“Visions” is a story about a psychic who assists the police with catching a serial killer. I can’t say too much about it without giving away any important plot points, so I’ll just let it speak for itself. “Visions” appeared in the PDF-based magazine Blue Murder in May of 1999.
When the sheriff came to Ada’s house, she was waiting for him on the porch, rocking slowly in her grandmother’s cane glider. Iced lemonade sparkled in a tall pitcher beside her, the droplets of condensation on the glass mimicking the perspiration glistening on her bare neck and shoulders.
The sheriff parked his cruiser at the curb and walked slowly up the gravel path to the porch steps. “Afternoon, Ada,” he said.
“Afternoon, Dan.” She picked up the pitcher and refilled her glass, then rubbed it over her cheeks and forehead. She took a sip through the limp paper straw. The flow of liquid caused it to stiffen. The sheriff watched from the front steps, just out of the brutal August sun.
“Want some?” she said, proffering the pitcher.
“Looks good, Ada, but no thanks.” He scuffed his foot in the gravel. “Hot as hell today,” he said at length.
“Hotter.” Ada stretched a bare leg toward the railing, making her knee crack. “I’ve been expecting you.”
“Yeah?” He gently kicked the front of the bottom step. Thump, thump, thump. “Guess you know why I’m here, then.”
“Why, sheriff,” Ada said. “I expect it’s about the killings.”
Dan drove her to the police station in his cruiser. It was pleasant to ride in an air-conditioned vehicle; her sixteen-year-old Chevy didn’t have such luxuries. Her career as a small-town psychic was not a lucrative one, but the publicity from helping out the police on a big case like this would surely improve the situation.
At a red light she touched the sheriff’s arm lightly. He looked at her fingers, then at her. “You found another one,” she said.
“How many does this make?”
“Come on, Ada. Everyone’s been following it.”
He gave her an unhappy look. “Six.”
“What do you mean, no?” Ada saw comprehension dawn in his eyes. “Are you saying there’re more? Ones we haven’t found?”
“I believe there are eight so far.”
“I’ve heard them. Eight drowned voices crying out.”
“Okay, Obi-Wan. If there are eight, where are they?”
“I don’t know. Maybe after I see this one I will.” She looked up at the red light. “You should’ve brought me in a long time ago, Dan.”
“Look, Ada, the only reason you’re here is that the mayor thinks you might be able to help. If it were up to me I’d run all you fortune-tellers in for fraud. So don’t push me, okay?”
“Light’s going to turn green,” Ada said.
“You know that because you’re psychic?”
“No,” she said. “I know because I can see the light for the other way, and it just turned yellow.”
Dan took Ada to the small morgue in the basement of the police station. The place stank of formaldehyde and antiseptics. Three air conditioners rumbled overhead, keeping the room cold as a refrigerator. Ada began to wish she had changed out of her tube top and shorts.
The morgue attendant unveiled the naked body of the latest victim. It lay blue and cold on a stainless steel table. He had been well-muscled. A weightlifter. There was an ugly black bruise on his left temple and forehead.
Not looking up from the body, Ada said: “I have to touch him.”
“Get her some gloves,” Dan said.
“No,” she said. “It has to be skin-to-skin contact.”
“I don’t recommend that,” the attendant said after a moment. “He was in the water a while and he isn’t fresh.”
“I’ll wash up afterwards.”
The man shrugged. “Okay, whatever.”
Ada circled the table, stopping at the young man’s head. She slid her fingers into his cold hair, down to his neck. She closed her eyes.
I’m finally getting laid!
I guess this is what they call doggy-style. She’s on her hands and knees in front of me, stretched out on the picnic blanket, making little grunting noises so I know she likes it. Wait until I tell the guys! First this babe picks me up outside the gym, then she takes me into the woods for a picnic, and the next thing I know we’re doing it!
Why is she picking up the bottle of wine?
“Hey, what’re you … doing?” Ada trailed off, startled at the sound of her own voice. She looked around, momentarily disoriented. The morgue attendant had gone, but Dan stood nearby, watching her.
“For a minute there,” he said, “it sounded like you were getting laid.”
“Not me. Him.” She pointed at the corpse. “Did the blow from the wine bottle kill him?”
“Coroner doesn’t think so. None of the other victims have been killed by force. Did you say wine bottle?”
“What? Yes, wine bottle. That’s what knocked him out. Guess he was doing a little underage drinking.”
“Did you see who did it?”
Ada shook her head, stroking the dead boy’s hair. “Just from behind.”
“No height, no weight, no approximate age?”
“I couldn’t tell. Bad angle.”
“Could you stop petting him? It’s creeping me out.”
“Sorry,” Ada said. She went to the sink to wash up.
“What do you mean, bad angle?”
“I can only see what he saw,” Ada said. “He’s the one who was there, Dan.”
“So what’s it like? Seeing a movie? Reading a book?”
Ada sighed. This was always like trying to explain sex to a spinster. “It’s hard to describe. It’s emotions, thoughts, images, raw senses. It’s nothing as clear as a movie or a novel.”
