Vengeance (Prequel to The Bunker)

Part I –

The boy ran through the field with his model airplane in his hand. He was wearing his favorite aviation goggles, leather hat, and his scarf to top it all off. He felt like a real-life pilot as he ran around with the wind blowing in his face. 

As he moved the model plane up and down through the wind, he made a noise which, to him, sounded like the engine of a plane. He had been out playing for hours; the only thing that could get him to stop was the inevitable winding down of daylight.

There were no lights in the field, so he had learned the hard way that if he stayed out past dark, he would have a tough and spooky time finding his way home for supper. As the day wore on and the sun began to fade, the boy began to captain his plane towards a landing at home base.

He arrived at his home just a bit before dusk. The sky was a beautiful shade of red and orange. What the boy saw at his front door caused him to stop making airplane noises. In fact, the boy dropped his plane on the patio and felt a feeling in his stomach that was similar to falling. There were bloody footprints coming out of the front door and the door was wide open.

The carnage that awaited him was nothing that a child should ever have to witness. The blood was like a pool underneath his slain mother and father. With a broken heart the boy cried with his parent’s bodies repeatedly asking them to please wake up and telling them he loved them.

That little boy was me, a little over 20 years ago now. My parents were murdered by a man with an ax. At least, the detectives presume it was a man, due to the brute force that was exerted that fateful day. 

That day shaped the rest of my life in so many ways. I became very introverted and stuck to mainly reading books or using computers. This led to my eventual career choice of becoming a hacker (not the bad kind, though). 

My job is to catch the bad kind of hackers. I think it is my thirst for justice that stems from the murders that drives me to continually grow better at my job and put the bad guys away… kind of like I am trying to fill an empty void in a way, for the unsolved taking of my parents.

I try not to dwell on the past too often, but this time of year it gets hard not to. It is getting close to the anniversary of the day they were murdered, August 20th. I have been considering doing something to get out of the house and try to get my mind off the subject. Maybe I could go to a movie or out to eat somewhere nice. I toss those kinds of ideas around every year around this time…the result is always the same, though; a depressing night in with a movie marathon and a bottle of my favorite gin.

That is a problem for later, though. I still have two days until I have to worry about that night. For now, I am just going to focus on my work and try to keep my mind off the inevitable. I know I said that I catch the bad guys, but the main part of my day to day job is finding ways to exploit different company’s systems to help them better secure themselves against the bad guys. The technical terms are white hats for ethical hackers and black hats for the bad ones.

Right now, I am working on the system for an airline company, trying my best to break into their financial systems to find their areas of weakness. Ironic that it would be an airline company while leading into the anniversary. I always associate planes and flying with that day.

The police said that the murderer was not gone from the scene when I discovered my parents there. I often wonder if he was somewhere watching me through a window. I wonder if he saw in my eyes what he had done to me and what that meant to him. Was he happy about it? Did he have other reasons for killing them and felt bad for me? One thing is for sure…he made the decision to let me live. I have stayed up countless nights thinking of how that would be the biggest mistake he ever made if I were to find him.

This airline, Southern Continental, was the only one that came anywhere close to the small town that my parents were murdered in. We lived in a very remote community in the panhandle known as Fern Hollow. When I started bouncing around between foster families after that I ended up here, in the much larger city of Fairmont in the southeastern part of the state. Of course, most cities would seem to be “much larger” when compared to Fern Hollow. That was the type of place that only had one of anything: one grocery store, one gas station, one church.

It is very peculiar that the job I am working this close to their death day would be the same airline that anyone coming in and out of that area would have to use. My wheels were really spinning now. I couldn’t just go into the flight records of this company. As good as I am, there was still no way to do it without leaving traces. I could be prosecuted and blacklisted in the industry. It could be the end of the life that I’ve worked so hard to gain.

The urge to find the man who did those unspeakable things to my parents outweighed my sense of self preservation. My thirst for his justice was much stronger, and he would have to answer to me for what he did that day. I am going to investigate who flew into and out of the neighboring larger city beside Fern Hollow that week.

Wait a second… I found a man who came into the airport in Temple Bell on August 19th and left on August 20th. Ronald Sutherland of Athos, Colorado. 

I hear that Colorado is beautiful this time of year. I think I might just need some fresh mountain air.

Part II –

It is coming up on that time of year again. The nightmares have already started. I always have them the whole week before, sometimes longer. The screaming, the blood, the poor little boy walking in and realizing what happened to his parents. The worst of all though, are the dreams of my sweet little girl. 

