Her alert ears listened carefully, but she heard nothing close. There were weeds to her waist and no space to move around. The rowdy men still playing cards and drinking beer was a faint sound in the distance. She strained her ears as hard as she could, but was unable to make out what they were saying. With a stomach sucked in tightly, and breath held, Autumn inched her way around the side of *****’s house and to the tiny dirt yard behind it.
The first filthy window she snuck by was hard to see through. Nothing was visible except an abundance of garbage that covered an old battered couch and coffee table. Finally, she made it to the back door and ever so slowly she reached for its handle. Her eyes were wide and searched in every direction. She prayed that the house was empty. The metal was warm in her hand, a scorching reminder that she was in fact trespassing in a very dangerous place. Several deep breaths filled Autumn’s lungs as she mentally pep-talked herself into twisting her wrist to open the door.
The hinges creaked allowing the door to open, and for some inexplicable reason she pictured Chance. A clear image of his piercing eyes and the angry words of caution he’d be spitting in her direction right now, barged into her thoughts. Had he known what she was about to do, he’d likely have a heart attack.
They’d grown close over the last three weeks. That first call with a professional hello and very personal goodbye had been the beginning of something more — much more. Since then, every single day without fail he’d called. Which reminded Autumn that she hadn’t silenced her phone. The last thing she needed was Chance or even Jeremy ringing in to check up on her, only to alert Mr. Cop-Of-The-Year. She most definitely didn’t need a tattling ringtone.
Autumn reached into her pocket and quickly pressed the silence button. Then she gagged down her fears and stepped inside Craig’s dark and deserted house. With each quite tip-toe she thought of Chance and his endless words of caution. A tear rolled down her cheek and she whispered to herself.
“God please help me make it out of this house alive.”
Autumn pulled her pistol out of its holster, jacked a bullet into the chamber, and clicked off the safety. The movements came natural. All that practice Jeremy and his crew of overbearing misfits insisted on was paying off. The house smelt like old cat pee and body odor. It stuck to the inside of her nostrils and dried up there like super glue.
It was a scent that she’d become acquainted with years before. The very smell had been on Maylee’s clothes several times when she was a baby, and although Autumn was very well aware of Candace’s hygiene problem, there was just something about it that had rang different. This wasn’t merely a smell of uncleanliness, there was something more to it.
The sad memories of this familiar scent broke Autumn’s heart. At the time, Autumn had asked her mother about the smell, and she only shook her head in disgust, refusing to give an explanation. It wasn’t until Maylee was years older that Hannah Brown finally broke down and told Autumn that the smell could’ve only come from the smoke of hard core drugs settling into everything it touches like a plague. This scent was overwhelming in Craig’s house, or at least she still assumed this was his house. She had yet to find reason to believe otherwise. The smell made Autumn sick to her stomach as she gently continued to move her hesitant feet.
The door she entered through placed her directly in the kitchen. It was dark but her eyes were starting to adjust and she could at least see shapes and shadows. She knew that if she were to flip on a light then the men outside would see it, so that was clearly not an option. The room was empty aside from a few spray paint cans on the dusty counter tops and some stacked up and broken old dirty dishes.
Autumn squinted and strained to get a closer look at one of the plates. It was apart from the rest, setting on the edge of the counter, and it appeared to be somewhat clean. A half eaten sandwich was placed perfectly in its center. There was no mold or discolor to be seen with such little light, so she assumed it to be fresh. Reluctantly, Autumn reached over. A rock of a lump formed in her throat, and she struggled to swallow it down. With a clammy nervous hand she felt the bread to see if it was hard or squishy. Sure enough, just as she suspected, her finger sunk into the soft piece of bread. The lump came right back up and she gagged on it, struggling to keep herself from losing her dinner.
Autumn hadn’t seen any movement coming from inside the house when she ran in the mornings, so whoever was permeating the air with this putrid stench, and eating sandwiches, must have been doing it later in the day. Her ribs fought hard to keep her racing heart in place. She debated on turning around and making an escape now while she still could, but changed her hesitant mind. If there was anyone there now then there would’ve been lights on, and there wasn’t. This opportunity to get inside would likely never present itself again so she continued, racing heart and all, and snuck through a narrow doorway into the next room.
It led into a living space with one old couch, a busted coffee table, and a cracked fireplace. Dried up mud chunks were strewn across the cracked floorboards, and illegible writing was spray painted all over the walls. It was hard to make out details without a light, but a swastika stood out promptly amongst the rest of the vandalism. Typical, she thought. This was the room she’d seen from the window, therefore the only one she knew what to expect in. Everything beyond this point was a gut wrenching mystery.
