Doesn’t Everyone See Words?

I don’t remember the first time I saw words when someone spoke to me. I feel like it always happened, but I’m sure there was an age when I became aware of it, I just can’t pinpoint that age. It was before my mother was murdered, of that I’m sure. I can tell you that as I got older, the spelling of those words got better.

Synesthesia is a strange thing. For most people, their neurons fire and show them colors when they hear music. I have verbal synesthesia though. When I look at someone who is speaking to me, I see the words and they float through the air in colors. I’ve talked to people that say the colors match the mood of the speaker, but for me, each speaker has their own color. For instance, when Malachi speaks, his words are green, like his eyes. My father’s words were black. I do remember, my mother spoke in yellow words.

It was my mother that figured out I had synesthesia. She was a doctor, a neurologist to be exact. And one day, I asked her “does the color you speak in matter?” I was also a little behind other children my age when it came to spelling and reading, probably because I’d been reading letters and words created by my brain for so long.

I was ten when my mother was murdered. My father carried the guilt of it for the rest of his life. My father was a US Marshal and he’d been pressing for a long time to get a group like the SCTU started. Lots of long hours and travel, lobbying congress, meeting with individual senators and representatives, and heads of federal law enforcement agencies that he didn’t work for. My father lead a Fugitive Apprehension Strike Team. But he believed we needed more than just more fugitive apprehension teams to solve the problem of serial killers.

My father was away on assignment when my mother was murdered. And yes, she was killed by a serial killer. She was his first, but he’d go on to kill seventeen doctors total, all female, and all accomplished. She was a professor and practicing neurologist at Johns Hopkins. We lived in Baltimore at the time. However, until she got that position, I’d been born in Chicago and spent the first four years of my life in that city.

My mom knew my father was a psychopath before they got married. She was also aware that I was most likely a psychopath as well and one with synesthesia. Some of Xavier’s genetic and neurological research work now, is based on ideas and theories my mom had in the 1980s. I knew she left, she always woke me when she had to answer an emergency call. Thankfully, our townhouse was right next door to one of my father’s aunts; Imogene Green and she didn’t mind coming over in the middle of night to sleep in our spare room and keep an eye on me. Or have me show up at her door in the middle of the night and me have a sleep over at her house.

That night though, she came to our house. It was after ten pm. I came downstairs, spoke with her for a little while, she made me hot chocolate and pulled out some knitting she was working on. It was a brightly colored afghan and she was making it in teal because I had told her when she spoke, she spoke in teal. She’d even taken me with her to the yarn store to ensure she got the color as close to exact as she could.

I drank my hot chocolate and watched her knit for a while. It was just a typical night. After the hot chocolate, I felt sleepy and headed back up to bed. I was awoken by the shrill ringing of the telephone. I rushed downstairs, having grabbed the new watch I’d gotten for my birthday. It had a button you pressed to light it up and show you the time even in the dark. It was 4:09 a.m. I didn’t need to hear who Aunt Immie was talking to to know it was bad news. It was written all over her face. I thought it was my father. I thought my father had been killed at work. She was still on the phone when there was a knock on the front door and I could see the strobing blue and red lights through the windows. They cast sweeping, creepy shadows through the blinds and open places on the curtains.

I prepared to learn that a criminal had killed my father. I opened the door and heard Aunt Immie tell the person on the phone that the police had just arrived. There were two police officers at the door. Aunt Immie invited them in. She was crying. I sat down, wondering if I would cry. The officers came inside.

“We will make this as short as possible,” one officer said to Aunt Immie. The other turned to me.

“Why don’t we go see your room, buddy. I bet you have some cool games you could show me. My son keeps asking for a Super Nintendo, but I don’t know anything about them.”

“My father was killed in the line of duty,” I replied, not getting off the couch where I had sat down.

“No, Caleb, no,” Aunt Immie said. “You’re mom was killed on her way home from the hospital this morning.”

“Come on, buddy, let’s go see your room and leave my partner to talk to your caregiver.”

“She’s my aunt and anything you say to her, she’ll tell me.” I had told him.

“Caleb should stay. His father is a US Marshal and he’s old for his age. If we don’t tell him, he’ll figure it out on his own.” Aunt Immie had told him.

“But this really isn’t a conversation….” The second officer who had been focused on me started.

“If Caleb was just a child, I’d agree. But Caleb has a genius level IQ and he’s overly mature for his age. He understands the work his father does, he’ll understand what happened to his mom and it’s better he hears it from us than from kids at school.”

“Mom was murdered,” I said. It hadn’t been a question. I had known the moment they told me it wasn’t dad, it was mom and the officer had tried to get me out of the room. All I was told at the time was that my mom was stabbed to death in a mugging that went bad. I believed them until I heard the news reports at noon. Aunt Immie tried to turn it off, but she didn’t get to it in time.

“World renowned neurologist Catherine Green was found murdered in a parking garage of the hospital where she was working last night. A source close to the investigation said that Dr. Green had been stabbed at least a hundred times, before having her head, hands, and feet cut off.” The announcer had said. She’d left out a few of the gory details, because the police hadn’t released them. I remember how she smiled widely as she said it and I hated her for it.

My father arrived home less than an hour later. Cops arrived with him. Doctors and nurses from the hospital came and went for days. US Marshals and law enforcement officials also streamed in sometimes one or two at a time and sometimes five or six at a time. And Aunt Immie didn’t leave our house for two weeks for longer than a few hours. She cooked meals for us when they were needed. She cleaned up the house when it was messy. She tucked me in every night and sometimes, she slept in my room.

