2015 Christmas “Thriller”

The Family Version:

This section was the “family version” of the Christmas Thriller. Scroll down to begin the actual story… 

Hello friends and family! It has been a splendid year, as always. God has given us a wonderful family and church family. Our church events have continued as before. Adding a new secretary to our sta (Sarah Brown, Stillwater, OK) has been a HUGE help. We have continued helping with the youth and music minis- tries, and we are right now in full swing with a three-day Christmas outreach including a live outdoor choir and a fully-lit church building to build community awareness. On the following Sunday, we are pushing for many guests at our “Scrooge” Christmas play where we will present the Gospel.

Our youth ministry has blossomed as we are now in our sixth year with them. We hosted a cou- ple other churches at our summer camp and it is continuing to grow. Ryan taught a little Bible class at a local high school and wrote a book to go along with it (see, and we have stayed as busy as ever with conferences, trips, activities and weekly stu like music practices, preach- ing and general church service duties. Our teens are servants; I couldn’t ask for more (according to Jesus, anyway, Mt. 20:25-27). ey’ve taken over many of the duties that our interns did over the summer. It was a bummer (as always) to have so many move away this year, but since most of them were going to Bible college, that’s okay with me.

Our family has grown, too. If not in number, at least in size. 🙂 Ryan’s about the same, but some- thing made Jamie’s belly grow. Something called “Gwen.” Check back with us in February or so and we’ll let you know how she turns out. e kiddos are growing in size, too. Abe’s hit his 3’s, and he’s as zany as ever. He has spasms of energy that get him into trouble when he doesn’t control them, but for the most part, he’s growing into a wonderful, sweet little boy. Poor kid’s about to have TWO sisters. Pray for him.

Charlotte has shown the most dramatic change over the past year. She’s learned to walk, eat on her own, say a few words, juggle, ride a unicycle… wait, nevermind on those last two. She’s still a sweet little baby, and in one of the cutest phases ever. She’ll sit and read books to herself for long stretches (sometimes Mom’s books with no pictures!), and she holds her own against all the older boy cousins, uncles and grandpas. She’ll be a toughy.

We traveled a little extra this year. In May was Garret and Anna’s wedding in South Carolina. We made a little family vacation out of it, visiting Gatlinburg, touring the Biltmore Estates and hiking in the surrounding areas. We also visited Jamie’s family in Indiana for her birthday (Nov. 12) and an early anksgiving. It was fun catching up with all the di erent branches of the family (her biological family and extended family all live in the area, too). We did about three things while we were there: 1) Spent family time together, 2) Visited the Indianapolis Children’s Museum (amazing!), and 3) Ate. Lots. And Lots. Jamie’s birthday party was breakfast, lunch and dinner at Denny’s, a pizza bu et, and Skyline Chile, respectively. A good day. Very good. Also, Jamie and I (and Charlotte) traveled to OKC to speak at our Alumni Days at Heartland Baptist Bible College.

Next year, we’ll be traveling even more with some additional conferences we’ll be attending and speaking at. We’re thankful for people who help us with our kids during those times!

In all, it’s been a wonderful year in our new home with our growing family. Here’s our blanket “Sorry” to all for not keeping in touch more throughout the year. 🙂 We promise we love you! Come visit us in CA and we can hang out!

Merry Christmas and God bless, -Ryan, Jamie, Abe and Charlotte Rench



Merry Christmas!

Thanks for following through with our Christmas card. If you’ve made it this far, either:

  1. You’re family and you feel bad for me (Ryan)
  2. You’re bored, or
  3. You’re just weird. I mean.. what normal person is interested in a Christmas thriller, especially a 6,000 word one?

Well, you read the Christmas card already. So, here’s the rest of it, since you asked (be sure to email me at [email protected], or comment below after you’re done. Let me know what you thought.)…

The Back Room

A Christmas Thriller, Having Nothing To Do With Christmas

Click below to download different formats of the story:

Or, just READ ON:

This time it was bad. Really bad.

