THE BLACKOUT BUTCHER
by Aaron Pfau

The traffic lights in Strawis Bay were dark. 

They bobbed like buoys in the tempest-like wind that blew in from the sea. You could smell brine on the landward side of town. The gale had toppled trees all along the coast, resulting in a county-wide power outage. Heavy rainfall filled streets with drains clogged by thick clumps of pine needles and leaves. More than a few basements were flooded as well. Wooden sawhorses blocked off most of the roads in and out of town. 

The power went off on Tuesday. It didn’t come back until Friday. During that time, a shadow stalked beneath streetlights as black as the cloudy nights they failed to illuminate. It slunk down lonely roads submerged by ankle-deep water that permitted no footprints. It terrorized a town virtually cut off from the rest of the world.

The phone service—never reliable in such a small, out-of-the-way town where the nearest cell tower was nearly fifty miles away—had gone out with the lights. The internet too. Restless children tried their parents’ last nerves. Many jokes were made about the dark ages. More candles were burned in homes than come Candlemas.

On the first night of the blackout, Shelly Ortiz was working second-shift at Sheb’s Nook, a coffee and tea place that also served sandwiches and soup. The restaurant lay on the street just opposite the marina, where docked boats heaved violently in tumultuous waves that crashed against the pier like galloping horses. 

More than once Shelly had glanced apprehensively at the large display window out front, which moaned from the force of the battering it received on the other side. The jukebox, a garishly coloured relic from the 1950s, was playing Brandy (You’re a Fine Girl). Shelly was just in the process of brewing a fresh pot of decaf when the lights went out; first the fluorescents, then the appliances. The little red light on the coffee maker faded to black. The last notes of Brandy (“such a fine girl”) lingered and died.

There hadn’t been any customers all afternoon, so Shelly didn’t hesitate when her manager told the skeleton crew of two waitresses and a cook to head home for the night. She hung up her apron in darkness, stuffed the crossword she’d been working on all shift into her purse, and sallied out to brave the disagreeable weather; rainy, windy, and oh so cold. Shelly lived two blocks from the diner and walked to and from. In weather like this, it might as well have been two miles. She didn’t bother fetching the umbrella from her purse. In this gale, it would either fold in on itself or carry her away like Mary Poppins.

She simply pulled the collar of the thick coat she wore up to her chin and trudged, head bowed, down the sidewalk. Seafoam splashed dramatically against the shore, sending spittle her way from across two lanes of street. The stop sign at the corner creaked as it bent this way and that. The powerlines overhead whipped about wildly.

Shelly turned into a narrow alleyway between two storefronts that came out on the next street over. A shortcut she often took to shave a few minutes off her commute. She didn’t hear the sound of wet footsteps emerge from behind the dumpster until they had already overtaken her. A black-gloved hand seized her mouth and muted her scream. 

The squall of the storm concealed the rest. 

Beneath black streetlights that turned away their eyes, beneath darkened apartment windows where oblivious tenants slumbered, the twenty-six-year-old waitress who’d had nothing more on her mind than how many glasses of wine she was going to permit herself before turning in for the night was tortured, raped, and killed.

The following morning, Janet Tilly, Shelly’s co-worker at Sheb’s Nook, waded through the ankle-deep water in the dirty thoroughfare to toss a bag of trash into the dumpster. She dropped her burden and screamed bloody murder at the sight of the naked young woman sprawled on the ground with her legs splayed in a V, her body sliced open from pelvis to sternum, her fear-filled eyes reflecting Janet’s own terrified features.

There being no internet or phone service, the news circulated by word of mouth. Shelly Ortiz? You mean the girl who works down at Sheb’s? Murdered, you say? Raped first, you say? Such a shame. Such a nice young girl.

The children in town shared grisly details about the killing, all of which were untrue. I heard her head was cut off. I heard her eyeballs were plucked out. I heard she was impaled by a steel spike, all the way from her, well, you know, to her mouth.

The adults in town whispered more darkly. 

Who could it have been? No one from around here would do a thing like that. Or would they? Roads in and out of town are closed. Any new boats been seen around the marina? She was killed near the marina, you know.