It took five weeks before the body was released for burial. By then, another female doctor who had worked at Johns Hopkins in the emergency room had been murdered as well. And the same announcer had smiled while announcing that her head, hands, and feet had also been removed.

It was at the funeral that I learned they hadn’t found my mom’s head, hands, or feet and that they’d been hacked off with an axe. He also cut her open and removed her heart and liver.

After the fifth victim, a doctor who had worked in specialty pediatrics at Baltimore General Hospital, I overheard an FBI agent talking about how my mother had been targeted because she was married to US Marshal Nathan Green and that the killer was writing the police letters.

I still hadn’t cried and wouldn’t for another week or two. After the Doctor Slaughterer took his sixth victim, I came downstairs one night to find my father sitting in his favorite chair, book open on his lap, head in his hands, and his body shaking with sobs. I walked over and sat on the floor at my father’s feet and the tears finally began to fall.

“Caleb, I don’t know what to do anymore.” My father said through his sobs after several minutes. “You are all I have left in this world.” Dad removed the book from his lap, picked me up and put me on his lap in its vacated spot, wrapped his arms around me and we cried together, my father rocking both of us. That was how Aunt Immie found us the following morning, huddled together in dad’s favorite chair, eyes bloodshot, faces puffy, and fitfully sleeping holding on to each other.

“I had a Eureka moment last night,” Aunt Immie said, gently shaking both of us awake. She had a key to our house and had let herself in without our noticing. “We will sell these houses and move to the family home, it will need some renovations, but you and Caleb and I will all live there. That way I can be there for Caleb when you are working and I can be there for you to lean on when you need extra strength.”

“What about your life?” I had asked her. “Your friends and things?”

“I can make new friends.” Aunt Immie had responded. “You two are my only living relatives. It will take time to sell these houses, but it will take time to renovate the family home too. I’ll start getting bids today if you want.” Aunt Immie had outlived four husbands and her only child. He’d died in one of the wars. Her brothers had all died during the first and second World Wars, leaving her to inherit her parents wealth and the family home in a rural area just an hour from Pittsburgh. The Green family had owned a steel plant that specialized in creating plate steel for use as skins on tanks and ships.War had made them a decent fortune, but had also claimed the lives of seven of the Green men. My father had been flat footed which had exempted him from military service during the major wars of the 1960s and 1970s.

“Aunt Imogene, you can’t raise a ten year old at your age,” my father had said.

“Yes, I can. Caleb is never a problem and if he becomes a handful, I’ll hire a nanny to help me.” Aunt Immie had responded crisply. “Nathan, I think this is what’s best for all of us. I love being with Caleb, he makes me feel young again, and you can’t work as a FAST leader when you are the sole caregiver of a ten year old boy. If we do this, we have a home together, you always have someone to look after Caleb and you can transition to a desk job when you feel like it, not when circumstances force it upon you.”

“And all you get is the difficulties of raising yet another child while you’re in your seventies,” Nathan had said nearly as sharply as Aunt Immie had said.

“No, I get to know that the two of you are healthy and well cared for. There is the Green family money and I have my own money from my husbands not to mention my pension and death benefits from poor Roger are still in effect for another ten years or until I die, whichever happens first.”

It took an eighth murder before my father agreed to Aunt Immie’s proposition. I’d never seen the Green family home. It wasn’t what I was expecting. Eleven year old me had pictured a dilapidated farmhouse in a corn field on a gravel road. It was a Victorian brick monstrosity that looked like it might eat you with giant iron gates surrounded by a tall brick privacy wall. There were ten bedrooms, six bathrooms, three living rooms for some weird reason, two dining rooms, a music room, a ball room, a sun room, and something Aunt Immie referred to as a smoking room that looked like a library. It didn’t have central heating or air conditioning and these things had to be added. It also didn’t have a staircase, which was a problem since all the bedrooms were on the second floor.

We moved into it after the twelfth doctor was found murdered. It had been modernized and everything looked brand new. I didn’t know my father was secretly working the case. He was being fed information by an FBI agent friend of his as well as the new guy at the US Marshals who was determined to get the SCTU up and running.

The seventeenth body was found on Christmas morning. She had been six months pregnant and the killer had stabbed her more than he had stabbed my mother. Again, the head, hands, and feet were nowhere to be found, but he’d also taken the unborn baby.

That night, at 5:41 a.m. my house was awakened by gun fire. We rushed downstairs to find Aunt Immie, who had just turned 80, standing on the front porch, rifle aimed at the wall and someone was screaming in the dark. All the heads were found in his house. He’d killed all the others to cover up the fact that he murdered my mother. He had known her, he had been one of her students a year or two prior and she had failed him in multiple classes, getting him kicked out of school.

The first FGN was built on farm land that bordered Green Manor and was named The Catherine Green Federally Guarded Neighborhood, because living in a home with a gate and walls had prevented a serial killer from killing the child and the US Marshal husband of my mom Catherine Green.

The last six years of Aunt Immie’s life, she lobbied to get more FGNs built to protect more families of law enforcement and make it harder to target the wives and children of police officers. She died at eighty-five years old, the same year I went to college. She lived with us until the very end of her life. She left a huge chunk of her money to funding other FGNs. And my father donated Green Manor to the Catherine Green Federally Guarded Neighborhood after her death. By then he’d taken a desk job and was actively recruiting for the second SCT unit that would ever exist. The first had been a failure, but he was determined to make the second one work. And with Imogene’s legacy, he managed to get fifty federally guarded neighborhoods built around the country in the cities with the worst serial killer problems. However, the FGN near Pittsburgh is still named after my mother and the program that funds FGNs is named after her and Imogene Green.

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