Every time I opened my eyes that night, rolling over to look at the digital clock beside my bed...I would notice a small time lapse of thirty minutes at the most. Once, I had almost made it to forty five minutes, but not quite.
My brain wouldn't quiet itself long enough to let me sleep. I kept thinking back to those horrific images of people being murdered and drained of blood in the same dark streets that I drive through every night. Recorded on camera...not just to be remembered...but to be displayed. Openly shared with those who would take pleasure in observing such a despicable act. The very concept of it gave me an uneasy chill. But, more than that, the mystery of 'why' bothered me most of all. Call it the detective in me, but I simply couldn't let it go. No matter how hard I tried...the vision of that girl's bloodstained smile continued to haunt me whether I was asleep or awake.
Surrendering to the hopelessness of the situation, I swung my feet out from under the covers, sitting up to rub my tired eyes as my bare feet touched the carpet. I looked back at Jacob and was careful not to wake him as I stood up and tucked the blanket back behind me to prevent him from catching a draft. Jacob always hated to see me sleepless, but knew how stubborn I was when it came to putting these puzzles together.
I went to the kitchen to make myself some bargain brand, microwaved, instant coffee...and I stepped outside on the front porch to get some fresh air. Something about the distant hum of my city truly calms me down. It was 4 AM, but Chicago never really comes to a complete stop. The traffic, the lights...hell, even the slightly polluted air...it could all be vaguely intoxicating once you stood still and took a moment to appreciate it.
I didn't bother to turn the porch light on. Why bother? I was only going to be out there for a few minutes, and the last thing I needed was for a flurry of stupid moths to start circling my head. But after a few sips of coffee, I happened to look up and take notice of something across the street. A 'figure'...hidden in the darkness. I assumed that he was either really short or really young, standing at about 5' 4", maybe a bit smaller. I, personally, thought it was too warm to be wearing anything other than a t-shirt...but this guy had on a charcoal grey sweatshirt with a hoodie pulled up over his head. I didn't really look too hard at him initially...until I realized that he was staring at me. Unmoving. Arms at his sides...just watching me.
I thought it rather odd, so when things became seriously uncomfortable for me, I raised my coffee cup a bit and gave him a nod. Just in case he was spacing out and didn't realize that he was being a creep. Always good to give people the benefit of the doubt before following your gut instinct, I suppose.
The figure didn't nod back.
He just...stood there. Watching.
I tried to focus my eyes a bit more, but I couldn't make out any of the details on the kid's face. It was almost like he had a thin black layer of silk covering up his features. Strange.
"Hello?" I said, hoping to shatter this creepy moment by engaging him on some level...but still, no response. Then he simply took a few steps backward...turned right...and walked away. He never said a word. And I never got a good look at him. But, ok...whatever. Some people are simply not all there. I get it.
I went back in the house and down into the basement, booting my computer up to see if maybe I could untangle some of my thoughts by looking through more of this specific cache dump on this guy's computer. There had to be a 'hook' in here somewhere. A loose thread that would unravel everything protecting it once I took a hold of it. I just needed to know what it was and where to find it.
Jacob had dusted off some of his dark fantasy books for me a few hours back, and seemed really excited to see me take part in one of his literary passions. It's not that he had never mentioned this series of books to me before, I just didn't realize how much they meant to him until I really started paying attention. I'm not much of a sci fi guy. I'm even less interested when it comes to horror. I see enough horrible things in my line of work to want to re-emerge myself in that world after work hours are over. I guess, if Jacob really BEGGED me to read it, I'd give it a shot. But I'd be doing it for the sake of obligation and surrender. Sorry. I just wasn't interested.
This newest case, however...had made a total hypocrite out of me. Shamelessly so. I guess I'm going to have to give it a look if I plan to get any further into my investigation and make any sense out of it. I guess you could say that I was 'tricked' into it.
I had my screen full of untapped, underground videos...and a book in my lap. Everything looked so strange to me. Hardly anything made sense. So I pulled the first 'Gone From Daylight' book out of the pile, used an old sock to wipe some more of the dust off of the cover as I opened it up, and tried to see if it could possibly give me a little more insight into this situation than I had before.
I sighed to myself. "I'm probably going to hate this. But it's not entertainment anymore. It's a criminal investigation. I'm being forced to study it all."
Here we go...