The rain let up, but heavy winds persisted. Flooded roads were littered with fallen trees and branches. One Strawis Bay resident woke up to the comical sight of a trampoline in his backyard. The nearest neighbours with a trampoline lived four houses down. Patio furniture and umbrellas had all played musical chairs during the night. People drove around their blocks scanning the front yards to see where their movables had fetched up.

Department of Water and Power vans were seen parked beneath downed power lines. Confidence grew that the energy would be back on before the night. However, night came and light switches still paid no profit when flicked. Internet was zip. Phone service too. Streetlights slept with their eyes closed.

If there’s one man who knew the slim likelihood of the energy returning anytime soon to Strawis Bay, it was Joe Higgins. Joe worked for the Department of Water and Energy in Clio County, all of which remained as dark as this small coastal town he now found himself in. The department had received dozens upon dozens of concerned calls regarding down power lines. Those were top priority. Public safety hazards had to be addressed before they could even begin to work on restoring power. He’d spent all day in this occupation, even stopping to fix a few unreported ones while on his way to another job.

Sometimes he went up in the aerial lift and sometimes his co-worker, Claire Browne, did. They’d had a busy day. A power outage of this magnitude, he mused, must be what Black Friday is like to retail employees, no pun intended. 

He enjoyed working with Claire. You didn’t get many females working for the department and he liked her unfiltered, no-nonsense personality. Joe spent most of the time on the road listening to her bitch about her two adult children. Matthew was a deadbeat, not good for nothing. If he had two nickels to rub together it wasn’t because of any ambition on his own part. Video games were his poison. Could you imagine a grown-ass man wasting what few brain cells he still retained on such an inane pastime?

Oh, but she hoped he’d be able to make it home for the Holidays. Her daughter now! Whew, don’t even get her started on Debra.

Joe wasn’t much of a talker. He enjoyed listening and Claire enjoyed having an ear to talk to. They were both around the same age. Both unmarried. Although, Joe remembered Claire saying that she had been once. He could only assume that there lay another whole volume of grievances. When night fell heavily over Strawis Bay, it found them in the middle of their accustomed occupation. Fixing another downer, as Claire would’ve said. 

Joe was up in the lift, some thirty-five feet above the white department van surrounded by orange traffic cones. The cones were perhaps unneeded. Both ends of the lonely forest road were closed off, due to heavy flooding at a junction further on.

Claire was in the van, toying with the radio. From his elevated position, Joe was just able to catch the beginning chords of the Grateful Dead’s Casey Jones floating out through the open driver-side door. He hummed to himself as he worked, his hands covered with thick, cumbersome rubber gloves. Safety goggles around his eyes.

He didn’t hear the sound of the van’s backdoor open. Neither did Claire until it softly closed. She gazed up in the rear-view mirror and saw the figure of a man dressed all in black sitting in the middle seat. Black coat, black snow pants, black hunting boots, black gloves. A black ski mask concealed his face. A single slit in the mask revealed his eyes. In the dim yellow light cast from the centre console, they looked black too.

Claire threw her head back over her shoulder as if to confirm the reality of this unexpected intruder. She gasped when she saw that the apparition did not dissolve. He held the blade of an eight-inch knife in the air between them.

He said, “Don’t scream.”

She didn’t. Her brain was still trying to process the incongruent image that her eyes had just photocopied to it. Gape as she might, she found it too hard to convince herself that the black-cloaked man sitting there was real. That the knife he brandished, point titled towards her, was real. It all seemed too… unreal. Too much like a scene out of some true-crime documentary. Or perhaps a horror movie, a corny slasher one.

“You’re going to do what I say,” the man said. “Exactly what I say. If you don’t I’ll carve you from ear to ear.” He turned the blade horizontally. 

The terrified woman gave a hysterical little nod.

Gesturing with the knife. “Come over here.”

“What?” Not understanding the command.

“Not out through the door,” the man clarified. “Step outside and you’re dead. Crawl over between the seats.” He closed the open centre console.

Claire began to move. Her buckled seatbelt pitched her back. She unbuckled it and squeezed herself headlong through the slim space between the driver and passenger seat. While she was squirming one of her shoes kicked the car radio.