Dan stared at her for a moment, then said: “Well, I’ve got two of the other bodies if you want them.”
She shook her head. “Once the coroner starts hacking them up, it gets really hard for me to read them. It disrupts their energy field at a time when it can’t repair itself anymore.”
“Energy field?” Dan rubbed the back of his neck. “Okay, well, I guess we’re through then. Thanks for coming by. I’ll give you a lift home.”
It couldn’t end this way, Ada thought. Dan still thought she was a fraud; she had to give him something. “I need you to find the next victim,” she said.
“Believe me, if there are more victims I would love to find them. But I can’t cover every body of water that’s big enough to toss a dead kid into.”
“Still no idea where they might be?” Dan said.
She looked hard at him, then said: “Wait.”
She put her hands on the dead boy’s chest. His skin was slack, cold, rubbery. That was all wrong. It should be hard, warm, smooth. It should respond to her touch. Male flesh always did.
She closed her eyes.
“What are you doing?” Dan said.
“When they were together, the killer’s energy field mixed with the victim’s. I’m trying to find the connection.”
“Oh,” Dan said, and fell silent.
Minutes dragged by. Ada felt the dead boy’s skin grow warm under her hands. Dan still said nothing. The longer he was willing to wait, she thought, the more desperate he was. How far could she take it?
After ten minutes had passed she opened her eyes and said: “The mill pond.”
“We looked there already.”
“Then look again,” she said.
Braden Textiles had moved their operation south some twenty years earlier, leaving behind an empty building, a vast weedy parking lot, and a round, mosquito-infested pond. Ada had been eight when the mill closed; by the time she was sixteen, the building had fallen into complete disrepair, the pond had become overgrown with weeds and rushes, and the old lot had turned into a favorite parking destination for teenagers who wanted privacy.
She stood beside the Dan’s car and watched the police fan out around the pond. She walked down to the scummy water, a soup of cattails and duckweed. A pair of mallards floated in its middle reaches, suspiciously observing the proceedings.
Ada sat down on the bank, and waited.
The police picked through the trees as they circled the water’s edge, converging on the old spillway at the far end of the pond. It was the logical place to look; anything that didn’t sink eventually ended up wedged against the dam.
Suddenly Dan shouted, “I see something!”
Ada slowly rose to her feet. The police were running now, running toward the dam. She realized what Dan had spotted: a pallid arm, protruding from the jam of crap at the spillway. A couple of deputies splashed into the water, clearing away the debris. When they had gotten it free, they dragged the limp and grimy corpse to shore. Dan and two other deputies hauled it out. They laid the body on a thick sheet and carried it around the pond to the parking lot.
Ada watched them approach, leaving a dark trail of moisture on the cracked and weathered pavement. A paramedic crew waited with a collapsible stretcher. They loaded the corpse into it and wheeled it to the rear door of the ambulance, where they stopped.
“You ready, Ada?” Dan said.
She nodded, looking at the body. Another once-handsome specimen, like the rest of them, now gone blue and streaky. She stepped up to the gurney and put her hands on the dead boy’s skull. She closed her eyes.
I’m inside a car, I’m kissing the most gorgeous woman I’ve ever seen. I have my palm on her tit, it’s round and firm, I can feel the nipple through the fabric. She’s got her hand in my pants. Oh, it feels so good.
What’s that smell?
She’s pressing something against my nose and mouth, a wet washcloth. I open my eyes wide.
“Nothing personal,” she says.
A fit of coughing shook Ada and she stepped away from the stretcher. Her eyes watered and burned.
“Ada?” Dan said.
She felt mildly dizzy, an aftereffect of the chemical used to knock out the victim. Nasty stuff. She leaned against the ambulance and tried to catch her breath.
“Ada?” Dan said again. “Did you see anything?”
She nodded, suffered another attack of coughing, and then said: “I saw him.”
Dan stared at her a moment, then snapped his fingers at one of the dry deputies. “Get Miss Kincaid back to the station and take a description. I want a composite in the evening paper.”
“Yes, sir,” the deputy said. He took Ada’s arm and helped her to his car. He was young and handsome, she noticed.
Maybe she’d invite him in for coffee.
Back on her front porch, Ada held the sketch that the artist had composed from her description. It was a good likeness. She compared it to the reproduction in the newspaper, which was smaller and therefore sacrificed some details. It was still good.
Looked just like him.
She read the accompanying article, which mentioned that the description had been provided by Ada Kincaid, a local psychic who had been called in to help the police. Not much publicity, but better than nothing. At least they had gotten her name right.
Dan pulled up in his cruiser, lights spinning lazily in the twilight. He got out and crunched up the gravel walk to the porch.
“I think you should reconsider.”
“I don’t need a policeman to spend the night in my house, Dan. He’s not going to come after me.”
“They mentioned you in the article. They said you provided the description.”
“I know. I read the story.”
“And that doesn’t worry you.”
“He kills men, Dan, not women. I’ll be fine.”
