The envelope arrived like every other.
Always on a Sunday; shoved beneath the door.
Always accompanied with three sharp, loud knocks.
Max Hogan lifted his eyelids and immediately wished he hadn't.
The early morning sun streamed from the uncovered windows of his small apartment, causing him to wince. His throat felt rough, parched as if it had lain in the open desert for days, his bronzed skin hot and damp from the already rising humidity.
Worst of all was his head.
He could swear a herd of sadistic elephants was stampeding through it.
Max blinked several times before scanning his surroundings. The first thing he noticed was his faded, green sofa. He was slumped in it, leaning against its tattered but solid armrest. In his hand was a semi-full glass of whisky. On the floor, beside some fishing magazines, two remotes and a container of half-eaten Chinese take-out, stood a bottle of Jim Beam… completely empty.
Max leant sideways, abandoning his glass on the floor. His dog tags, the only remaining memento of his military days, slid across his bare chest. He straightened up, rubbed the dark fuzz on his face and wondered why he wasn't comfortably comatose in his bed instead.
The answer came with his next ragged breath.
It was Sunday.
He instantly stood, waited for a sudden wave of dizziness to subside, then hitched up his Garfield boxers and staggered to the door.
Approximately a metre from it lay a white, unmarked envelope.
Max grinned, sensed his rising anticipation urge him onward. He dropped to his haunches, picked up the envelope and ripped it open. He shook the contents into his palm and was immediately disappointed.
There was only one this time.
Unevenly trimmed like all the others.
He carried it to the sun-bathed window and lifted it to the light, carefully studying it.
The photograph was of a woman.
She was pretty in an elfin kind of way with her wild, red hair and overly large, green eyes. But it was the look in those eyes that interested Max more.
She was frightened, extremely so.
He crossed the floor to a square, plastic table. On it lay many ‘unevenly trimmed’ photographs, some connecting with each other… some not.
Like a jigsaw puzzle.
For six weeks, someone had been sending them to Max. Who or why, he didn't know. He could've rung the police… perhaps should’ve.
But he had found the entire caper too fascinating.
It wasn't difficult to slot in the new piece, just above the slim figure rigidly positioned on a short, wooden jetty.
Max bent forward. Using his finger, he trailed the woman’s line of sight to an old boatshed. He collected a nearby magnifying glass and studied the shed, finally stopping at its half-opened door.
His breath slammed still.
Was he seeing things?
He checked and rechecked from every possible angle.
Until there was no doubt.
Standing inside the shed, amongst the darkened shadows… was the unmistakeable shape of a man.
Writing order: Joe Labrum (USA), Donna McTavish (NZ), Linda Alley (Aus), Kalli Deschamps (USA), Jasmine Groves (Aust), Gabrielle Burt (NZ), Sumanda Maritz (SA), Roseyn (Aus), Anna Zhigareva (Scotland)