A man’s wife and business partner believe they killed him as part of an insurance scam, but then he reappears as if nothing happened. Two fugitives take shelter in an abandoned industrial facility, but what they find inside might be more dangerous than what pursues them. A tech guru’s lifestyle is immersed in smart technology, but what if it’s so smart, it’s dangerous? The parents of an out-of-control child will do anything to curb her awful behavior, but at what cost? A woman awakens upside down in a totaled car with no recollection of how she got there. Will she be able to find help, or will something more sinister find her first? These stories and more await you in this collection of existential horror by James G. Boswell.
Targeted Age Group:: 18-65
What Inspired You to Write Your Book?
Ever since I was a kid, I've loved horror and especially existential horror where the terrifying thing isn't easy to perceive, describe, or understand. The first such movie I saw was "Aliens," and since then, I've been hooked!
How Did You Come up With Your Characters?
The characters and their personalities revolve around the main idea I'm expressing in my story. Usually, I come up with one or two main ideas and then write a story with characters, setting, and plot that are designed to work together to express those ideas.
"I Thought You Were Dead" by James G. Boswell
Wagner Flores shakes his head and scoffs. He sits on his sofa, holding a folded-over newspaper in one hand and a half-empty coffee cup in the other. Frowning, he takes a sip as he stares at the paper.
“What’s wrong, dear?” Isabella says from behind him, in the kitchen.
“Someone murdered another homeless person last night,” he says, “this time just a few blocks away from here.”
Wagner puts his cup down on the coffee table, then holds the newspaper up to read it aloud.
“Police found a man lying dead with severe head trauma on the side of the street in a residential area early this morning. Locals described him as a homeless person who lived under a nearby bridge. This is the sixth such killing of a vagrant in as many weeks. Police are asking the public for any information they can provide about the identity of the killer or killers.”
“I can’t believe it, a serial killer here in Araxa?” Isabella says, walking up behind him. “I would expect it in Rio De Janeiro or São Paulo, but not here.”
“Let’s talk about something less morose. How’s your work going?”
“Fine,” Wagner says, putting the newspaper down.
“Fine? Are you sure?”
“Well,” Wagner says, pausing as if in deep thought. “No, not really. My business partner Henrique is pressuring me to sign off on a bogus safety report. It says that one of the mines we inspected is safe and that the mining company can keep digging deeper into the Earth. He wants to send it in to the City of Araxa's Government Safety Office tomorrow.”
“But the mine isn't safe?”
“No. The walls are porous, and the site is too close to a nearby dam overlooking a small village. If they keep digging, they could cause the dam to burst and flood the village. Many people would die or lose everything. He knows that, but he doesn’t care.”
“Why does he want to submit a report that says everything’s fine?”
Wagner shrugs and said, “You know how Brazil is, everything’s corrupt. The mining companies bribe the politicians for government contracts and other favors. The politicians are the ones who oversee inspections and issue safety permits for the mines. That means inspectors like Henrique and I have to play our part in the machine if we want to keep getting work. One bad report for the wrong mining company could put us out of business, or worse. It has always been like that, but this time… this time the danger is too severe. I couldn’t bear to feel responsible for another person’s death."
He starts to say something else, but Isabella slams him in the back of his head with a blunt, heavy object. He cries out, then falls face-first onto the coffee table and rolls onto the tile floor.
Stepping around the sofa, Isabella crouches next to him and smashes his head three more times. Blood splatters everywhere, covering the walls, ceilings, and Isabella herself. She raises her weapon once more to land another blow but stops when she hears someone walk up behind her.
She looks over her shoulder and sees a man standing in the hallway. She smiles at him, her face covered in blood. Then, she puts the blood-soaked object down on the floor and looks at it.
Her weapon is an ancient, blunt-edged stone tool. Wagner had found it one day at a mine he was inspecting and brought it home with him. He believed it was an artifact from a long-dead indigenous tribe and kept it on a shelf in the living room.
She reaches into her pocket to pull out her phone. Then she holds it up and takes a selfie with her smiling next to her husband’s corpse and the other man in the background. The man shakes his head and says, “I can’t believe you did that.”
“What’s the matter, Henrique?” she says. “Didn’t think I’d be able to go through with it?”
