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17 May 2010 @ 09:24 pm
Aftertaste: Chapter Seven  
Title: Aftertaste
Genre: Mystery/Detective
Characters: Zac Hanson, Taylor Hanson, OCs
Rating: R
Word Count: 3,443
Warnings: Language, violence
Summary: When a series of gruesome murders begins, everyone on campus is stunned, leaving the student body shaken and community anxious, but when those close to Zac Hanson realize he once dated all of the victims, they're left wondering about the connection and who might be next.
Disclaimer: This story is purely fictional. I do not know Hanson or any of their associates. All original characters belong to me. Do not use anything from this story without my permission.
Author's Note: This is the unedited version. Sorry about any errors! Also, please pay attention to the dates here. It skips back and forth a bit, but it does also skip over one whole day.

Chapter Seven

October 17, 2008 9:37 a.m.

“I’ve never seen this place so packed,” Novi commented, wrinkling her nose as she and Lux maneuvered their way into the coffee shop. The line at the counter was horrendous. “Sophie may turn tail and run if she sees this.”

Lux glanced quizzically at her sister over her shoulder before she turned her attention back to the mass of people stuffed inside the rather small building. “Why?” she asked, though she was certain her words were lost in the cacophony.

“It’s her day off,” Novi answered, raising her voice to insure Lux could hear her. “Her boss spots her here, and I guarantee he has her behind the counter stat.”

Lux nodded, absently, realizing the truth of Novi’s words, but she lacked concern for Sophie’s dilemma. There could be worse things than getting called into work. This week had been a wake up call in terms of not sweating the small stuff.

 Lux glanced around, focusing her energy on finding a table that could seat four. Any other day she might have been surprised by the amount of business in the coffee shop since it was typically pretty mellow. The rushes only seemed to be first thing in the morning, right before classes began, or right after classes were over. There was usually a pretty consistent amount of customers throughout the day, as the coffee shop was a common place for studying, but Lux suspected today’s madness was brought on by this morning’s news.

This week had been insane. There was no doubt about that, but these last few days had felt more like a roller coaster than anything. Jacinda’s murder had come as a shock, but Melissa’s seemed to be the one that really incited the fear. One murder could easily be written off as a freak tragedy. Two girls in the same week, though, was worrying. The tension that stretched across the campus had been pulled taught, ready to spring forward at any moment, as they waited to see what would happen next. Wednesday, though, when there were no reported murders on campus, everyone seemed to sigh in relief.

Lux had heard people murmuring that whatever was going on was over. Relieved though they were, it wasn’t as if everyone went on their merry way like there wasn’t a worry in the world. The murders shook the campus. It was frightening, but professors went into spiels about getting things back to normal and moving forward, enforcing the belief that the worst of it was over.

 At least until yesterday.

 October 16, 2008 7:28 a.m.

Lux burrowed deeper beneath her blankets, trying to hide from the rising sun. She didn’t know exactly what time it was and hadn’t yet been able to force her eyes open. She could feel it was still early, though. Despite her late night of studying, her internal clock seemed insistent upon waking her.

She pulled her comforter above her head, blocking the sun from view and relaxed into the softness of the mattress. Several moments ticked by and gradually she began to fade from consciousness back into dreamland.

Just as she breathed a soft content sigh, the apartment telephone began to ring. The shrillness jolted her right back to wakefulness, but she still refused to open her eyes. The phone rang again, and though she knew she should probably answer it, she couldn’t quite coordinate her limbs to move her up and out of the bed.

Lux hoped, fruitlessly, that Novi might answer, but she knew the likelihood of either Novi being awake or just being considerate enough to get out of bed to answer the phone were both slim. The phone continued to ring twice more before the answering machine picked up. Buried in her nest of blankets, Lux couldn’t hear if the caller left a message and was only mildly interested in finding out.

Yesterday had been such a reprieve from the last week of stress.

Campus had been tense, of course. There was more security on campus. Lux supposed it was meant to reassure them, but since most of the guards on duty were the equivalent of a mall cop, their presence had given her little piece mind. It was instead the lack of excitement, for lack of a better word, around campus that had allowed her to stop worrying and focus on the studies she had mostly neglected.

Most people seemed convinced that whatever was happening on campus with the crazed killer was now over. Some had speculated that the police had apprehended the murderer. Lux wasn’t so sure. She hoped that was the case, but when she spoke with detectives Carmichael and Finn, she’d gotten the impression they had little to go on.

