We have our work cut out for us. We got a report earlier today, about a body found near the waterfront apartments. I suspect the property values there might go down after something like this. Jessamyn informed me as I was just getting into the office for the morning, and quite bodily dragged me to the car. "I'm a psychologist, what possible use would I be at the crime scene?"
"Hey, you made your personality profiles out of the crime scene photos. Maybe going to the scene of the crime itself will help you pull something else out of this asshole."
I got what she meant, and was far too nice to correct the way she said it.
We got there, and saw the tree before anything else. A huge elm tree towered over us, bare apart from the ominous black bags that I've been seeing in the crime scene photos for the past weeks. Even as we walked from the car, to duck under the tape into the crime scene, Jess was livid. "Goddamnit, not another one. Watching Theo was supposed to stop any of this happening again. Now we've got four bodies on our hands."
"Three bodies. We have three bodies." I corrected her. That said, the search for Jason was...not going well. For all that we knew, he could have just vanished into thin air. (Well, that's an exaggeration: with our current knowledge of science and the world around us, we have indeed ruled "vanished into thin air" out as a possibility, along with "killed by an Eldritch Horror". Sorry to disappoint.)
"Actually, we've barely got more than two bodies." Dr. Aspen was making one of her rare trips out of the lab to head the crime scene forensics, apparently. The brass are clearly concerned with the graphic nature of these murders, and are devoting a, frankly, disproportionate amount of resources to nipping them in the bud. So to speak.
"What do you mean, Rachel?" That was Jess, forgetting her anger briefly to be merely curious.
"It's Dr. Aspen. I didn't spend half my life in college to get called by my first name, Detective White. Let's be professionals here. To answer your question, take a look."
The crime scene itself was still abuzz with the confusion that was the collection of evidence. The entire area was being swabbed for anything that might identify the killer...or so I thought when I walked up. It was only later on that I realized, they were far more likely to be looking for something to identify the victim. "Voilà." Aspen made a gesture that was...considering the circumstances, in particularly bad taste.
The body was burned black, as was the ground around it. What used to be recognizable as flesh was, at best, crispy, and at worst, falling off, leaving only charred bones beneath. The skin bubbled at some parts, tore at others, exposing muscles and tendons. The body's chest had caved in, the ribs smashed. There were no organs, naturally. The body was seated, placidly, with crossed legs, in the lotus position. It was almost peaceful, apart from the skeletal face. The victim's eyes and nose were three black cavities, while their toothless mouth gaped open wide; as if screaming for mercy, to a torturous God (or Demon) who did not heed their cries. Or simply did not act.
Yeah, I threw up.
Dr. Aspen sighed exasperatedly. I knew, even though my watery vision was staring at what was once a fairly nice breakfast, now unfortunately spread across the concrete, that she was rolling her eyes. Jess was a little nicer. She ignored it. "So, what have you got from the body so far?"
"Victim is female, about five foot seven. Facial indicators point to Caucasian."
"I'm looking at the underlying bone structure of the face, not the facial 'features', per se."
"Do we have an age? Cause of death?"
"Excuse me, Detective, this is science, not magic. I'll take the body back to my lab once the crime scene photos are done, macerate the flesh from the bones, then see what I can get."
I had stood up at this point, and wiped my mouth with a tissue that one of the officers on-scene were nice enough to bring me. "First time seeing a dead body?" He asked sympathetically.
"First time seeing one up close, char-grilled and screaming." I was determined to remain a respectable member of the team, so I got right to work. "Completely different body staging. This is in a position of meditation."
"Looks like the Vietnamese monk."
"I agree; the Buddhist self-immolations in Saigon, pre-Vietnam War, were staged exactly like this, as a method of protest...I don't think we're looking at self-immolation, though, unless she cut out her own organs and hung them up in the tree." I was still feeling sick, but I soldiered on. "The victim is sitting at the bottom of a tree...Once again, seems to link to Buddhist teachings: Siddhartha Gautama, the first Buddha, sat much like this underneath a fig tree, when he achieved enlightenment."
"Well, she was certainly enlightened, alright." I looked at Jessamyn with a mixture of horror and curiosity in my eyes. All that callous remark needed was a pair of sunglasses and a The Who song playing over it to be almost comical, though the grim look on her face betrayed much more. The dehumanization of the bodies made the reality of the situation that much more bearable for her.
"Perhaps the killer has just as disgusting a sense of humor as you, Detective White." She smiled wanly at that.
"He's still using vaguely religious iconography...but this time, it's less of a position of devotion, and more...a position of knowledge."
"Doctor Rivers, that is pure conjecture. You're fictionalizing this. How is that even relevant?" Aspen clearly took offense to my brainstorming. I did nothing but shrug. "It means his method is changing. And with a changing method, means a changing thought process underneath."
I ducked out of the crime scene, taking a couple moments to myself, closing my eyes, calming my thoughts. I don't suppose there is anything that can prepare you for your first encounter with an actual body. The smell, the knowledge that, that...thing, in front of you, was once a living, breathing human. With hopes. Aspirations. Family, friends. A heart, a mind, a soul.
All of those had been taken away from that poor husk of a person sitting in front of me.
"How good's the weather today?"
I opened my eyes, to find myself face to face with Lance "Free" Franklin, that journalist from when Morrow got booted from the case. Not again.
"Yeah, it's just great, buddy."
"So, this is another of those killings, ay? Connected to the disappearance of Jason Sanders?"
"Oh, come on mate, we're old friends now. Well then, would you be able to tell me about how these murders are connected to the, 'Slender Man'? I think that's what the kids are calling him."
I froze. That was, not a good detail to be getting out to the press. "I don't know where you would hear about a connection like that."
"The kid, Theo, goes to a university. Of course he'd have friends there who'd heard about his problems. And blimey, they are SOME problems, aren't they? Big, scary guy in a black suit with tentacles, stalking kids? The police are not commenting? This story just writes itself. Don't suppose you've had any big bad boys from the Military coming in and telling you what to think? Seen anything strange in the skies lately?"
I didn't even dignify any of that with a verbal response. All he needed was one finger.
He got the picture. "Fine, fine, I'll just go for a walk around here, if you don't mind. Until we meet again, mate. Oh, and trust me: we will meet again."
And he was off. Just like that. I looked at him go, and muttered to myself.