Carnage. Bodies everywhere. It was like an image from a Civil War battle scene, only worse. One poor soul had his arm nearly ripped off in the attack. When help finally arrived, he was literally hanging on by a thread. Literally.

Some bodies were unrecognizable in the rubble. They were strewn from room to room, stacked in heaps among the other filth. The house reeked, but not like the typical crime scenes of this nature. This time it smelled more like sewage than anything else. The media was going to have a heyday with this one, especially over that Back Room.

The first responders took one glance at the scene and knew, almost before entering the house, that this was the work of “The Monster.” No doubt about it. A string of similar crimes dotted the country, each one growing progressively worse. This time, The Monster outdid himself. Somehow. It was as if The Monster was recruiting help.


The Monster had especially piqued the interest of one investigator… Detective Ryan Rench of the Riverside County Police Department. Three years prior, Rench was assigned to a routine robbery investigation–broken doors, dresser drawers rifled through, and a few missing items–but never found any solid leads, and the perpetrator got away. A few months after that, a similar robbery took place in the same part of town, and Rench was again assigned as the lead investigator. It was the same style of robbery as the one prior, with clothes strewn around the room as if the perpetrator was looking for something specific, deep in the drawers. A few small items were taken and a few things were broken, but no major clues emerged, and the burglar got away.

The two crimes were too close in time and proximity–only three blocks away–to be coincidence. Rench had a suspicion that this was the work of the same crook.

His suspicions were confirmed six days later when the third attack came, this time, on a friend of the original victims. Four days later, another attack. Then another.

Each time, the perpetrator got away, but each time, Rench gathered more evidence. He interviewed each victim, probing for answers, trying to make sense of the mountains of information he was consuming.

As the serial burglar grew in experience, he grew in boldness, too. His attacks became more frequent and more violent.

After the third attack, the local news outlets sniffed out the story. They dubbed the intruder “The Monster,” and the name stuck. The responsibility of catching The Monster rested directly on the shoulders of the lead investigator, Detective Rench, whether he liked it or not. The media stress made him nervous, agitated, and worried. At least two nights per week, particularly on the days when the media highlighted his failures as a cop, the frustration of the unsolved cases kept him from falling asleep. Sometimes, he would turn the lights out at 10:30 p.m. and watch the clock tick past midnight.

Detective Rench could handle the media, though. What kept him up at night was wondering when the next attack would be, and how bad it could get. He never anticipated what he saw in the Back Room the next day.


Detective Rench’s three-year nightmare came true as he listened to the dispatcher’s voice, “You’re needed immediately. The Monster struck again. I’ll send you the address on the way, just head North toward French Valley.”

“How bad is it?” Rench asked.

“No one knows for sure.” the dispatcher replied. “The initial response team is still sorting through the house. They’re finding multiple victims, at least ten–maybe more.”

Rench’s heartbeat leaped into action. The morning air in his home was chilly, but he felt a bead of sweat form on his upper lip. He could think of nothing else but getting out the door. He raced through breakfast, knotted a tie around his neck and jogged, almost ran, to his squad car parked outside in his driveway. Receiving the address on his phone, he raced northward toward the crime scene.

If the circumstances were different, the drive would have been quite enjoyable. Rench passed through rural, rolling dirt hills and 5-acre horse ranches to a quaint, quiet neighborhood in the suburbs, not far from the hub of the city, but remote enough to escape the big-city bustle. Except for this attack, Rench figured it to be an otherwise quiet, almost boring, place to live.

It’s certainly not quiet, today, he thought.

Police patrol cars surrounded the house, lights still flashing and noses pointed in as if they had rushed in from all directions at once. About 10 houses down the street in both directions, police SUVs and temporary plastic barricades redirected traffic to other side streets.

The house itself was already crawling with people. The garage, the front door and the side gate leading to the back yard were all visible from the front of the house, and each was bottlenecked with men and women in uniform passing in an out. Personnel from other investigative teams and medical teams were clamboring over each other.

