It was all coming to a head. The pot was boiling over. A massive volcano was about to erupt. The sky was falling.
Polite euphemisms swirled through Moody’s mind, but the only one that made any sense and the one she kept coming back to was, shit was hitting the fan.
This day was a day of screams. From one house to the next, Moody felt the empathic echoes of screams as the fabric of others’ lives ripped apart.
Well, Moody didn’t actually know if her intuitive feelings were true, but her imagination pictured it. Growing up under Morris and his warped imagery, Moody and her siblings were never short in the creative department.
Communication between the siblings had been kept to a minimum by an unspoken pact. Like three partners in an unspeakable crime, Moody and her brothers felt the less interaction, the less the chance of reliving painful and embarrassing childhood memories.
The last time Moody had spoken over the phone to either of her brothers was almost a decade before. The last time she’d seen either of them was at her high school graduation. She wondered if she would even recognize her siblings if she met them walking down the street.
The only thing that could bring her siblings to her would be the death of their father. Even then, Moody wasn’t sure they would come. Hell, Moody wouldn’t even come except for the fact that she lived with him. She would just as soon let county take care of everything. There was no love lost in the Sinclair family.
Love had nothing to do with death. People madly in love killed the ones they cared most about.
Was love strong enough to kill? Moody wondered this as she sat at the breakfast nook with her scalding coffee and watched the neighborhood go by. In some cases, it was. In others, it was only strong enough to kill oneself, leaving loved ones straggling behind in a lifeless existence.
Riley was killed from love. Love for the little girl or love for self – the question didn’t really matter. Moody’s opinion on the matter did not come from professional observations; it came out of a gut feeling about the meaning of life in Rubicon Ranch.
So many secrets and none of them nice. Moody’s own secrets were mild in comparison to most, especially her own father. Morris had always led a strange life, but now it had completely toppled over into the dark side of evil. Pictures of dead bodies were all over the Internet, but Moody understood why Morris wanted actual photos: he had to be able to touch something (the photo) that had been close to the real body. Internet pictures of the dead were far too remote for the rush Morris needed.
At least, that was Moody’s assumption. In The House of Sinclair, nothing was as it seemed. In the neighborhood of Rubicon Ranch, it was worse. In her father’s case, it could be expected he would have odd and disgusting habits. In this quiet desert community, so many of her neighbors had deep secrets.
Again, Moody was assuming. As one of her college professors had told his class, “Think about the first three letters of ‘assuming.’ Never assume anything, else you’ll be the ass of the situation.”
Running away. The thought jumped into Moody’s head as she sipped her steaming coffee. Everyone around her had come here because they had been running from some personal darkness.
The old man seemed to carry the darkness with him. Hell, they all did. The old man’s darkness was just more apparent. That boy Dylan was a chameleon of evil along with Jeff’s wife. Hmmm. Was there a tie between Kourtney and Dylan? How odd this leaping thought coming out of the blue as Moody watched the neighborhood limp along.
Things around her had changed. The mood was not so much secretive as it was sly. Sly and deceitful. A new slogan for living in The Ranch: “Come to Rubicon Ranch and bury your problems – and any bodies you need to be rid of.”
Looking down into her cup, Moody couldn’t remember if she’d dropped a Xanax in or not. It wasn’t like her to forget; her profession demanded she remember the minutest details.
Did she take Zoloft? No, wait, it was Xanax. Or was it one of the many pills she’d squirreled away during those desperate times right after her patient’s death? It had been her plan to commit suicide by overdose if she had to go to prison.
At the last moment, she’d chickened out because she wasn’t ready to face the type of hell her father wrote about in his horror novels. No, she would rather face the hell on earth she knew than the one Morris believed in.
As she gazed into her half-empty coffee cup, she took a spoon and swirled the cooling liquid. Looking down into the abyss of wet darkness, Moody felt her entire world tilt.
Hell. This was hell. The demons were all around her. It was one to another and thankless for everything. Geese were being shot down and Jesus didn’t give a shit anymore. The vampires were on strike and nobody would put their masks back on.
Moody shook her head and tried to get a coherent handle on her thoughts. Where the hell had geese, Jesus and vampires come from? She sounded like some of her more insane patients.
