Knock, knock.

Tessa Spider was just finishing off her dinner when someone knocked at the door.

Knock, knock.

Who would be stopping by at this hour? Well, Tessa considered the invitation she sent to Sam for her birthday dinner, but he was supposed to be there three hours prior, and lately Sam had been avoiding her. Tessa hadn't been convinced by his excuse: a hockey game in the town over with tickets too expensive to discard. It was her birthday dinner, and any good boyfriend wouldn't pass up her invitation.

Knock, knock!

Maybe Sam would break up with her soon and she would have a valid excuse to eat two pints of ice cream and cuddle with her kitty. Except there he was, knocking at the door!

Knock, knock!

Perhaps it wasn't Sam… oh, whom was Tessa kidding? Of course it was Sam. It couldn't be anyone else. Her parents lived across the country, and since Tessa was attending college in the city closest to Desenville, her friends all lived in the dorms. Tessa often thought about getting a dorm room, but they wouldn't allow her to have her kitty.

Knock, KNOCK!

Tessa smiled and dropped her dishes into the sink, smoothing down her hair. She started toward the back door, wondering why Sam was so late. Maybe there actually was a hockey game, and once it ended Sam felt bad enough to come wish her happy birthday. Well, not that it had actually been very happy.

Knock, KNOCK!

It was a bit odd that he would knock on the back door. Typically Sam parked in front. But it didn't matter. Sam was here!


She tugged down on the handle, flinging it open with a beaming smile. "Hi, I didn't know you'd actually…" Tessa trailed off, confused when she realized there was nobody standing in the door. Unable to believe her eyes, she stepped out into the dark, searching for Sam. Nobody was there. She turned around, about to step back into the house.

Suddenly, strong arms surrounded her with a hug from behind, and she heaved out a shocked sigh. "Sam?" she muttered, turning around and leaning into the embrace. "Sam," she said. "I didn't know you'd be coming."

For a moment, they stood, and then Tessa looked up at Sam's face.

There wasn't one.

It was a whirlwind, her death. Hands forcing her jaw open, dropping the contents of a glass phial down her throat, making her swallow. Being pushed to the ground, waiting for the poison to make its course, suddenly being afflicted by an extreme seizure. Fear coursed through Tessa's body, and she closed her eyes against the world, tears tracking down her face.

The murderer left without bothering the shut the door, and Tessa Spider's pet kitten escaped into the night.

When Cynthia Cowen discovered her son dead in the middle of the doorway with a knife in his back, time stood still. Her screaming did not cease for quite a while- Cynthia wasn't sure, everything was distorted, her son's blank expression and blank eyes and blank emotion- and then it struck her, Alex was dead, he was dead and he was fifteen and he was dead dead dead.

All the things he had never done, never would do- get married to that girlfriend and become an aerospace engineer and have children and make baseball tryouts for the top team- he couldn't do them. Her son's life stolen away from him, in her own house, with the murderer still in it. The murderer still in it! What would they do to Monica? What would they do to her?

Alex. Dead. Dead with a knife in his back and someone would need to call the police, wouldn't they?

It took Cynthia a while to dial the number. She couldn't quit screaming, couldn't control the tears that poured in torrents from her eyes as she brushed brown hair away from blank eyes she couldn't bring herself to close. She couldn't accept it. Dead dead dead dead dead.

And then replied Mr. Walrus. He was ever so kind about it, about her affliction, letting her consider rationality while her son lay at her knees. She decided that people who induce rationality are the best kind of people. Except for her husband-

"Mommy? Mommy, is that Alex?"

Monica. Cynthia knew that Monica shouldn't see this. Monica was only eight; innocent. She did not know death as Cynthia did, did not understand what this meant for her future. Did not recognize that death was the end of things. Everything. Dead dead dead.

"Honey-" she couldn't stop sobbing "-Monica, sweetheart, Alex is watching over us now."

"You mean he's dead," Monica stated.

Dead dead dead. That's one way to put it. "Yes, honey. The police are coming."

"But Mommy, he isn't dead," Monica said. "You said that people who die are only old or sad or brave. But Alex isn't any of those. Mommy, why are you tricking me? I don't like when you trick people."

Cynthia looked up, choked back a moan. "Tricking you?"

"Daddy always says you trick people. When he divorced you, he said he didn't like it when you trick people. It's not fair that you have to trick me, too! Where's Alex? Where did you put him?"

Cynthia hiccupped. "Monica, what are you talking about? I haven't put your brother anywhere!"

Monica was crying, but not crying for Alex, and Cynthia was the only one. The only one crying for her dead dead dead son. Monica ran away- ran to her room, the place she considered safe from everything in the whole wide world- and Cynthia sat and stared at the pictures on the walls. They were so alive, the pictures.

The doorbell rang, but she did not move to open it, and so Don Walrus opened it himself. He found her in the bedroom, her eyes red and swollen. "Mrs. Cowen?" he asked, and she turned.

"Sheriff Walrus," Cynthia said. She could not continue.

"This is the boy, then? Your son?"

"Alex. His name is- was Alex."

Don, with great effort, moved carefully around the body and inspected it carefully. Then he nodded to himself and offered a hand to Cynthia. "Mrs. Cowen, my associates from the morgue are on their way to collect Alex. They'll be here in approximately fifteen minutes. Meanwhile, if you wouldn't mind, could we retreat from the evidence? It is important we get fingerprints and such. I also apologize in advance, but we'll have to question you, and anyone who has been in the house lately. Are there any other residents? Your husband?"

He gave her a hand, and she took it, her shoulders shaking. "No- I- we got a divorce. Last year. And my daughter, she's in her room. Someone- someone needs to explain. I wasn't tricking her. Alex is dead."

She was lead to the sitting room, and collapsed onto the couch, rubbing at her eyes furiously. "Let me further inspect the house then, Miss Cowen," said Don. "Just in case the murderer is still here- no, don't cry, Miss Cowen, you're perfectly safe in my hands- and then I'll talk to your daughter. The morgue people should be here any minute, as well as backup police. It's hard being the only sheriff in town, you know."

Cynthia nodded and clutched at a couch pillow.

"Just stay here and stay strong for your daughter. I understand that this is a very taxing and devastating situation for you, Miss Cowen. You should rest." Don gave a final nod, and left through the entrance to the sitting room.

Cynthia Cowen took a single deep breath, stared at the pillow, then shut her eyes against the world. It happened to the best of people, didn't it? Her son. Dead dead dead.