Senior Detective Rench knew all too well what he was in for as he walked up to the yellow tape cordoning off the house. His nervous stomach churned as he approached Officer Brown, a thorough, neat officer with shoulder-length brown hair circled into a bun atop her head. She was new on the job, patrolling the area when she received the call to check out a “neighborhood watch” call on Red Oak street. As the first officer on the scene, she filled Rench in.

“Sir, it appears to be The Monster,” she said. “From what we can tell so far, he came through the side gate, found an open window in the Back Room, broke out the screen and climbed through. The most violent attacks are there, but he hit almost every room. We think he used up most of his energy at first, because the rest of the house is relatively less brutal.”

“Relatively?” Rench asked.

“Well,” Brown hesitated, “you just have to see it to know what I mean.”

Rench gulped as they passed the yellow Police tape and walked across the lawn toward the house. Going through the garage would have been a short walk to the Back Room, but the medics were using the open floor space as a temporary base to attend to the victims, so they opted for the front door instead.

The door was almost closed but not latched. Rench pushed it open slowly, almost timidly. He was not too eager to get inside.

The scene unfolded as the door’s hinges creaked. Just inside the door, to the right, a collage of picture frames clung precariously to the wall–what was left of them, that is. The monster had apparently ripped two giant claws down the frames, stripping most from the wall and leaving them for dead on the ground and couch below. Only four frames survived, desperately clutching the nails in the drywall.

To the left of the open door was a den, offset from the main living area and mostly concealed by the open front door. Stepping inside the house, Rench closed the front door and surveyed the den.

Two thoughts struck him at once, What is that smell? and This isn’t even the worst of it? He ignored the smell and asked aloud, almost to himself, “Relatively, huh? Oh boy.”

The den was a small room, just big enough for a reclining chair and a loveseat. The corner flatscreen television was tweaked away from the wall but not broken. Under it, cords and cables wrapped around like an eagle’s nest, and bins full of remote controls and DVDs were strewn everywhere. Rench noticed a dent in the corner wall beside the loveseat.

“What happened here?” he asked.

“We found two of the victims slumped up against the wall.” Brown said. “They’ve already been removed and attended to.”

Rench could easily imagine the details of the scuffle. “Are they going to be okay?” he asked.

“I think so,” she said. “They were pretty shaken up when we got here, but nothing was broken.”

The living room was the hub of the house, connected directly to the kitchen and dining room. From the living room ran a hall to all three back bedrooms. Rench hesitated at the hall, knowing he would have to walk down it sooner or later. He sneaked a glance, but the door to the Back Room was almost closed. Besides, it was too congested with people to go down there right now.

Instead, he carried on into the living room, dining room and kitchen area. Five of the six tall chairs around the standing-height dining room table were tipped over or broken. The sliding glass door was still locked, but a pane was cracked where a chair had been hurled into it. The safety glass on the door was the kind that cracked on impact, but held together instead of shattering into small shards.

Fiberglass insulation ash from the gas fireplace in the living room was spread all over the kitchen and living room. Was he… playing with this? Rench puzzled a moment, but recalled seeing this act before, almost a year ago.


Although Detective Rench was only a local county investigator, he was called in as an advisor when The Monster crossed state lines. His expertise on The Monster had earned him a certain level of respect despite the media’s attempts at undermining him.

Last summer, Rench was flown in to analyze a hotel room scene in Gatlinburg, Tennessee, where an incident with all the right signs tipped Gatlinburg police to call for reinforcements. They had never encountered The Monster until this time, and it was more than they could handle. With the national news coverage that Rench had received, they knew he was the man for the job. Rench was granted Federal jurisdiction to aid his investigation, and was promised any help he needed to stop The Monster.

Rench arrived on the gruesome scene, confused and disgusted at the same time. I should be used to this by now, he said to himself. But he was not used to it.

