01 Feb I’m a Criminal Profiler, But I can’t explain the events at Fever Cabin, Part 3
It was growing light outside the cabin. I hadn’t slept, and I didn’t need to. No hunger. No need to use the bathroom. I stared at the time on my laptop, realizing it was stuck on 5 PM of the day my wife and I arrived at the cabin. If I was to guess, that was around the same time we saw the man without a tongue. I shut the laptop and put it away.
I was now armed with information, but little else.
My mind hummed with the realization that fake officer Bullock was actually the spirit of Henry Briarwood, a very dangerous man I helped put behind bars. The fact that he was just one of hundreds I had testified against chilled me to the bone. How many had ended their lives in jail cells or died in prison fights? Were their nefarious manifestations also dwelling in the woods outside Fever Cabin, just waiting for me to come out?
Both of Briarwood’s disguised appearances made sense now. On the first day he had tried to lead me away to a non-existent patrol car, and on the second he had hoped I would chase him out of the cabin demanding to know where he had taken Camilla.
He definitely wanted me out in those woods.
I wasn’t sure if it was really Camilla I had heard screaming in the woods, or yet another ploy. In any case, I didn’t have time for theories. I needed to find my wife, and to do this I had to leave the safety of the cabin and face whoever (or whatever) was waiting for me in those woods.
I did something then that I can’t quite explain. A purely intuitive action performed with no real thought behind it. I went over to uncle Jonny’s old closet, which Camilla had not yet utilized, and began sorting through my dead uncle’s clothes. His eighty-year-old self was a much heavier man with a simpler sense of fashion than the cerebral uncle Jonny from the woods. It took me a while to find some of his older things.
Finally, I found it.
The worn, patchy denim jacket my uncle had worn during the summers I had come to stay with him. He always put it on when going out into the woods, even on the hottest days. The denim had grown soft over the years, and I was careful to put the jacket on without ripping it. I walked over to the mirror and noticed a faint purple glow radiating from the fabric. Somehow, that made sense in this bizarre otherworld. I couldn’t stay in my safe spot, but I could bring a totem with me when I went looking for Camilla.
I scavenged the cabin for more useful supplies or weapons, finding one of my uncle’s rusty old folding knives and a wind-up flashlight. I was really hoping to find a compass, but there weren’t any in sight. Perhaps things like time and direction just didn’t matter here. Maybe if you just walked long and far enough, you’d get where you needed to go.
With these thoughts in mind, I stepped outside into the bright daylight. I worked on winding the flashlight as I walked toward the woods. If time kept hopping around the way it had before, nightfall would come sooner than later. I held my breath upon crossing the threshold of the forest, half expecting to see something or someone lurking about. Maybe more of my childhood phobias would pop up, I thought, shuddering at the thought of a murderous clown stalking me through the woods.
Nothing of the sort happened.
The woods were as I’d always known them as a boy – tall, dark, and mysterious. The sounds of fluttering leaves and birds chirping lulled my anxieties, but only a little. As I walked on, my thoughts were on the Briarwood case from two years ago.
I would never forget the violent jolt of sitting down at my desk and seeing Camilla’s face staring back at me from the fat case file on my desk. That raw stab of fear still burns in my memory; the terrifying flutter of what if?
The girl in the photo had not been my wife, but a local student by the name of Katie Reader. A beautiful, talented young woman who was finishing up a degree in wildlife conservation when she first went missing from a campsite not far from these woods. Local news had lapped up the story, and I felt uneasy seeing Katie’s pictures on my newsfeed during those first couple of weeks she went missing. The resemblance was uncanny. The same light, wavy hair as Camilla’s. Those blue eyes, always slightly doe-eyed with wonder, faint crow’s feet hinting at a life spent smiling and laughing.
It made me sick when they discovered Katie’s nude, mutilated body hoisted up in a tree with cheap handcuffs; a bloodstained machete wedged into a patch of trunk below her dangling feet. Katie was the second victim to be disposed of in this signature manner, and the behavioral science guys were brought in to draft a profile of the unsub. As always, there were so many creeps that fit the bill, the police felt overwhelmed trying to figure out exactly which prior sex offender, stalker, or jealous ex actually committed the crime.