“Not that,” Henrique says, nodding at Wagner’s body. Then he points at her phone. “That. It’s the kind of thing that’s going to get us caught.”
Isabella scoffs and rolls her eyes. “Come on. We thought everything through already. When we dump the body in the street, everyone will think it’s the work of the serial killer. No one will suspect that it was the victim’s ‘bereaved’ wife and his ‘distraught’ business partner.”
As she speaks, her face bunches up into an expression of sorrow, and a single tear falls from her eye. She wipes it away, smearing the blood on her cheek and smiling once more. Henrique stares at her and shakes his head in disbelief.
“You’re a real piece of work, you know that?” he says.
Narrowing her eyes, she says, “You’re not a perfect person, either.”
“You’re right about that. Anyway, remember our deal: I help you get rid of the body and you forge Wagner’s signature on the safety inspection report. Then, we split the money from his life insurance policy.”
She nods and says, “Correct.”
“Ok, good. Also, we’re not going to leave the body in the street. We’re going to bury it in a mine.”
Confused, she says, “Why would we do that?”
“All of the serial killer’s other victims were homeless people. If the next one is an upstanding, well-to-do businessman, the police will be suspicious. The mine is the safest place to hide the body. No one will ever find it.”
Isabella frowns and says, “I don’t know about this.”
“Well, that’s what we’re doing. And that’s also why you need to delete the picture you took. I’ve seen enough crime documentaries to know. Sometimes it’s the smallest piece of evidence that leads to a conviction.”
She looks at her phone with disappointment. The murderous image reflects off her eyes.
“Delete it,” he says. “Now.”
She taps the screen of her phone a few times and starts to put it back into her pocket.
“No,” he says. “Show me.”
She sulks as she holds the screen up to him with the photo app open. He sees that the image is gone.
“Ok, good,” he says. “Now, help me drag the body into the bathroom. I’m already all set up in there. Went by the hardware store this morning and got an electric saw and some trash bags.”
A short time later, Isabella stands in her bedroom. The sound of the saw slicing through meat echoes down the hall. She looks over her shoulder toward the doorway, then pulls her phone out of her pocket. She opens the deleted images folder and finds the photo. With a wild grin, she taps on the image. A dialogue box opens that says, “Restore or delete permanently?” with corresponding buttons beneath it. She presses, “Restore.”
“Hey, Isabella. Wake up,” Henrique says.
Isabella blinks as she sits up in her bed. She looks over at Henrique who stands in the bedroom doorway wearing fresh clothes. The light from the hallway behind him illuminates his wiry frame. “It’s time,” he says.
With a groggy nod, Isabella slides out of bed, glancing at the digital clock on her headboard. The display says 3 a.m. Henrique turns and walks down the hallway as she slides on a pair of jeans and a blouse. A few moments later, she walks into the living room. There, she sees him standing by the front door with two large trash beside him.
“How’d you sleep?” she says.
“It wasn’t the most uncomfortable couch I’ve ever slept on,” he says. Then, he nods toward the kitchen table. “Don’t forget your toy.” Upon the table sits the stone artifact, wiped clean of blood. Next to it is a vase full of fresh flowers.
Isabella walks into the kitchen, past the artifact and over to the coffee maker. As she puts a new filter inside it, Henrique says, “What are you doing?”
Isabella looks at him with her eyes half-open and says, “What?”
“In case you haven’t noticed, these trash bags contain 100 kilos of evidence of the murder we just committed. We need to get rid of them. Now.”
“The murder I committed,” Isabella says. “You were in the other room.”
“I’m still just as culpable as you. Look, we waited to leave until now because it’s the time when people are the least likely to see us. Every second that passes from now on is another second towards it becoming too late not to get caught. We don’t have time for coffee.”
With a quick shake of her head, she opens the cabinet and takes out a can of coffee grounds. As she scoops some into the filter, she says, “How do you take yours?”
Henrique lets out a frustrated grunt. Then, after looking down at the trash bags for a moment, he says, “With cream and sugar.”
“Let’s go over the plan once more,” Henrique says, sitting in the passenger seat of Wagner’s car as they drive down the highway. “We’re going to drop the evidence into a pit on the south end of the mine that he and I were inspecting. The chasm’s so deep that no one will ever find it.