He was confused. It looked like The Monster had been toying with his victims. He whipped out his notebook from his breast pocket and scribbled some questions to himself: “Was this pleasure? Was this madness? What’s going through The Monster’s mind as he was doing these things? What’s the reason?” Rench still had no motive, so it was hard to predict The Monster’s next move. Rench was always too late.

The hotel room was a posh timeshare, more of an apartment, with three bedrooms, two baths and a small living room and connected kitchen. The room was shared by three vacationing families–one couple and two families with two kids each. The two families with kids had been out to dinner and returned to find their room in shambles.

Although the room was on the lowest level of the four-story complex, the hill sloped away from the building so that the front door of the room was at the ground level, while the back of the room overlooked the tops of the Tennessee trees. A balcony with space for only two woven deck chairs protruded from the living room.

The glass sliding door to the balcony was slid all the way open. The short handrail was not enough to keep The Monster from hurling the two inhabitants over. If only they had joined the two families at dinner, this would not have happened. Luckily, the tree branches slowed their descent, and the shrubs and mulch below the balcony padded their fall.

Inside the room, the fireplace was the main target. The Monster had run his soot-covered hands all over the couch, the recliner, and each dining room chair. Streaks of dirt and soot ran horizontally along most walls, as if he had been finger-painting with gobs of black paint.

The master bedroom bed was stripped to a bare mattress, the sheets and blankets knotted into a medicine ball of destruction that was hurled at every mirror and light fixture in the room.

The bathroom towels were shredded like leper’s cloth and stuffed into every water orifice–toilets, sinks, shower drains, dishwasher and kitchen garbage disposal.

Rench noted his observations and stepped outside to face the media onslaught. By this time, reporters had gathered outside and were barraging him with questions as he approached his vehicle. He dreaded their questions, because he knew he had no answers. He was at a loss, and they knew it.

Arriving home late after his red-eye flight, he flipped on the news and saw his face with the subtitle: “Lead Investigator Rench at a loss AGAIN.” I deserve that. I can’t even figure out a motive, he thought as he drifted off to a restless, disturbed sleep.


The kitchen and living room scene was the same as the Gatlinburg incident. Until now, the fireplace tactic had not been used.

Odd. Why now? What has changed? he thought.

For no apparent reason, destruction and… messiness… were The Monster’s MO. In Rench’s mind, there was no other way to describe it but… messy.

It got even messier the closer Rench got to the Back Room, and the pungent odor he smelled when he first walked in was growing stronger. Stepping down the hallway toward the Back Room, Rench came to a bathroom to his right. The room was like the rest of the house, disheveled and broken up. The cabinets and drawers below the sink were open, and every towel, bottle of cleaner and box of spare toothpaste was cast on the ground. Two rolls of toilet paper–the main roll and the spare–were unraveled and strung around the room like a junior high “TP” prank. The worst part was that it was wet.

The hallway dead-ended into another hallway. To the left, the other hallway exited to the garage. To the right, it continued to the untouched master bedroom and the fateful Back Room, where all the carnage began. With personnel still in the Back Room, Rench decided to survey the office, just next door to the Back Room. He knew he was delaying the inevitable.

The office floor was covered in the contents of all three desk drawers. Pens, markers, books, scrap paper and paper clips were strewn so thick that Rench could not even tell what color the carpet was without searching for open floorspace. The bottom two drawers of the full-size filing cabinet were open, papers and file folders flung around the room.

If this were the last room The Monster had entered, maybe the motive could have been some kind of information he was searching for in those files. But The Monster had moved on, so Rench was as confused as ever. Plus, the stench was so strong in this room that Rench wondered if it was somehow connected to the case.

Trying to make sense of it all, he jotted a few more notes on his notepad. “Destruction. Stinky. Messy. Mostly waist-high, like he’s kicking things. Or maybe he’s hunched over, with some sort of mental defect that affects his physical stance. Research hunchbacks.” By this point, he was taking any clue he could find.