"Tonight I was beyond tempted, more so than ever before. This was no longer or an empty threat, no longer an idea in the dark recesses of my mind...this empty feeling inside of me had taken over, and my thoughts of suicide were now a reality."
I don't know if it was curiosity or boredom that kept me reading for so long...but after an hour or two, I felt myself coming to the last few pages of the first book. Something about it kept me turning from one page to the next, but I still wasn't quite sure what this had to do with the case I was looking into. Vampire teens and gay love and a few scenes that were a bit more sexually explicit than what I was expecting...but nothing as horrific as the hidden videos I had been sifting through on this guy's hard drive.
Still...a story like this having a cult following in the real world could lead to some very dark deeds in the future. Maybe I should grab the movie and get the abridged version.
Finally, as the sun was coming up and the city streets were displaying their early morning brilliance...I reached the end of the first 'Gone From Daylight' book.
"...And wondering what the next day would bring. Only time will tell."
Perhaps the info I'm looking for comes later in the series. I've got a literal 'stack' of books here next to me, and Jacob still has a few more to fish out of the boxes in the attic before I get it all. Is there a convenient 'cliff notes' for this series, or what? I don't have the time to read through every page like he has. I just need some bare bones information that will help me to make sense out of what I found here. Whatever. I'll start the 'Resurrection' book tomorrow. This is taking too long.
I watched more of the videos in this 'Sector V' file, seeing more of the same. Youngsters creating these really elaborate snuff films online. I was baffled by the practice. I have kids their age in my family...and they can't go more than 45 minutes without taking a selfie and posting it on Facebook or Instagram or somewhere 'public'. I've kind of gotten use to the narcissistic appeal of it all. But these teens kept these videos hidden. Private. Only posted in places where no one would ever see them. The amount of effort put into these 'vampire killâ€² flicks and the lack of exposure on the internet, just didn't add up. Why go through all the trouble of creating top notch special effects, only to bury the video on the dark web somewhere?
I felt a pair of arms wrap around me from over my shoulder and enjoyed a warm kiss on the cheek as Jacob came to see what I was up to. "Trouble sleeping?" He asked softly.
"A little." I told him. "I keep thinking that I can find just one more piece of the puzzle and that'll be enough to calm me down and take a break from it all. No such luck, though."
Jacob saw the first 'GFD' book sitting beside me, and a subtle smile crossed his lips. "How much did you read?"
"Finished the whole first book in one sitting." I said.
"Well? What did you think?"
With a reserved chuckle, I said, "Would you be mad at me if I said it was amateurish and a bit mushy for my tastes?"
Jacob's eyes widened. "Yes! I would be pretty insulted if you said that!"
Laughing, I said, "Oh. Well, it was great then. The whole book was great." He gave me a light slap on the side of the face, but followed it up with a loving kiss.
"So, what are you looking at now?" He asked.
"There's a lot of lore that I've got to catch up on, and I don't think I know where to start. Some of this guy's ramblings are all over the place." I picked up some of his notebooks and showed Jacob the places that I had bookmarked as being somewhat strange or off center as far as his notes were concerned. "You've read the whole series. What IS this stuff? What am I missing? He seems to be delving into this whole new world of 'darkness' or whatever...but then he starts talking about things that I can't quite follow. Elders, and Sun Quests, and Circles, and Vempirae...I'm lost here."
Jacob leans forward to guide my cursor on the screen to a few choice places on the computer screen, trying to see if he can fill in a few holes here and there. It was at that point that I turned my head, and I saw the most intense look on Jacob's face. Intense...not in a bad way, but a good way. We had never really worked on a 'case' together before. In the past, my work had always been one of those things that separated us. That made it impossible for us to be together until my work was done and I was ready to rejoin him and the rest of society. But right here, right now...watching him read my files and concentrate on using his specific knowledge to connect us on this single task? It just warmed my heart. It really did.
"Wow...this guy is really convinced that this story is real." Jacob mumbled under his breath. When I asked him about it, he said, "Well, his notes are extremely detailed. This doesn't sound scripted at all. I mean, he's not just trying to experience what he read in the original series or any of the books, but he's actually going into a lot of underground, cult favorite, knowledge. This isn't just a casual 'Gone From Daylight' fan, here. He's really done his homework. And this is a long way to go for a crazy delusion. I think he really believes what he's saying in this report."
"That happens all the time though." I said. "A lot of people come in with elaborate stories and high tech hallucinations that sound convincing, but end up just being an extremely complicated version of something that they read elsewhere. I mean, a major fanboy of the series could build an entire alternate reality around this stuff, couldn't they?"
