AN: Y halo thar, obscure fandom. You are eating my brain as of late. I hope it is tasty. We'll blame the Rule of Rose Mysteries blog. That's some really fun, interesting read. I don't own Rule of Rose. Thanks for reading! Much love!
What was going on?
She had seen several of the other children running along, laughing and calling to each other. Something was happening; had someone come to the orphanage?
Curious, she followed, trailing behind the rest. Just like she usually did. She never walked along beside them. But there was always hope. If someone had come here, perhaps one of them would find a home. It seemed a slim prospect, but one never completely lost that small seed of hope that there was a home and a family in one's future.
But as she got to the top of the stairs, she became aware of something odd. Something that was not right. Where there had moments ago been laughter, there were now cries of confusion, of fear…
She recognized a few of the voices. Diana, Meg, Amanda…they were all screaming. But there was another voice. This was one was deep, masculine, and sounded like it was growling. Like a dog. Like some sort of wild animal…
What was happening out there?
She stood there, frozen in fear as she stared at the door that led to the front yard. Around her, a few of the other children were tearing around her, crying out in panic, alarm, confusion.
And as she gaped, undecided, the door began to open. It moved slowly, almost too slowly to be real. She could see a shadow looming in the thin crack of light coming from the outside. It was stooped and hulking, and a thread of fear curled up her spine at the sight of it.
She made a decision then, seemingly without really thinking about it or doing any planning. Jennifer felt her feet start to move, and she was tearing away in search of a hiding place. Behind her, she heard another scream. Who was it? It almost sounded like Thomas…
Something came to her, a faint, forgotten memory. It was like she did not totally remember it, but rather recalled an impression of it. A story where a child (or was it truly a child?) was saved from an evil wolf by hiding in a certain place…
Her hands were grappling at the front of the massive grandfather clock before she had time to really process the strange thoughts going through her head. She could still hear screams behind her, followed by burbling noises and then silence before the next batch of cries began. And through it all, low growling that sounded more animal than human, and slow, heavy footsteps that seemed to be coming closer.
The front of the clock finally opened beneath her hands. She knew that there was a space in there, and she was small for her age. Was it possible that she could fit inside? And if she did, would the dog-man in the next room find her anyway?
…yes. Just barely, but yes.
She had to twist a bit, but she managed to squeeze herself into the space beneath the pendulum. A little bit more wriggling, and she was able to close the door to the clock. A second later, she heard the footsteps pad by the clock. They didn't even pause.
And then she heard crying. It sounded like Olivia. There were loud bangs and thumps, a gurgling noise—
That was too much. Jennifer pressed her hands to her ears to try and block out those awful noises. She didn't know exactly what was going on out there, but she couldn't look, couldn't help, couldn't do anything, and she could still hear them screaming and crying and banging and growling…
…and oh heavens that was Wendy's voice and she was screaming Jennifer's name…
And then suddenly it had all gone quiet. No screams. No thumps. Just silence, untempered by any of the usual noises that would normally permeate such a place. Even the creaks and groans that were so commonplace to such an old building seemed to hush, perhaps in reverance to what was happening within the confines of its walls.
…and then she heard another footstep. The slow dragging footsteps of whatever it was that had come into their home and caused all of the other orphans to cry out like that.
Again, they passed the clock without so much as a hint of hesitation. So she hadn't been found. That was a blessing, at least. But who was it? And why? And what was it going to do now?
As she listened, out of some morbid need to know, she heard the front door open, though she did not hear it close again. Then there was a long moment of quiet. And then…
She heard a sound. A bang, surprisingly loud. And a very faint, muffled thump.
Jennifer huddled inside her hiding spot, unconsciously straining her ears to hear any signs of activity or movement outside. But she heard nothing more. The orphanage had gone as silent as the grave. Somehow, that thought made her stomach clench.
As the minutes ticked by with an agonizing slowness, she felt her eyelids begin to droop. Odd. She would have thought herself too wound up and frightened to fall asleep, but she was surprised to realize that she was exhausted. And there had been no sounds for some time, yet she could not bring herself to climb out of her makeshift hiding place and check.
She was still afraid, she realized, but now she was afraid of what she might find.
Eventually, she could not fight it any longer. Her head tipped forward to rest against the smooth wood paneling that made up the inside of the clock, and her eyes slipped closed. Whether or not she would wake up again was a mystery that would probably be solved come the morning. But for now, sleep.
Jennifer dreamt that night. She dreamt of screams and children and stray dogs and red, red crayons.
"Anything?" Doolittle asked. Even with the kind of law enforcement experience he had tucked under his belt, he still could not keep the anxiety out of his voice. This was easily one of the most horrible things he had ever seen.
