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Neil sighed bitterly, somberly, as he stared at the thin sheets of paper upon his desk they almost seemed to mock him… But such ponderings should not distract him from his work, he admonished himself. Staring at the cold forms white in his hands and on his desk, Neil could only attempt to distance himself from the memories of who these papers represented, as though considering them solely as the clean, harsh sheets would allow him to forget who they had been: his partner, a man who had been both diligent and persistent in their cases, always able to guide Neil and show him how to persevere through even the toughest of circumstances; and his friend, a brilliant young woman who had showed Neil that even though he had been horribly, cruelly tormented in what had essentially been the entirety of his schooling career, there had still been some form of hope. Neil stifled a sob, but he himself had asked for those cases; his superiors had very nearly told him “no”, that he would not be able to handle it. He had to prove to them that he could not only solve these murders, but also do so without faltering. He would not look down, or fall; because he had to persevere for them, if nothing else.
Besides this, Neil reflected finally as his eyes were carelessly allowed to fall to the gold band upon his finger, he had someone else to protect.
Neil kept searching through the files.
Neil pored over every detail of those accounts, through the old crime scenes, for days; and still, nothing more had turned up. Why? he wondered in a frustrated daze. The murderer, whoever it had been, had killed their first two victims within the previous week. Why had they suddenly halted? Had they been worried about being caught? Neil could only guess, but even these speculations seemed as tangible and real as the mist that was spread with invisible fingers across the city’s streets, only to vanish whenever he got close enough to attempt to touch it.
This was not his only concern, either: as the case had progressed, his nightmares had only become worse. Particularly since his friend had been killed, Neil had awful dreams of what seemed to be his old tormentors, taunting him and callously beating him until, bruised in pride and broken in spirit, he submitted to them once more and wept. His wife, though she knew he needed his rest for the case, had woken him up on more than one occasion because of his horrible, unrelenting tears. Neil had always hated looking as though he could not handle himself, and though his wife and he were close and though Neil knew he would always be able to trust her, he could not resist attempting to keep his neutral, unaffected front after she had seen him in such a state. She had always comforted him, though, and told him that everything would be all right; he would solve this, she told him with a reassuring hug and kiss, and then everything would be better not “back to normal”, or even “good”; just “better”. She knew, though, that saying anything but the truth would not help Neil any, and so he was thankful for this.
A few nights later, Neil awoke in a sudden panic from one of his nightmares. He was not in his bed, though, and he even wondered if he was in his own home. Neil cried out, but it seemed his cries were unheard, no matter how much he called for some form any form of help. Neil sensed a darkening around him, as the shadows seemed to slither, until they congealed into a form that Neil could not make out clearly. He struggled against the bindings he only then realized tied him firmly to a hard, wooden chair. They cut deeply into his wrists, but they did not give.
“Where am I? Who are you?” Neil demanded to know. The form, though Neil could not see them, only seemed to draw itself up into an arrogant posture; Neil could have sworn that if he could see the face, it would have been smirking.
“Don’t waste your words,” it said in a voice that sounded terrifyingly uncanny to Neil. He could not explain how wrong it sounded, though, because it also sounded so familiar. However, Neil was forced to push his thoughts aside as it continued. “Why don’t you ask about your wife? That would be more interesting to see.”
“What have you done with her?” Neil cried, barely managing to maintain his sanity as he lashed out once more against the impossible ropes of the chair. He would likely break the object before the ropes came undone.
“It is not what I have done, Neil, but instead what you have done,” it replied, cryptically and clearly relishing in Neil’s questions. “But then, aren’t they the same?”
“What are you talking about?” Neil replied, this time blankly. He had not done anything! What was this… thing implying?
“I’ll let you figure it out,” it replied with glee. “Now, wake up. See what I am talking about for yourself .”
Neil was about to curse the monster, but what he would have said eluded him, especially as the man’s eyes flew open, and he sat up in his bed. There was a trail of blood, leading from the kitchen to the place where Neil was lying down.
“… Honey?” Neil asked, in a wavering voice. He was so unbelievably scared that Neil did not care that he sounded like a frightened child would have as he made his way into the living room.
Neil screamed as his eyes fell upon his wife’s lifeless form, his eyes falling to his bloodied hands. He collapsed to his knees.
“Now, tell me…” he asked himself in that harsh, clipped voice, “Who is the monster, Neil?”