ASN 3.6: The Screaming

by Matt P.

Katherine Haven paused for a moment after delivering that line, and sighed. “I haven’t thought about it in some years, you understand. Some of the details have faded—but I’ll never forget some of them.” She leaned back in her chair and folded her hands together, looking at the spots and wrinkles on her fingers as if remembering a time when they had been clearer and smoother.

“It was the tenor of the scream that woke me up first, I think. I was a professor at the community college for a number of years, and I taught piano and vocal lessons on the side to save up for vacations. And because I loved it,” she added in a side note, with a faint smile. The smile quickly vanished. “I have heard a lot of different kinds of shrieking. I knew immediately that it was not someone screaming in happiness, or even fright. It was…terror,” she concluded. “Bone deep terror, the kind you never forget.”

There was something in her tone that made Walter think Haven had experienced something like that terror in her life—the way she described it, the words she used, the way her eyes unfocused for a moment as she considered it. There was terror in her life, too, and she had come through. But neither Walter nor his partners had any inclination to interrupt the story in progress.

“My husband, Bill, was in the National Guard. He kept a pistol in the house and he grabbed it and went outside to investigate. The screaming didn’t stop the entire time—it just kept going until the person had to breathe, and then started again.” Katherine shuddered at that, closing her eyes. “I went to watch from the window, and just as I got there the fire started. I swear…” she began, but didn’t finish. Something was keeping her from plunging over in to the rest of the story.

Walter leaned forward, and reached across the small table separating them to put his hand on hers. “Katherine, whatever it is…we’re not going to think you’re lying, or crazy. Andre, Leah, and I have seen the very…oddest that Border has. I believe you, whatever it is.”

Haven paused for a moment, and then nodded. “At first it didn’t seem like normal fire. I swear that it was green, and then almost dark blue, and it spread too quickly.” Another shake of her head, as if she could see the flames dancing in her vision and wanted to banish them. “After that it acted like normal flames. Bill tried to push his way in, but it was too hot—by the time he could force his way in, it was just about too late. He pulled…their daughter out, and that was it.” She paused, and Walter thought she might be done, but after a moment she continued.

“My husband went to Vietnam with the Army, Detective. He saw…terrible things—the kind of things that you can really only see at war.” She looked at Walter directly, for the first time since she began meeting his eyes full on. “Do you know what I mean, Mr. Richards?”

Walter continued to look in to her eyes—hers were the kind of gray-blue that looked hard when she was intense, or twinkling when she was happy. They were definitely intense now. “Yes ma’am, I do.” There was another momentary pause, and now Walter shook his head and broke eye contact for a moment. “I surely do.”

Haven nodded, and leaned back in her chair again. “To this day when he wakes up in the middle of the night I know it isn’t anything he saw over there that wakes him up—it is what he saw in that house, that night. I only saw the outside…but I saw their faces, when he brought that little girl out of the house. It was…” Her voice had grown slowly more soft, more fragile as she described it. Now it was almost a breath. “It’s always the house. For both of us.”

She stood up after that, and went to a small cabinet on the side of the room. When opened, it proved to be a liquor cabinet. She pulled something in a decanter out, and poured it in to a little glass before draining it in one go. She put the bottle back away without offering them any—apparently it was her private reserve. She walked back to the chair and sat down primly. “I don’t know if you are religious men or women, Detectives, but I firmly believe I saw the work of the devil that night, and even the next day when we went back to look through it to see if any of her things could be saved. The devil was in that house, and nothing in this world will ever convince me differently.” Haven had the posture of a woman warding off bad memories, keeping them from her core—arms wrapped tight around her body and every visible muscle tense.

No one spoke for a long moment, and then it was Leah who broke the silence. “Mrs. Haven, our file says that the girl went in to foster care. I know it’s a long shot, but do you know what happened to her or where she went? Our file doesn’t mention a name, an age…it was all sealed.” Now it was Leah’s turn to shift; she leaned forward and smiled softly. “There’s a lot going on here, and I know it seems like it can’t possibly matter. But it could be very helpful.” Leah’s voice was soft, but filled with conviction, and at it Haven clearly eased slightly from her withdrawn posture.

“I do know what happened. The police and Judge worked to keep it quiet, so that she had a chance to get past all of it,” Katherine explained. One hand worked at the knuckles of the other for a moment, as she considered a choice—either in the past or the present. “We adopted her,” she explained finally after the long moment of hand-wringing. Both Leah and Andre started to lean in eagerly, but Walter held up a hand and they eased back slightly.

“Can we talk to her, Katherine? And your husband?” Walter asked, his tone striking a fine line between eagerness and restraint. She paused, tapping her foot, before shaking her head.

“I can’t make that decision. I mean…Bill will talk to you, I have no doubt. But that’s up to each of them,” Haven explained. “But I can call our daughter,” she said, emphasizing the word to leave no doubt how she viewed the young woman she had apparently rescued, “and ask if she would be willing. Will that suffice?”

Walter nodded. “That will be perfect.”