Those bastards took her from me. I would never have been able to go on living knowing that I knew where they were and still left them breathing. Their poor little boy though, the image of his broken heart showing through on his face. It will haunt me until the day that I die. He was as much of a victim as my poor little Margaret.

I hate to dwell on it, but it cannot be avoided when the anniversary of my wretched deed draws near. Margaret was my everything. She was my beating heart that was ripped from my chest. Her mother, Carolyn, passed away while giving birth to her. She was my high school sweetheart who I thought would be with me until the end. Margaret was the only piece of her that I had left, and I cherished and loved her with all of my heart.

The day that she was taken will always be fresh on my mind. Like a constant and taunting reminder of the cruelty of life. We were visiting my sister’s family in Temple Bell, Texas. It was a full week of board games, incredible dinners, games for the kids, and all sorts of family fun. It was the day before we were going to leave to go back home.

My sister, Theresa, wanted to show us the carnival that was in town. It had been in town for a few weeks, and she said that she and her kids had loved it every time they went. Margaret was still a little young for the rides, but up until what happened we were having a wonderful time.

There was a big ball pit that was perfect for her age range, and some of my sister’s kids who were a bit too big for it even joined in. Margaret insisted on wearing her favorite hat into the pit, even though I told her that she might lose it in there. We went back and forth on it for a moment, but finally, I relented and told her to just be careful and keep track of it. The back of the pit was up against a wooded area, but I didn’t think much of it at the time. I did not notice the door in the back of the ball pit building either. These are the things that I can never stop beating myself up over. 

One moment she was safe and sound having the time of her life. Smiling and laughing right before me. The next, two strangers came in the back door of the pit and snatched her up. They were long gone before any of us were able to catch up. The man’s face was covered with a bandana, and he wore sunglasses so I could not make any kind of observation other than his short black hair which was hardly visible due to the baseball cap. The woman was holding the door open for him while he grabbed my Margaret. and I was able to see even less about her features – only her blonde hair sticking out from under a cap as she took off behind the man.

I thought before then that nothing could ever be worse than losing Carolyn. There was a bright side in Carolyn’s death, though, no matter how much I refused to see it that way at the time. The bright side was our little Margaret, the light of my life. Carloyn gave her life to create a new one. There was no bright side in losing Margaret, though. No redeeming factor that can bring me even the slightest bit of solace. 

I worked with the police tirelessly. They explained that cases that aren’t solved in the first 48 hours usually never will be. I tried every way that I could to find a lead for them, a suspect, anything. It began to look hopeless and they eventually began to treat it as a cold case. I would not accept that though. I was not going to rest until I avenged the taking of my sweet little girl.

I was sitting at a coffee shop in Temple Bell looking for any information I could get about the carnival and the people who work there. The police had already put plenty of time and effort into that front, but I felt like there might have been something that they missed, maybe someone with a criminal history that matched the man’s description. I was having no luck with this but suddenly, I had a strange feeling.

A man was walking out of the coffee shop with a hat and sunglasses on. I felt drawn to him like I had a bit of intuition pointing me in his direction. He walked up to the back of his SUV and took off his computer bag. When he popped the back of it, I saw something that got my heart racing a million miles a minute. Margaret’s favorite hat tossed in the back of his trunk.

I took down his license plate number as well as the make and model of the vehicle. I was looking up his information before he even pulled out of the parking lot. He was Andrew Ash, married to Stephanie, and with a little boy named Jacob. I called the police and gave them all the new information. They told me that it would be a case that must be transferred over to the Sheriff of Fern Hollow due to the culprits being in his jurisdiction. When I reached him on the phone he spoke with a heavy southern drawl and was very brusque and dismissive about my daughter’s case.

“Yeah, this is Sheriff Hudson, no need to ramble on. I was already informed of your accusation. We are a small town of tight-knit folk here in Fern Hollow. I know the Ash family very well and I can guarantee you that they did nothin’ of the sort. You wanna come hash it out with me in person you can be my guest, but we do not take this kind of slander and misinformation lightly, so be warned.”

I was crushed by this phone call, crushed and enraged. If the sheriff of this little podunk town did not want to do his job, then I was going to have to take justice into my own hands. I have never been one to carry a gun. My sister and her husband did not keep them either. He did have a large ax in the garage though, I grabbed it and snuck it into my car just in case things got out of hand.