It was time. He knew he could put it off no longer. He knew he had to enter the Back Room. It was the moment he had dreaded since Officer Brown’s first mention of the Back Room. But as the lead investigator, it was his job. Duty demanded that he analyze all evidence, no matter how stomach-turning it was.

The door to the Back Room was directly adjacent to the office door where he was currently standing. The other personnel were still scuttling about, but Rench pushed past them and into the room. He tried not to show his shock as he took in the scene. It was more than two eyes should ever see.

Two victims in particular were in bad shape. The first, a giant of a fellow was still sitting on the floor in a daze, unable to speak. His legs were outstretched flat in front of him and his chin rested heavily on his burly chest. His neck had been badly squeezed, as if he had been headlocked and crushed by a monstrous grip. His head was tweaked to the side, and rested slightly askew. At first glance, he looked all right, but a closer look showed Rench that something was off. His would be a long road to recovery–mental and physical.

The other victim did not fare so well. His body was still slumped face down on the bed, his head hanging over the foot of the bed, nearly touching the wall. He was wearing a yellow shirt, crumpled up around his armpits, revealing his pale white back. A neat, precise incision ran the length of half his back. It appeared as if The Monster had somehow opened up his victim. Evidence was everywhere. Spread around the room. Stuck to the carpet, the walls, the drawer handles, and the floor like velcro. Anywhere that could snag some, did.

The Monster tracked the contents throughout the room as he climbed every shelf and tossed every bucket onto the ground. A wall-mounted bookshelf, just thin enough to fit behind the open door, once holding a handful of thin pamphlets, magazines and other books, was completely emptied, with every single book thrown across the room. The blank shelves looked empty and sad, like an old hotel that just went out of business.

The sliding closet doors were ripped from their tracks. One door leaned into the full closet, cracked in the middle, and the other door was on its side directly across the room. The left bracket of the clothes rack was broken, and all the hanging clothes slid into a heap on the floor.

Under the window where The Monster entered sat a dresser and shelf unit, about four feet tall. Its dark wooden top was broken, probably from the sheer weight of The Monster. Either that, or he did some sort of monstrous dance when he entered. Rench imagined a thick, gnarled hunchback jumping up and down like a gargoyle, snarling and sneering at his would-be victims.


The Back Room was like the crown jewel in The Monster’s repertoire of madness. This investigation, along with all the other evidence Rench had gathered over the past three years, led to several theories, but nothing conclusive. The nagging evidence from the Back Room uncovered more questions than answers. What was that smell? What was the reason for these crimes? Why the destruction? Why the “hunchback” feature–the lowness of each attack? What did it all mean?

With no answers, the media ate Rench alive, calling for his resignation. A vocal citizen started a petition against Rench, claiming that no one in Winchester was safe from The Monster as long as Rench was at the helm.

He needed answers, fast. He needed a plan. He needed a trap.

That night, as he drifted off, dreading another restless night, just minutes into his initial dream sleep, he awoke with a jolt. His right leg shot into the air as his torso bolted upright in bed.

“Wait!” he said out loud, to no one but himself. “There’s ONE more thing I haven’t been asking.” He got out his box of notebooks and began pouring over the case files and his own hand-written notes again.


In his investigation, Rench uncovered every clue he could find, interviewing coworkers, family, neighbors, former bosses and employees, golfing buddies, fellow karate class students, and beauticians. He put in the shoe leather and sweat equity like any good cop would, but overlooked the most obvious connection, until now.

Reviewing the case files, he recalled one or two of the victims mentioning a church affiliation. One guy mentioned that he was Baptist, and another lady, a grandma with out-of-state grandchildren, mentioned she taught a kids class at a Calvary Baptist Church down in Temecula, the next town over. Was there a connection between these two? It was a long-shot, but worth looking into.

He looked again at the online profiles of The Monster’s victims. One man’s Facebook post from eight months ago mentioned a church event, tagging himself in a picture in front of a white building with a red brick facade. Hey, I’ve seen that church before! I’ve driven past it before on Nicolas Road! Rench tried to be careful, not wanting to build up a false hope.

