BONE AND WOOD

A cop with the homicide division opens the door to the cramped, gray, cubic room and sits heavily down across from the woman. The cop is a grimacing, overweight black man who has neither slept nor shaved in the past two days. The woman, thin and white, with an expression located somewhere between crazed and resigned, looks as though she hasn't slept in two years.

The cop lays a folder down on the table and sighs. He finishes the last of his foul cup of coffee and stares at the woman while she stares at the corner behind him. He turns over his shoulder to look, and sees nothing there.

He turns back and begins, "Look. We found you in a house with five freshly-dead and molested bodies. All of your acquaintances and theirs have alibis and none of them have motives. I think you know just how damning your situation is and that's why you've been spinning tall fucking tales about demons and some bullshit." He draws the word out, "bullshit", and the woman shifts her stare from the corner to his face.

The cop was there, at the crime scene. Some old rotting country house with a moldy kitchen stocked with empty jars and dark bedrooms with spent syringes littering the floor. The surrounding acres had been farmland until the soil eroded away. Throughout the desolate house were five corpses, all identified as students at a nearby college, same as the woman sitting across from him now.

He says, "You got my colleagues proper creeped the fuck out. I'm supposed to be the level-headed one who takes over from here because he's a stone fucking wall that your demonic bullshit isn't going to get to." He groans and repeats, "I'm fucking supposed to be."

"This is not how I planned on spending my weekend. My wife's birthday was yesterday and I missed her damn party because of you. Tell me you're making all this shit up and tell me why you raped and murdered two men and three women and I can go home and I might just be feeling relieved enough to make sure you get a good plea deal."

As far as the cop can tell, the woman hasn't blinked once since she started staring at him. She begins, every word dripping with venom, "I do not have a criminal record. I do not have a record of mental health issues. I am not an alcoholic or a drug addict. I am not a religious nut. I am not a psychopath. I fucking know what I saw and I know how my fucking friends died and I'm not changing my fucking story."

The cop shakes his head, and the woman continues before he interrupts. "Look at me, I'm a scrawny fucking woman, and you think I broke necks and hit people hard enough to rupture kidneys? You say I stuck shit in their asses, what, because that's just one of those things scrawny white female college students do? You saw all the fucking burns, but did you find any lighters? Accelerant? No? Then how the fuck did I burn everyone?" She stands, insofar as her restraints allow, and she screams, "Tell me how the fuck you think I'm supposed to have done all that!"

She collapses back into the unaccommodating metal chair.

"We were fucking stupid. We were so fucking stupid. How many junkies have you found dead in that house so far, over the years? We heard it was three or four, at least. We heard the story from a guy without teeth how fucking creepy the place was. You know that shit is like fucking catnip for fucking liberal arts students with nothing better to do with their Friday nights? Jesus."

The woman is cracking, and trembling, and finally her head falls into her hands and she is shaken by silent sobs. "We were fucking stupid."

The cop opens the folder in front of him and, tentatively, places a photo of one of the victims in front of the woman. Allegedly her girlfriend. She has two black eyes and a split lip. Her nose looks to have been bitten off. The photo doesn't show how her chest cavity was misshapen by broken ribs or how a bone was sticking out of her elbow or how her left arm and pubic area were covered in second-degree burns or how three of her toes were gone. "Why'd you kill her, Luise?"

The woman uncovers her face long enough to be shaken by the photo, and to glare at the cop in aggrieved disbelief.

The cop's expression changes. Slowly, but it changes.

"For fuck's sake. You really didn't do it, did you?" He hides the photo back in the folder and he bargains, "But there was no sign that anyone had been in the house except for you all. We found no tire tracks except for yours, no shoe imprints except for yours. The mud was really good for this too, we were able to account for all six of you. For that matter, nobody around the area identified anyone coming or going on the road to that house except for your red minivan."

He says, "You know what that means, right? It means nobody followed you to the house, or could have gone there within several hours before you, because we would have seen tire tracks if they drove and footprints in any case."

"So then we worked with the assumption that you all weren't followed, but that someone was already in the house. We scoured every inch of that goddamn place. We searched every room. The basement. The attic. We found hair and blood and urine samples for the six of you, and none for anyone else, except for a vagrant who was arrested Friday night for indecent exposure while your friends were getting killed."

"We still said it didn't fit, you as a murderer, so we worked with the assumption that someone wanted to make you look like one. During the course of pursuing that we realized that you and your friends kept the house's whereabouts to yourselves. Told plenty of people you were going to do haunted house shit, but never what house you were doing it at. You all wanted to keep that shit to yourself, I guess."

"Hell, forensics even processed and reprocessed the minivan you all drove in looking for signs there might've been a seventh person along for the ride, maybe unknown to the rest of you."

The woman says, "I know what I saw, and it wasn't people."

"Yeah." The cop says, "You know what really disturbs me, though? What's been keeping me up at night?"

The woman looks up at him.

"Not how unlikely it is that you'd kill them. We see unlikely shit like that happen all the time. People you thought were sane and normal, they break and they torture and kill their friends and their spouses. Sometimes they're good at hiding it and sometimes the crazy just came on suddenly."

The cop stares at his empty styrofoam coffee cup for a while.

"No, it's the defensive wounds, and what we found under your friends' fingernails, and what we found in their asses." He says, "Defensive wounds, you know what those are? That's what you get when someone's attacking you and maybe they try to hit you in the face so you put your arm in the way to get hit there, instead."

"And see my nails? When somebody's got me pinned down and I'm fighting for my life, I'm grabbing and I'm scratching and I'm getting this guy's skin and blood underneath my fingernails while I do it."

"Your friends had shit underneath their fingernails alright, but it wasn't skin and it wasn't blood. It certainly wasn't your skin or blood. It was bone fragments and wood and carbon. You know, like charcoal. Why the fuck did they have bone and wood under their nails?"

"And their defensive wounds weren't like someone blocking punches or blocking someone coming at them with a weapon, they were like someone who was being held down by one or two people while a third was coming at them." The cop mimes having his arms held back and his face punched. "So like this, most of the defensive injury comes from struggling against whoever's holding me back. And that makes no sense if we're pegging you as a single attacker."

"And the strangest damn part was the splinters in their rectums. Fucking splinters. Bone and wood splinters. No dildo I ever saw does shit like that. Where's some skinny college white girl get some rod made of bone and wood like that? And why's she doing it to herself, too?" He closes his eyes and rubs his temples. "Can't even think about that shit without seeing it."

The cop says, "Look. I can talk to the other investigators, and maybe I can talk them into focusing on looking for other perps instead of building a case against you. I can maybe convince them you're a victim. But I'm never going to sell them on motherfucking demons."

"Show them the house," the woman croaks. "I don't know. Put up fucking cameras or some shit. They'll come back."

"What's in that house, man?"

"I don't fucking know." She says, "But they'll come back."

Written by Sophie Kirschner