She was a psychologist, for God’s sake. She was the one who dealt with the chaos in other people’s minds. Why couldn’t she make sense in her own?
The music coming from her father’s workroom was sending the nerves on the edge of her skin all the way to her skull. Enough. Riley was dead, Morris was contracting pictures of her dead body, and the freaking music was driving Moody into her own personal madness.
Chaotic thoughts swirled through Moody’s mind. Riley. Of all the people in Rubicon Ranch, Riley should not have died. How did death make the choice to take a child instead of all the warped adults around her who deserved death? Why her?
Why not? A voice answered Moody’s question with resounding malice. Life is death, it continued.
Moody knew she was teetering on the edge of either an epiphany or insanity. Taking her cup to the sink, she glanced out the kitchen window and frowned at the weird scenario playing out on the side of her father’s house.
Hidden from the rest of the street by a large privacy fence, the side between the Sinclair house and their neighbor to the east had always been a source of contention between the two occupants. Neither party wanted the responsibility of upkeeping this no-man’s land. As a result, this little piece of fifteen by fifty foot ground became a hidden eyesore.
Scraggly dry grass grew in spots here and there. An upturned wheelbarrow was devolving into rust, along with assorted junk that somehow found its way into the unofficial mini-dump in an otherwise upscale neighborhood.
Now, as Moody watched, something was scurrying here and there in a frantic effort to find something. Stepping out the back door, Moody startled the nasty rodent and it threw an indigent look at her as it ran away.
As she stood in her yard, she spied the sheriff and her next-door neighbor. Something was going on between the two of them and it didn’t take a rocket scientist to figure out what it was. Along with other fierce emotions, Moody momentary felt a green monster rear its head.
The jealousy was fleeting, born of nothing more than a longing for something different in her life besides a criminal record and a crazy father. Her prospects were zero and, for the moment, it suited her.
Walking back into the house, the coolness hit her and dried the thin sheen of sweat on her body. Opening the door to her father’s workroom, she had to shout to be heard over the music.
“Dad, it’s too loud. You’re going to burst your eardrums and my head if you don’t turn it down.”
Her words were swallowed in the din. The hungry sound monster ate them as soon as she said them.
Flipping the switch on the stereo, the Sounds of Silence were finally silenced. Looking around, she expected her father to fly at her and demand his music back. Instead, the quietness made her skin crawl.
Morris was not moving. He sat in his large worn chair with closed eyes. Spread across his lap were pictures, macabre pictures. He’d always kept his safe locked and had threatened death to anyone who even touched it. Now, it was wide open and its horrible contents had been vomited out.
Moody didn’t want to touch him. She couldn’t tell if he was breathing, but she couldn’t bring herself to get closer than a few feet. Part of that feeling was the evilness that always seemed to flow from Morris; the other part was the terrible pictures he had been caressing.
The pull was bad, though. Moody had to look. It was like the hypnotic tug of looking at an accident on the side of the road.
Picking up a death’s head cane, Moody nudged her father and the motion send him tumbling to the floor.
Morris groaned, but remained still. The pictures fell in disarray. Moody was loathe to touch them or him.
The pull got to her. She could care less about her father; he’d damaged his children beyond repair or even the semblance of care.
The pictures, though, were reeling Moody in. As she turned them over, she realized there were more pictures than just the official ones of dead Riley. Some of them had been taken at different times of the day – desert shadows never lie.
The quality of the pictures was different, too. High-speed film had been used in the official ones; she could tell the quality was better. The others reminded her of ones that might have been printed from a home computer; the pixels in the colors were more apparent.
The shadows. Looking closer, Moody saw the photographer’s long shadow had been captured in the homemade photos. A long shadow cast from a rising sun.
These were trophies. The instant Moody made the frightening connection, her blood turned cold.
Who took the homemade set of death pictures and how did Morris get his hands on them?
Another groan interrupted her whirling thoughts. Dispassionately, Moody looked at the thing on the ground. This time, her father opened his eyes and stared at her with his signature demonic glaze.
Morris was still alive.
Picking up the phone, Moody hesitated before calling for help.
“If you’d like to make a call, please hang up and try again,” the recorded voice instructed.
Moody hung up.