The first thing I noticed as we approached the scene were the bags. There appeared to be a dozen or so, arranged in a wide, loose circle around the cluster of men and equipment I assumed was the crime scene. The bags were of the same style you could find in any grocery store, the logo on the side indistinct at this distance, and the bottom of each one was stained with some dark substance.
"What's in the bags?" I asked the young officer leading me. He looked nervously back at me, then up at the bags.
"No has just reached up and taken one down?"
"Sheriff Reynolds doesn't want to disturb the crime scene. And he, uh, has a theory."
"Well, what's his theory?"
"I think you should just come and see, ma'am."
"Fine. Just going to be taking pictures of it later anyway." I whistled tunelessly to myself and looked around the woods. But other than the bags and a few officers searching the surroundings for more clues, there was nothing to look at. The real interest was the square of tarps and huddle of men still ahead of them.
Sheriff Reynolds came out of the tarp, mopping the sweat off his face. He noticed me and the officer and raised his hand to wave us over. When we reached him, he nodded, patted the still-shaken officer on the shoulder and waved him off before turning to me.
"So you'd be the new scene photographer, yup?" He asked. Reynolds was a large man and in the Texas heat, was sweating heavily. There was already a smell coming off of him and I suddenly wanted to be anywhere else. Instead, I held out my hand.
"Uh, yes. Mackenzie Byrd." I said. Reynolds grabbed my hand with his fleshy one and squeezed tightly in what could barely be considered a shake, then released. I fought the urge to wipe my palm on my pants.
"Sheriff Emery Reynolds, pleased to meetcha." Reynolds said, using the cloth he had used to wipe off his forehead to do the same to his hand. "Haven't seen you around before Miss Byrd."
"Yes, well, I just moved here from New York a couple of weeks ago."
"New York? Why'dja move all the down here to little old Stirling?"
"Just looking for a job. Speaking of which, sheriff..." I gestured at the tarp and whatever lay beyond it.
Reynolds' face grew serious and he rested his hands on hips. "I'll warn you, Miss Byrd. This ain't pretty. Never seen anything like this here in Stirling."
I stepped around Reynolds. "I've been doing this for a while, Sheriff. I think I can handle this too." I pushed through the tarp curtain, caught sight of what was inside, and immediately turned around. I doubled over, nearly crumpling to the ground and my camera fell out of my hand on to the soft bed of pine needles below.
Reynolds rested his hand on my shoulder and for a moment, I didn't really care about his sweat or smell. "Well, I did warn you. Good thing you didn't eat before, I guess."
I had been fortunate in that regard, having only had some coffee and a pastry a few hours before hand. Over several moments, I regained my composure and slowly stood back up, reaching back down again to grab my camera. I nodded and gave the sheriff a brief smile before turning around and stepping back through the curtain, my camera held up as a shield between me and the atrocity laid out on the forest floor.
There were two bodies. Both were wearing light t-shirts and shorts, appropriate for a hot day walking along the park trails. The older of the two was a woman in her late 30's, maybe early 40's, a short blond ponytail uncurling over her shoulder. The cause of death was obvious; heavy bruising on her neck indicated strangulation. Beyond that, the only distressing thing about her was that her eyes and mouth were still open, a fairly common aspect of corpses that you eventually just needed to get used to.
The second body was of a much younger girl, though her age was difficult to determine. She had been wearing a blue hat that was now tipped over just above her fan of blond hair. Her arms and legs had been spread out as if she was making a snow angel and her wrists and ankles were cut and abraded, indicated that she had been tied down. The cause of death was presumbly a massive incision from her neck to her waist, allowing the perpetrator to break her sternum and ribs and remove most of her organs. What was left of her clothing was covered in dried blood, as were her arms, legs, and face, but the ground was clean.
I circled the two bodies several times, mechanically taking picture after picture, careful to make sure that I never moved the camera away from my face. When I needed them to, both Reynolds and another officer held tape measures along various parts of the bodies while I took pictures. But beyond that, no one else entered the curtained-off square.
