Kevin Jay collected his equipment from the back of his van and checked his watch. He was running late. It was well past eight in the morning, and he still hadn't started the first house yet. His daughter was burning a high fever and he had wanted to make sure that she was okay before he left for work.
A chilling wind caught him across the face as he went back for his ladder. Tucking his chin into the thick woollen scarf around his neck, Kevin shivered fiercely. Ever since he had turned fifty, he found that he felt the cold far more than before — deep in his bones.
And even for a December morning, it was particularly miserable.
Above him the sky was gunmetal grey and the many bushes and trees that once dwelled within the gardens of the estate were bare and dead. Puddles from an overnight rainfall splashed at his boots as he trudged down the garden path.
In the distance, over the roofs of the buildings, Kevin could hear the distant wail of a siren. The sound made him think of the story he had seen on the morning news: Murders in Lyefield.
He couldn't quite remember what it was, but he was sure that the news had even given the murderer a name. Like the kind of thing you would see on a crime show, or movie.
Originally he had thought it ridiculous. His home town was small and removed. And, even by city standards, the neighbouring Lindum was hardly the largest place. Nothing that outlandish ever happened in that part of the country. But then the newscaster had reminded him of certain events two years earlier. A teenage girl had kidnapped and tortured several people, killing all but one of them. For the longest time, the local papers had reported on very little else.
By the time he set out to work, Kevin no longer considered the possibility of a killer in his town all that far fetched.
He wondered if the sirens were the police heading to the scene of another murder.
After all, it was a strong possibility. There had been two deaths already.
And so close to Christmas... he thought, bitterly, as he looked up at the lights strung across the front of the house next to his client's. What's the fucking world coming to?
Grunting, he pushed the ladder down from over his shoulder and tilted it against the wall. Rubbing his hands together, Kevin began to walk around the back of the semi-detached property. The owners of the houses whose windows he cleaned always taped his fee to one of the back windows, in an envelope.
But this time it wasn't there.
Swearing, he walked back to the front gardenand began to turn his attention up and down the road. Her car was still there, parked beside the kerb several yards down the street.
Maybe she had just forgotten.
Rapping his fist against the front door, he waited for several seconds, but there was no answer. He tried again, but still nothing. No sounds of movement from the other side of the barrier. Either she hadn't heard him, or she was ignoring him.
Leaking through the window parallel to him, the living room light was still on, cutting through the dim morning light.
Hissing another curse, Kevin trudged along the front wall and leaned over the flower bed. His breath steamed against the cold glass as his nose inched towards the pane and he peered inside the house.
The first thing he saw was the face.
Painted onto the wall to his right, it shimmered a deep dark red as the broad smile grinned at him.
"What in the world...?" Kevin muttered, knitting his brows in confusion.
Eyes scanning the room, he tried to find some kind of clue as to what exactly was going on. What he instead located stopped him shock still.
Laying in the middle of a pool of blood, her hands clasped together as if in prayer, Amy Richards stared up at the ceiling. Her mouth was open and her eyes dead and milky. Beneath her clothes, wounds seeped blood into the fabric.
His breath hitching in his throat, Kevin stumbled backwards and fought to pull his phone out of his pocket.
Then he called the police.