The beeping of an alarm clock heralded the start of another morning. David's sleep-addled hand scrambled for the yowling clock and turned the alarm off, before rubbing the sleep out of his eyes as he rose.
The man's morning routine wasn't simple; thirty push-ups, forty push-ups and a two mile run from his apartment to Williams River and back again. All done to wake up his body and get the blood pumping. A warm shower to relax. Then a simple but hearty breakfast of toast, eggs and coffee as he read the morning papers. Ironic for a journalist to read the very same paper he wrote for, but his reason was that he rarely, if ever, knew what his colleagues wrote for their columns. Work in the office was mostly segregated by column, even though they worked in a big shared space, so even though he knew everybody in the paper by heart, he rarely knew what they wrote. Such was the case today; his friend Eric Thorn was in charge of the headliner for today's copy, a gripping two page story about the mayor's latest bid to urge the populace to report any suspicious behaviour to the police, in the wake of yet another killing believed to be related to the Horde. The paper was making a killing on the serial killer story, but inwardly David always wondered when the buzz would die down. After he'd finished eating, it was time to get dressed for work.
The only thing that interrupted his routine today was the buzzing of his mobile phone during his breakfast. Normally, he didn't check anything on the device until after he was done eating, but today was an exception. The number that buzzed him...well it didn't seem to even have a number, just a text message that appeared on the screen. As David read the message, a familiar feeling welled in his chest, equal parts curiosity and dread. The old church? What did that place have to do with anything? And something about Ghosts? In all his years of seeing strange things as a photographer and journalist, this was by far the strangest. But a promise(?) was a promise(?) and so David went on with the rest of his routine and went to work like nothing had ever happened.
However, his nagging curiosity got the better of him. He had a plan that would both cover his ass and hopefully land him a new story to publish the next week. Near to lunch, David finished proofreading the writing he'd done on a smaller column for the January 7th issue of the paper and closed up his laptop, packing up his things to leave. Eric stopped him with a hand on his shoulder as he stood from his chair.
"Hey David, goin' somewhere?"
David smiled and shrugged.
"Yeah. For lunch. What's up?"
"You got that look about you that says you're about to go do something and not tell anyone."
"Yeah well-" He sighed, shook his head and grinned, running a hand through his hair. "It's complicated, Eric. Long story short, I'm following a lead after lunch. I might not be able to come back to the office after."
Eric raised an eyebrow and chuckled. "One of those hush-hush things eh? This gonna be a front-page scoop or what?"
"I don't know. Only way to find out is if I follow up on it."
"Fair enough I guess. Got anything else that needs doing?"
"Nah. Just let the kids continue working on our website. I'll be back tomorrow to finish proofreading your piece and you can maybe get the guy we're interviewing for the page 5 going up on the sixth to come in tomorrow too?"
"You got it pal. Have fun doing...whatever the hell you're going out to do."
Five Springs Church, Central Araminta. January 3rd, 12:32 PM.
David pulled up to the church on his faded blue scooter, his signature camera hanging loosely from his neck and his brown leather satchel on his back, all very iconic things about the veteran photographer. There were already a few cars present at the place, parked in the church's old parking lot. The building was ancient, before his time, but he'd covered it for a historical piece in the papers a few years ago. The old dirt path leading up to the front of the church was still there, as was the rusting chain link fence demarcating the area. He'd taken many photos of the grounds and the building, both inside and out, and as he trudged up the worn path, a few familiar faces came into view.
David wasn't sure where he'd seen Officer Amanda Blackmore before, only her face and her name were prominent. He couldn't place if it had been at one of the first Horde killings or the massive pile-up on Main Street, but he vaguely knew her, if not personally then just by recognition alone. Probably had taken a picture or two of her on duty and then the picture had ended up as a page 3 or a page 4 report. Maybe. He couldn't be too sure. Jaden, Clara and Tristan were complete strangers, although there was something about Tristan, a familiar ring to his worn, young features that struck David with a sense of familiarity. One of the Horde killings? Was he related to one of the victims? There'd been so many in the last few weeks that he just couldn't keep track. Jaden and Clara as well, although it was their faces, not their names, that lingered in the back of Sawyer's memory.
Sawyer knew Astraea more by reputation than actually meeting her. One of Araminta's few poets and writers, he'd stumbled upon her work while looking for something that he could feasibly call 'Araminta's Art Scene'. And while Astraea's work wasn't, how d'you put it, conservative, her work stood out to him as a cry for creativity in a city stifled of such promising works. The piece he'd written about her had shed positive light on her work while not overtly calling out why some of the citizens didn't like her, instead he'd woven a story about needing to have understanding and tolerance in their community.
However, it was the last face that gave him pause. Archie Malcom Anderson. Local businessman, one of the city's few mechanics and a recent widow. A few months before the Horde's first victim, David had covered the tragic car accident that had claimed the lives of Archie's wife and daughter. The man who'd struck his vehicle had been arrested on DUI and two counts of involuntary vehicular manslaughter and had been sentenced to life. Since then, David had seen Archie in several bars around town. The man had changed, and not for the better. But the fact that he was out here...he'd received the strange text too. As did the rest of the people here. David briefly wondered how this mysterious sender had drawn a policewoman, a poet, one of the city's best mechanics and the town's lead photojournalist to an abandoned church as he approached the motley group, camera in his hands.
The first thing anyone would hear of Sawyer's presence would be his shoes crunching dirt up the path, followed by the snap-click
of a camera shutter as David went on a knee and snapped a picture of the group in front of the church, framed just right that it would do good as a front page spread. He smiled as he turned off his camera and made his way to the group.
"Hey fellas. Guessing this isn't some kinda planned event? My phone says otherwise but, y'know, best to check with everyone, right?"
He watched as Archie strode up to the door of the church and pulled it open, the creaking of the hinges echoing into the silence of the afternoon. Naturally, his inquisitive side gave way and he grinned as he approached the man and clapped him a good one on the shoulder.
"Archie. Been a while, my man. Don't mind if I take the first step?"
And so it was that David Sawyer took his first, precarious step past the threshold and into the abandoned church, camera up and ready.