They had narrowed it down to three guys and Henry Briarwood was the last of the interviews. I was positive he could be the perpetrator the moment I saw him. The other two men had been timid, fidgety, and ultimately ashamed of the prior convictions that landed them on the suspect list. Briarwood was the essence of cool as he talked about himself with unrestrained delight. After learning all I could about his background (domineering mother, absentee father figure, problems maintaining a healthy relationship with women, etc.), I got him talking about the crimes.
“Have you been following the machete killer case?” I had asked in my most dismissive tone. I needed Briarwood to think I was just going through the motions, to feel slighted at my ambivalence to his performance as a killer. I baited the very core of his narcissism, secretly registering every twitch, every stir of body language.
“Well, it’s hard to miss it. It’s on the news and everything. Nothing like that ever happens around here,” he said, trying to read my face, “Those poor girls, you know?”
“Mhm,” I nodded, taking out my phone, pretending to answer a text.
“Don’t know why they brought me in though,” Briarwood offered, growing visibly tense. He had enjoyed the first half of the interview more. Talking about his background had made him feel important.
“Oh you know, routine checkup stuff,” I replied, my eyes still glued to the phone.
“It’s very gruesome, slitting their throats like that and all,” he half mumbled to himself.
After a few more questions I had bid Henry Briarwood goodbye, allowing the interrogation team to take over. They got plenty of useful information out of him, but that wasn’t my job.
Popular books and movies have always depicted my career as this all-encompassing obsession with serial killers, but in truth I was mostly an analyst. I learned everything I could about the unsub, running it through an internal database of a hundred similar cases. When I showed up in court for the Briarwood case, they asked me only one question: did the defendant fit the profile?
Henry Briarwood fit the profile to a T, and two years ago I let the court know it.
A couple of days after the conviction, he hung himself in his prison cell.
Predictably, the woods grew darker the further I walked. As I squeezed through a narrow path in a thicket of birches, all around me the sounds of nature began to die down. Soon, I was walking in silence, listening to my hammering heart and uneven footfall.
I took this to mean that I was getting far enough from my safe spot for enemies to start trying their luck and slowed my pace to a halt in a small clearing.
“Camilla?” I called into the forest, flinching at the haunting echo that ran through the stillness.
“Camilla!” I cried out again, louder this time.
“Why did you betray me?” a voice whispered in my ear, and I jumped forward, spinning around to see my wife’s naked corpse staring at me with tears in her eyes.
“Camilla?” I gasped, “Oh god, no no no!” I cried, gripping my head at the sight of my wife’s swollen, decomposing flesh. She was all black and blue now, her limbs covered in bruises and cuts, a pair of handcuffs hanging off her left wrist. There was a deep horizontal gash in her throat, with streaks of dried blood running down to her chest and stomach.
“I cannot rest,” she said, “Because of you, I cannot rest.”
After a double-take, I realized that it wasn’t actually my wife. The resemblance was striking, but as the initial shock wore off, I was able to spot the slight difference in chin, nose length, and ear shape. The eyes though. Those deep pools of sky were next to identical.
I was about to respond, when another voice whispered in my ear.
“We cannot rest. Because of you we are trapped here.”
Horrified, I staggered back to see another light-haired dead woman beside me. She was beaten so badly that both her eyes were swollen shut.
“We want to rest,” a new voice. A different dead girl had stepped into the clearing, her nude body a canvas splattered with torture and pain.
More and more deceased women stepped out of the woods, chanting variations of ‘it’s your fault’ and ‘let us rest’ at me. A dozen corpses that looked like my missing wife encircled me. Some were in the earlier stages of decomposition, others had already lost parts of their skin. One victim was almost entirely skeletal with maggots swarming the crevices of her skull.
The victims of Henry Briarwood.
“Katie Reader” I croaked, turning back to the first girl who continued staring at me with Camilla’s sad blue eyes, “I- I am so sorry.”
Katie’s expression was vacant as she approached me, bringing her hands up to my neck, clasping it gently. The other victims followed suit, and soon I was completely enveloped by dead women gripping at my neck, shoulders, and wrists.