“I left my car at the mine yesterday and took a taxi to get to your place. After we’re done getting rid of the evidence, you take my car and drive it back to my house. Then, walk back to your place.
“I’ll stay behind at the mine and then I’ll call the police at 8 a.m. I’ll say that Wagner fell into the underground river that runs through the mine’s north side. The river’s so deep, the current’s so fast, and it’s so dark down there that it’ll be impossible to search. I’ll tell them we were doing some last-minute surveying for our safety report when he slipped and went into the water.”
Isabella says, “What about your car being at your home instead of at the mine?”
“Wagner usually picks me up in the morning when we go on inspections. It makes the most sense for his car to be there but not mine.”
“What if they don’t believe you? What if they think you did it?”
“I have no motive, and Wagner is, er… was my business partner. I’ll tell them he’s worth more to me alive than dead, and that he and I were close friends. You’ll need to back me up on that one, if they ask.”
Henrique says, “Plus, the police are in the pocket of the politicians who’re in bed with the mining company. They’ll want to wrap things up fast and without making a fuss. All we have to do is make it easier for them to walk away than ask questions.”
Isabella smirks and says, “Understood.”
They pull up outside the mine’s entrance a few minutes later. Moonlight reflects off a rock wall surrounding an oval of darkness the size of a small house. It resembles a monster’s gaping maw, roaring in silence.
Henrique gets out of the car and goes around behind it as Isabella pops the trunk. Inside are the two trash bags and the stone artifact. He pulls the trash bags out and puts them on the ground while she remains in the car.
“Little help?” he says.
She leans out the driver’s side window and says, “Excuse me?”
“You heard me,” he says, whisper-shouting in frustration. “I can’t get both bags by myself and taking two trips would take too long.”
She doesn’t respond. Several moments passed in silence.
“Do you want to be here when the police show up and ask why there's half a chopped-up dead guy in your car?” he says.
With a loud sigh, Isabella opens the car door and steps out. Then, she walks back to the trunk and grabs one of the trash bags.
“Let’s get this over with,” she says.
“Don’t forget your toy,” Henrique says, pointing at the artifact. Isabella picks it up and puts it in her back pocket.
They lug the trash bags toward the mine’s entrance. There are metal shelves nearby with stacks of helmets with headlamps sitting upon them. Henrique grabs one and puts it on his head, then hands another to Isabella who then puts it on as well. They turn the lamps on, sending beams of light shooting through the darkness. Then, they enter the mine with the trash bags slung over their shoulders.
Once inside, a heavy, oppressive silence enwraps them, interrupted only by their echoing footsteps. Their light beams cut through the abyssal darkness as they go deeper into the gullet of the mine.
Henrique stares straight ahead as he leads the way, illuminating the path in front of them. Isabella follows behind, shining her light all around on the smooth stone surfaces surrounding them. They travel through long, twisting, darkened corridors and cramped, claustrophobic spaces. She feels as if she’s inside a labyrinth, unsure of how to escape. Then, she freezes in her tracks.
Henrique sees that she stopped moving and says, “What? What is it?”
“I think I saw someone walk behind that corner over there,” she says in a strained whisper.
He scoffs. “Don’t be ridiculous.”
Isabella stares at the spot for several moments as Henrique continues on, then hurries to catch up with him.
A short time later, his light beam reflects off of something shiny in the distance. As they approach, they see that it’s a sign affixed to a tripod. It says, “Danger: Open Pit” with an illustration of a stick figure falling down a hole.
Isabella continues walking and looking all around, not noticing that Henrique has stopped. She takes one step past the sign, expecting her foot to land on solid ground. Instead, it catches only air. She looks down and sees nothing but darkness below and in front of her.
She let out a yelp as she totters forward. Henrique grabs her by the shoulder and pulls her backwards, throwing her onto the ground. The stone artifact falls out of her pocket and rolls away.
She sits there for several moments, breathing heavily with her eyes open wide. It dawns on her that she almost died, and that Henrique saved her life. She expects him to make a sarcastic comment, but he remains silent as he tosses his trash bag out in front of him. It falls, quickly disappearing from the light of his headlamp. After a few seconds, they hear a faint thud from somewhere far below.