Casey Jones stopped playing and monotone static filled the air. Thirty-five feet above, Joe wondered if the reception had gone dead. He wondered why Claire didn’t just turn the radio off if there were no stations to catch. The white noise grew irritating to him. He found it difficult to concentrate on his work. He never would have imagined that eleven yards below, his co-worker was being forced to strip at knifepoint.

“For Christ’s sake, turn that racket off,” he called down.

A scream broke out. It was immediately choked off. Muffled grunts accompanied a sudden rhythmic rocking of the van.

Joe glanced down so quickly that a dizzying vertigo sensation momentarily overtook him. “Claire?” he shouted. “Claire?”

Another bone-piercing shriek.

A single thought crowded in on him. Bear attack. He glanced apprehensively at the dark woods surrounding him on both sides of the street. He remembered seeing a sign when he entered the town. Don’t feed the bears, it read. Not being a Strawis Bay native, he hadn’t heard about the murdered Ortiz girl just last night.

Holy mother of Christ, Joe thought. His co-worker was being devoured alive by a bear down there. Bear? Singular? He hoped to Jesus there was only one. His gloved hands gripped the controls that would bring him back down. He stopped.

Get eaten himself? No fucking way! He knew that bears could climb trees in pursuit of their prey, but he had never heard of one manoeuvring an aerial life before. No, up here he was as safe as houses. But Claire! What on earth could he do? Call for help?

Struggling to get his phone out of his front pocket while wearing the oversized rubber gloves, Joe reflected on if he’d be able to get any bars out here. Didn’t matter, he concluded. You don’t need service to dial 911. He was unable to get a grip on his phone. In his panicked state of mind, it never occurred to him to simply take the gloves off.

Below, Claire sent up a racket of screams and yelps and moans. There was murder in the sound. Joe had always enjoyed listening to his co-worker. Now, he wished he could stop his ears to cease those maddening wails.

He finally managed to seize his phone but, in his excitement, accidentally dropped it over the side of the aerial lift. It hit the wet asphalt below with a crack.

Resigning Claire to her fate as bear food and resigning himself as better off high and out of claw-reach, Joe sank to the bottom of the lift and clasped his hands around his ears, tears fogging the lenses of his safety goggles.

Joe was absolute in his belief that the bear or bears would be unable to scale the mechanized aerial hoist to pursue him. However, he had to own himself baffled when he heard the van’s engine turn over and felt it clutch out of park.

The van started moving. Fast, faster, picking up speed! Like a sailor on a ship’s mast, Joe swayed dangerously side to side. 

“Oh, shit!” he said to himself, and you better believe he held on tight.

The van pitched downhill without purpose. Joe had no way of knowing this, but the man who had raped and strangled Claire to death had ditched from the moving vehicle a few yards back. Sprawled across the backseat, Claire’s lifeless body bobbed with each jolt. Joe had no way of knowing that either. In another moment, he knew nothing more, for when the front of the van crashed into a telephone pole, the Department of Water and Power employee was thrown into the active powerlines he had himself repaired that very afternoon. 

He was dead before his body hit the ground.

The next day, Strawis Bay was confronted with the undeniable truth. For the first time in the town’s long history, they had an honest to God serial killer on their hands. A beast who preyed on women. Whether or not he was a native of these parts or if he had come from elsewhere either by way of road or coast was a subject of endless speculation. Most of the pathways in and out of town were still too flooded to traverse. It seemed ill-fated that if the killer the papers quickly labelled “The Blackout Butcher” was not from these parts, he would most likely be trapped here until they could be opened up again.

Trapped here? No, the townsfolk were the ones trapped with him.

A six o’clock curfew was effectively put into place, which is about the time darkness comes in those gloomy winter months. The people of the community griped and moaned some but come sundown that Thursday not a soul among them could be seen loitering by the police officers assigned to twenty-four-hour patrol shifts.