Their touch was cold and devastating. I felt all of it then, every single one of their death experiences. The shock, the horror, the desperate will to survive their imminent deaths. The stabbing pain of every bruise and cut. Their thoughts were the worst. My mind spun with flashes of mothers, fathers, friends, and pets.
Katie’s last dying thought had been that she had not called her mother enough.
“He drugged me and took me to his shed not far from here,” Katie spoke, her broken gaze locked on mine, “He waited for me to wake up before he started. I was so scared.”
“Oh god,” I swallowed as countless ice fingers strengthened their grasp on me. One of the girls began tugging on the sleeves of uncle Jonny’s old jacket. I knew I had to resist, push them away, but I couldn’t tear my eyes away from Katie. She moved in close enough for me to smell the earthy stench of death on her breath.
“He never said a word. I cried and screamed and cursed and tried to kick him, but the restraints were too tight. Then he brought out the knives and I fell silent.”
More hands were pulling at my jacket now, desperately trying to claw it off my back. I held onto it with both hands, elbowing some of the victims who had begun moaning as they drew in closer.
Suddenly, Katie’s grip on my throat tightened, a menacing snarl contorting her features.
“You are the reason we’re trapped here, reliving the horrors of these woods every single day. We cannot sleep. We cannot rest. We are trapped in our living nightmares; beaten, killed, and hung from trees over and over and over.”
I tried to say something, but Katie’s chokehold was tighter than a noose. For the second time since arriving at Fever Cabin, I was dying from asphyxiation.
I had to act fast.
I pulled my uncle’s old folding knife from my pocket, closing my eyes before I jabbed it inside Katie’s stomach. I opened them once she loosened her hold on my neck. It was the leeches all over again. The moment the blade pierced the skin, the apparition began screaming as purple flames enveloped her body. I watched the once beautiful face of Katie Reader turn to charcoal.
The other corpses kept coming, clawing at my neck. Their eyes were feral, faces contorted, bodies capable of remarkable strength. I went into a panicked frenzy, slashing the knife left and right in an attempt to defend myself. The screeches were deafening as one by one the victims of Henry Briarwood lunged at me, impaling themselves on the knife blade and combusting in purple flames.
When the last of them burned up, I fell to the ground, my body convulsing in sobs as I ran my hands through Katie’s pile of ashes. I had not wanted to inflict any more pain on those girls. Every one of them a life stolen away.
“It’s good to see you actually have a conscience,” Briarwood stepped into the clearing. He was no longer wearing the ludicrous disguise, and was dressed simply in a gray sweater and jeans.
“You fucking monster!” I screamed at him, jumping to my feet with my knife at the ready.
“That knife won’t do much against me, Paul. I’m already dead, remember?” he laughed, “I’m not even here to hurt you. Just need you to understand some things.”
“What have you done with Camilla?” I demanded, desperate for some sort of hint at my wife’s whereabouts.
“Funny you should mention her,” Briarwood grinned, raising a patch of legal pad pages, “Ran into her earlier and she asked me to pass these along.”
He walked up to me and placed the pages in my hand, “You should probably go back to the cabin for now, Paul. Don’t want to try your luck in these parts twice in one night.”
“What do you want from me?” I cried in exasperation as Henry Briarwood turned to walk away.
“Look over my case again,” he replied, throwing me a final glance, “You talked to me for twenty minutes, Paul. Is that really long enough to get to know somebody?”
With that, Briarwood disappeared into the woods. I considered chasing after him, but for the first time since sleeping two nights ago, I felt exhausted. Was there a hidden logic behind this as well? Did I need to be near the cabin to recharge?
Uncle Jonny’s jacket glowed brightly as night descended on the silent woods. I sat down on a tree stump in the clearing, trying to gather my thoughts. Shadows creeped the forest floor as tree branches swayed in the silent wind. With bated breath, I waited for whatever came next. I would face another thousand corpses and swim in a pool of leeches if it meant I could get my wife back.
I looked down at my shaking fists to see that I was clenching the sheets of paper Briarwood had given me. The torch was lying on the ground not far from my feet. Picking it up, I wound up the lever and turned it on. Relief hit me like a rain shower after a hot summer’s day.
It was a letter in Camilla’s handwriting.
“She’s alive,” I whispered into the dead of night, holding the papers to my chest.