Silent Witness Files

Submitted into Contest #244 in response to: Center your story around a photo that goes viral.... view prompt


Fiction Crime Mystery

“One more second, I’ve almost got you…” she whispers. 

Yellow wings lazily open and close as the butterfly obliges. Crouching lower, dark hair spills over the young woman’s shoulders like shadowy tendrils. She aligns the wings in the middle of her phone screen, taps to focus the subject, then taps again to capture her garden visitor forever in a glowing digital portrait. 

A smile tugs at her lips as she lowers the phone and watches the butterfly flit from her dew-covered front yard flower beds. The splash of yellow dances through the morning sunlight, crossing a quiet suburban street sprinkled with parked family SUVs and a lone truck with tinted windows that seem to absorb the light. Aimlessly, the little pair of wings floats over colorful sidewalk chalk when she notices a man in a black baseball cap briskly approaching with his dog.

She waves a friendly greeting. It goes unseen with his head angled down, shading from the bright morning sun. Trotting ahead, the hound is just crossing the sidewalk chalk when its snout abruptly tilts upward, zoning in on the yellow freckle in the sky, as if drawn by an unnatural force. The dog’s hind legs crouch low before its entire body leaps up like a spring being released.

A sharp, involuntary inhale follows her hand flying to her chest as the woman witnesses the moment play out.

In the blink of an eye, her innocent fluttering friend is surrounded by a cage of fangs that are closing in slow motion. But at the last second, the yellow wings make an erratic swoop upward, right before the hound’s jaws snap shut on empty air.

Below her sunhat, the woman exhales and hastily lowers her hand. The man absently tugs at the dog’s leash and continues walking, unperturbed.

“Well, count your blessings, my friend; you still have your whole little life ahead of you” she murmurs, an unexpected chill tickling the back of her neck. 

Gathering her yellow sundress in hand, she returns her attention to her phone and breezes through her front door. She absently shuts the unlocked door behind her while swiping through photo filters before deciding on the unfiltered picture and posting to her profile with the caption “Every garden is better with butterfly kisses.” 

Setting the phone down, she spends the rest of the day flitting around the house, completing a myriad of chores, her bright lemon skirt trailing a streak of color with her. 

The day melts into evening when she finally nestles into the couch with a magazine. 

A cool breeze drifts through the open window and tranquil lofi music echoes through the space when a loud, abrupt buzzing startles her. She looks down to see her phone sending ripples through her gently steaming cup of tea. Smiling at her sister’s profile lighting up the screen, she takes a deep breath to calm her heart rate before answering. 

“Paige, are you free for a chat?”

“Yeah, I’m not up to anything at the moment,” she replies. “What’s up?”

“Oh my god, have you heard of the Silent Witness Files podcast?”

She doesn’t wait for an answer before excitedly continuing, “It’s about cold cases and unsolved murders and this girl who hosts the show used to work for the New York Times, so you know her journalism skills are real. Oh, and she’s built this massive social media following where she actively asks for help solving cases. They’ve actually helped solve three legitimate murders. Isn’t that crazy?”

“That’s…actually pretty impressive.”

“Anyway, the most recent episode is absolutely wild. It’s called Wolf Man Murders. So, five women have been killed in the last year. They’re all young and single and have long, dark hair for some reason. But here’s where it gets weird…first of all, every single one of these murders has evidence of a dog left behind. Like, giant paw prints, fur patches, whatever. Second, this guy kills each of his victims with not one…not two…not three…but FOUR parallel slashes to the throat, just like claws. Aaaand every murder happens the night of a full moon.”

A gust of chilly air breezes through the open window, eliciting an abrupt shiver. Getting up to shut it, Paige finds herself staring at a round, glowing moon rising in the twilight sky.

Is that full or does it still have a day or two? 

“Wait, so can’t they just use the dog hair DNA or whatever to track him down?”