There wasn't much to record. It was clear that this wasn't the site of the murder and there's only so many times you can take pictures of a strangled mother and her vivisected daughter. Soon enough, I stepped out of the curtains and took a deep breath. Reynolds was standing there, looking off into the woods at his officers and absently chewing on something.
"Medical examiner been out yet?" I asked, wanting to hear the sound of someone else's voice.
"Nope." He answered. "Got the various officials trickling in. We're awful far out in the park."
"Yeah." I shifted awkwardly, fiddling with my camera strap. "So the, uh, bags."
"Organs. Gonna need photos of their positions and stuff too."
"Yeah." I walked off, caught between wanting to get the hell away from what was behind the curtains and wanting to avoid the surrounding bags. Ultimately, the bags weren't quite as horrifying so I began to take photos of each one, trying to get its position in relation to the curtained area. As I worked, I noticed that the logo was of the Werner Brothers supermarket, a franchise that had a particularly crappy iteration nearby in Stirling. I made sure to get that particular detail on enough of the pictures to make it clear that they all had it.
Eventually, my work was finished. By then, the medical examiner and a few proper homicide investigators had arrived and Sheriff Reynolds was busy helping them. My presence was no longer needed, so I said my goodbyes and began to work my way back to my car, guiding myself this time and focusing entirely on my footsteps.
When I reached the dirt road that had been turned into the police's impromptu parking lot, Charlie Munner was waiting for me.
"Hey!" He called out, emerging from behind a van. I jumped, suddenly yanked out of my private reverie, and he chuckled as he walked up to me. "Wow, must be a pretty bad scene back there if you're that jumpy." He stuck out his hand and I eyed it noncommittally. He got the hint pretty quickly and retracting the offer while moving ahead with the introduction. "Charles Munner, Stirling Times."
"Yeah, you'd be the county's new crime scene photographer, right?"
"Forensic photographer. Can I help you, Mr. Munner?"
I was fairly certain what he wanted and that he was pulling a pencil out his shirt pocket and a notepad from his pocket confirmed it. "This is about as close as the police will let me get to the scene and I'd really like to get more detail than that. If you can just,"
"Mr. Munner" I said
"Charlie." I put on a fake smile and started to edge around him. My car was just a few feet away and once I could get inside, I'd be safe from all of this. "I'm just the photographer, I'm really not qualified to talk about-"
He scooted back around, cutting me off. "Yeah, but you have to noticed some stuff. And that camera must be loaded with good pictures, worth a thousand words, right?" He grinned, showing lots of teeth.
"These pictures are the property of the Allister City Police Department right now, I can't really show them to you." I decided to ditch subtlety and blatantly walk towards my car.
"I'd just use you as an anonymous source, don't actually need the photos just need to look." He tried to cut me off, but I was faster, grabbing my door handle and flinging it open. He was forced to back off and I used the moment to swing into my seat and quickly slam the door shut. As I was digging for my keys, he tapped on the car window and began to speak, not caring that the glass was still closed.
"Look, Byrd, I used to live in New York too, used to work for the Times. I'll get the story. I'd just like your help." He grinned again, still showing too many teeth. "But even without it, gotta have something to print."
I found my keys and turned the car on. But I didn't have the energy for arguing with Charlie Munner, not after what I'd seen back in the woods. I put my car into reverse and backed out, leaving him standing there with his pencil and notepad, watching me as I pulled off and started back to the department.
I've never really been one for getting the last word, but I was starting to suspect why Charlie Munner no longer lived in New York or worked for the Times.
Ian's Notes: A significantly redone draft of the yet-Untitled piece that fits into the theme I was aiming for a bit better.
Between this Untitled piece and Misperceptions, I think I'd prefer to continue one of those two stories and polish it up to publishing-worthy rather than keep writing snippets. Please comment on which of the two you'd prefer to see worked on over the next few weeks.