Melissa’s murder hadn’t helped matters any, but then maybe she was wrong. Maybe Melissa’s murder, unfortunate as it was, had led them to another clue, making it possible to catch the killer.

Of course, she reasoned, wouldn’t that kind of thing be on the news? Didn’t cops typically want to reassure the people that everything was okay and there was no longer any need to proceed with caution as they had the last few nights? There had been none of it, which made Lux suspect either the police were withholding information or they weren’t so sure it was over just yet either.

Lux’s cell phone began to ring, shaking her from her half-asleep state of worry. Groaning, she rolled to her side, realizing that the gig seemed to be up. Reluctantly, she pushed the covers down away from her face. Squinting against the sudden light, she reached blindly for her cell phone. The sound of the music guided her hand until she grasped it in her hand.

Through sleepy half-closed eyes, she pried the phone open and brought it to her ear. “Hello?” she croaked.

“Lux! Oh my god! Why didn’t you answer the phone? I tried calling the house. Then you didn’t answer, and it freaked me out because, oh my god, have you heard?”

Lux groaned, bringing a hand to her head, in confusion. “Rory?” she questioned because, while she thought the babbling voice sounded like her best friend, she couldn’t be sure. She’d never heard Rory gabber on in such a way before.

“Yes!” Rory sounded both exasperated and slightly agitated.

“I didn’t answer the house phone because I was trying to sleep. Sorry to freak you out,” Lux explained, figuring it best to try appease her grumpy friend. “Now what’s going on?”

“There’s another one,” Rory answered. This time, instead of shrill, her voice was hushed, as if she were sharing some sort of secret.

Tired and slightly annoyed herself, Lux asked, “Another what?” How was she supposed to know what she was talking about when Rory was acting so weird? Hadn’t she just told Rory that she’d only just woken up herself? Didn’t Rory realize that she needed some elaboration if she was expected to understand what was going on? For someone who was typically up during the early morning hours, Lux realized she was apparently not a morning person, after all. At least now she could understand Novi’s persistent grouchiness she had to be up early after a late night up.

“Another murder, Lux!” Rory’s voice rose, nearly to the point of hysterics, but this was only a secondary observation. Lux’s chest suddenly felt heavy, as if her blankets had transformed to stone and were now trying to hold her down, as she forced herself into an upright state.

“Another?” she gasped. “When? Where?” she wondered. Then she realized the more important question. “Who?

“I don’t know!” Rory sounded miserable admitting this. To anyone else it might have sounded like a couple of gossips vying for the latest information, but Lux knew that wasn’t the case for either of them. No, these questions were important because, after the last two seemingly random victims, this too could be someone they both knew.

“Brooke went for coffee this morning with a couple of friends,” Rory explained. Brooke was a mutual friend, classmate and Rory’s new roommate now that Lux and Rory were sharing an apartment. “She said there were police crawling all over the place. Not like yesterday with all of the rent-a-cops, but real cops. Then on the way back home, they passed Bennett Hall. There was tape all around and tons of squad cars and the coroner’s van.”

“But how do they know for sure?” Lux asked. It was stupid, really, given what she’d just said about the coroner, but she half hoped that maybe it was just a misunderstanding of some sort.

“They asked a group of people hanging around outside,” Rory answered. She paused, breathing heavily, obviously nervous. “Do we know anyone in Bennett?”

Lux wracked her brain, running faces and names through her mind, trying to see if any of them resided in that residence hall, but the news felt like such a kick to the gut after yesterday’s reprieve. It made it hard to think clearly. “I don’t know,” she admitted reluctantly. “I can’t think.”

“I know,” Rory agreed. “I just thought . . . I hoped, I guess, after yesterday . . .”

Rory didn’t finished and Lux didn’t reply. She didn’t have to. She knew what Rory thought. It was the same thing everyone else thought - that the worst had passed. Obviously, they were wrong, and yesterday had merely been the calm before the storm. It was clear now that this was not over. Possibly far from it.

Clumsily, she untangled her legs from her blankets and stood from the bed. “Has there been anything on the news?” Lux asked.

“I haven’t checked,” Rory admitted. “Brooke just called on her way to the library.”