The poor deputy at the other end of his question was young, still relatively new to the force; it was evident by the slightly greenish tinge to his skin what his answer was before he even opened his mouth to reply. "Nothing, sir. Just…more of the same."
Doolittle nodded, and took pity on the young man. "Go down to the road and get some air." He himself was seasoned, and he was still having difficulties keeping his breakfast where it was. But he was in charge of this scene, and so personal feelings would have to wait.
The officer looked grateful, and did not need to be told twice.
It was doubly sad, though, that the man would have to go all the way down to the road to be away from the sight of the carnage. There were several sets of remains scattered across the front lawn of the orphanage. Children, in various states. They had died in different ways. Some had been beaten, other bludgeoned, and a few had even been found strangled.
Most horrific of all was the fact that all the deaths, save one, seemed to have been caused by a pair of human hands. No weapons or tools at all. Someone had murdered an orphanage of innocent children with their bare hands. And that someone, Doolittle strongly suspected, was the only body they had found to have died by any sort of weapon: a single gunshot wound to the head.
Worse still was the fact that he knew the man, knew who he was. He was shirtless, showed signs of whipping and similar marks on his torso, and wore a collar and chain around his neck, like a dog. And hadn't the woman from this very orphanage written to him to confide worry about that man and that man's odd behavior around the time the kidnappings had reached their peak in town…
"Any survivors?" he asked another officer.
"We're still searching, sir, but it doesn't seem to be very promising," the man replied with no little sadness. "It's nothing short of a massacre, sir." He pointed to the floor. "Muddy footprints, sir. Bare feet, like our man in the front yard. And it did rain last night. From the looks of it, the footprints go all over the building." He shook his head. "It's almost like he was hunting them."
It made no sense, none at all. What kind of man—no, that was not the right question to ask. What kind of monster would wander around a place like this, hunting children? Whatever the reason might have been, they would never be able to find it now, because the only person who knew that reason could not share it. It had gone to the man's grave with him, courtesy of a single shot to the head.
The investigation would probably be short, given the circumstances. There wasn't a great deal of evidence, nor was there really much evident need to look beyond what was there. A man who had been reported as suspicious (and discounted so quickly, why had he discounted that Martha woman's complaints?) and who was collared like a dog lay dead in front of an orphanage. Inside and around that building were the remains of its inhabitants.
As tragic as it was, it seemed like a very open and shut case, though there was the possibility of linking this to the kidnapping cases, still. And there was still the curious question of why there seemed to be no adults supervising this orphanage.
Doolittle and his subordinate began making their way towards another wing of the building. They passed the body of a young girl on the floor, and paused beside her. She was very young, barely passed infant age. It was there that they heard a thump.
Both men immediately jumped, startled, as it was the first noise they had heard in this place that had not come from an investigating officer. As they glanced around for a source of the noise, the door on the front of the grandfather clock swung open.
And out tumbled a young girl with short hair, wearing a gray dress and pinafore.
She landed on the ground on her hands and knees, squinting in the light coming in from the windows. One hand rubbed at her eyes; she looked for all the world like she had just woken up from a nap. For a moment, she blinked owlishly and glanced around at her surroundings.
Then her eyes came to rest on the body on the floor, and she froze.
By then, Doolittle had regained his senses and was already moving between them to shield the girl from the sight. He tried to question her. What was her name? Did she live in the orphanage? Was she hurt? Had she seen anything? Did she know what was going on?
She said nothing at first, even as they led her out of the house. They kept her between them to try and keep her from seeing the bodies around the yard. If she had lived here, then these would be the bodies of her friends, her classmates, possibly the closest thing to a family she had. If she had seen anything, then the poor child had probably been traumatized enough.
It was only as they stepped outside that they were able to get a name from her: Jennifer. And that that was all she would say to them. Her name and nothing more. It was almost like she couldn't say anything else to them, even when they asked.
Not another word.
She could not speak. Seeing Olivia lying there had frozen her voice in her throat. It took everything she had to gasp out her name when asked. It was something simple and clear, a fact she could cling to while everything around her seemed so determined to go into blurry, unclear details.
As they led her out of the building, she heard another officer say a name, stating that they had officially identified the man in the yard as one Gregory Wilson, who lived next door and who had been reported as suspicious by a woman named Martha, the orphanage housekeeper (who, the officer added, seemed to be mysteriously absent).
The name rang in her ears. She knew that name. She knew who he was.
Such a kind, sad man, if a bit odd.
Hadn't he had a son?
As the police officer on her right (he had given his name as Doolittle) put her into a wagon and told her they were going to take her into town, a song began running through Jennifer's mind. It blotted out all of the other details, censored everything else that she had seen and heard. But somehow, having those words take root in her mind instead of everything else was no comfort.
Stray Dog will have his peas…