Jacob seemed to be getting even more involved with what he was reading in the report. I was telling him things to possibly toss some sense of rationality into the pot. "It's...possible, I guess. Sure. You deal with a lot more crazies than I do." Then he looked closer at the transcripts given after his arrest. "But I donâ€²t think thatâ€²s whatâ€²s going on here. He seems to be genuinely terrified of being followed. Discovered. He's just...he's totally losing it." Jacob scrolled through a few pages of text, and said, "Yeah...you see this? Right here? This isn't even a part of the original 'Gone From Daylight' series. Neither is this. I mean, it's a part of the extended mythology...but it doesn't really tie in to the main story at all. These are really obscure references and details that a vast majority of fans wouldn't even know about unless they were completely obsessed with the outside material."
"Is that...bad?" I asked.
"It's odd, that's for sure." He replied. "Like...here..." Jacob got down on his knees beside my computer chair and pulled up a hefty chunk of his transcripts. "Yeah, like...even here, he says he's being watched all the time. Even during the day. And they're closing in on him."
"Well, that's a deviation, isn't it? The story says that vampires have to hibernate during the day. A mandatory 'sleep cycle' right?"
Jacob grinned. "You really have been reading. Good for you. Hehehe!" Then he scrolled a little further down on the screen and said, "Here. This is one of those obscure references that I was talking about. He says that he sees them everywhere, they're hunting him down, whether he's asleep or awake. He's talking about the vampire agents who are still human, but work for those in darkness. That's not a part of the original 'GFD' text."
"Wait...you're losing me here. Slow down."
"They're vampire 'familiars'. They're in league with those who have crossed over into darkness, and have pledged loyalty and service for a period of three years in exchange for the bite that will give them eternal life. They are the guardians and the enforcers that do what the vampires can't during the daylight hours. They're still human...but only for now. It's a practice that dates way back to feudal Japan. Samurai era. They were known as 'Fudo-tsuki no mono'...or, roughly translated, the 'Hooded Ones'."
"The Hooded Ones?" I asked.
"The legend says that they were responsible for rounding up the townspeople and bringing them back as tribute for the vampire â€²Blood Godsâ€² to feast upon. If they did their jobs well, the blood gods would eventually give them the bite and allow them to live on in darkness as they do. But, like I said, this isn't 'GFD' story specific. This goes way into other stuff that was going on in a variety of spinoffs. I just think it's odd that this guy would make that a part of his obsession. It doesn't really have anything to do with the main story...so why drool all over these extras and side stories like this? Why does he think it's so real when it's obviously just a few horror ebooks with no real connection to life in general? You know?"
"Right..." My wheels started spinning, my focus locking itself in on his notebook and looking back to my computer screen. "There's something really weird about all of this. I can't say that I've ever dealt with anything like this before. I'm almost happy to have the challenge."
Jacob gave me a smile, and kissed me on the cheek. "I know what that means."
"What? What'd I say?"
"Basically, you just said, 'leave me alone and close the door behind you on your way out. It's gonna be a long long day.'"
I smiled back at him. "You know I'd never chase you away, babe."
"Whatever. I'll be upstairs if you need me." He said. "Breakfast?"
"Just some toast. And a glass of orange juice, please."
I attempted to find the connection between the notes and the video files in Sector V, but even after an hour of searching I was still coming up empty. What is it? What am I missing?
I watched more videos, some of them extremely gruesome. All professionally done. There was actually money spent here to make these. Some of these kids could climb walls, move giant dumpsters with one hand, or chase down their prey with amazing speed. All of the offerings were similar, but different. The eyes were a constant in every video though. Glowing red eyes that, after the murder had taken place, turned to a shade of gold. Always the same.
Then...another video caught my eye.
Titled, 'You Found Me'...
The clip started off in the middle of a chase, a man running as fast as he could down a dark alley, using what little breath he had to spare to scream for help. The first person shaky cam was right on his heels the entire time, keeping up without much effort at all, and then...a LEAP! The person holding the camera literally jumped over the man's head and landed directly in front of him. How did they get this all in one shot?