Fern Hollow was a tiny little town. Very few stores and buildings. The houses were all out on their own huge plots of land out in the plains. I found the house that belonged to the Ash family and made my way around the side without drawing any attention. I saw them through the window. The man had black hair and the woman had black hair. Their body types appeared to be a match for the couple that snatched my daughter. As I saw this and remembered the hat in the man’s trunk, I grabbed the ax and made my way to the back of the house.

What happened next is the memory that keeps me up at night and wakes me up in cold sweats screaming. I broke into the back of the house and cornered them in the room which I had seen them. I made it very clear that I was going to get my daughter back or they would be losing their lives. They defiantly told me that it was them who took my girl, said it was already too late and that she was long gone. They looked me in the face and told me there was no way that I would ever be seeing my daughter again. That was the wrong answer.

I left the scene a bloody mess. I walked out of the front door, leaving a trail of bloody footprints the whole way out. As I made it to the side, I heard something that made my heart sink. The sound of a little boy making airplane noises and romping up to the front of the house. I watched through the window from the side of the house. When he saw what I had done to his parents it broke me, tears began streaming down my face and I left as quickly and quietly as I could. I only made one stop before I left at the front patio. 

The boy, Jacob, dropped his toy airplane. I took it with me as a token of the day I ripped the innocence from that poor boy’s life. I have never been able to listen to anything by Frank Sinatra since that day without having a panic attack of sorts. His parents were listening to him the night that everything happened. The song that was playing as I left and little Jacob arrived has been burned in my mind ever since. 

“Come fly with me, 

let’s fly, let’s fly away,

If you can use, some exotic booze,

There’s a bar in far Bombay,

Come fly with me,

let’s fly, let’s fly away”

That is why this time of year is such a tragic reminder for me. If I am going to be honest, the rest of the year is never very easy either. There is nothing but painful memories, regret, and loneliness to keep me company. I stopped going to see my sister and everyone else from my family after I lost Margaret, after what I did. I don’t know if I just have never felt like I deserved happiness after that day, or if I am just too afraid that they will see me, and they will know what I am.

What I do know for sure though, is that it is coming up on that time again. The anniversary of the day that I became a murderer. A murderer of murderers sure, or maybe a murderer of people who kidnap children and do God knows what to them. I guess I will never really know the full truth behind that part of it. All I can think of at this time of year though is the face on that poor little boy. The face he made when he saw them that scarred me for the rest of my life.

“Sleeping well, Ronald?” 

I woke up to this message in large letters across my computer screen. Someone had opened the notepad and left it there for me to see this morning. I’m not sure whether someone did this remotely or had come into my house while I was asleep. I was awake frequently throughout the night so I had an inclination that they did it from somewhere else or I would have seen them, but I can’t be sure. A text message came through on my phone from an unknown number. 

“Do you remember what today is, Ronald?”

I am not sure if it is just someone messing with me, but the fact that it is happening on the anniversary leads me to believe that it is not. From the other room, I can hear the TV is switched on. It has a documentary on aviation playing. That sounds about right. I am starting to get older in years, but I always had a gut feeling that eventually, this day would come.

I have almost been waiting for it through all these years, I think. Sitting alone, hiding from society and the people I love. With this huge hole in my heart, it is hard to not feel like an empty shell, waiting on my fate, my karma for what I have done. Memories began to flash through my mind.

My loving wife Carolyn, with her huge mum pinned to the shoulder of that puffy blue dress that she wore to our prom. The look in her eyes years later as I proposed to her in front of the beautiful sunset at the Garden of the Gods. The way that I felt as we stood with both of our families watching and we became man and wife. Finally, the feeling of loss as she left me but gave me Margaret, the best parting gift that could ever be given. 

Coming from the other room I can hear someone approaching. They are making airplane noises with their mouth. I can see him standing at the doorway behind my recliner, his eyes are just barely above the area of the chair that is blocking my vision. He is a young man, in his twenties. While locking his eyes with mine, he is continuing to make the airplane noise while moving the toy airplane from all those years ago into my line of sight and back out of it again. The plane is bobbing up and down as a child might do to show that it is flying.

“Hello, Jacob. I have been expecting you.”

Jacob nodded to me and dropped the toy airplane to the side. He is not here to play toys with me, after all. His head ducked out of sight for a second. He must have been reaching down and behind him, because I can see the shiny head of an ax beside his face now, inching his way closer. I release all my tension, feeling an overwhelming sense of calm and peace with the situation. As I sit back in my recliner and take a deep breath in, Jacob speaks out to me in a sing-song voice.

“Come fly with me, let’s fly, let’s fly away.”

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