“Campus is going to be a madhouse today,” Lux commented as she made her way to the living room. Her legs felt a bit like jelly, causing her to sway a bit. She braced herself against one of the walls as she made her way toward the living room. She wondered vaguely if this was what it felt like to have a nervous breakdown.

When she finally made it to the living room, she switched on the television and then shrunk away at the high volume. Obviously, Novi had been the last to watch television last night. She quickly turned the volume down before glancing around for the remote. Relieved to find it on the side table, she fell back into the couch and switched to the local news station.

She could still hear Rory breathing into the phone, and remembered how panicked she sounded when she called. “Do you want to come over here and hang out until we have class later?” She felt a bit pleased with herself for being able to make the considerate offer.

“You think we’ll have class?” Rory wondered. “I mean, like you said, it’s going to be a madhouse.”

“It’s midterm.” Lux felt that pretty much said it all. Even in the midst of chaos, unless the dean deemed it necessary, she doubted the professors were going to adjust their schedules to compensate for the panic over a campus killer.

 “I need to get my stuff together,” Rory sighed, “I’ll call when I’m on my way over.”

Lux didn’t question her, but she suspected the phone call was more for Rory’s benefit than her own. However, she could understand. With such craziness abound, it was hard to feel safe, so if talking on the phone on the drive over made Rory feel better, Lux wouldn’t deny her that.

After Rory hung up, Lux turned her attention to the television. She had to turn the volume back up to hear it now. A reporter stood in front of Bennett Hall, but as Lux listened, it didn’t sound like she had anymore to report than what Rory had already told her.

With a frown she sunk back into the couch and closed her eyes. She listened as the reporter spoke on the off chance she might say something useful. Moments ago she could have easily drifted back to sleep, but tired as she was, her mind was now on red alert.

Idly, she wondered what campus might be like today, and dreaded the thought of venturing out to class later in the afternoon. Would security be even heavier today? Would it even do any good? She thought back to detectives Carmichael and Finn and wondered how they were faring the midst of the chaos.

They’d both seemed like competent people. However, Lux vaguely remembered seeing something on television about how serial killers could be clever and charming. The thought made her shudder. How was it possible that with two girls already dead that the latest victim would willing open their door to a stranger?

Immediately, her blood ran cold as she made the realization that these girls wouldn’t have opened a door to a stranger. They would have been cautious, looking through the peephole or asking who was there before opening their door. Their guards would have been up, just like everyone else’s. So why would they open the door to a stranger? Sure, the killer could have forced his way in, but there had been nothing in the news about forced entry, which led Lux to believe these girls let their killer in. The only question was why?

It didn’t take but a moment for the obvious answer to come.

They knew their killer. Why else would they allow them into their home in the dead of night without question? They wouldn’t. Jacinda’s murder would have had people on edge. Melissa’s would have incited even more caution. Whoever had been murdered last night – or early this morning, Lux corrected – wouldn’t have been careless, unless she was a complete moron. However, based on what Lux knew about Jacinda and what people had said about Melissa, neither of them was stupid. They were both smart, strong young women, which led Lux to believe the same was probably true of the newest victim.

Yes, these girls had to know their killer.

Then another thought occurred – if the killer knew Jacinda, then it was possible that Lux knew him as well.  He could be anyone on campus. Someone she was had class with or passed in the quad. He could have stood behind her in line at the coffee shop or be someone she spoke to on a regular basis. Her stomach clenched, and for a moment she was certain she was going to be sick. How was anyone supposed to stay safe or know whom to trust when they didn’t know who to be wary of? 

October 17, 2008 9:42 a.m.

Lux’s eyes slid around the room, taking in the faces of the other customers. She recognized a few, who smiled or waved. Lux forced a smile in return, but she couldn’t calm the voice in the back of her head that wondered if he or she could be a killer.

Lux grimaced as she remembered the showy reporter from the news that had referred to today as an “off” day. She’s seemed so pleased with herself, and, apparently, everyone had ventured out this morning because of what she had said.

It hadn’t taken long for word yesterday’s victim to spread across campus. Unlike the previous victims, whose identities had been withheld from the public, within hours of her body being discovered, her named was released the press. By the end of the day, everyone knew the latest victim was named Katya Stana. 

