's 2015 Horror Write-off:

" Hot Coffee "

Submitted by LMTYL

Detective Michael Bristol had seen a lot in his thirty years on the force.  When you get out this far, past the cities, the drumbeat of life just changes.  Murders were few and far between, not like what his cousin Hal had to deal with in the Big Apple, but when it happened it left a scar on every person in their little town.

Bristol had barely sat down with his coffee when the fax machine churned into life.  Good, the coroner’s report.  His Jane Doe had been identified.

23-year-old Sara Taylor, home from Old Westbury for the holidays.  With the girl’s driver’s license photo, he recognized her as the new clerk at the grocery store.  How did she end up halfway up that tree?

The detective frowned as he read further into the document.  Cause of death was still not clear.  She had been dead for a whole twenty four hours when she was found yesterday near dusk, only identified this morning, but she hadn’t been reported as missing.  Not something that sat well for Bristol; she was exactly the kind of pretty face that everyone would remember.

After a long morning of interviews, tracking down everyone who worked that last shift of hers at the store and having to break the news to her parents, Detective Bristol had just gotten back to his desk when the phone rang.  One of these days, they should upgrade to caller ID.  It was the coroner again, with the results of various tests.

No signs of sexual contact of any kind, no broken bones or organ damage, and the only blemishes on her skin were from pulling her out of the tree and carrying her half a mile to the road the night before.  Blood cell counts were normal, everything was normal.  The only thing wrong with Sara, as far as they could tell, was that she wasn’t alive any more.

Bristol hadn’t had near enough coffee to make heads or tails of this.


Weeks passed, Christmas and New Years passed, with no new leads on the case.  Not entirely surprising, given the remote location and no suspects.  Detective Bristol felt almost relieved when another body showed up.

The elderly Jared McDonough had been found, laid out on the roof of his family’s horse barn.  He’d been reported missing only an hour before his daughter-in-law noticed the workboots jutting off the edge of the gutter.

Meeting up with Dr. Mark Allen, a small man who had taken over the job of county coroner only a few days ago, Bristol offered his extra thermos of coffee.  With a foot of fresh powder on the ground, it was easy to see how pristine the snow was on most of the property.  Finding the boots at the edge of the roof, they made note of the single set of footprints about twenty feet away from the barn.  From their small size, and rapid change in trajectory, they were obviously from Eileen McDonough looking for and finding her father-in-law.

As they went around the barn, looking for a way up, they noted the lack of footprints or anything else around three sides.  No ladders leaning, clumps fallen from the roof, or even the little imprints from squirrels and birds going about their business.  Finally, Dr. Allen spoke.

“How are they sure that’s him up there?  Might be just a pair of boots, for all we know.”

“What I want to know is, what makes the family so sure that he’s dead?” replied Bristol.  “It’s cold, sure, but I can’t see any way of them getting up there without leaving a sign, and a man who’s lived here his whole life knows how to dress for the weather.”

Coffee warmed them up as they made their way to the barn doors, where John and Eileen McDonough were quietly panicking in the company of the sheriff’s deputies.  A quick hunt for their tallest ladder gave the pair some focus, and the officers helped set it against the side of the barn, leaving a ten-foot distance to the mysterious boots.

Detective Bristol climbed to the top, camera ready in his coat pocket, unsure of what he’d see.  Sure enough, there was Jared, dusted with snow that would’ve melted on his face if he’d been warm.  He snapped a few photos, first wide and then zooming in on the sleeping face, hands folded without gloves, perfectly tied laces.

Back on the ground, he showed the best photo to the McDonoughs, confirming the identity of the man on their roof, before setting the rest of the team to figuring out how to get the body down.


“Once he thawed out,” said Dr. Allen over the phone, “I couldn’t find a single injury to the man.  Everything you could consider ‘wrong’ was already in his medical record, just a little arthritis and a set of dentures really, old injuries from working all his life.  Nothing new.  It doesn’t make sense.”

“Have you read the file on Sara Taylor?  Dr. Worth’s last case.  She was found in a tree, out in the state park, not a scratch on her.  Damnedest thing.”

The detective could hear a filing cabinet open in the background.  “Taylor, Taylor… Ah!  Here we go.  I’d looked it over briefly when I first arrived.  Such a tragedy.  No leads on the case?”

“Never even had a suspect.  All the witnesses had alibis: her parents were at a house party, her boss and coworkers went out to the bar after their shifts, boyfriend was in D.C. visiting family.  Nobody even knew she was missing.”

“Afraid I don’t have much to add about Mr. McDonough here.  He had time to start freezing, which makes finding time of death fairly uncertain, but he was almost certainly deceased by the time he was reported missing.”


Seasons changed, as they’re apt to do, with another death every five or six weeks to keep the detective busy.  Each time, no apparent cause of death, but they had been dead for longer and longer before they were found.  It seemed, almost, that each person was dying the instant they left work, the instant their car drove out of sight, with no apparent foul play.

Every scene that Detective Bristol and Dr. Allen were called to, every new victim found perfect yet dead in the undisturbed scenes, added to the deep empty feeling that had been growing in Bristol’s stomach.  Timothy Gray.  Robert McIntosh.  Even old Vanessa Woodard.  Found in his attic, found on top of his employer’s silo, found on the roof of her granddaughter’s SUV.  The only pattern being how their bodies were found, perfectly dressed and as if they were sleeping, always high up off the ground.  Maybe they needed to call in the Feds.

No sooner had the thought crossed his mind, when his fax machine spat out another document.  Another coroner’s report.  Odd, since it had been over a week since their last body, and all the relevant documentation had already been filed.  Bristol frowned as he gingerly grabbed the freshly-printed page.

John Doe identified as…

No apparent cause of death…

Found on the roof AC unit of the…

Detective Bristol froze, his mind refusing to comprehend what he was reading.  He looked around, the other desks empty, as the only other officer on his shift was pulling her jacket on as she exited the building.

John Doe identified as Detective Michael C. Bristol.

No apparent cause of death, no new injuries, wearing the same clothes he was last seen wearing.

Found on the roof AC unit of the sheriff’s office after a two-day search.

A cold chill went down his spine.  He looked up again, wanting to see if there were any other cars out in the parking lot.  None.

Maybe he needed some coffee to wake him up.  Bristol turned in his chair to get up.

Dr. Allen was leaning against the counter, stirring a cup of coffee.

When the two men locked eyes, the coroner’s face made an expression Detective Bristol had never seen before.

He blinked, and—