Another former victim’s instagram showed her at a church summer camp. Hey, it’s the same church! How could I have missed this!

Rench researched six more of the victims online and found the same connection: Calvary Baptist Church. It was evidence enough for him to know what to do next.

Finding the church’s website, he discovered that a church-wide picnic was scheduled for tomorrow at the senior pastor’s 3-acre ranch. He would set a trap and wait. And hope that The Monster would take the bait.

Rench was elated. He had finally, after all these years, found the connection. He finally had a solid lead. He could finally get the media off his back.

I’ve got you now, Mr. Monster. Okay… that was cheesy. Rench laughed at the thought of insulting himself. He was too tired to care. Tomorrow was going to be a big day.


At first light the next morning, Rench contacted the senior pastor to introduce himself and get access to the property. The pastor complied with full cooperation, giving Rench free reign and anything he needed.

The three-acre property was divided roughly in thirds. The top one acre was where the house sat, a cozy home with windows on all sides, overlooking the rolling hills of the Nicolas Valley. In the distance, through the trees in the valley rose the sharp white steeple of Calvary Baptist Church.

One acre of the property was hillside, covered in well-watered trees and lush iceplant ground cover. While the front of the house overlooked the Nicolas Valley, the back of the house overlooked the hill and bottom grassy area.

The bottom acre was covered in grass, relatively flat with a few shade trees, a few fruit trees, and a thirty-foot swing hanging from the giant Eucalyptus tree. A playground sat atop a grass pad, just beside a grass volleyball court. The road cut between the bottom acre and the hill, and snaked its way up the long concrete driveway to the top of the hill. Soon, this whole property would be bustling with members of Calvary Baptist Church.

Rench explained the situation to the pastor, “The Monster prefers houses. Will anyone be inside your home for this event?”

“No,” the pastor replied. “We keep everything on the ‘South 40,’ as we call it. There’s water, electricity and a bathroom down there. No one’s allowed up here. That’s my wife’s rules, know what I mean?”

Rench was too preoccupied to answer the question. “Good,” he said with a distracted stare. He was planning. Scheming.

“Here’s what we’ll do,” Rench said after a brief pause. “I’ll come disguised as a guest. If The Monster sees my face, he’ll know something’s up, and he may not strike. But I have to be on site to catch him in the act. Now, The Monster loves houses. It’s great that no one will be in the house. He will be more likely to attack. Believe me, if I know this guy, this house is just the type of place he would like to ransack.”

“Oh?” the pastor looked concerned.

“Yeah, it’s all these bobbles and bangles you have around your house. You know, little ornaments and decorations. The Monster loves to destroy these types of places. But no worries, I’ve got you covered. He won’t get far.”

“How can you be sure?” asked the pastor.

“I’m installing a camera system in your home. We’ll be able to catch him in the act. I’ll have him surrounded. There’s no place to run out here. We’ve got him this time. I’ll be monitoring everything from the live video feed to my phone. I’ll act like some kind of nerd–or a teen–who’s always checking my phone. It’ll be the perfect cover.”

“I hope this works,” said the pastor.

“It will,” Rench said.

What he really wanted to say was, “Me too.”


The time for the picnic came and folks started to trickle in. They parked outside the gate, carried their food down the road and set up their pot-luck lunch. People’s lawn chairs dotted the landscape. A volleyball game started. Kids ran around, frantically chasing a soccer ball.

Soon, the picnic was in full swing. Rench checked his phone. Nothing. All is calm.

Someone from the church sat by him and struck up a conversation. Not wanting to be rude, Rench put his phone in the cup holder of his lawn chair, maintaining eye contact with the individual but watching for movement on the screen in his peripheral vision.

Thirty minutes passed. Nothing. An hour passed. Still nothing. Another hour passed and the sun reach past the peak of the sky, beginning its descent. Still nothing on the surveillance cameras.