He holds his hand out for her to give him the other trash bag. Instead, she stands up and throws it in the same direction where he threw his. A few seconds later, they again hear a faint thud from below. Then she looks around for the artifact, but can’t find it.
“Hey, did you see where the…” she says. She looks at Henrique and sees that he’s holding the object up in his hand. Without a word, he winds his arm back and tosses it into the darkness before them. They wait to hear it hit the ground at the bottom of the pit, but it never makes a sound.
“We know your secret.”
Isabella looks up from the flower stand in the marketplace and sees a young florist smiling at her. The smile never reaches her eyes.
“What?” Isabella says.
“We know your secret,” the florist says again, winking as she speaks. Isabella stares at her, dumbfounded.
The florist’s smile widens. “My husband and I, we know you only like flowers with cold colors. You come here to buy fresh flowers every week, and every time you only buy flowers with cold colors. Right now, you’ve got blue orchids, green chrysanthemums, and purple princess flowers. You never buy the red roses, yellow carnations, or orange begonias we have available.”
Isabella looks at the bouquet in her hands and sees that the florist is correct. With a nervous chuckle, she says, “I guess I hadn’t noticed.” Then, she puts the bouquet down on the stall’s counter next to the cash register and says, “I’m ready to go.”
The florist nods and continues smiling as she rings up the sale. “That’ll be 20 reals.”
Isabella hands her the money and walks away. As she enters a row of produce stalls, a man at a nearby fruit stand says, “You did something you shouldn’t have.”
Startled, she stops and looks at him, then glances around.
“Yes, you,” he says, pointing at her. “You shouldn’t have walked past me without trying a free sample.” Smiling, he holds a paper cup out toward her. It contains pieces of passion fruit, pineapple, and banana. His smile never reaches his eyes.
“Uh, no thank you,” she says, lowering her head as she strides past him.
She walks past an alley and noticed two men standing there in front of a woman with her back pressed against the wall. One of the men holds a knife out toward the woman and says, “You deserve to suffer for what you did!”
Isabella gasps at the sigh, and the woman and the two men look at her. Then, each one smiles. Their smiles never reach their eyes. Without another word, they all turn and walk away down the alley as if nothing happened. The woman gives Isabella a look of indifference over her shoulder before disappearing around a corner.
Frantic, Isabella rushes out of the marketplace and down the road leading to her house. Arriving at her door, she reaches into her pocket and takes out her keys. She tries inserting her house key into the lock, but her hand is shaking so much she drops her key chain.
She picks the keys up and tries again to unlock her door, this time succeeding. She opens it and starts to step inside, but then stops when she sees that the lights are off. For a brief moment, she thinks of the darkness inside the mine.
“I know I left the lights on when I left,” she says.
She creeps into her home, sliding the door shut behind her. Then she stands there in the darkness, listening for movement. Hearing none, she feels around on the wall next to the door, looking the light switch. Finding it, she takes a deep breath and turns it on. The fluorescent lights overhead blink to life with a quiet hum.
Scanning her living room and kitchen area, she doesn’t see anything out of place. After setting the flowers down on a nearby bookshelf, she tiptoes down the hall. There, she finds the bedroom door closed.
“I never close by bedroom door, even when I’m asleep” she says. “Someone must’ve been here while I was gone.”
She stares at the doorknob for a moment, then reaches out and turns it. The door’s hinges creak as she pushed it open. The lights are off inside the bedroom as well, and she feels around on the wall, looking for the light switch. Finding it, she turns the lights on and looks inside. Everything seems normal, except there’s a manila file folder sitting on her bed.
Taking a deep breath, she walks over to the folder and opens it. As she does, she hears the sound of the house’s front door opening and closing.
“H-hello?” she says. “Who’s there? Henrique, is that you?”
No one responds.
She looks around for something to use as a weapon. Seeing a pen on the nightstand next to the bed, she goes and picks it up. Gripping it tight, she tiptoes back into the living room. There, she sees that the lights are off again. She goes over to the switch by the door and turns them on. Looking around, she again finds nothing out of place.
“Isabella, to what do I owe the pleasure?” Henrique says, looking up at her from his desk. She stands in the doorway to his office, staring at him. He stares back at her with a smile that never reaches his eyes. Piles of documents stuffed into manila file folders cover his desk. On the walls are metal shelves filled with even more folders and documents
Seething, she storms over and stands across from him. Her body stiff, she holds out the file folder she found in her bedroom.