There were three of them on duty that night. Officer Mollie Barnes was assigned a beat near the marina, whereabouts the Ortiz girl had been sliced open. The power had not come back on yet. The story she’d heard about the double murder of the department employees last night had created even more problems for the energy companies to fix. She didn’t believe everything she heard—some of it sounded too fantastic to believe—but if the killer had used the department’s own vehicle to down even more powerlines (the irony of this did not fail to impress her) then they would have their hands plenty full alright.

To make matters worse, the heavy rains returned that afternoon. It cascaded off dark streetlights and tossed the sea into a frenzy. Idling in her patrol car in the marina parking lot, Officer Barnes turned her gaze from the coast to the darkened storefronts across the two-lane street. The large display window in front of Sheb’s Nook, the place the first victim had been employed on the night she was butchered, was adorned with a memorial of flowers and crosses and American flags. The flags whipped about in the stirring wind. The flowers were soaked and limp. A large print-out poster bearing the face of the slain girl was plastered on the inside. Drops of rain trickled down the photograph’s cheeks like tears.

Officer Barnes found herself in a species of mixed disbelief. Never in her wildest dreams would she have imagined when she took a post in the sleepy water-front town of Strawis Bay that she’d be hunting a serial killer. She had figured that apart from drunken and disorderly sailors, neighbourly disputes, and maybe a few DV calls, crime would be null in such a picturesque little place as this where everyone knew everyone else’s business.

But she also knew that small townsfolk had the potential to be the most deviant individuals of all. Some repressed animal urge, she figured. You don’t grow up in a town with white picket fences, church on Sundays, and Aunt Sally’s apple pie without having some suppressed temptation to peek over into the dark side. For most folks, a peek was usually sufficient. An addiction to porn, a habit of sniffing women’s undergarments, a desire to rub creamed corn on your chest while having your balls stomped on. Who the hell knew what else? This killer, whoever he was, had plunged bodily into the abyss.

Barnes’s idle straying was suddenly arrested by a very curious sight. She saw it through sweeping windshield wipers and a curtain of rain. On the other side of the street, a man dressed from head to toe in black snow gear was standing just outside the alleyway where the Ortiz girl had been murdered. He was holding a black trash bag that seemed indistinguishable from his garb. Most likely a tenant in the apartments above who had arrogantly decided that disposing of his trash was worth breaking curfew over.

What struck Barnes as so curious about the sight wasn’t just the violation of policy. The fact that he deemed it necessary to put on his most convoluted snow gear to simply take out the trash tickled that sense of suspicion ingrained in all law enforcement officers. The man in the ski mask turned down the alley and disappeared from sight.

Deciding that she had better reprimand the offender, Barnes reluctantly climbed out of her patrol car and crossed the street. Rain pelted her service cap and spilled off the brim. As she neared the entrance to the dim alleyway, she removed the taser from her belt. Better safe than sorry. She peeked around the corner. Too dark to see anything.

A man’s voice issued out from the black, narrow aperture.

It said, “Help! Help me! Ooh. Ooh.”

“What’s the matter?” Officer Barnes asked.

“I’ve fallen,” the voice replied. “Ooh. I’ve fallen and I can’t get back up. I think I sprained my ankle. Ooh. Won’t you please help me?”

Serves you right, Barnes thought as she holstered her taser and started down the alley. She was standing just about where Shelly Ortiz had been mutilated when a shadow crept over her. The realization that she had been deceived came too late. Before she could react, the man behind her snatched the Glock from her belt and pressed the muzzle against the back of her head. He thumbed the hammer. The sound was tremendous. 

“Keep walking,” the man said. “Keep your hands away from your radio.”

She started down the passageway.

“The other way,” the man instructed, stepping around to give her clearance.

As in a scene from an old-time movie western, Officer Barnes walked with her hands raised high above her head out into the deserted street bombarded with rain. He led her to a stretch of abandoned waterfront just below the marina; the surf crashing against sharp rocks on one side, an elevated sandy bank on the other. The scene was hidden from all possible view by large moss-covered trees on top of the bluff.

They stopped, both standing there in the wet sand getting pelted by rain and sea spittle whenever a wave clapped against the rocks. The man grabbed the taser from Barnes’s belt and tossed it into the ocean. He stepped back and pointed the gun at her.