Out of nowhere, a shout split the landscape, “LUNCH TIME! Gather around for prayer!” The whole crowd momentarily stopped out of respect and listened to the pastor as he prayed for the food.

The lunch line commenced and people milled around the picnic tables. With the kids’ playtime and the volleyball games abruptly halted, everyone at the picnic–about 150 people–converged on one that one area.

In the bustle, Detective Rench was asked a question by one family, then introduced to another couple. This small talk kept him from checking his phone for a solid five minutes–an eternity in a stakeout.

By the time he broke free from the conversation and was able to check his phone, it had been almost a full six minutes. Almost in a panic, with a prayer on his breath, he reached into his pocket and pulled out his phone. He fumbled with his passcode, hands shaking from the adrenaline. Wrong. He typed it again, this time more carefully.

His phone unlocked to his home screen. He selected the app that connected him to the surveillance cameras.

At first, he wondered why the app was loading so slowly. The icon kept spinning, searching for a signal. Come on, come on. Bad signal.

He moved further up the hill, brushing past a man who apparently was coming to introduce himself. Finally, the signal on his phone changed. It said, “Connecting,” and the icon began spinning again. Whew! Finally, he thought as it said, “Connected.”

Loading, loading, loading… “Now what?” Rench muttered.

An error message. “Error: No cameras found.”

“Oh no. Oh no! Oh NO!” By now, it had been more than enough time for The Monster to get in, do his dirty work, and get away without a trace.

Rench started running. He ran as fast as he could up the road, up the steps, up the narrow dirt pathway, past the pine tree, needles slapping him across the face, stinging, up the rickety railroad tie steps, up, up up. Breathing hard. Panting. Faster, faster.

He kept reassuring himself, “This is just a camera malfunction. Nothing more. I haven’t lost him. I can’t lose him this time. My whole reputation is at stake. My whole job is at stake!”

He rounded the corner, past the pool, up the steps of the back porch and up to the back door. Locked.

No signs of forced entry. No broken windows. No broken doors. No broken walls. So far, so good.

He lept off the back porch and let his momentum carry him into a full-stride run around the house to the front door, still assuring himself that nothing was wrong.

As he rounded the corner of the house, he stopped cold. The front door was standing wide open.


At the church picnic below, the unknowing masses had no inkling of the magnitude of the situation. No one understood nor cared about an obsessed cop’s three-year chase. No one lined up to applaud him for all his hard work. No one knew.

Below, busy moms and dads clambered about, indifferent to all circumstances but the immediate. They were focused on corralling kids for lunch, meeting new people, and playing horseshoes. A dad thinks mom is feeding the kids and focuses on winning his volleyball game. A mom is deep in conversation, welcoming the picnic as a needed distraction, keeping the kids out of her hair for an afternoon.

Everyone is in their own world, carefree and happy. Unconcerned about the problems that await them outside the fenceline of their little church picnic.

Rench saw the open door and stopped in his tracks. The open door felt like the yawning mouth of a shark, waiting to eat him up. His heart fluttered with excitement, nerves and fear. He knew what had to be done.

He took one step up the front porch and listened. Nothing yet. Another step. Still nothing.

Hm. Maybe this is nothing, after all.

Two more steps. Still nothing.

He took the last step and crossed the covered porch, walking toward the front door. As he approached, everything seemed normal. No signs of forced entry. Nothing broken. No signs of… Wait. What was that?

He caught a whiff of something in the wind. It was an all-too-familiar smell, one he could never forget after the Back Room incident.

It was the scent of sewage. He’s here. I know he’s here somewhere.

As he stepped into the house, he anticipated something jumping out at him. His senses were on high alert. His eyes darted left and right. He had tunnel vision, and it was helping him focus.

His nose picked up the scent immediately. It did not take a bloodhound’s sense of smell to know the scent of The Monster. Over the past year, this odor had become his trademark. Almost like a calling card.

