Kapa. Kapa. Kapa._
The front door of the rickety shack swung on its hinges as a chill wind forced its way into the room.
Taye looked back at the entrance, going bone-still. In one hand, he held on to his trusty flashlight, while in the other, his pistol sat ready, loaded to fire.
_Kapa. Kapa. Kapa. Whyun._
The wind eased and the door swung gently back into place, throwing the room into near-total darkness. Taye let out the breath he didn’t know he had been holding and felt some of the tension slide down his back.
He was paranoid. Every single one of them at the department was too. This case, this investigation — it had chipped away at his logic and worn down the last vestiges of his sanity. In a sense, paranoia was all he had left.
However, all of that would end today.
Taye turned with renewed determination and continued down the room, flashlight racing on ahead of him, left ways and right. The shack had three rooms. An entrance, wherein he stood, an open bathroom off to the side, and a final door which was his destination.
He passed by the lone window sitting opposite the bathroom and it trembled as a heavy wind slammed into it. Loud thunks resounded throughout the house and the walls rattled, almost as if an invisible being was trying to uproot the beams out of their very foundations.
“Fuck,” Taye cursed beneath his breath.
The rattling did not stop him but he did take a moment to peek into the bathroom. Mould, green and black, glittered in the light of his torch, peeking back at him. It grew all over the tiles and tub, spilling out of the sink and toilet, creeping up to the ceiling. If anyone lived here, it was hard to imagine them ever wanting to shower. Or take a shit.
Tearing his eyes away from the scene, Taye continued onwards, the floorboards creaking beneath his feet. Scuttling — the sound of scurrying vermin — reached his ears even over the wail of the wind. There was one other sound that was making itself known too at the moment. A sound, neither the movement of roaches nor the berserking of the wind. It was soft and muffled. And strained. Almost… almost like… a human child…
Taye forced himself to move, crossing the remaining distance in half the time it had taken him to walk past the bathroom. He stopped in front of the last door. Keeping his light pointed forward and his gun readied over his flashlight-bearing arm, he elbowed the latch on the door and stepped back as it opened with a loud creak into the room.
“Don’t move! Don’t you fucking move!” he yelled.
Nothing moved, save the wind outside and the frantic jumping of his torch. There was a bed to one corner, a wardrobe to another, and a heap of wooden boards at the centre. A small child, a quarter his size, sat in front of those boards, but if he — _she_ — had heard him come in shouting, she did not show it.
“Hey, don’t move,” Taye said. “Don’t move. It’s alright.”
He looked around the room one more time to be sure they were alone then knelt some ways behind the child, making sure to keep his gun trained at her back. This close to her, he could make out the source of the sobs. She was crying.
“Hey, what’s wrong?” he asked. “What happened?” Internally, his mind was on overwork. His target was a woman. Tall, latino, black-haired, mid-thirties, preference for red lipstick. This girl — white-skinned and blonde — was nowhere near what he was expecting to find. Had she been kidnapped?
The little girl kept sobbing.
“Hey,” he said again, making an effort to be much kinder. “It’s okay. I am a detective with the police. My name’s Taye. What’s yours?
“Hic.” The girl coughed. “Chloe.”
“Chloe, huh? Why don’t you tell me what’s wrong, Chloe? I am a friend. I can help you.”
“Hic.” Chloe still had her back to him, but she had her hands wrapped around her knees. “What’s wrong?” she asked. “What’s wrong? Can’t you see for yourself, Mister?”
“See?” Taye looked around the room again. His gaze fell on the wooden boards. They were paintings. He rose and leaned in to study them.
The first painting was of a woman, greying, chubby, multiple-piercings. She was lying on the street in what looked like a sheet of red, naked, looking up provocative at the artist. But the red sheet was not really a sheet. It was a pool. Of her own blood. On closer inspection, a thin line circled the length of her neck.
Taye swivelled on the spot, torchlight flashing.
The second painting was of a dog. Or to be more precise, dog meat. Its head had been neatly severed, served on a platter with an apple in its mouth and salad dressing, in front of a family of five, all of whom had glassy-eyed grins on their face.
Paintings three and four were similar; one was a portrait of a woman sitting in a Victorian-era dress, her still-born baby cradled in her lap, its umbilical cord extending out from under her skirts. Another was of a half-naked man, seven seconds before dying in a pool. His eyeballs bulging as the water flowed through his mouth into an already distended belly.
Taye looked at all of them, heart leaping into his throat. A suffocating feeling of dread had awoken and clasped a cold hand around his throat. That goddamn sound came on again.
_Kapa. Kapa. Kapa._
“C-c-child,” Taye said. “D-did y-you… did you paint all of these?”
There were eight pictures in all. Each depicting death in some manner, mostly gruesome.
“Jesus!” Taye yelped and leapt to his feet, gun at the ready.
Outside, the front door pivoted heavily on its hinges. A scraping sound had also begun making its way across the roof, and it moved with purpose, like a thousand branches crawling all at once towards him.
“Chloe!” Taye repeated. “D-did y-you do this?”
Chloe sobbed. “And what if I did, Mister? I did. I did it. Auntie told me I have a flair for painting. So I painted whenever I could.”
She turned to look at him and Taye took a step back. Her face was pale and pasty, like one would expect from someone who spent too little time outdoors. However, her blue eyes were un-naturally bright, like the sunlight in the summer glimmering off pools filled with jewels.
“Auntie told me to make nine masterpieces,” Chloe continued, her voice small. “And I painted nine times. Nine times, I tell ya. You wanted to know what’s wrong, Mister?” And at this point, she made a gurgling sound in her throat. “All of them turned out well! All of them… just like auntie wanted… except for the last one.”
“The last one?” Taye swallowed, feeling his palms clam up with sweat. This girl… this child… Why did he feel such an intense desire to shoot?
Chloe smiled at him and pulled out one last wooden board that Taye hadn’t noticed. On it was the final picture of her masterpiece. The ninth.
It was of a shack in the middle of a clearing in the woods. Dense fog rolled across the backdrop, obscuring much of the view. A large maple tree leaned right next to the shack, some of its branches just inches away from the roof.
Taye dropped the painting in shock.
It was a picture. A picture of the house.
“Do you get it?” Chloe asked. “Do you see what is wrong with this painting? The ninth… why is there no death in it?”
Taye dropped his gun, turned and ran. He fled from the bedroom, into the hall, past the bathroom. The entrance was just ahead of him but the door had been slammed shut.
“No! No! No, no, no, no, no!” he cried.
He threw himself at the door, pulling and then pushing with all his might, but it didn’t budge. Heart racing, he ran back towards the hall, heading for the window that sat opposite the bathroom. However, the window did not slide, and the winds did not blow and the branches had stopped scraping across the rooftop. None of the vermin could be heard scurrying about on the floors and the rattling had stopped, and the house was still.
His flashlight had been lost sometime during his fright and the house was dark.
Chloe smiled down at the final picture of her masterpiece. Within the house, the cop ran about, screaming in terror, pounding against the door and the walls, but from here… from the outside, all appeared tranquil.
“Did I do well, auntie?” she asked, turning to the shadow crouched behind her.
A tall, dark woman leaned over her, red lips parting to reveal an array of deadly teeth.