“Mind telling me what this is all about?” she says.
He gives her a confused look, glancing down at the folder then back up at her. He reaches for it, but she pulls it back and whips it at his face. The corner of the folder hits him in the eye, and the papers inside fly everywhere. He cries out and raises his hands to his face, knocking a big pile of documents off his desk. They falls to the ground, spilling on top of those from the folder Isabella threw at him.
“What’s the problem?” he says, shouting.
“I’ll tell you what the problem is,” she says, hunching over on the desk, jabbing her finger at him. “You’ve been telling people what we did.”
“I don’t know what you’re talking about,” he says, looking at her with one eye while covering the other with his hand.
She scoffs. “People are making strange comments and giving me weird looks everywhere I go. They’re saying things to me like ‘I know what you did,’ and ‘You should suffer.’ Why would they be doing that?”
“You’re being paranoid. Nobody knows what happened and nobody ever will.”
“Oh really? Then why did you break into my house and leave that pile of evidence on my bed? You’re going to try and pin the crime on me, aren’t you?”
“When I came home today, I found a folder sitting on my bed with several documents inside it. The first was a copy of the accident report you filed with the mining company about Wagner’s death. Next was a copy of a receipt from the hardware store for the electric saw and trash bags. Then there was copy of the insurance policy I took out on him with his signature I forged. Finally, there was a copy of the police report concluding that he died due to an accident.”
Henrique says nothing. She jabs her finger at him once more and says, “Where else would it have all come from? Who else would’ve left it there? Tell me the truth!”
“Isabella, I swear I have no idea what you’re talking about. You’re so paranoid that you must be seeing things.”
As she glares at him with repulsion and disbelief, she notices something sitting on one of the shelves. It looks like Wagner’s stone artifact, the one she used to kill him.
“Then what is that doing there?” she says, pointing at the object. “I thought you threw it into the pit along with Wagner’s body. But you didn’t, did you? You just acted like you did to fool me. That’s why we didn’t hear it hit the ground!”
He looks up at it and says, “That’s not the one you used to kill him. A miner gave that one to me several years ago after he found it in a mine outside of Juiz De Fora. It looks like Wagner’s, but it’s not the same. I swear.”
With cold slits for eyes, she says, “I don’t believe you.” Then she turns and marches out of his office without another word.
He says, “Hey, don’t forget I still want my cut when the life insurance pays out.” Ignoring him, she slams the door behind her.
Isabella stands with her arms crossed, looking at the envelope on her kitchen table. Rays of twilight shined in through the window. Dead, rotting flowers sit in the vase next to it. The room smells of decay.
The envelope is from Porto Seguro, Wagner’s life insurance company. It came with the rest of the mail that day. She glances at her phone and sees that she has dozens of missed calls from Henrique.
She walks over to the table, picks up the envelope, and opens it. Inside is a check for one million reals. Her phone buzzes in her pants pocket. She presses the button through the fabric to decline the call. A moment later, she hears a car pull up into her driveway.
“Henrique,” she says with resentment, putting the check into a nearby drawer. “What was he thinking, spreading rumors and trying to intimidate me with evidence of our crime? He knows I’d take him down with me if I got arrested. He must be trying to get more money than what we agreed upon. What an idiot.
“But now that I’ve got the money, I don’t need him anymore. I’ll pretend I’m not home until he goes away, then I’ll leave and never come back.”
She hears a car door open and close outside, then footsteps approaching her front door. To her surprise, she hears someone put a key into the lock and turn it. She stands there, petrified, watching as the door opens.
There, in the doorway, stands her husband Wagner, alive and intact. When he sees her, he smiles and said, “Hi honey, I’m home.”
She stares at him, astonished.
“Miss me?” he says, taking a few steps toward her into the kitchen. He notices the dead flowers in the vase and says, “Mind if I throw these away?”
“Uh… no, I… uh.”
Wagner pulls the dead flowers out of the vase and throws them into the trashcan next to the kitchen sink. Then, before Isabella can react, he puts his arms around her and embraces her. She tenses up for a moment, then hugs him back, weakly.