The relief they’d felt the day before had vanished, and the campus was back to it’s panicked state of disbelief. Then the reporter had shown up on the evening news, discussing the pattern of the murders. She acted as if she was a genius for noticing, but Lux was certain the police were way ahead of her. Regardless, the reporter had claimed that with Katya’s body just discovered that morning that there likely would not be another one the next morning.

Lux had no idea why this was supposed to come as some sort of relief. Obviously, if there wasn’t a body there that morning, there likely would be by the end of the night into the following morning, assuming the rumors that each girl had died in the late night hours the night before or the early mornings hours the day their bodies were discovered were true.

Most of the details had been kept pretty hushed up, but the rumor mill was running rampant. They were supposed to have a candlelight vigil for the first two victims, but after Katya, they had postponed it. No one would say it, but Lux got the impression they were waiting until it was completely over so that they wouldn’t have to have several vigils as each victim surfaced.

Regardless, Lux had made plans to meet Rory at the coffee shop after waking to a fairly mellow morning. Apparently, everyone else had felt so relieved that the stupid reporter has been right about it being an “off” day that they’d all decided to venture out. Novi had tagged along, saying she was meeting up with Sophie.

As much as she hated to admit it, Lux was hoping Novi would ask Sophie about what she and Zac had talked about a few nights earlier when she’d stopped by while Zac was at their place studying. She knew it was none of her business, but that didn’t trump her curiosity. Besides, her brain needed something other than the campus killer to focus on for a few hours.

The realization she’d made the previous morning about the possibility of knowing the killer had left her feeling sick and suspicious. Because she knew it would only worry them, Lux hadn’t shared these thoughts with anyone. Her mom was already in a panic. Novi sharing that Lux had been questioned by the police and also knew the first victim had done little to help the situation.

Lux wound up having a lengthy conversation with her mom over the phone. They’d argued back and forth. Their mother thought it best for both Lux and Novi to come home until this all blew over. As much as the idea appealed to her survival instinct, Lux had argued that they couldn’t just up and leave. They had classes and midterms to tend to.

What she didn’t tell her mother was that she half hoped classes would be canceled, so that she and Novi could go home. Not knowing how the murderer was picking his victims left any girl on campus up for grabs, so she couldn’t exactly argue the point that she wasn’t in any danger because the truth was she didn’t know if that was even true.

Her fears over possibly being acquainted with a serial killer had left her feeling off kilter. She typically wasn’t the type to tuck tail and run, and that was the front she was trying to keep up. It was exhausting pretending not to be scared out of her wits.

She was sure if Novi knew about her theory of possibly knowing the murderer, she would call her paranoid. Rory was even more upset about what was going on than Novi, so she would probably just freak out. She thought about running the theory by Brooke. She was smart and mostly unshakable, but their paths hadn’t crossed much over the last few days since everyone was staying in whenever possible.

“There!” Novi’s shout shook Lux away from her faraway thoughts. She looked to see where Novi was pointing and was relieved to see a recently vacated table. She scurried to the table, prepared to lie across it to claim it if necessary. Novi was hot on her heels – literally. It was unfair how, somehow, despite being older, Novi was several inches taller.

They claimed the table without any arguments from other customers and slid into the seats, shoving their bags into two of the empty ones to save for their friends.

“I guess we’re waiting until Soph and Rory get here,” Novi frowned, her eyes straying toward the front counter of the coffee shop. “I hope they hurry. I could really use some caffeine.”

“I think you should just resign yourself to waiting a while. That line isn’t going anywhere fast.”

Novi frowned a bit and sighed, “Well, at least we know we’re safe here among all of these people.”

Lux didn’t answer because she knew that wasn’t necessarily true. A killer could be among them at this very moment, scouting out his next victim, and they had absolutely no way of knowing.

Aftertaste Master Post
Current Mood: rushedrushed
Current Music: Eric Carmen - Hungry Eyes
muffintoppersmuffintoppers on May 21st, 2010 12:22 am (UTC)
I just got caught up and I remembered that I really enjoyed this story the first challenge. It's so good!
Brittney: stock » deskclutterfakearomance on May 24th, 2010 06:06 am (UTC)
Thanks so much! I'm glad you're still enjoying it! :)
Renee P.: hanfic3prettyzombiegrl on May 28th, 2010 03:56 am (UTC)
yessss the plot thickens! really digging this story my dear! i want to know more about this new victim though. the suspense of the identity of the killer is killing me! lol