Read the Excerpt: Nobody But Us by Laure Van Rensburg


The house will tell them what happened. Everything here tells a story. The truth will set you free, they say.

They’re wrong.

It begins with the silent heartbeat of blue lights pulsing through the windows, before the outside world invades the space with thuds and footsteps. Through the open front door cold sneaks in and rushes up the stairs. The house shudders and comes to life.

It spreads with voices, which shatter the silence further. Gradually, a few words rise through the pandemonium of noises—victim, unresponsive, Jesus Christ. They belong to a police

officer with a Burt Reynolds mustache. A shiny badge reads “Deputy Wilcox”—black letters etched on brass, the O almost scratched into another C. His eyes are full of questions as he tries to take in what happened here. He smells of coffee, the foam of it hemming the bristles of his mustache. Yellow teeth in need of cleaning peek from under his chapped lips. Palming his chin, he takes in a scene rarely witnessed in those quiet parts of the county. A car wreck, maybe, the odd wood-chopping accident. But this? This is what animals do to each other—and in the bowels of the forest, not in some fancy house. What’s happened here stains the carpet and the walls with red and reeks. He closes his eyes, but the images cling to him, trapped behind his lids. They follow him as he heads back downstairs. All around, the house unfolds like a scene in a pulp novel.

On the third step lies a discarded heart on a broken chain.

A present to a girl who no longer exists. One of Wilcox’s colleagues collects it, dropping it inside a little plastic bag where the romantic token becomes another clue to the gruesome events that have unfolded here. Once sealed, the bag joins others, mostly pregnant with what looks like shredded clothing. One of them holds the broken pieces of a mug.

On the first floor, there are more officers dotted around, more eyes asking questions, more chaos. An explosion of camera flashes; the static fuzz from police radios; the smack of latex gloves; a persistent smell which gets worse down here and forces Deputy Wilcox to breathe through his mouth. The stench of death and body fluids seeping out. Blood streaks the door frames and walls; the kitchen counter is smeared with it—riddles staining plaster and wood, written in cast-offs and spatters left to be deciphered. In the living room a wheelchair lies on its side like some wounded animal, while the charred remains of a bag smolder in the fireplace.

Everything here tells a story.

Leaving the mayhem behind, Deputy Wilcox shuffles toward the gaping mouth of the front door.

Outside, the sharp bite of cold air stings. Sunlight stains the horizon with pale yellow and orange, leading the way for a new day. No more overbearing clouds stretching over; blue has reclaimed the sky, where seagulls scream at the intruders disturbing the peace and quiet of the coast.

The snow out front is peppered with a trail of blood; at the end of it a gloved hand excavates a knife from its icy tomb. In the distance, the double doors of the garage yawn open and another officer on his haunches inspects the deep gashes in the flat front tire. Nobody was getting out.

Amid the askew police cars, there’s an ambulance waiting. Behind its bulky shape and flashing lights, the woods have stopped being an ominous presence; trees have disentangled themselves from the darkness. Everything is different under the light of day. But even if the snow is shimmering now with beauty, beneath it the ground is still dead.

Two paramedics jump from the back of the ambulance. The air inside is flavored with the strong smell of ammonia. The mattress on the stretcher is thin and squeaks with every move.

“Where to, guys?” asks the deputy.

“Mercy General Hospital,” replies the medic with blond hair in a low ponytail. He looks too young to be responsible for someone’s life.

After the ambulance’s doors slam shut, one word hangs in the air, acrid like sulfur from a lit match, one word that doesn’t belong in this place.


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