Five days after the fourth murder, everyone braced for the next attack. Our landlocked town looked like a coastal city under warning of an impending hurricane, windows boarded up and grocery store shelves missing essentials. Only the foe wasn’t nature: It was man. Or was it?
The idea of a ghost-like murderer kept circulating, as seven-year-olds teased each other in hushed tones on backyard swing sets and public figures fumbled over their words when trying to provide an explanation for the mysterious deaths. Melvin Jackson, head of the city council, held a press conference from the steps of town hall, swearing up and down that Foxfield wasn’t haunted. The next day, his picture appeared on the front page of the local paper, a photo snapped at the checkout counter of the herb market as he stocked up on sage.
I kind of liked the idea of a ghost; it took suspicion away from the people you knew, the ones you called your friends. Most of us still passed each other on the streets, uttering cheerful greetings instead of averting our eyes and wondering if we’d just crossed paths with the killer.
Of course, it was tricky since no one was entirely sure how to stop a ghost.
“They just come in from the walls,” the children insisted. “It doesn’t matter if we lock the doors.”
“No, no, no. Ghosts aren’t real,” the parents tried to assure them, knowing deep down that they had a good point.
The local video store ordered ten copies of Ghostbusters, renting the VHSs out to anyone looking for tips on besting the unworldly. It seemed like every day someone was at the department store, asking the cashier to direct them towards the proton packs.
But not everyone bought into the idea of the supernatural. The police warned citizens to stay vigilant against a human nemesis, organizing neighborhood watch parties, setting up hotlines, and handing out flyers that told us how to spot a killer (i.e., look for someone wearing dark clothing and peering into bedroom windows).
No one wanted to believe that the murderer was one of us, especially not the police. “We’re looking for an outsider,” they said. “Someone who isn’t from around here. None of us could possibly do these things.”
Foxfield was small, but not that small. Everyone knew everyone, sure, but that was a bit hyperbole and it wasn’t always easy to spot an outsider. The town was eclectic, different styles,
And no one, at the time, was quick to admit much of anything, myself included.