Chapter 8: Merlot
Breath hissed from his lips as his heart all but ripped itself from his chest. The sound of the doorknob rattling behind him spurred him to action, and he leapt back across his bed to slam his back into the door, a tremor working its way along his spine. His phone wasn’t in his room. He didn’t have a landline. Like a complete, utter, idiot, he’d left it in the living room rather than have it by his bed where the light would keep him awake instead of aiding him in drifting off as he mindlessly scrolled through apps. He’d have to write a paper about the woes of such responsibility, of adulthood at its worst, when attempts at accountability were dashed by the fact that he was, most certainly, trapped. No, no, not just trapped, but confined in the worst way possible.
He’d been cornered in his bedroom by the Chesapeake Ripper.
The reality settled in, made his veins turn to ice, and he let out a quiet, muted sob, sliding down the door to sit on the ground, back pressed to the weakest spot of the door. The Chesapeake Ripper had killed people far larger than him. Mr. Newsun alone had to have weighed double Will’s weight, and he’d dragged him about until he placed him in a particularly pleasant spot in the arboretum. If the Ripper got into his room, how easy would it be for him to have his way? To toss him around like a ragdoll until he was fatigued by the inanity of it?
He thought about calling out, attempting to fake his confidence again, but that was stupid. Why bait him? If he’d been in his house long enough, he’d have seen Will’s phone, known him to be alone and without ability to call for help. Will rubbed his face roughly, fingernails scraping over the soft part of his eyelids, and he thought that out of all the days to die, it’d be the one where he’d finally gotten somewhere with Hannibal.
“Is that why you’re here?” he realized, leaning his head back to press against the door. “You’re upset about Hannibal?”
No response. Will let out a hysterical laugh, and he tapped his fingers on the ground, drumming them. It was at that moment, though, that a slip of paper slid underneath the door, stopped by his incessant tapping. Will snatched the paper up, breath caught in his throat. This wasn’t happening. This wasn’t happening.
Are you afraid of me, Will?
“That depends,” he said shakily. “Are you here to do to me what you’ve been doing to everyone else?”
He slid the paper back under, watching the Ripper drag it the rest of the way. There was no sound of breathing, of throat clearing or general human existence. Just the creak of the Chesapeake Ripper settling into whatever stance he’d taken on the other side of the door, the sound of a pen gliding over paper. He slid it back, and Will stared down at it.
No. I just want to talk to you.
“Normally, when people want to talk, they walk up and strike a conversation; they don’t break into someone’s apartment while they’re asleep,” he said, and the paper disappeared. Was this really happening? The crap carpet digging into his rear and thighs said yes, but the surrealism of a serial killer sitting just outside of his door put everything to question.
That’s not entirely true, though, is it? You may not have active barriers in your mind to protect you from your intrusive thoughts, but you create plenty of them between you and other people.
Will stared down at the note, the curling, elegant script. He swallowed convulsively and touched his finger to the ink, smudging it. “I do.”
Therefore, in order to get your attention, one must find creative means of attaining it. For me, that means taking on an artistic license for my normal, day-to-day work.
“The way you killed people before was already artistic,” Will said. He was unsure as to whether or not he was goading him or attempting to flatter him. Either way, the paper disappeared.
You realized that I consumed them, much the way I wish to consume you.
“Yes,” Will whispered. He closed his eyes tightly, stomping down the whimper that dragged its way up his throat. He’d been followed to the alley when he called Jack.
I don’t want to eat you though, Will. To consume is not just to physically ingest, although you would think otherwise. I want to understand you, much the way I want you to understand me.
“A consuming of the mind, then. Either way, I’m your intended victim.”
Do you feel like a victim? Or are you empowered that someone would go to such great lengths to attain your attention, even for a short while.
Will laughed, a short spurt of hysteria that faded as he pressed his hands to his face and forced himself to breathe. “For a short while? You’re haunting my dreams, Chesapeake Ripper. I can’t sleep without you breathing down my neck, dogging my steps, making me nervous just to leave my apartment.”
Then I’m in your thoughts just as much as you are in mine.
“No, no. One of us is only in the other’s mind because the other one got it in their head that they had to murder people to get me to see them. I was fine, before, just fine.”
The next response took some time, and Will wondered if he’d grown bored. The longer the silence crept, draining the seconds, the stiffer he became, waiting for the axe to cut through the door so that the Chesapeake Ripper could end him once and for all. When the paper slid back, he almost let out a whimper of relief.
Do you truly believe that you were fine, Will? Can you honestly tell me that you were alright with the haze of people passing by you, not quite seeing you? Unable to connect, unable to look at people without seeing their darkness reflected in you, and you wonder whether or not the darkness was truly them or if it was you all along. Your eyes that cannot quite maintain a stare for long, your hands that tap and drum to release the tension, your lips that mimic speech and inflection; were you truly alright to live your live as a husk of what your real potential could be?
“And just what is it…that you think my real potential could be?” Will asked gravely.
Tell me you were flattered that out of everyone in this city, I saw you.