The man began to beg and cry in front of the camera. "Please! PLEASE!!! I'm sorry! I'm so sorry! I won't tell! I didn't see anything! I don't know anything, just please..." His performance was heartbreaking to watch. To the point where it actually made me uncomfortable. "Please don't! Please...please don't...ahhhhhHHHHHHH!" My eyes widened as I watched the man's skin start to glow as he writhed in pain. The glow got brighter, and brighter, and with a blood curdling scream...flames burst forth from beneath his skin as he was being roasted from the inside. The man became a human fireball and merely collapsed backwards into a heap as his flesh sizzled from the intense heat. Then, a piece of paper was tossed onto the body, burning until it was nothing but ash.
The camera turns around, and shows the face of a girl who couldn't have been more than 15 years old at the most. Her glowing eyes gave the camera an evil look, and she lifted up the man's iphone, displaying a picture of her standing out by the lake. Then she crushed the device with her bare hand, and whispered, "Don't come looking..."
Then it was over. I tried to shake off a chill as I sat back in my chair. Was that supposed to be a part of this 'Gone From Daylight' series? Is it a re-enactment of something? I leaned forward again and re-watched the last few seconds of the clip. I backed it up to the piece of paper and tried to see what was on it. She tossed it into the flames and it started to burn up almost immediately, but I was able to make out a picture and some writing beneath it. I paused the screen, rotating it so I could read the image, right side up. The picture was definitely of the same girl in the video, and from the looks of it...the piece of paper was a 'Missing' poster for a runaway teenager. Zooming in, I got as much info as I could, and opened up a missing persons file to see what I could find. Call it a hunch.
What I found...raised more questions than answers.
I didn't even realize how long I had been down in that basement until I heard Jacob coming back down the stairs. "I got you a sub sandwich from Mickey's. Didn't see much need to cook anything fancy. At least you're getting your meat and veggies."
"Thanks..." I said, blankly...still taking more notes.
"Hon, maybe you should take a break from this. You've been at it all day..."
"Seven." I said.
"This is number seven." I showed him the teenage boy that I had just come across in the system as I added his name to the list I was making. Jacob didn't understand what I was doing at first, so I went back to the picture of the first girl from the video. "You see this girl? I just saw this girl in one of these vampire video clips a little while ago. I checked Missing Persons, and look...there she is. Tamela Misskelley, Elgin, Illinois. She simply vanished from her home one day and was never seen again. But here she is, right here in this video clip."
"That's weird. So...you think you might have a way to find her?"
"Well, that's the part that I can't seem to make sense of." I told him. "This is the missing poster that was printed up at the time the case was officially opened...and this is her on the video." I put them side by side on the screen, and the pictures were nearly identical.
"That's clearly her."
"It can't be..."
"Why do you say that?" Jacob asked.
"Because...Tamela Misskelley went missing in April of 1983." I got a strange vibe when I spoke the words out loud. "I had been trying to see if something had been falsely documented, or if the dates were screwed up, but everything checked out. Top to bottom. So, tell me...how does a little girl go missing for nearly 35 years...and not age a day from the time of her disappearance?"
"Time travel?" He grinned with a shrug of his shoulders. "Come on, Winston, you need to stop this. You're getting yourself all tangled up in this weirdness and it's going to drive you crazy."
Ignoring his attempt to pull me away, I brought up the other screens. "It doesn't stop there. Jessica Brantley, missing, 2003. Karen Telldale, missing, 1998. Here...Jeremy Scott, missing, 1987. ALL of these missing kids show up in one of these video clips. And this isn't old footage, either. Itâ€²s all high definition, carried in a small, light weight, camera. Tamela Misskelley is clearly holding a new iPhone. Karen is wearing a â€²One Directionâ€² t-shirt. This Jeremy kid is standing in Grant Park with a fully lit Navy Pier in the background, Ferris wheel and all. But Navy Pier wasn't a tourist attraction yet in 1987. That came almost ten years later. All of these kids just vanished off the face of the Earth, they were never found by their family or friends...and then they just pop up again without a scratch. Looking exactly the way they did when they disappeared. Who would go through all of this trouble to doctor video clips to make it look like these missing children were alive and well and killing people in the streets?"
"Hmmm, they must really be vampires then." He teased, and I gave him a look. "Hahaha! WHAT? What do you want me to say?"
"Well, you don't find any of this...ODD?"
