Words Arwa A, Batul S and Maria Y.
Digital Art Batul S.
The bedroom looked strange. Someone was here. She heard a shuffle of footsteps from the back of the room, which was cloaked in darkness. Sonia took one step forward and then two steps back. She could smell him. A strangely familiar smell, like wet soil. She knew him.
The monsoon was an unusually wet one. It was pouring. She had to reach Paddington station within the hour. As she crossed the muddy footpath, she saw him. Standing in the middle of the road. Drenched, with a stone cold look on his face. She froze.
It couldn’t be.
She remembered his face from the obituaries weeks ago. Clearly. The picture had large scars on his face. One ran from his forehead, down his right eye and cheek with another running from the left corner of his mouth all the way up to his left ear. She had wondered how he must have got those scars. They were grotesque as they were unique.That face had haunted her for weeks after. What disturbed her most was that despite the scars, the face seemed vaguely familiar.
And now, right in front of her, was a man with the exact same scars on his face. It couldn’t be a coincidence, could it? The rain made it hard to see his face clearly. She hurried towards the nearest cab at the corner of the street. It was only a five-minute walk to the station but she had to get away from his terrifying gaze. She could not be sure if that man was indeed from the photograph and she prayed she would never have to be.
Her eyes couldn’t look away despite being terrified to her bones. The shadow started towards her with slow and heavy steps. She couldn’t move. Couldn’t scream. All she could do was watch as he crept towards her. As he moved out of the shadow, his scars became clear. That face hadn’t changed in the slightest since that rainy day, three years ago. It was the very same man. She was sure of it.
But why was he here? How had he found her? How does he know her? Had they crossed paths before? She would have remembered if they had. These scars are not just hard to miss, but hard to forget as well. Her mind was swirling with questions. She felt like she was about to pass out.
As he crept closer and closer, each second felt like an hour. Her body ached from standing still and her lungs hurt from not breathing. She was afraid that the slightest movement might end things badly for her. It was too late to run now. He was now just a few inches away. She could feel his breath across her face. It was cold…and it felt familiar. Just like his smell.
The coldness in his breath sent a chill down her spine. She shut her eyes and said a silent prayer. This was it. This was how she was going to die. At the hands of a stalker with the most intriguing scars on his face. At the hands of a man who was supposedly dead – for five years. This could not sound any more absurd, but, it was.
“Sunflower,” he hissed.
His icy breath tickled her forehead and her eyes shot open. No way. That word…it hit her like a freight train.
Flashback to 1979
“Sonia come here! Look what I found!” Nathan exclaimed, with the same level of excitement he’d had all morning.
Her twelve-year-old step- brother had gotten his way when their parents asked for ideas on how to spend their weekend. She wanted to spend the day at the mall to shop for a dress for her friend Carol’s party. But alas, sons always got their way in their household. So it was no surprise that they ended up in Evergreen Park.
“Soniaaaa! Quick! Before it flies away,” he screeched.
She begrudgingly sauntered over to him. He was stooped over, picking at something over the flora. As she walked closer, she realised he was peering at a ladybug resting on a bright yellow sunflower.
She was unamused but stood over him nonetheless. It wasn’t like she had anything else to do. Sonia watched on as Nathan picked up the ladybug and laid it on his left palm. His shadow dwarfed the ladybug; a mere speck in his seemingly unending vastness. Nathan examined it closely, curiously, turning it one way and another looking for something only he could fathom.
She envied her elder brother. How he managed to devote his attention to a singular endeavour. She wished he played with her more, though. She didn’t always play with her dolls he so cruelly mocked. How she longed to be his assistant for those “top-secret science experiments you absolutely can’t tell Prisca and Papa about”. She often wondered why he wouldn’t just call her mom. But deep down she knew why. Her mom was only his step-mother. An intrusion into his family.
Her step-brother was odd, she knew. Strange things always followed him. She knew enough about the gossip at school: Nathan being called “a freak of nature” by her classmates. She refused to believe he had upended poor Sapphire’s bag over the toilet or that he’d repeatedly shrieked ‘scarecrow’ at a terrified Caleb.
“Sunflower!” she heard Nathan exclaim. “Sunflower! Sunflower!” he repeated. He tugged on her elbow and all she could do was watch as he skillfully deseeded the large sunflower.
“Where’s the ladybug,” Sonia asked aloud, not really expecting a response.
He looked up, eyes glinting, with a hint of a smirk on his sweaty face. He proceeded to squash the ladybug between his right palm and left thumb.
“Weird,” Sonia thought as the remnants of the ladybug that had so caught Nathan’s fancy lay carelessly scattered by the sunflower.
The only reason this memory stayed with Sonia was the countless reminders she had had of it for over twelve years. Every year would be marked by an article in the paper of a murderer they had named ‘Sunflower Man’. Every one of those articles reported the very same description of the victims – petite women in their forties with dirty blond hair.
It was some time later that Sonia realised the description fit her mom.
The murderer left nothing but a fresh sunflower placed on the women whose lives he had so mercilessly snuffed out. It was his signature, his mark, his way to let Sonia know that he still hadn’t been stopped.
Her brother was capable of squashing a ladybug and uprooting a sunflower as a RIP gesture. If it had ended at that, Sonia would still have had the heart to forgive him. After all, he was all the family she had left after their parents died in a car accident. But her brother had other plans. Plans that were unforgivable.
He was a fugitive at age twenty-five, convicted for over half a dozen murders and Sonia was helpless. She tried every way she could to stop him. To get him to come home. To get him help. But it was all futile. He was crazy and he was obsessed with killing, as much as he was obsessed with sunflowers. He wouldn’t stop and he would never get caught. He went on to kill more women over the next eight years and then one fine day, she sees the article, “Sunflower Man Found Dead in River Valley”. Sonia lets out a gasp. He was dead.
Her brother was dead.
She did not know if she was devastated or relieved. She had no family left but the world was rid of a cold-hearted killer. She closed the paper and hoped to close this harrowing chapter of her life along with it.
But little did she know that nothing had changed.
And now, standing face to face with the man with the scars, she put two and two together. Her brother had never died. He had merely gone into hiding, biding his time, waiting for this very moment. To have Sonia alone in his company.
She looked into his eyes and saw every happy moment shared with her brother. She loved him like a real brother. She always treated him like family. Like her own flesh and blood. But had he?
He lifted his right hand and brought it towards her face. She flinched, expecting to feel a sting of pain across her face. Instead, he gingerly, almost lovingly, tucked a lock of her dirty blond hair behind her ear. Sonia fearfully broke eye contact and brought her gaze down to his left hand. She quaked with fear as she saw what was in his grasp.
A fresh sunflower.