“I wasn’t,” Will stated. The response was just as quick.
“Alright…I will admit that I was…surprised. Flattered.” Will murmured, and it scalded on the way out. What was he doing? What was he doing?
Are you not still?
“I’m struggling to understand your end game. You claim you aren’t going to kill me, and I want to believe that. I…I need to believe that.” He let out a choking breath, and when the paper began to slide back under the door, he put his hand on it to stop it. “You offered me your hand, Persephone to the underworld, tricked by a handful of seeds.”
He let the paper go, and after a breath it slid under the door to the other side.
There are some scholars that argue it was not a trick. Persephone willingly took his hand, knowing the full ramifications of what she was doing.
“Is that what you want from me? You want me to willingly take your hand, knowing the full ramifications of what I’m doing when I take that step?”
“I don’t know if I can do that,” he whispered, and he closed his eyes. “You’re hurting people, and I…I see every single one behind my eyelids. I close my eyes, and I see them. Does your admiration only extend if I give in full? Does it cease if I can’t condone what you do in my name?”
I don’t ask for you to condone my actions, only to understand them and refuse to stand in my way when I make such choices in the future.
“Choices…shit,” Will hissed. He laid his forehead to his knees, drumming his fingers on the paper. “You know what that’d label you if someone found you? You choosing, knowing full well what you choose?”
An intelligent psychopath, yes. I’ve read the journals and books on them. Is that what you’d call me?
“I don’t know what to call you,” said Will, lifting his head. “I don’t think, after talking with you, they’d know what to call you, either.”
Jack Crawford would know what to call me. Monster. Animal. His best catch yet. His Starry Night, his masterpiece that he could ride on for the rest of his life and rest easy knowing that if he didn’t catch another one of me again at least he’d have me.
“Do you know him from before?”
“That must be why he’s willing to bring a college kid to a crime scene,” Will muttered.
That, and he now has a direct link to me through you. He won’t give that up, even if he has to break you to get to me.
“Do you think he’s going to try and break me?” Will asked skeptically. “Or is that only through your bias that you come to that conclusion.”
He once sent an FBI trainee to hunt me down. The ninth victim, the body never found. He lives with that regret, but that won’t stop him from repeating the mistake. He just had to look a few years younger to find his next piece of bait.
“Why three?” Will blurted out. He tapped his fingers on the paper, on the ‘ninth’. “Why three?” The paper slid back to the other side, and there was a quiet huff, a distinct sound of a muffled laugh.
“Why not,” Will said out loud. He nodded. It wasn’t what he’d expected, but the longer he looked at it, suddenly he realized that yes it was. He definitely expected that from the Chesapeake Ripper.
Did that give you the insight you’d been hoping for, dear Will?
“Am I giving you insight?” Will asked in return. “This door between us, this…space. Do you see me, even through this?”
I would see you even the darkest of nights, the blackest pitch. There is no place you could go that I would not follow.
“Then…where does this leave us now? Here, in this barricade…this one-sided conversation and silence.” He rolled his head side to side, popped his neck and leaned back against the door, sliding his legs out before him. The carpet itched against his skin, but he didn’t dare move.
The reply took a while, and Will wondered if it’d be another paragraph splicing him to his core to see the guts inside. He was surprised at the short response back, and it occurred to him that although this wasn’t the first time the Chesapeake Ripper had killed, it was the first time he’d tried his hand at romance while doing it.
In this moment, dear Will, in this here and now, I am more than content to think of you with a stab of hunger and find nourishment through the simple feeling of our heartbeats against this mere door that separates us.
Will didn’t speak after that. He dragged his fingers over the elegant, beautiful script, letting the ink stain his fingertips. He wanted to remember that this was real in the morning, but he couldn’t quite bring himself to snatch the paper up, a keepsake to give to Jack later when it was safe to leave his room. He didn’t want it tainted like that, the way they’d tainted his letter about dreaming. Instead, he straightened his shoulders and pushed back against the door, his heartbeat steadily thumping into the wood. The door groaned, and the Chesapeake Ripper pushed back. He imagined he could feel his heartbeat, something steady and calm despite the situation, and it was to that steady pulse that he fell asleep.
When he woke in a sprawled position on the floor, the paper was still there. Will groaned, stretched, popped his neck, and looked to the final note at the bottom, one that’d been left while he dreamed of seven seeds and hands that reached willingly.
May my presence have granted you some small measure of pleasant dreams and rest.
The back of his neck prickled as he realized that his dreams, in fact, had been not only been pleasant, but despite his odd sleeping position, he felt remarkably fine.
“Don’t be mad,” Alana said a week later. Will looked up from his dour sandwich and studied her warily.
“Why would I be mad?” His stomach clenched at the expression on her face.