"I think it's kinda creepy, sure. But people do weird shit online. You should know that better than anyone, with your line of work." He said. "Maybe it's a prank. Maybe it's some weird new game that kids are playing online, like 'Charlie, Charlie' or 'Slenderman'. Whatever it is, you'll get to the bottom of it eventually." Jacob turned my chair away from the screen to look him in the eye. "But NOT if you keep burning yourself out like this. You're going to get yourself all stressed out and cranky and you won't be able to think clearly at all."
"I am thinking clearly..."
"Are you? You just turned a typical forensic case about some guy getting fake passports and stolen credit card numbers into a search for time traveling vampire children making snuff videos on the streets of Chicago. Does any of that sound sane to you?"
Jacob raised his eyebrows, and it encouraged a lazy smile from me. With a sigh, I said, "Alright. You got me. Maybe I'm going a little overboard with this whole thing." He kissed me softly on the lips and I said, "Fine. I give up. I'll take a break, ok? A little one."
"That's my good boy." He grinned. "Come upstairs and get something to eat."
"I will. Promise. Just...give me five more minutes."
"I'll give you three more minutes, and I'm gonna be timing you. So don't make a nagging husband out of me."
"Deal." I said, and watched as Jacob walked back up the stairs to give me another few minutes alone. I kept staring at the screen...wondering what any of this was about. Why would someone go through so much research, and so much effort, and spend special effects money, to create a bunch of short vampire fan clips that nobody was ever going to see? Whoever collected these clips went through hell concealing them from public viewing. I don't even think these would show up on the most secretive of TOR browsers. It just doesn't add up. I've seen some shady behavior online before, but this takes the cake.
I looked at the teenage faces on my screen...
Nobody could fake something like that. Not to this degree. And it wasn't just a single coincidence. It was seven. Seven incidents, all with the same presentation. I was certain to find more examples if I kept looking. Many more.
I rubbed some of the 'burn' out of my eyes as my feet stretched out under my desk. I don't know. Maybe Jacob is right. Maybe I'm too closely involved with this thing to step back and look at it rationally. Maybe a break really would do me some good. Staring at this bright screen for too long without a break can drive you loopy sometimes.
But, as I made my way up the basement steps to resurface after so many hours of investigation, I took my phone out to see if I could get in touch with Monica at the precinct. Luckily, she hadn't left for the evening yet.
"Say...you remember that techy weirdo we brought in recently? The one who was freaking out?" I asked her.
"Was?" She replied. "He's STILL freaking out. Crazy son of a bitch has been screaming and crying and practically pulling his hair out since we put him in lock up. To be honest, some of us were thinking of giving the poor bastard a bottle of whiskey so he could drink himself to sleep and give the rest of us some peace."
"What is he raving about now?" I said, walking over so I could close the living room curtains and turn the porch light on.
"Same ol', same ol'. Monsters and madness and people he thinks are coming to get him." She replied. "I don't know what's going on in that man's head, but whatever it is, it's got him scared half to death." As she was talking to me, I looked out between the curtains...and there he was again. A dark, child sized, figure wearing a hoodie up over his head. So far up that I couldn't make out his face at all. He was just...standing there. Completely still. Positioned on the lawn across the street, but looking directly at my house from under the streetlight. "Are you there?" Monica's voice asked.
"Ummm, yeah. Sorry. I'm here." I said. "Listen, has this guy gotten his attorney involved yet?"
"Guy says he doesn't have one."
"Say, I was wondering if maybe I can come by the precinct tomorrow morning and ask him a few questions, face to face."
"You caught a scent on him, didn't you?" She grinned.
"I wouldn't say that just yet. I'm just trying to figure a few things out."
She said, "Hey, as long as he doesn't have any lawyers telling him to keep quiet, you can question him all you want. I should warn you, though...he's not making a whole lot of sense."
"Trust me, Monica...none of this is making a whole lot of sense." I looked back out the window...and the boy who was standing there before was gone. I leaned closer to see if I could catch him walking down to one end of the block or the other...but there was no trace of him anywhere. "I'll be in early. See if you can get us a room."
"Sure thing, Winston. I'll see what I can do."
"Thanks, Monica." I hung up, and continued to peer out into the fading twilight on my neighborhood block. A sinister feeling seemed to be creeping over my shoulders, and even though I tried to dismiss the paranoia as something I just made up in my head...the feeling that I had started down the path to something truly twisted refused to leave me.
Jacob called for me from the kitchen, and I closed the curtains with the hopes of letting it go. But I couldn't stop thinking about the hardened gaze of Tamela Misskelley in that video...and the whispered words to follow...