A main door that led out the front of the house was barely hanging on its hinges. There were several locks securing it in place, and a rickety old wooden staircase sat directly before the door. Beneath the tallest part of the stairwell there was a second set of stairs going down. Autumn decided to check the upstairs first and save the creepiest part of this small town house for last. She slowly walked up the creaking steps. Each one she took was louder than the next, so she placed her feet on the very edges against the wall to try and hit the most silent parts possible.
The second story was fairly open and seemingly empty. There were only two rooms and neither of them had a door. Autumn squinted her eyes as she still struggled to see. The shade of night was consuming Denver and darkening the inside of the house along with the out. There were few windows that weren’t boarded up and the light they offered was slim.
Autumn still had to make it back to her car when she left here and the thought caused a chill to dash up her spine. Again she forced her breath to steady and continued to move through the house. The first door-less room she entered was a disgusting bathroom. The smell was horrendous. It had a toilet and a shower, no sink. For the first time since Autumn broke into this house she was actually grateful for the lack of lighting. She could only imagine how much more disgusting this room would be if she could see it in full.
She quickly turned her attention to the next doorway. It led her into a far from ordinary bedroom. There was a mattress on the floor with something dark streaked all over it. There were also chains hanging from the ceiling with cuffs on the edges. Canes and whips leaned casually against the wall, along with a seemingly expensive camera on a tripod.
Autumn couldn’t tell in the dark what the streaks were on the bed but she could only imagine it was blood. She shivered at the thought. Her mind wandered to Maylee and a haunting image of her being chained up above a disgusting mattress in a repulsive old crack house. Autumn involuntarily conjured up the picture of her niece being whipped and beaten. The disgusting false image caused a cold sensation to take over her bloodstream, and her head to grow light.
She could taste the bile as it rose in her stomach and stopped at the base of her throat. Being here now seemed to cause every negative ‘what if’ thought she’d ever had about Maylee’s disappearance to resurface. It was all so real, front and center in a house that was supposed to belong to the lead suspect in Maylee’s case. With jittery fingers Autumn pulled out her phone and snapped a few pictures.
In the corner of this obvious torture room there was a small old plastic table with what looked like a shoe box sitting on top of it. Tip-toeing, Autumn slowly crept to a box and looked inside. There were a stack of photographs with a large rubber band holding them together. It was too dark to make out what they were pictures of, but it didn’t take much to imagine their contents.
Autumn tucked the stack against the skin of her chest, underneath her gun’s holster that was secured around her waist. She fastened them in tightly so they wouldn’t fall out. Giving them a thorough examination would have to wait until later, when she was safe in her own apartment.
The floor continued to creak as Autumn cautiously made her way back down the steps and to the basement door. A steady finger was held on the cold metal of her gun, as close as she could get it to the trigger without actually touching it. Jeremy taught her well, there’d be no accidental discharge of her weapon, not tonight. So far Autumn had lucked out. The crack house seemed empty of people, but the basement called to her next.
Securely in front of her Autumn held her gun, as she closed the distance between herself and the daunting basement door. She prayed that the culprit of the half eaten sandwich wouldn’t show up while she was down there, or worse, already be down there himself. The basement stairway was significantly darker than the rest of the house. She could hardly make out the last step.
When she reached the bottom she could see a small light shining from underneath a doorway at the end of an apparent hall. Autumn held her breath and very slowly walked toward it. The door was metal and locked from the outside, she gently placed an ear against it. There was a faint noise coming from inside, and Autumn strained to make out what it was. It sounded much like a wheezy breath, then a cough, followed by the soft moan of a girl in pain. Autumn’s heart sunk in her chest. Oh my God could it be her?
The cracked concrete floor threatened to swallow Autumn whole. Her nervous fingers reached for the lock, but she paused before flipping its latch. Who was behind this locked door, she wondered, what if the pained cougher wasn’t alone? Autumn waited for a few more moments with her ear pressed firmly against the cold metal. Then a quiet woman’s voice sounded from inside. It was raspy, pained, and dry… But not Mayle. A tear rolled down Autumn’s cheek, and her closing throat finally sucked in a lungful of the rancid smelling air.
Since Maylee was abducted from her high school the very month of graduation, her Aunt Autumn has never lost hope in finding her. It’s been three years. Autumn has finally reached inside herself and found the courage to track down an old lead. She moves across the country to find him. Will Autumn be able to pry Maylee’s case back open? More importantly, what will Autumn uncover in the process of searching for Maylee? It’s a cold dark world we live in, and she is about to find out just how cruel it can be. Strength and determination are on Autumn’s side and she will do what ever it takes.