Paper Hearts
By: Stephanie J. Bardy

Brandy always hated this time of year. The scary movies on T.V., the constant flow of party invitations she would always turn down. The macabre decorations that her neighbours took great pleasure in displaying the minute the calendar turned to the first.

This year was different. She still avoided the television as much as possible, but because everyone was still dealing with the current pandemic, Halloween seemed to have been all but forgotten.

She walked into her well light kitchen and flipped on the radio. The Monster Mash was just finishing, and she rolled her eyes.

"Good evening York County! I hope you enjoyed that wonderfully seasonal tune. Gets me dancing every time!" said the radio announcer.

"Get to the news." Grumbled Brandy. She began preparing her dinner as she waited for the news. The announcer came back after a commercial for car insurance.

"Welcome to the evening news. Tonight, we bring you a story which could have been ripped from the many movies streaming this month. Sadly, and what makes scarier than any movie, is that it is true." He paused for effect. "In the last two weeks we have been reporting on the rash of female bodies that have been discovered in and around town. Each one posed in prayer, each with their heart missing, replaced by a paper cut out one. Police are not releasing all the details and have declined comment other than to say that they have very few leads to go on."

Brandy gave a shudder and quickly went to check the locks on her door and windows. Her dog Rusty raised his head from his spot on his mat looking at her quizzically.

"Not right now boy, "said Brandy. "Maybe I can get Jordan to walk you later."

She walked back into the kitchen as the announcer was finishing up the news. She gave her dinner a stir and jumped when her phone rang.

She picked it up and smiled. It was Jordan.

"Hey there." She said.

"Hey" he said. "I was listening to the news and thought I should call and see how you are holding up. I know you hate this time of year."

Brandy sighed, "I'm ok. I am avoiding the T.V and only listen to the radio for the news. Rusty helps a lot. I was kinda hoping you could take him out for a quick walk before bed?"

Jordan chuckled. "Of course, I can. The door gonna be unlocked?"

"No, I'm going to have a relaxing bath, you know where the hide-a-key is." She said.

They talked for a few more minutes then hung up. Brandy finished cooking her dinner, fed Rusty and curled up with her meal and a good book. She gave a sad look at the picture on her fireplace mantle and opened her book. She tried to focus on the words, but her mind kept going back to that night.

It was Halloween 8 years ago. Her fiancée had convinced her to go to some cheesy party and they were walking home arm in arm. Both having had a bit too much to drink. Brandy swung her stilettos from her hand as she tried to pull the crown from her hair.

"Marcus help me!" she giggled. "Your Queen demands it." Marcus bowed low and untangled her hair. He then placed her crown on top of his, on top of his head.

"I am the King and Queen of Hearts." He laughed puckering his lips.

Brandy laughed and reached for her crown. "Oh no hot shot, you need me to keep you in line."

As Brandy looked up at Marcus, she watched the smile slowly fall from his face, to be replaced by shock. He began grabbing at his chest, gurgling sounds coming from his mouth.

"Marcus?" Brandy questioned. "Stop fooling around." She took a few steps back and watched her fiancée drop to his knees then slump over. Dead.

Behind him stood a small woman. She looked at Brandy with such hatred. "He loved me first." She said. "He swore he would love me until he died. Tore my heart out like a paper Valentine when he dumped me for you."

The last thing Brandy remembered before she woke in the hospital two days later, was Marcus' ex leaping at her, bloody knife in hand.

Pulling her thoughts back to the present, she snapped the book shut and tossed it on the table. She got up and gathered her stuff for her bath. She needed to relax and let those memories go.

After a few moments, she sunk into the steamy warmth and let it seep into her. She didn't know how long she laid there but she heard the beep of her door alarm twice and assumed it was Jordan walking Rusty.

The water had started too cool and she climbed out of the tub wrapping herself in a fuzzy towel. She flipped on the radio and caught the last of the news.

"…the 12th body was discovered earlier this evening. This time the killer, now being called the Paper Valentine Killer, dressed the victim up in what looked like some costume depicting royalty." A stab of fear raced down Brandy's spine, but she shook it off as purely coincidence

She walked through the living room and noticed that Rusty wasn't on his mat. She picked up the phone and called Jordan to thank him for walking the dog.

"Hey, I was just about to bring Rusty back, sorry I took so long. We ran into some friends." Jordan said as he answered.

"You haven't come back yet?" she asked, the fear creeping back in.

Jordan heard the change in her voice. "What's wrong? I am about 4 blocks away."

Brandy laughed nervously. "I thought I heard the door chime twice and assumed you were back. I must have been mistaken. The news has me over reacting." She tried to laugh it off, but Jordan knew better.

"Make sure everything is still locked and I will be there in 10 minutes. I locked the door when I left and have the key with me. No one is there."

Brandy sighed and thanked Jordan and hung up. She walked into the kitchen poured herself a glass of wine and retreated to her bedroom. She pulled back her covers and walked over to the window to lower the blinds.

The paper valentine heart sat snugly in the corner of the window. Mocking her with its cheeriness. She froze in fear.

"Hide-a-keys are so easy to find." Came a soft voice from behind her. She couldn't move.

The last words Brandy heard as the knife tip protruded from the front of her chest as it was plunged into her from the back was…

"He loved me first."

The End


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