A love that's cursed

A text message would spell bloodshed for someone...

Published by: Brad Hunter & Polly Taylor
Published on: 15th November 2010

The sound of roaring laughter is far more contagious than any cough, sniffle, or sneeze. Take me and my best friend Sherry Harlan. Whenever she threw her head back and let out her infectious laugh, I couldn’t help but chuckle, too.
When our mutual friend Teresa had introduced us over breakfast when we were both 19, I’d never have thought such a sound could come out of someone so tiny!
Yet, within minutes, Sherry had been cracking jokes, clutching her belly, and cackling like some kind of deranged witch. ‘You sound like a donkey braying!’ I’d snorted.
‘So?’ she’d shrugged, grinning. From that moment on, we’d been best friends, completely inseparable.
Sherry was so much fun to be around. One minute we’d be sat at her kitchen table having a cuppa, the next, she’d bundle me into her car, telling me we were off on a road trip. That was Sherry – unpredictable, spontaneous, and a little bit chaotic.
By the time we’d both hit 30, I’d settled with my partner John, 31, but Sherry had two failed marriages behind her, and showed no signs of slowing down!
‘No harm in playing the field while looking for Mr Right!’ she always said, letting out that tremendous chuckle of hers.
But I had to admit, I wasn’t such a great fan of her latest fad – online dating. 
I’d heard such horror stories of fat baldies posing as buff hunks. Not to mention all the nutters that lurked in internet chat rooms.
‘Just be careful,’ I warned, when she told me she’d joined the website, a social networking site. ‘People aren’t always as they seem.’
‘All right, mum!’ Sherry laughed, rolling her eyes.
Okay, maybe I was being a bit of an old fuddy duddy.
It was the 21st century after all, everything seemed to be done online these days.
Within a few weeks, Sherry had started dating a man she’d met on the site. ‘His name’s Eric Christensen,’ she smiled. ‘He’s so funny, really makes me giggle…’
‘Great,’ I smiled.
Anyone that made Sherry laugh was all right in my book. ‘So when can I meet him?’ I asked.
‘Soon,’ she promised, winking. 
True to her word, a few days later Sherry brought Eric to our house for dinner.
But as we sat down to eat the spaghetti bolognaise I’d cooked, I had to wonder where this laugh-a-minute bloke she’d described was.
Eric hardly touched his food, and didn’t smile once.
‘So what do you do?’ John asked politely, trying to make conversation with him.
‘This and that,’ Eric shrugged, avoiding John’s gaze.
‘He’s a jack of all trades,’
Sherry smiled fondly, elbowing him in the ribs playfully. ‘Isn’t
that right, love?’
But instead of answering, Eric balled his fist, turned, and punched Sherry on the shoulder.
Hard, nothing playful about it at all.
‘What are you doing?’ I gasped.
‘Oh, he’s just messing about,’ Sherry said, with a casual wave
of her hand.
But as the skin on her arm turned red from the force of the blow, me and John exchanged worried looks.
‘The guy’s an idiot,’ John muttered angrily, as we crawled into bed that night. ‘What’s she doing with him?’
‘I have no idea,’ I sighed. It wasn’t the first time I’d disapproved of one of Sherry’s boyfriends.
She had a habit of picking the wrong guys. At least her relationships never lasted too long.
With any luck, she’d soon be over Eric and on to the next!
But months passed, and she became more and more besotted.
‘Check this out,’ she giggled one day over coffee, lifting the sleeve of her t-shirt to reveal a star-shaped tattoo.
‘What’s that?’ I asked, raising an eyebrow.
‘A pentagram,’ she replied. ‘You see Eric’s a Wiccan. And now I am, too.’
‘Wiccan? Isn’t that witchcraft?’ I said, slowly.
‘It’s not like that,’ Sherry shook her head. ‘It’s a religion.’
Well, it wasn’t the religion I disapproved of. It was more that Sherry was so under Eric’s spell that she was doing things she never would’ve done before.
She wasn’t the fun-loving, caring friend I’d once known, either.
Her loud, braying laugh never rang out any more, she was quiet and distant.
Whenever I tried to talk to her, she fobbed me off, told me she was fine.
Later that year, tired of city life, John and me decided to move to Florida. But there was one thing, or rather person, I was reluctant to leave behind.
‘Sherry, I’m worried about you,’ I said, after I told her the news. ‘You’re not yourself.’
‘I’m having money troubles,’ she shrugged. ‘I’ve been sleeping in my car, just until I get back on my feet.’
Sleeping in her car! Why on earth hadn’t she said anything? And why wasn’t Eric helping her out? Wasn’t that what boyfriends were for?
‘I move in a month,’ I told her. ‘You can stay with me until I go.’ 
‘What about Eric?’ she asked, quietly.
‘He’s struggling to pay his rent, too…’
‘Umm, I-I don’t know…’ I stammered.
‘He won’t be any trouble.’
What could I say? Sherry was my best friend, and she really needed my help.
‘Fine,’ I sighed. ‘But just for a few weeks.’
But the moment Eric dumped his dusty boxes in my spare room, I regretted my decision.
He stomped about the place like a spoiled kid, slumped on my sofa drinking lager while I went out to work all day.