“I mean, in theory, yes. But, there’s no official animal DNA registry, at least not one that all pet owners are required to use. And even if they were, I’m guessing serial killers aren’t registering on it anyway. But Paige…what if there is no dog? What if the man and dog are one and the same?!”

“Aaaaand you lost me,” Paige laughs. “I think you might have gone too deep down the rabbit hole on this one.”

“Okay, he’s probably not a werewolf but isn’t that all so creepy? Oh, and speaking of unregistered stuff—I swear this is the last thing and then I’ll be done—supposedly the police know the make and model of his truck but there’s no license plates or registration, so how can you even track that? Just saying, tracking only works if everyone follows the rules and that’s never gonna happen. Anyway, you should listen to the podcast. It’s so good.”

“I’ll add it to my list, but that’s some heavy shit. I feel like I need to go watch a rom-com or lie in a field of flowers and sunshine after just hearing all that. Oh! Speaking of, those flowers I planted in the front are finally attracting butterflies.”

“Yay! I want to see a picture!”

“Go look on my Instagram, I posted one earlier this morning.”

Paige takes a sip of warm, fragrant tea when she notices a car rolling to a slow stop in front of her house.

Wait…not just a car, a police car.

“Oh. My. God, Paige!” 

“What is it,” she distractedly responds, watching a fully uniformed female officer step out of the vehicle and into the moonlight.

“I know you have notifications off, but have you not looked at your Instagram at all today? Your photo has over 100,000 likes and hundreds of comments.” 

“Wait, what? Why?” 

She swiftly drops her eyes from the window, opening the app to bright red alerts. Heartbeat rising, she scrolls through top comments. 

@TheSilentWitnessPodcast We got him! Someone please contact this woman immediately and make sure she’s safe. 

same truck make/model without plates with tinted windows gray-haired wolfhound night of a full moon posted by a young, dark-haired woman. GIRL RUN #WerewolfKiller

@CentervillePoliceDepartment Have you seen this? Please do a welfare check. 

A whisper escapes her lips, “this cannot be real.” 

The innocent yellow butterfly picture fades away as every insignificant detail from the background—and her morning—comes into sharp, cold focus.

The man tilting his head down, not shielding the morning sunlight, but obscuring his face beneath the baseball hat. The large, gray, wolfish dog that had almost ate her butterfly. Now that she thought about it, she’d never seen that truck parked in her neighborhood before today. 

And the fanatic podcast fan group had caught it all: every last detail. 

A sudden, sharp knocking makes her head jerk up and phone clatter to the ground. 

“Paige Moore, this is the Centerville police,” a strong female voice rings out. 

Sweeping her phone up off the ground, she hears her sister’s voice, “Paige? Paige! What’s going on? Why don’t you come over to my place and…”

“The police are at my house,” she responds while making her way to the door.

As she unlocks and opens the door, her sister’s voice warns, “Do not hang up this phone under any circumstance.” 

A middle-aged brunette woman, hair pulled into a neat, low bun, is standing there with a sympathetic smile, “Paige Moore?”


“My name’s Colleen, I’m with the Centerville Police. Did you take this photo?”

Suddenly, her Instagram post is glowing from the police officer’s phone. Her heart is now pounding rapidly but her brain feels like it’s trudging through mud. 

Is this really happening?

From her own phone still hovering by her ear, she hears her sister hiss, “Ask for identification!” 

“Uh, can I see your badge or something?”

“Of course,” the officer smiles and displays a very official-looking badge before asking, “may I come in? I’d really appreciate asking you a few questions in relation to a case.”

In a daze, Paige invites the officer in. They sit on her couch together and she places her phone on couch beside her. The the next half hour passes in a surreal blur. 

“…photo helped us locate…apprehended this afternoon…confessed to five previous murders…may have been his next target…photo likely saved your life.”

She hears every word but her mind is struggling to process everything in real-time. Absently rubbing her hands down her arms, she realizes that she’s broken into a cold sweat. 