She turned around to face him, keeping her hands raised in the air like a member of a gospel choir. She was praying hard. “You don’t have to do this,” she said.

The man was silent. At length, he said, “Strip.”

“What?” Barnes mouthed. Her voice was carried out to sea.

“Strip,” the man said again. He raised the pistol for effect. Lightning broke. The gun’s muzzle formed a brilliant, white zero in the black air between them.

“Please! You don’t have to do this,” Barnes repeated.

“No, but you do,” the man said. “Otherwise I’ll put a bullet down your throat.”

The thirty-three-year-old police officer unbuttoned her navy blue uniform shirt. She dropped it to the sand. She removed the white tee underneath and did likewise with it. The white bra she wore glowed in what filtered moonlight managed to peer through the clouds. Fingers trembling with terror, she undid the buckle of her duty belt and let it fall to her feet. Then she unfastened her slacks and pulled them down to where the belt lay.

They were soaked through with rain and clung difficultly to her skin. She had to struggle to get the hem around her ankles and almost fell backward. In the end, she had to take her shoes off to accomplish the removal. The man watched coldly, patiently, as if he had all the time in the world. Once completed, Barnes stood there quivering in her bra and underwear, both radiantly white. Her hands unconsciously sought to cover herself.

The rain drenched her undergarments, giving the thin fabric a see-through transparency. The air was frigid. Her nipples were as hard as marbles. Her heart was hammering against her chest. She was scared to death.

She waited for the man to order her to do away with these last consolations. Instead, he stepped further back, putting two yards between them.

“Squat down,” he said.

She did. The barrel of the pistol followed her down. She had to sink one hand into the wet sand to maintain this awkward posture. 

“What do you want from me?” she asked.

“Crawl over to me,” the man said.

“Please!” Barnes pleaded, shaking her head violently side to side.

“Crawl!”

On all fours, Officer Barnes plodded over cold, wet sand that swallowed her fingers and knees, making the going tough. She approached the man dressed all in black, standing at least six foot two, holding her own pistol trained on her.

“Open your mouth,” he said. He was breathing very hard.

Barnes obeyed. The man thrust the barrel of the pistol down her throat. Gagging, she clutched and pulled at his hand. It did not budge an inch. The man shoved his other hand down his trousers. His breathing had become short and rapid. He stroked himself. The gun mimicked this action, sliding in and out of Barnes’s mouth.

Her breasts heaved with each terrified gasp for air. Her thighs shook with fright. Her buttocks, visible through the thin cotton panties, were pink and rough with gooseflesh. With a moan of ecstasy so soft that he might have just been clearing his throat, the man unloaded into his trousers. Then he shot Barnes through the throat.

The woman’s pale body lay there in the dark sand like a washed-up statue chiselled from smooth stone. The moon peeked frightfully through fingers of clouds as the man defiled her corpse in the most despicable ways. 

Officer Matthew Rowe was patrolling up around by the deserted railway when a faint dispatch came in from Officer Barnes’s radio.

A male voice spoke. “I’ve just killed a police officer,” it said coldly. “Down by the marina is where you’ll find her.”

Static answered all the questions that followed.

Two patrol cars responded to the dispatch. They found the disfigured body of their fellow officer slumped beneath the pier, back resting against one of the pilings.

With Friday came the fourth stave of this horrible melody. News of the policewoman’s murder threw the townsfolk into an even greater despair. After all, if those sworn to protect them against things like this weren’t safe, how in the world could they expect to be? It also incited a sentiment of the strongest fury. There was loose talk of a mob forming. To hell with the curfew was the general attitude held by the red-blooded natives. What they needed was decisive action. Come nightfall, groups of men wielding firearms, clubs, knives, anything they could get their hands on, took to the streets. Since the two police officers left on patrol couldn’t very well arrest an entire raiding party of fifty men, they acquiesced in the end.

Unlike the other two murders, the police withheld most of the facts regarding Officer Barnes’s killing. This wasn’t necessarily done to spare the public’s sense of decorum. Though, it might be just as well that they did. An atmosphere of vigilantism and mob justice was very much in the air. The real reason the police had held back certain facts was the hope that someone might incriminate themself by displaying possession of such knowledge.