It was the scent of sewage, but not the fresh, pungent smell of raw sewage, such as you would smell when the lid is removed from a septic tank. No, this was a rank, old, stewing smell. It was a dirty smell, the kind that made your face cringe when it hits your nose. The whole room smelled like a mountain of sun-baked soiled diapers, concentrated and wafting through the room like bad cologne.

Rench gagged. He hoped no one heard him.

In the back room he heard the sound of glass breaking. It was something small, like a cup or a frame. Now he heard a beating noise, like plastic on plastic. He stepped closer. He wished he could call for backup, but none would be there in time. It was now or never. He had to do this himself.

He passed through the dining room and into the narrow hall that led to the back room. What is it about these back rooms with this guy? he thought.

As he got closer, the mayhem got louder. Now he heard a voice. A gutteral, growling unintelligible noise. Suddenly, his voice changed. It was like something all new. It made the same growling and groaning sounds, but in a much more high pitched tone.

What is he doing? Rench wondered.

As he inched closer, he could hear books being thrown from the shelves, each one hitting the floor with a loud THUD. The Monster must have been on top of the desk, because Rench could hear the distinct tick-tick of the metal mini-blinds being opened and closed. He drew a breath, ready to catch The Monster red-handed.

Finally, after all these years, The Monster would be stopped. Finally, all of Rench’s questions would be answered. Just beyond that door was the climax of Rench’s career. Apprehending this Monster would be the greatest victory of Rench’s life.

Rench role-played the upcoming scene in his mind, trusting his training to help him know how to react in any situation. He listened one last time before whispering his countdown. “Five, four, three, two–”

Inside, The Monster was grunting again. Then, to his shock and horror, Rench heard another voice. A distinctly different voice. And they were talking to each other, imitating each other.

So that’s it! he thought. There’s two of you.

He could wait no longer. He burst through the door. He was face to face with his nemesis The Monster, as well as a smaller lookalike copy of him–a Mini-Monster. Yep, here’s The Monster, his accomplice, and the source of that stench.

Rench had the element of surprise on his side. It worked.


Back at the station, the boys congratulated Rench on a job well done. His After Action Reports could never convey his heroism, or his hard work. What mattered most was that justice had been done. The wrongs of The Monster would be no more.

That was it. No big bonuses. No promotions. No gold star. No national notoriety. No Captain’s job or Presidential recognition.

But he did not need all that. He was happy. He was content. He had done his duty. His three-year chase was over.

The reporters who had raked him over the coals now sang his praises. The journalists who called for his resignation now hounded him for details of the hunt, hoping to score the next big story. The voices who had lambasted him were now silenced.

Justice had been served, and all his questions had been answered.

The Monster was a hunchback of sorts, small in stature and given to fits of rage. His destructive tendencies, as it turned out, were rooted in nothing more than juvenile ignorance and foolishness. He had no malice or rage against any one man or incident in his life, just against life itself. His pent up energy exploded in fits of fury at inopportune times.

Almost all his victims survived. For the most part, a few stitches and a lot of TLC were enough to heal the wounds inflicted by The Monster.

As for the growing levels of destruction, particularly over the past year, that came clear as soon as Rench opened the door and saw not one but two monsters. The Monster had discovered a supernatural cloning process, making a female version of himself to assist him in his attacks. The clone was birthed just over a year before, and the duo of destruction grew more powerful with each new attack. The problem was that Monster II, or She-Monster, or Mini-Monster, was not potty trained, and wafted a stench around her everywhere she went. It was like a green cloud that hung over her.

As to the dad playing volleyball and the mom talking with friends at the picnic… they never did know where their kids were that day. They realized later that they had a lot of work to do. Parenting is not for the feint of heart.

Further investigation uncovered The Monster’s ploy to brew up another she-clone. The lab guys are still running some tests. Results are pending.

Rench shuddered at the thought of a Monster Trio.

The End


P. S. The “monsters” are my kids, and most (but not all) of the events are false. The “victims” were toys and stuffed animals, and their stuffing was spread around the room.