“You know Freddie Lounds, right?” Margo drawled from her lax position on the blanket. They were sprawled on the lawn of the main campus grounds, working on homework and sharing their abysmal lunches. Margo was the only one present with no homework and no abysmal lunch, armed instead with a travel bottle of merlot that she sipped out of a neon green straw. How she managed to get away with drinking in a public space like campus was far beyond Will, but then again, much of the Verger family was far beyond Will. Why she even attended school when it wasn’t necessary was far beyond him –her brother’s donations to the place had ensured an entire lecture hall had been built in their name.
“I know Freddie.”
“She’s got an article out on you. Says the Chesapeake Ripper is in love,” Margo said from around the straw.
Will looked down to his sandwich and fiddled with it, stuffing a bit of cheese back in on the side.
“Can I see it?” he asked. Beverly, headphones in and pencil dancing across the page, didn’t notice him reach across her textbook to hold his hand out for Alana’s tablet.
“I don’t think you want to see it,” Alana said, holding her tablet away from him.
“I do,” Will persisted, flipping his hand impatiently. Beverly looked up from her book, nudged his hand away from a particular paragraph she needed to read, and leaned in, squinting at it intently.
“It’s not…it’s tasteless. I believe you’d use the term tasteless.” She relinquished her tablet, though, much to Margo’s delight.
“Chesapeake Ripper Sends Love Sonnets to Local Student: It Takes One to Catch One”
For the past month, George Washington University has been plagued by a series of killings, each one more heinous than the last. Believed to be the work of The Chesapeake Ripper, our campus has been rife with an underlying fear that any one of us could be the next victim in his horrendous crimes.
How awful do you feel, readers, to know that with the dedicated work done by myself, I was able to find out that the reason our beloved university is under attack is due to the Chesapeake Ripper finding himself smitten with one of our own? Fourth year student, Will Graham, not only has been receiving letters of interest from the detestable Chesapeake Ripper, but until the FBI got wind of it, he was more than happy to keep quiet on the matter.
The latest death, not one of our own but found on our beloved soil of the arboretum, was found by none other than Will Graham and FBI Agent Jack Crawford, using clues from the latest love letter to find the body that surely followed. When asked if he had any concerns about using a university student to catch the killer, Agent Crawford forcefully removed me from the premises.
Can we trust Will Graham to uphold the law of our land, though? Why has he kept silent about this matter for so long, as one-by-one we are lain waste by the bloodstained hands of the serial killer that baffles the FBI even today? We can’t forget his last killing spree with nine victims, one of which the body was never accounted for. Perhaps, it is possible that Will Graham holds an affinity for the murderer, and wishes to stand by meekly while he plies his trade? Or maybe he is waiting for his own chance to become part of the FBI’s ‘Most Wanted’.
“She’s a bitch,” Zeller said, reading the article over Will’s shoulder. He took a ferocious bite of a crumbly granola bar and plopped down beside him, tossing his book bag to the side. Margo kicked it off of her foot and took a long sip of her wine, eyes fastened to Will’s face.
“She’s mad at me because I outed her to Agent Crawford about being a reporter,” Will said, handing the tablet back. Hornets crawled under his skin, biting, buzzing. He wanted to punch something, to maim something. He looked down at the morose photo of him, huddled by the corpse, and he shoved the tablet to Alana.
“Is it true that the Chesapeake Ripper is sending you letters?” Alana asked, taking the tablet away from him. Will nodded.
“That’s fucked,” Zeller commented.
“That’s why the FBI wanted all of the CCTV tapes…one of these girls in class works security part time, and she said they took all of the tapes to look over. They must have been looking for your beau,” Margo said, casting him a sly glance.
“He’s not my beau,” Will snapped.
“Yeah, and we didn’t hook up at Sarah’s party freshman year,” Margo retorted.
“Margo.” Alana shot her a warning glance. “Will…why didn’t you tell us this was happening?”
“It’s fine,” he said, and at Alana’s exasperated expression, he added, “it’s fine. The FBI has it under control.”
“Is four bodies and a renegade reporter really fine, though?” Margo wondered.
“You could have come to us, and we’d have-”
“Done what?” Will asked sharply, looking at her. Alana sometimes tried to be his mother, his friend, and his sister in all the same breath. Her expression shifted, a mild hurt, and he looked to his things, chagrined. “I forgot.”
“I was busy with work, and I forgot. Then when I remembered, there was a lot going on. But it’s fine.”
It was fine, if fine was the Chesapeake Ripper visiting him in his home, pressing heartbeat to heartbeat to a bedroom door to soothe him to sleep. If fine was the way his dreams melded to blurred moments when the barriers between them would fall, when Will would wake up and decide that maybe it truly did make perfect sense for the world to burn. If fine was the way he wondered just what the face of the Chesapeake Ripper looked like, and if he’d think it was a nice face indeed.
“How can we help?” Alana asked.
“Don’t,” Will replied, standing up. He needed to walk, he needed…something. Hands clenched and unclenched at his sides.
“I’ll see you later,” he said, scooping his back pack up.
“Later,” he emphasized, walking away. He ignored Beverly’s probing stare as he maneuvered around her, and it wasn’t until he was on his bike and heading towards home that he realized the buzzing sound of her music had stopped long before the conversation had.