The dark storm clouds had dimmed to a mild grey. The rain stopped. Even the heavy winds seemed to subside. It began to look like the worst was over. All that remained now was cleaning up the mess left behind. Roads were still flooded and fallen trees would have to be removed before they could be travelled. The phone service came back early in the afternoon. Friends and family members of Strawis Bay residents heard first-hand accounts of the killings they had only read vague and inadequate articles about in the papers.

But most promising of all, the energy seemed likely to return by night.

Six o’clock rolled around. Suzy Rollins sat in her darkened kitchen listening to the sound of rioting men outside. The group of some fifty emboldened townsfolk had formed in front of the Presbyterian church across the street thirty minutes ago. As the bells tolled six and the sun went down, they dispersed, little clusters of armed men heading in every direction. Suzy sat there gazing thoughtfully at the flickering flame of the candle burning on the table before her. She had gone around and turned on every light switch in the house so that she’d know right away when the power came back. With nothing else to do, she busied herself with waiting. Her husband was one of those who had joined the militia party.

He had taken with him one of the rifles that he kept in a cabinet under lock and key in the parlour room. Despite his wife’s protests, he left a loaded one sitting across the leather armchair just in case she needed it. She had berated him for being absurd, but now that he was gone she had to own that she felt much safer knowing it was there.

Without warning, a knock came at the kitchen door.

Suzy glanced up, surprised. There was no way Doug would be home already. The militia party was set to police the town throughout the night. Had he forgotten something, perhaps? Or was he merely checking in on her before starting the patrol in earnest? Tightening the belt on her bathrobe, she crossed the kitchen and opened the door.

Yet it was not her husband who stood on the opposite side of the metal screen door. A tall man dressed in a black coat and black snow pants peered in through the mesh. He had a black ski mask pulled up around his forehead. He was clean-shaven. Nice looking man. But not one she recognized. An unusual phenomenon for a small town like Strawis Bay. He seemed to be favouring his left arm as though it were wounded. Sure enough, as she crept closer she could distinguish an even deeper patch of black on his sleeve.

“Can I help you?” she asked.

The man spoke through his teeth. “I got bit,” he said. “I just need something to bandage it up. Some Neosporin if you have some.”

Flustered by this unexpected occurrence, Suzy blurted out, “Oh, I don’t really have any—I mean, my husband isn’t home right now.” 

She bit down on her lip. Stupid thing to say. What she should have said is that her husband was home, so was her adult son, and that they were both polishing their elephant rifles in the next room. However, something about the man struck her as vaguely… Vaguely what? His dark blue eyes gazed steadily at her own. He was a handsome man, no mistake about it. Curls of coarse black hair stuck out from beneath the ski mask.

“What I mean is you’ll have to wait right there,” Suzy corrected. “I think I have some gauze and Neosporin in the medicine cabinet.”

“If I could sit down for a moment I’d be mighty thankful,” the man said. “I’m feeling pretty lightheaded, to tell the truth. I just need to catch my wind.”

The audacity, Suzy thought. Coming up and knocking on the door to a strange house when there’s a serial rapist and murderer on the loose and asking to be let in. To be let in knowing that the only occupant home is a lone female. Anyone else would have sent him packing long ago, if they even opened the door at all.

Another thought came to her. “Are you with the party of men out there?”

“Yes.”

“I don’t think I’ve seen you around. Are you new here?”

“No.”

“I don’t think I’ve seen you around.”

“Well, I’ve been around. Do you mind if I sit down a for moment?”

The woman furrowed her brow. “You said you got bit? What did you get bit by?”

“A dog. Two dogs, actually. They might have been strays. They were roaming out by the churchyard.” He gestured to the church across the street.

“Dogs?” Suzy mouthed, glancing outside to where the man had just indicated. If there had been a pack of savage canines they were gone now.

“They were big dogs,” the man said, illustrating something with his hands the size of a bear. “Big black dogs just foaming white at the mouth.”