“What’s wrong?” he says, sensing her discomfort.
Without thinking, she blurts out, “I thought you were dead.”
He looks at her like she’s crazy and says, “Why would you think that?”
She looks away and starts to stammer. “Uh… I… uh… well…”
He smiles and shakes his head. “Look, I know it bothers you that I’ve been working such long hours lately. But believe me, it’s necessary. And it’ll all be worth it when I get paid.”
“Alright,” Isabella says in a strained, confused whisper. She glances at the digital clock on the microwave. Several hours have passed in what seemed like minutes. Looking outside, she sees that the sky is totally dark.
“I’m exhausted,” Wagner says. “I’m going to bed.” Then, he turns and walks down the hallway. Stopping outside the bedroom, he looks at her and said, “You coming?”
Isabella looks at him, then at the closed drawer where she hid the life insurance check. “Yes,” she says.
That night they made love. To her surprise, Isabella finds herself enjoying it far more than she had with him in the past. When they finish, instead of rolling over and going to sleep like he usually does, Wagner sits on the edge of the bed. He appears to be deep in thought. She lays still and watches him for several minutes, neither of them speaking. Finally, he puts his head into his hands and starts to cry.
“I love you so much,” he says.
“I… love you too.”
He sniffled and says, “There’s something I need to tell you.”
“Yes, there was an accident at the mine. My business partner Henrique, he… he didn’t make it.”
Isabella sits up and says, “What?”
“I wanted to wait until a better time to tell you, but I can’t keep it in any longer. We were doing a last-minute survey of the mine when he got too close to a deep pit and fell in.
“It’s all my fault, too. We’d been arguing over submitting that false report to the government safety office. I said some awful things to him that I didn’t mean. He tried to walk away but didn’t notice the danger signs around the pit, probably because he was too upset. He didn’t even cry out when he fell. A few seconds later I heard his body hit the ground. There’s no way he could’ve survived.”
Wagner starts crying once more, and Isabella comes over and sits down next to him. “When did this happen?” she says, flabbergasted.
As she tries to comprehend what he’s saying, he put his hands down on his lap and looks at her. She expects his face to be wet with tears and his eyes bloodshot. Instead, his cheeks are dry, and his eyes are clear as if he hadn’t been crying at all. He smiles and says, “But, there’s good news.”
“There is?” Isabella says, bewildered.
“Yes, Wagner and I took out life insurance policies on each other when we started our business. It was to protect ourselves in case something happened to one of us. I’m not sure if I ever mentioned that to you before.”
His smile grows, brighter and more gleeful than Isabella has ever seen. “I’m going to get a lot of money!” he says, happily. “I mean, we, we’re going to get a lot of money. You and I.”
Isabella looks down, unsure of what to say, unsure of how to react, unsure of what’s happening. Wagner laughs, then crawls under the covers and rolls over onto his side. Isabella looks at him for a few moments and started to feel overwhelmed with fatigue. She slides under the covers next to him, closes her eyes, and falls asleep.
When she awakes, she feels around on the other side of the bed and finds that Wagner is gone. Cold grey light, the color of a headache, shines in through the bedroom window. She looks at the clock and sees that it’s 5 a.m.
“Wagner?” she says. There’s no answer.
She gets out of bed and searches the house but can’t find him anywhere. She looks outside and sees that his car was gone. Then she sits down at her kitchen chair to think about what had happened.
“He was dead, I know it,” she says. “I killed him, and Henrique chopped him up. Then we tossed him into that pit. There’s no way anyone could come back from that. No way. He’s dead and gone. I already got the check from his life insurance. It’s over.”
She jerks upright and says, “The check!” Then she leaps over to the drawer where she’d put it and yanks it open.
There’s nothing inside.
“No!” she says, screaming as she pulls the drawer all the way out of the cabinet. She slams it against the floor, breaking it into pieces.
Breathing hard, she can hear her heartbeat pounding in her ears. She puts her hands up to the sides of her head and presses against her throbbing temples, squeezing her eyes shut.
“This can’t be happening,” she says. “He’s dead, I know he is!”
Then, she remembers the picture she took of herself with his dead body. “I killed him, and I can prove it.”
