On Monday mornings, I send out a story via email: ultra-brief tales of 1,000 words or more, usually in genres including horror, science fiction, and the supernatural. Those stories collectively are called Once Upon A Time. I’ve also published several ebooks and compendium volumes of those stories so far.
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“Interview proceeding at eleven twenty-four PM, Tuesday 26th September,” Glancey said, reading the date and time from her own wristwatch. The room had no clock or calendar, and that was by design.
“Present are myself — Inspector Jill Glancey — and Tom McColl with Child Protective Services,” she continued. “Interviewee is unidentified white male, aged approximately fourteen years.”
She glanced at McColl, and the man nodded. His brow was creased with concern, but not because of his role in ensuring the minor was safe and that his rights were observed. He had already been briefed by Glancey on the situation before he entered the room.
The circumstances were exceptional in every regard. Usually, a detainee who was under the age of sixteen couldn’t be interviewed outside of certain hours, and their parent or guardian had to be present. But the boy wouldn’t provide any information about himself, not even his name, so finding his parents was going to be difficult. There had been no identifying documents or property in his possession, which wasn’t uncommon for a teenager, but what was certainly unusual is that he had neither a bank card nor a mobile phone.
The other thing about being a minor in this situation was that legal representation was mandatory; an un-waivable right. But the court-appointed defence attorney wasn’t answering his phone, and nor were either of the two backups. The young man sitting across from Glancey, while otherwise taciturn, had agreed to hear some preliminary questions while the strange situation was being resolved.
“Do you understand that you don’t need to answer any of my questions?” she asked, and the boy shrugged. She raised an eyebrow, and he nodded.
“For the record, interviewee nodded his agreement, witnessed by McColl.”
“Confirmed,” said McColl.
“Can you tell us your name?” Glancey asked, but the boy just shook his head.
“We’d like to contact your mother and father,” McColl said, and the boy remained expressionless.
“They’re dead,” he said. There was silence for a moment.
“I’m sorry to hear that,” McColl said, in a softer tone. “But you must have a guardian or relative we could talk to.”
Glancey’s instincts told her to ask a question she normally wouldn’t have. “How long ago did they die?”
The boy looked directly at her now. He didn’t blink, and his eyes were dark in a way that she didn’t like. Half a minute passed before he spoke.
“Yesterday,” he said, in the same tone she would have expected if they were talking about the weather.
Glancey exchanged a look with McColl. The boy had been brought in by patrol officers in the late afternoon, picked up from a supermarket after being held by store security for attempted shoplifting. When they hadn’t been able to get any information from him about who he was, they had searched his meagre belongings and discovered multiple dried blood stains on his clothes. Then Child Protective Services was called, and a specially trained officer ascertained that the boy didn’t require medical attention. At that point, it became Glancey’s problem.
“Were you there when it happened?” she asked, and the boy nodded.
“Obviously,” he replied, and McColl frowned.
“Why obviously?” Glancey asked, already knowing the answer. It wasn’t long before midnight, and it was going to be a very long shift.
“Because I killed them,” the boy said. Another moment of silence.
“We really need counsel here,” McColl said directly to Glancey, and she nodded without looking away from the boy.
“Based on what you’ve told us,” she said, “I have to arrest you now, but I don’t want you to worry about that. We’re going to find out what happened, and there’ll be someone here soon to make sure that this is dealt with in a fair and proper way. Do you understand what I’ve said so far?”
“I’m not an idiot,” the boy replied. “I understand everything you said, and I knew what I was doing when I did it.”
The two adults exchanged looks again. Both knew that the boy didn’t have a mark on him, which tended to rule out physical abuse, but there were several other kinds too. And that was just if his actions were in retribution.
“How did you kill them?” Glancey asked evenly, drawing a warning look from McColl, but the man didn’t say anything.
The boy just shrugged again, which Glancey suddenly found infuriating. She reached deep down inside herself to restore an even temper. Even if he was a murderer, this was a child, and he needed to be protected first and foremost.
“Called him up to do it,” the boy said. “Sick of being told what to do.”
McColl leaned forward. “You asked someone else to kill your mother and father, and that person did it?” he asked, but Clancey already knew that the man was wrong. She had been working a certain type of cases for years now, and it was no accident that she’d been given this one. The boy only glanced at McColl before looking at her again. The darkness in his eyes was even easier to see now. And she recognised it.
“You should step outside,” Glancey said to McColl, and sure enough, the man immediately bristled at the suggestion.
“Listen to me, Inspector,” he said, not even asking to speak to her privately first, “no matter what he may or may not have done, this young man is a minor by law and he’ll be afforded the full—”
“You should leave right now,” Glancey said, standing up and pushing her chair back with her legs. She reached into her pocket and took out her car keys, finding the small medallion attached to the keyring by touch alone as she started to mutter the necessary words under her breath.
The boy smiled, and the sight of it was a travesty that silenced whatever response McColl had been about to make. They both looked at the young face, and only Glancey was unsurprised when it began to change, twisting and darkening, the mouth now too wide. The overhead lights started to flicker, and McColl fell backwards in his chair and then scrambled to his feet, retreating to the rear wall.
“What in the name of hell?” he said, his voice choked and panicked.
“Get out of here,” Glancey replied, still not looking away from the boy who was quickly becoming something else. Finally McColl began to fumble with the door handle, and after an endless few seconds, he managed to open the door and dash out. Glancey heard him calling for help, but she knew that by the time the duty officers made it down the hall, it would all be over one way or the other.
“Don’t worry,” Glancey said, to the boy who was still somewhere within the thing that sat in the chair across the room. “You’re not to blame. It’ll be alright.”
She took the gun from her waistband beneath her jacket, the weapon incongruously bright and cheerful in its yellow and green plastic, and pumped the priming mechanism. Its reservoir was full to the brim with heavily salted water. Unlike in fiction, no special blessing was required; all that mattered was the salinity.
The thing surged forwards, but then came to a stop a couple of metres from her. Glancey knew it could smell the salt.
“If you’re still awake in there, lad, just hang on,” she said, pointing the water pistol at the creature’s jagged mouth as it reared up. “This is going to hurt.”
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