Suzy held the handle to the screen door with her thumb on the lock. Every fibre of her body told her not to open it, not to let the man in. However, something about his demeanour and his story seemed so sincere. I mean, if you wanted to charm your way into someone’s house with ill intent, why make up a tale so ridiculously far-fetched?

It’s very far-fetched-ness lent it paradoxical credence. Plus, the man was clearly injured. Was it possible that he had been mauled just like he said? Perhaps an overzealous member of the militia party had sicced his dogs on the poor man?

She thought about the loaded rifle sitting across the armchair in the parlour. Then she stared at the man. Nearly six foot two and 220 pounds. He could easily overpower her if it weren’t for his present condition. As it was, he appeared so feeble that the only thing keeping him from collapsing was the screen door he clung to.

“Please come in,” Suzy said with a defeated sigh. 

She undid the latch and opened the door. The man staggered in and dropped into one of the dining room chairs. He pulled the single burning candle on the table closer and held his hands before it in a pitiful attempt to warm them.

“Can I hang your coat up?” Suzy asked. It was soaked and absolutely filthy.

The man nodded and began removing it. “Your husband,” he said as he slid his right arm out the sleeve and pulled the left one painfully over his injured limb, “is he part of all that bruhaha out there? You’d think the circus came to town.”

Suzy froze. “I thought you said you were with them?”

“I am. I was just asking if your husband was too.”

A nervous little laugh. “Yeah, my Doug’s out there. So, I’ll fix you up but you really should be on your way. My hubby would paddle me if he knew I let a strange man into the house after everything that’s been going on.”

“Sounds like a smart guy,” said the man.

She took his coat. “I’ll hang it up by the fire to dry.” She left her strange guest brooding over the candle’s flickering flame and went into the parlour where a more substantial fire was crackling in the old wood-burning stove.

On her way, she eyeballed the rifle left just where Doug said it would be. When she draped the stranger’s heavy black coat over the metal grate, something fell out from one of the side pockets. It landed on the hearth with a dull clatter.

Suzy glanced down and saw the surprise in her eyes reflected in the smooth blade of an eight-inch knife. Blind panic crowded in on her. She had just let a serial rapist and murderer into her home. The monster that every able-bodied man in town was hunting for at this very moment. He was sitting at her dining room table right now, in her kitchen.

Oh, you stupid, stupid, stupid woman!

You may be the stupidest woman in Strawis Bay but you’re not totally helpless.

She glared hard at the rifle in the armchair; loaded and ready for use. All you have to do is pull the trigger, Doug had instructed before he left. Despite wanting to sit in the comfortable leather chair facing the fire, she hadn’t been able to find the nerve to move the made-easy weapon for fear it would accidentally go off. Now, she appreciated Doug’s reckless precaution. She didn’t know the safety pin from the cocking piece, but she knew which end of a rifle you didn’t want to be pointed at you and she knew how to pull a trigger.

Traversing the room in three large strides, Suzy seized the rifle and held it in a comical imitation of Calamity Jane. However, right as her palms gripped the smooth wooden stock, the overhead lamp went on. The ceiling fan whirled. 

She gazed up at this sudden and miraculous manifestation with frank wonder. The radio in the kitchen kicked on. “Bad, bad Leroy Brown. The baddest man in the whole damn town.” Steeling herself for whatever may happen, the armed housewife barged through the kitchen entryway with the barrel of the gun levelled at her waist.

As expected, she saw that the power had come back on. 

The man in the chair was gone. 

Nor did the fiend the papers dubbed “The Blackout Butcher” ever haunt the streets of Strawis Bay again. However, natives from those parts still get jittery nerves on nights when the winds are particularly strong and the rain is particularly dense. On those infrequent occasions when the lights flicker on and off, the town collectively holds its breath in nervous anticipation. The monster had come with the darkness and had departed with the light. It can’t be certain if the unrest and menace of that Friday had a part to play in chasing away that which held an entire town in stark terror for four unforgettable days.

The Blackout Butcher is an ever-elusive mystery, and let’s hope that he remains so, for I fear should that epithet ever grace the headlines of a newspaper again it will not be in triumph of identification or apprehension.  
 


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