The smell of wet dirt assaulted his nose as he exited his SUV. Lingering dark clouds hung back, threatening to let loose overhead again.
Chance of light showers, my ass, he thought.
He only hoped that the thick canopy of the trees would provide some cover from the rain; there didn't seem to have been enough to wash away evidence, yet. He knew he shouldn't be there. All he wanted was one look. The local police chief threatened to have his PI license pulled if he continued to muscle his way into the case.
The FBI had taken over weeks earlier, yet there had already been another victim. Those on the case were following the serial killer's clues as some poor woman, under the age of twenty-seven, was awakening to a nightmare.
The killer loved to taunt his victims. It was a game to him. He'd give false hope to the woman, provided only enough air for her to breathe in custom coffins he built himself. She'd hear the screams of her name by the search team. By then, she'd be hoarse, and she'd expend too much energy trying to cry out for help, wasting her air supply faster. As she heard the scrape of shovels overhead, she'd be gasping for breath. By the time they reached her, she would be dead, out of air, lifeless eyes wide open to the canopy of stars above. It had to be a horrible way to die.
A crack from a dry branch echoed in the oddly still night behind him. He swirled around to see, alert and aware. The scent of pine, wet dirt and debris, surrounded him, but he saw nothing. He reached for his holster and grabbed his weapon. The grip of his gun was a familiar friend in his hand.
He was close. The killer kept returning to the scene of the original victim. He was sure of it. There was no other explanation to the type of combination of bugs and dirt found on the other victims, as it was mostly found in the forest that surrounded him. One of the tiny crawlers was only indigenous to that particular area. More than once, he told the investigators that it was a calling card, or a slap in the face meant for him.
It had to be.
Another branch cracked and he felt the hair on the back of his neck rise. Sweat beaded across his brow, as he kept a steady hand, weapon ready as he checked out his surroundings. Turning left and right, nothing seemed to move in the too still, green foliage. Not even a damn rabbit or snake stirred.
Before his mind recognized the sound of footsteps, someone got the drop on him. Pain radiated across his neck and the back of his head, and he fell to his knees. His breath shuddered out of him, when another blow on his ribs, sharp and brutal—a kick.
With his hand still raised, he twisted away, turning toward his assailant, shooting blindly and missing. The gun, his only friend he trusted in the world, kicked away from his loosening grip. He heard the crackle of bone, his fingers likely broken.
Gasping for breath, cradling his injured hand against his chest, he roared into action once again, reaching for his hunting knife in his boot. A chuckle on his right told him that his efforts were fruitless. His salvation kicked away before he could even bring it up to protect him, darkness suddenly welcomed him in its warmth.
He awakened slowly. Bright light coming from near his feet intruded his closed eyes. He wondered for a moment how drunk he'd gotten the night before; a tri-weekly event, if he could manage it. Dark and bright spots danced across his eyes. He groaned and rubbed a tired hand over his stubble-covered jaw. His knuckles rapped smartly overhead, his eyes snapping open as reality intruded.
Awareness crept over him as memories assaulted him. His hands registered the obstruction over his prone body before his mind caught up. Alarm bells rung in his head, his fingers clawing at the pine boards, inches above him.
"Welcome," a robotic voice called from some corner of his pine coffin. "I thought since you are so determined to know what happened to your sister that it would only be fair for you to experience what she went through."
As laughter echoed throughout, he roared, clawing and punching at the wood that held him trapped.
Bella screamed as she shot out of bed, running toward the bathroom, a sliver of light her only beacon. She reached blindly for the sink, bracing her hands on either side of the mirror. Her eyes closed, because she was afraid of the face that would superimpose over hers in the reflection, a lingering memory of her nightmares.
It always happened that way. There was a nightmare or daydream, a scream, a scramble for the nearest mirror to see the next victim.
"Please don't be him," she cried, her eyes slowly fluttering open. Instead of her pale face and wide brown eyes in the mirror, green ones, the shade of fresh pine needles, stared back at her.
"No," she whimpered, her knees giving out. "Not Edward."
AN: Thanks to kimmie43 for her help with this fic.