She runs into the bedroom, grabs her phone off the headboard, and opens up the photos app. She scans through the images but can’t find the one she’s looking for. Panicking, she opens the deleted images folder and sees that there’s only a single video there. The date on the video is the same day she killed her husband.
“What? I don’t remember making a video,” she says.
She taps on the video. A dialogue box opens that says, “Restore or delete permanently?” with corresponding buttons underneath it. She presses, “Restore.”
The video opens and starts playing. Isabella watches as it shows her, Wagner, and Henrique outside at night in the middle of the street. The orange glow of a streetlight casts horrific shadows across their faces, making them look demonic. It’s clear that she’s the one holding the phone up to make the video.
In it, they laugh as they kick at something on the ground. The camera pans down and shows them standing over the body of homeless person. Blood covers his smashed-in head, and chunks of brain and bone spatter the pavement. Isabella leans down and gets close to his expressionless face. She holds the blood-covered stone artifact up to the camera as she laughs and makes a kissy face. Then the video ends.
“I never made that video,” she says.
Her hands shook as she presses the button to delete it. Then she opens the deleted images folder to get rid of it completely. When she does, she sees that five more videos are now in the folder. Watching each in growing horror, she finds that each one shows them murdering a different homeless person. Groaning, she throws the phone against the wall. Its casing breaks apart. Then she notices something sitting on her headboard.
It’s the stone artifact.
Upon seeing it, she slumps to the floor and begins crying into the bed sheets. Deep, heavy sobs wrack her entire body. She feels she might drown from the tears pouring down her face and into her mouth. “What do you want?” she says, her voice full of misery.
Then, she hears what sounds like bubbling water and distant screams. She looks up and sees water pouring out from the bottom of the artifact. But, instead of spilling across the headboard, it flows backwards up onto the wall. Then, it coalesces into letters that form a single word.
Shaking her heard in despair, she says, “I don’t know what that means.”
A single piece of paper falls out of the air above her head. It flutters down in front of her face and pokes her in the eye. “Ow!” she says.
The paper comes to rest on the bed in front of her. Covering her hurt eye with one hand, she picks it up with the other. She sees that it’s a mine inspection report, the one Wagner and Henrique were fighting over.
Reading it, she finds that it gives a glowing review of the mine’s safety level. It also recommends that the mining company continue digging deeper, further, and more aggressively. At the bottom are Wagner and Henrique’s signatures. Wagner’s looks genuine.
Glancing up at the headboard, she sees that the stone artifact is still sitting there. The water on the wall has disappeared without a trace.
Nodding, she takes the inspection report and goes into the kitchen. There, upon the table, next to a vase full of fresh flowers, sits an envelope. Coming closer, she sees that it had the words “City of Araxa Government Safety Office” and an address typed upon it. There’s already a stamp affixed to the corner.
Sighing, Isabella sits on her sofa and clicks the remote control to turn on the television. She changes the channel to the local news station and then puts the remote down on the coffee table. She watches with boredom as a weather woman warns of a coming heat wave.
A breaking news alert interrupts the weather report. The screen cuts to a newscaster sitting behind a news desk. She says “A dam has burst in a rural area outside of Araxa, flooding a nearby village. Nearly 100 people are dead or missing.”
The camera cuts to a shot of the village. Washed-away ruins covered in mud and slime litter the ground. People in wet, filthy clothing stand all around, weeping.
The camera cuts back to the newscaster. “Investigators believe the dam burst as a result of unsafe mining practices nearby. Two inspectors who recently submitted a positive safety report for the mine were among the dead.”
Upon the screen appear pictures of Wagner and Henrique, smiling. Isabella recognizes the images as stills from the videos of them murdering homeless people.
Isabella turns off the television and sits staring at the blank screen, feeling numb. She listens to the sound of her own breathing for several minutes. Then, she hears something behind her. She looks and sees that someone dropped an envelope through her front door’s mail slot.
She goes over and picked it up. The return address says that it was from Allianca do Brasil, a life insurance company with which she has never done business. Opening it, she finds a check inside made out to her for three million reals. The memo line says in typed writing, “Life Insurance Payout – Business and Personal.”
The sound of bubbling water and distant screams emanate from behind her. She turns around to look. There, sitting upon the coffee table, is the stone artifact, covered in blood. She gazes at it for a moment, then smirks.
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