When John tried to speak to him, he just glared straight ahead.
‘I want him out,’ John hissed one night.
‘Me, too,’ I sighed. ‘But we’re doing this for Sherry.’
Besides, I had to admit, part of me wanted to help Eric.
I’d done a psychology degree, and I knew a man with issues
when I saw one.
If he gave me a chance, I was sure I could help him.
‘Fat chance of that!’ John snorted, when I told him.
The following night, I came home to find my fella red-faced and fuming.
‘What’s wrong?’ I asked.
‘That maniac Eric shot at our dogs!’ he yelled.
‘What the…?! Are they okay?’ I gasped. Our two fluffy American Eskimo pups were the cutest things, wouldn’t hurt a fly.
‘Yeah, no thanks to him,’ John spat. ‘One of them messed on the carpet, so he pulled out his airgun and shot at the wall beside them!’
How could anyone be so cruel?
That was it, the final straw.
‘I’m so sorry, I have no idea why he did that,’ Sherry said later that night. ‘I’ll talk to him.’
But I’d had enough. I asked Eric to move out, and my pal soon followed – unfortunately.
By the time our moving date arrived, Sherry had managed to find an apartment. It made leaving her that bit easier.
‘Will you be all right?’ I asked, hugging her goodbye.
‘Course I will,’ she chuckled. ‘I’ll call you.’
Life was so hectic as me and John settled into our new home.
Every second was taken up with unpacking. Then, just weeks later, it was Christmas.
Honestly, I was done in from all the running around.
At least I got to finally put my feet up in January.
Suddenly, I realised I hadn’t heard from Sherry in weeks.
I had emailed her, wishing her a happy new year – but she hadn’t got back to me. 
Typical Sherry, always living life at 100 miles an hour.
She’d get in touch when she had a spare second – I was sure of it.
But when my phone rang the following week, it wasn’t Sherry calling for a catch-up.
It was Teresa.
‘Sherry’s gone missing,’ she said, her voice shaking.
Apparently Sherry hadn’t turned up at the clothes store where she worked for several days in a row, and a worried colleague had reported her missing.
My head was spinning. That wasn’t like Sherry at all. Okay, so she was spontaneous, lived life on a limb… but she never, ever missed work.
‘Maybe she’s sick?’ I said. ‘Try not to worry.’
No, I’d do the worrying for both of us.
That night in bed, I lay awake praying my friend was all right. Tried to convinced myself that she’d call soon, telling me all about her latest adventure.
But the next day, Teresa was on the phone again with more bad news.
‘The police went to her apartment,’ she sobbed. ‘She wasn’t there… but they found traces of her blood…’
Shock stole my voice. Seconds ticked by – and in that moment, a horrible feeling crept over me.
I felt sure I knew who’d hurt my friend.
‘Eric’s done this,’ I whispered.
‘The police are already looking for him,’ Teresa told me.
For the next two days, I sat by the phone, waiting for news.
Then it came, and it was worse than I’d ever expected…
‘Sh-Sherry’s burned-out car has been found,’ stammered Teresa. Her voice caught as she tried to get the words out. ‘H-her head… her head was all they found.’
I couldn’t be hearing this. But Teresa stumbled on, determined to tell me everything.
‘It was stuffed inside a sports bag, a knife embedded in the skull,’ she said. Then her voice disintegrated into sobs.
I felt sick to my stomach, and went into shock as I struggled to make sense of what I’d been told. 
Not only was my best friend dead, but she’d been murdered, her body mutilated.
Every day brought a fresh horror as police found bits of Sherry scattered far and wide.
Her arm in a shallow grave… her leg chucked in a bush… a foot in a stream… I felt like I was living in a nightmare.
Days later, Eric was caught and charged with her murder.
He told police that both he and Sherry were followers of the Wiccan religion, and that she had taken a ‘blood oath’, promising never to be with another man.  When he’d found a text message from another man on her phone, he’d lost control.
Later, friends told me Sherry had been desperate to leave Eric, but hadn’t through fear of what he might do to her.
My heart ached. Why hadn’t she called? She could’ve come to Florida, stayed with us, started afresh.
But it was typical Sherry. Independent, she never wanted to bother other people with any of her problems.
At the murder trial last May, after we’d come back from Florida, further gruesome details of my friend’s murder were revealed.
Eric had stabbed Sherry at least four times in a jealous rage, then cut off her head and dismembered her body.
He’d removed her genitals and left breast, then tried to cut out her heart. 
I just couldn’t take it in. I’d known Eric was bad news, but the idea that he, anyone, could do this… it didn’t seem possible.
He was convicted of first-degree murder, and sentenced to more than 37 years in prison.
It wasn’t enough, though.
That man deserved to suffer, deserved to go through the hell Sherry had.
As Eric was led to the cells, he laughed so loudly, it echoed around the quiet courtroom.
Now, I’ll never hear Sherry’s laughter again, but Eric’s murderous cackle will haunt me forever.
Kristin Price, 33, Everett, Washington, USA