“So he kills men. That doesn’t mean he won’t try to take you out if he thinks you’re a threat.”
“Dan. Stop worrying. I can take care of myself.”
He sighed, and pushed his hat back on his head. “Damn it, Ada.”
“I thought you didn’t believe in all this stuff anyway,” she said, with a half-ironic smile. “This guy probably doesn’t even exist, right?”
He stood there a moment, looking at her.
“Well, hell,” he said, and left.
Ten o’clock. Ada lay naked beneath the sheets. Listening. Waiting.
Someone was moving around downstairs.
The first sound she heard was the back door opening and closing. That was followed by two thumps, like shoes hitting the floor, then by soft creaking sounds as someone walked through the house. The footsteps proceeded into the front hallway, then started coming up the stairs.
Ada quietly slid the drawer of her nightstand open and reached inside.
The footsteps approached her bedroom door, then stopped.
A voice said: “Ada?”
The door swung open. He stood, silhouetted in the doorway. “Ada, your back door is busted,” he said. “It looks like somebody kicked it in.”
He stepped into the room, into the moonlight. She could see him perfectly. Long brown hair, nearly the same shade and length as her own. Skin the same tone as hers; eyes the same color; the same slim build, somewhat slight for a man. In the dark, it would be hard to tell the two of them apart. That would be important, if any witnesses ever turned up.
“I did like you said. I parked on the next street and cut through the woods so the neighbors wouldn’t see me.” He took a step forward. “So … you naked under there, Ada?”
Look at him. So eager to give pleasure, and get it.
She pulled her pistol out of the nightstand and shot him dead.
She had to move fast now; Dan had certainly stationed a police car nearby, and they would’ve heard the gunfire. She switched on the bedside light and went to the body. He still clutched her spare key in his right hand. She pried it loose and tossed it onto her dresser. She hurried to the bathroom, opened the linen closet, and took a box of tampons from the very back of the shelf. Inside was a plastic bag containing a rag and a small blue vial. She wiped the vial with the cloth as she hurried up the hallway. Then, back beside the body, she worked the rag into the hand that had been holding her key, and tucked the flask into his front pants pocket. She could feel his still-stiff penis through his pants.
How about that. She could even get corpses hard.
Someone began pounding at the front door. She threw on her robe and picked up the phone and called Dan at home.
Downstairs, the door broke open with the sound of splintering wood. Footsteps rushed into the front hall. “Ada!” It was Dan, sounding frantic. “Ada!”
“Up here!” she called, collapsing onto the bed.
He pounded up the stairs with the handsome deputy in tow. They raced up the hallway but stopped short when they saw the body on the floor. The deputy pulled a crumpled paper from his pocket and looked from it to the dead man and back again. “It’s him,” he said.
Dan stepped over the corpse and into the bedroom. “Ada, are you all right?”
She looked at Dan helplessly. “I shot him,” she said.
“So I see.”
“I’ll get on the radio and call an ambulance,” the deputy said. He went up the hallway and disappeared down the stairs.
“You got a license for that thing, Ada?”
She slowly shook her head.
“I’ll have to impound it, you know.”
The sheriff sighed and sat down on the edge of the bed. “Well, Ada,” he said, “I guess this is one thing you didn’t see coming.”
“I guess not.”
“What about the eighth victim? Can you tell me where he is?”
“I’d have to … I’d have to touch him.”
Dan said nothing.
She crawled off the bed, toward the body. He lay on his side, eyes open and staring at her accusingly. She approached slowly, as if preparing to pet a strange, growling dog.
“Go on, Ada,” Dan said. “He can’t hurt you now.”
She laid her hands on the crown of his head.
I’m at the end of the bar, drinking alone, as usual, when this beautiful woman starts talking to me. Before I know it I’m telling her my life story, how I grew up in an institution, no friends, no family, no social skills, no job. She doesn’t run away screaming like women usually do. She looks interested. She tells me I’m a free spirit, hands me a key to her house and says she’ll call me next time she’s alone. I think yeah, sure, until the phone rings and it’s her, telling me she wants to see me and I should come over after dark.
She let go of his head and looked up at Dan.
“The old cistern at the top of the hill,” she said.
Dan nodded and went to the phone. As he was ordering a squad car up to the cistern, the handsome deputy came back. “Ambulance is on its way.” He winked at Ada. “Nice shot, ma’am.”
“Cool it, Richard,” the sheriff said.
“Dan?” Ada said.
He covered the mouthpiece of the handset. “Yeah?”
“I think I might like your deputy to stay the night after all,” she said.
Ada awakened just after six the next morning. She carefully wriggled out from under the deputy’s arm and went downstairs to make a pot of coffee. Then she went into the living room and turned on the television news. Their top story was the shooting death of Eric Robbins, suspected in the serial murders of eight young men. They showed a picture of Ada; looked like her driver’s license photo. Ugh. Then they interviewed Dan, who said she had made an invaluable contribution to the investigation, and that she had made him a believer in psychic powers.
She smiled and clicked off the television.
Now that was publicity.