house, something he was missing or not considering, something so far outside the realm of logic that his mind wouldn’t even consider it. But the nagging feeling was too far away from him to grasp onto it. As Mark Fitzsimmons left the crime scene, he started to walk back to their sedan. The crowd behind the barricade had grown as news of the bodies had traveled over the internet and the news stories had been broadcast on the noon news. They were the usual sort of spectators that arrived at every murder or burglary: bored housewives, excited children, the usual lack of men and reporters trying to get through for their Pulitzer Prize winning scoop. “Damn vultures.” He muttered to himself. He never noticed the pair of thickly muscled men dressed in sweatsuits that were just now leaving the back of the mob, walking away quickly and satisfied that they had seen all they could. They slunk away with the intention of escaping detection. Their bulk made them stand out even as they moved away, but the excitement of the triple murder had forced the crowd’s and police’s attention elsewhere, rendering them virtually invisible. Of which, they were thankful for.
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I grew up in a small town in rural Ohio before eventually moving to Orlando Florida where I have been for the past 14 years. Frustrated with my job and job prospects, I decided to turn to my love of reading and writing that had lain dormant since high school. In 2011, I wrote Time After Time as the first in four volumes and entered it into the 2012 ABNA awards.