Eventually, she responds, “why me?”

“During the confession, he said his inspiration was a man named Peter Stumpp, a notorious serial killer back in the 1500’s who was convicted, at the time, of werewolfery. Based on the previous victims, we believe he was spelling out Stumpp’s last name as a sort of homage. Serena, Talia, Uma, Mackenzie, Parker…you wold have been the last and we have no idea what his plan was after that.” 

Her breaths are shallow, fingers trembling, as the reality finally begins setting in. She silently pulls back up the photo. Her cheerful, yellow butterfly is still there but now it’s backdropped by a murderer. Or, it always was, she’s just now seeing it. 

Setting her phone gently back on the couch, her hands return to her lap as she smooths out her yellow skirt, watching the fabric wrinkles soften. 

“So, he’s going to be locked up for good now and there’s no way he’s getting out, right? I’m not in any kind of danger anymore?”

“He’s secured in our station and the FBI will likely take it from here. You’re completely safe now. And Paige?”

Her gaze rises from her lap to Colleen’s sympathetic smile, offering reassurance beneath muted blue eyes.

“Thank you.”

The officer’s blue eyes crinkle a bit as her brows furrow with compassionate warmth. 

“It’s possible you saved many more lives than just your own. I know it’s disturbing news overall, but focus on the positive: you decided to post that photo today and now…” 

Shivers run down her spine as she hears her words from earlier this morning repeated back to her. 

“…you can count your blessings because you still have your whole life ahead of you.” 

April 05, 2024 04:20

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S. E. Foley
23:38 Apr 10, 2024

Nice parallels, ominous photobomb. I enjoyed it. The flow was good.


03:00 Apr 11, 2024

Thank you so much!


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01:11 Apr 10, 2024

You managed to balance the seemingly mundane with the profoundly significant... great job! I enjoyed this.


02:59 Apr 11, 2024

Thank you, Angela. So glad to hear you enjoyed it!


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Mary Bendickson
02:34 Apr 09, 2024

Loved how her yellow skirt mimicked the butterfly. Very fine writing. Thanks for the follow. I am honored.


Martha Kowalski
18:05 Apr 09, 2024

Mary voiced my comment exactly, that was a very nice parallel . Nice job!


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19:08 Apr 09, 2024

Thank you! I didn’t want the foreshadowing to be too blatant, so went with a symbolic approach. Glad to hear it worked well!


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Helen A Smith
14:46 Apr 07, 2024

Hi Brianna. You had me gripped here. As the story moved on, I was worried things were going to end badly and the female officer was not all she seemed. The MC’s life seemed as delicate as the butterfly’s. Her life seemed to hang in the balance as she photographed this beautiful creature. Or was the officer all she seemed? Suspenseful piece.


15:12 Apr 07, 2024

I’m so glad to hear the butterfly foreshadowing and mirroring of Paige’s life came through. I would have loved to explore the officer’s maybe not-so pure intentions more, but there’s only so much time/words in short stories, ha. Thank you so much for the positive feedback, Helen!


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Kristi Gott
02:16 Apr 07, 2024

Very suspenseful and I felt the growing tension. Well written and the unfolding mystery drew me through it as the ominous situation grew. Clever concept and it fits the prompt so well. Well done!


14:43 Apr 07, 2024

Thank you, Kristi! This was my first time playing with a more suspenseful genre, so I’m glad to hear you enjoyed it!


Kristi Gott
16:16 Apr 07, 2024

You definitely have skill and talent in this suspense genre! Amazed this was your first attempt.


19:09 Apr 07, 2024

Thank you so much! This is definitely a great platform to learn from others’ writing and explore new styles yourself ;)


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Paul Hellyer
04:36 Apr 11, 2024

I think your writing style is great. This story didn't appeal to me, but seeing how you write I'll be following to see what else you do.


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Unknown User
03:07 Apr 13, 2024

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