He stood alongside the open grave. The earth was scorched, grasses withered and blackened, but the fire appeared to have burned in a perfect circle, delineated by a line of salt.
Crouching, he touched the circle with his fingertip, then licked it. It was common table salt. Nothing had been added as far as he could tell, but he would send a sample back to the lab.
Something crunched under the heel of his boot. He rocked his foot to one side and saw the jagged remains of small white bones protruding from the ashes. Finger bones. Something glinted in the floodlights. He brushed the ashes aside with his sleeve. The simple silver band had slipped down the fleshless digit to rest against the knuckle joint.
He looked at the headstone. Although the grave was open, it was not the one from which the bones had come; this grave was freshly dug for the morning’s solemn interment of a local businessman. The sexton, returning for a forgotten shovel, had discovered the woman’s remains and called the police.
He said that when he arrived, she was still screaming. By the time the police responded, the ambulance they brought in their wake was unnecessary. The flesh had melted from the bones so completely it looked as though they had been sucked clean.
Despite the lateness of the hour and the chill in the air, a small crowd of locals had gathered. In the forefront was a girl in her early twenties dressed in earthy colours. From beneath her skirt protruded a pair of Doc Marten boots, and the pentacle she wore on a thong round her neck was large enough to be seen from twenty paces.
He shook his head. Murder in a graveyard, and all the freaks came out.
He rose, instructing the forensics team to bag and tag everything and send it back to him. As he ducked under the tape, the girl with the pentacle caught his jacket.
“Actually, it’s Detective.”
She made a small moue of indifference. “Be careful,” she said. “You don’t know what you’re dealing with.”
He gestured to the open grave. “Some whack job killed a girl.”
“No.” She shook her head. “The body was salted and burned.”
She looked up at him from beneath a dark fringe that was too heavy and made her face look squat and masculine.
“You only do that to something evil.”
“I’ll bear it in mind, thanks.” He disengaged himself and moved away, shaking his head again.
All the freaks.
He laid the evidence bag containing the finger bone and ring on his nightstand. It was the only means of identifying the victim; all her teeth had been removed. The forensics people thought she’d been alive and probably conscious when it was done.
He put the bag under his pillow. When something eluded him, he liked to sleep on it. He slept soundly and did not wake.
Even when the girl wearing the simple silver band curled against him, her cold causing ripples of goosebumps to travel across his naked body. Her hand passed easily through his chest cavity and wrapped around his heart.
The coroner’s report would say it was a heart attack at thirty-two, brought on by the stress of his job.
But when they removed his effects from the apartment, one of the officers would find a finger bone with a simple silver ring fused into it by some intense heat.
Thinking it a curio, he would take it home to show his wife.
Stef Hall is a country girl at heart. Born and raised in Norwich, England, she now resides in London with her musician partner, Paul, and their three bonkers cats. She tries to make up for the bustle of city life by procrastinating, walking slowly, and drinking far too much tea. Since early 2007, Stef has enjoyed publication of many of her short stories in anthologies and magazines, including Twisted Tongue and La Fenetre. Her current focus is to find a home for her first completed novel while trying to write the second before the characters take over her head entirely.
This story was sponsored by
Camilla d’Errico: A character designer and artist who dances on the tightrope between pop surrealist art and manga inspired graphics. Explore her paintings, characters and comics: Tanpopo, BURN and Helmetgirls.