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Penned




I bought this book (Dean Koontz - What the Night Knows) in a charity shop. Wasn't til I got home I realised where it had come from and I was vastly amused by the idea of a story about a cop and serial killer ending up in a prison library. It also inspired this story.

Heather had been writing to Stephen Miller for three years. She’d stored every letter, neatly bound in a manila folder which belied the slow burning romance inside. Once in a while, when she missed him most, she took them all out and read them. As much as they cheered her, she couldn’t help but wonder how they would read if they didn’t have to be careful. It hurt to know that every soft word and loving declaration was read by someone before her, before him, but prisoners had no choice. Especially men like Stephen.
Heather glanced over at the pile of letters, mostly single pages, but occasional doubles. In order, resting one on the other, she realised there was something odd about the edges. She shuffled the sheets tighter, aligned them neatly but could only see an odd darkening along the left-hand side. In a moment of inspiration she fetched a large book from the shelf and set it carefully on the tightly hand-written pages. The sheets compressed and the oddity manifested into words printed down the left side of the pile.
It was like those old pads her dad had used. He’d kept a thick pad on his desk for notes and they were often printed on the sides with company names or logos. It had amused her to watch these images or words slowly disappear as the pad was used up. Stephen had used the same technique and written a phrase which she alone would see. She wondered why he had used such a slow method to send her his words.
Perhaps to stop the officials reading them? Maybe as a get out clause. If she turned out to be one of those flakes who fell in love with unattainable serial killers he could just stop and she’d never know. It was only chance which had revealed them to her now, her natural curiosity and penchant for observing the small things. The fact of his finished missive made her glow. In meant he trusted her. She read the words again, pondering their meaning.
D
R
E
A
M
S
S
E
T
Y
O
U
F
R
E
E
Setting the letters on the desk with the words facing the sofa, she settled down to think, staring at the wonderful, frustrating message. Her mind wandered over their strange and beautiful connection.
Like the rest of the world, she’d followed the unfolding story of the Evangelical Executioner and his bloody trail. To this day no-one really knew if the handsome young vicar was a master manipulator or a dog-collared hypnotist. All the police could confirm was that twenty-eight people had killed a total of two hundred men, women and children, and then committed suicide via a vast array of methods.  As one of the tackier tabloids had gleefully written, in horror movie blood-dripping fonts, ‘…and he’d have gotten away with it if it wasn’t for those darn kids!’
Two of the twenty-eight killers had been seventeen-year-old twins. They’d gone into a local nursery and released an airborne toxin, killing 7 children, 2 nursery workers and themselves. No-one knew why they were the only killers to leave suicide notes, but they had and it lead to the arrest of Stephen Miller, a well-liked reverend whose parish was at the epicentre of all the killings. The note had read simply:
‘We did as you asked, Reverend Miller.’
Despite flimsy evidence – mainly the note and a witch hunt by the media that whipped people into a pitchfork and burning torch frenzy – Stephen Miller was branded a modern day Manson and committed to Blakewood Secure Unit for the rest of his natural life.
At which point Heather, a firm believer in the goodness of all men and second chances for all, had decided Stephen Miller needed a friend. A quick search online had delivered his prisoner number and the unit address, along with so much fan worship from teen girls Heather had felt physically sick. Forging ahead, she’d written and been happily surprised when a reply, complete with an explanation of what could and couldn’t be said or sent, had landed on her welcome mat.
The intervening years had been difficult and divine. Heather found it harder and harder to reconcile the wise, funny, clever and gentle man of her letters with the world view which called him Svengali, cult leader and squarely blamed him for manipulating the twenty-eight into doing his killing for him. They struggled with a motive, just as the prosecution had, but Stephen had given them an in. Throughout the trial he had sat silent, hands resting in his lap and a soft smile on his lips.  Interpreted in the media it was decided his motive had been pleasure and some hack attributed a fictional line to Stephen which sealed his fate, despite his never uttering it. When asked why he had done it he was supposed to have replied ‘Because it was fun’.
He preferred not to discuss his case, but once she had asked ‘Why do you think it happened?’ His reply had been more detailed than she had expected.
‘Perhaps, and I speculate, my sermons were more powerful than I thought? They became very popular, as you know, and people came from parishes other than my own to hear them. Was there something in them which inspired this misplaced desire to cleanse the world? I can’t say. If you could read them you might be able to see something I suppose.’
He’d said no more but she had pondered and eventually written to his old parish. Under the guise of writing a psychology piece for a local paper she’d persuaded the new incumbent to hand over a batch of Stephen’s sermons which had been put into storage, on strict instructions that they were not to leave her sight and not to be quoted with any reference to the parish. She’d agreed readily and now she reached out and opened the slim folder. Just three sermons within but maybe enough to give her a sense of what caused the terrible events of three years ago?
Reading through the words, at once new and yet familiar, Heather found herself slipping into Stephen’s voice. She drifted through the text, imagined him speaking the words aloud in his cell. Prison guards came to listen, moved by his eloquence and the righteousness of his words. Some consensus took them, caused one to step forth and open Stephen’s cell door, no man stepping up to stop the action. They parted to allow him to walk to the main reception, their heads bowed in reverence, a few whispering that none who spoke thus could commit heinous acts. The prison governor stood at the main doors, clearly enraptured as Stephen continued to speak. He inserted the combination of keys, paused before throwing the lock switch and embraced Stephen, tears in his eyes. The door swung open and the men started to sing a hymn as Stephen walked into the encroaching darkness of night.
Heather shook herself awake, realised she’d dozed off to dream whilst reading the sermons. She couldn’t quite figure if the light was dusk or dawn and flicked on the tv to get the time. She surfed to the news channel and saw it was morning. She’d slept on the sofa all night which explained her crook neck and aching back. About to rise and get coffee she abruptly dropped back down, listening as a serious-faced anchor read the story.
‘Last night, Stephen Miller, known as the Evangelical Executioner, walked out of Blakewood Secure Unit and vanished. Authorities say they have no ideas why prison staff simply let him walk out, but people are already asking if the rumours about Miller’s ability to control people is more than just media hype. Police have issued a warning to refrain from any kind of engagement with Miller should the public see him and …’
Heather startled when the front door vibrated under three loud knocks and she could see a shadowy figure through the frosted glass.

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