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Dead Man’s Rights

September 11, 2016 at 12:00 AM
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Mr. Cadson had been sitting up at the bar for some time. The lights and the music were both very low, casting a sort of malaise over the entire half-empty room. A group of men in the corner were watching a baseball game on the television on the wall. A few small groups of people murmured among themselves at the tables. Cadson had been staring into several glasses of bourbon for the past two hours, the room around him slowly fading into a dull blur of colors and sounds. The girl tending bar just replaced his glass when it ran dry and the cycle continued. It was around midnight when the stranger approached him.

Cadson turned to see a middle aged man sitting in the stool to the left of him. The man seemed to be the only thing in the room not covered in the haze of inebriation. He didn’t wave to the bartender, nor did the bartender seem to see him. He merely turned and looked directly into Cadson’s eyes. The stranger was nondescript for the most part, except for the eyes. They were bright gold, shining in the dim light. Cadson had never seen anything quite like them. When the man talked, his voice was low and smooth, like a storm in the distance.

“Hello, Mr. Cadson,” said the man. “I’m Death.” Cadson believed him. No amount of liquor led him to that belief. It was more of an instinct, that a man should know Death when it stood before him.

“Pleasure to meet you,” said Cadson, deciding that being polite was the correct option. “Can I buy you a round?” Death laughed. It was a fake laugh, although a very good one. It sounded like someone that has already heard every joke in the world a thousand times, but is still trying to be polite.

“I don’t drink, I’m afraid,” said Death. “I’m just here to tell you that you’ll be throwing in the towel somewhat earlier that you would expect.”

“And why do I get the head’s up?” asked Cadson. He grabbed several nuts out of a bowl in front of him. They had been the only things he’d eaten in half a day. Death leaned up onto the bar, folding his hands under his chin. Death sighed deeply, as if he didn’t want to hear that question.

“Because, Mr. Cadson,” said Death. “I’ve begun doing contract work.”

“Successful guy like you?” asked Cadson. “Didn’t think you’d need the extra cash.” He looked over at Death, only to find the seat empty. He considered for the first time that he was merely hallucinating. Someone to his right coughed lightly. Cadson turned to find an old woman looking at him with the same pair of gold eyes.

“I merely take a small something from the people that require my services,” said the more elderly Death. “Although I can’t say it’s all for that. What do I need with a memory or a sliver of a man’s soul? After sticking to the script for millions of years, it’s mainly about the thrill. And I enjoy the conversation.” Death smiled, showing a mouthful of yellowed dentures.

“You still didn’t really answer the question,” said Cadson. Death stopped smiling quite so broadly.

“Very perceptive for someone on their sixth drink,” said Death. “Which makes this all the more fun.” Death disappeared from the seat. Cadson swung around to find an athletic looking young man to his left. The gold eyes seemed to pierce him even deeper. “A question is an amazing thing, Mr. Cadson. The first thing a mortal does upon being born is wonder. Upon waking up, entering a room, meeting someone, or even looking up into the sky, the first thing you do is wonder. Immortals don’t wonder. They know.” The longing in Death’s voice was half heartbreaking and half terrifying.

“If you’re going off the script, they don’t know, do they?” asked Cadson. His head was beginning to clear, as adrenaline and fear began to sweep away the haze. Death chuckled.

“No, they don’t,” said Death. “And that terrifies them.”

“Who’s ‘them’?”

“That’s something I can’t answer,” said Death. “There are rules, you see. I can do this as long as everyone follows the rules. The rules you have to worry about say that dead men have certain rights. Most come by them naturally, but when I take a more active role, I’m required to tell you those rights. Hence, my presence here.” Death gestured back at the darkened, half-empty bar.

“What rights do I have?” Death vanished again and reappeared as a young boy on the other side of Cadson. The eon-old eyes were much more disturbing on a ten year old face.

“The first is the right of knowledge,” said Death in a high pitched voice. “All men are entitled to know the manner of their death prior to its occurrence.”

“You’re saying everyone knows how they’re going to die?”

“If anyone pays close enough attention to their life,” said Death. “They’ll know. Slow and painful or short and violent, they can all see it coming if they try. I’ve never seen anyone really try though. You though, Mr. Cadson, are going to die choking on one of those peanuts you’ve been eating.” Cadson stopped his hand as he was about to put another nut into his mouth. He placed it back into the bowl and pushed it away. “That won’t change anything, but if it makes you feel better, I suppose.”

“And why do you have to tell me?”

“Rules,” said Death. “If someone isn’t given full rights, shit happens.” Cadson almost laughed hearing the kid version of Death say that, but stifled it. “Which brings us to your second right. The right of choice. There are many, many things that can happen after you die. And people always choose for themselves what happens to them. They don’t even know they’re doing it, but they do it.”

“And I get to choose?” asked Cadson. “Do I get to know what the choices are?”

“Believe me, Mr. Cadson.” The child disappeared. Cadson turned to see a beautiful woman to his left. In fact, she was the most beautiful woman he’d ever seen. He hoped Death would stay that way for a while. “My job would be so much simpler if I could tell people the options. But don’t worry. You’ll choose before you die. Which brings me to your last right, and the main reason I’m here: the right of experience.”

“I’ve got plenty of experience,” said Cadson, taking another swig of bourbon. “Believe me.”

“But not enough,” said Death. The woman’s voice was light and sensual, with a hint of an unknown accent. Cadson tried to keep from looking at Death while it spoke. He worried that he might get distracted. “A mortal’s experiences are why it knows its death and why it makes its choices. Without those experiences, the system falls apart. So I’m here to impart knowledge to make up for what you’re going to lose.”

“We having a Q and A session now?” asked Cadson.

“More or less,” said Death. “Starting now, you will have four questions. I will have to tell you the complete truth about anything you ask, but there are certain things I can’t talk about. If you ask about those, you forfeit one question.”

“And what are those?” asked Cadson. It took him less than a second to realize what he had done. He looked up into Death’s eyes and saw a slight triumph there.

“One question down,” said Death. “Don’t feel bad. They all do that. I had one man that used all four in about ten seconds, so you’re still ahead of the game. In any case, you can’t ask about what happens after you die, anything that will happen in the future, or how to live forever. That’s it.” Cadson realized something that he hadn’t up until this point. This was a game to Death. A game that it very thoroughly enjoyed. That was its payout. “So I assume you’ll be thinking more carefully about the next three.” Death gave him a coy look that would have made any man fall in love. He realized exactly why it had waited until that point to take that form. But any alcohol in his system had been dissolved by pure fear at that point. These were perhaps his final chances to do anything with his pathetic life.

“Who sent you to kill me?” asked Cadson, slowly and deliberately. Death smiled.

“Mr. Holland, your business partner,” said Death. Cadson began to ask ‘why’, but slapped a hand over his mouth before the sound came out. Death laughed.

“You know what?” it asked. “You caught that so well, I’m going to tell you why just for the hell of it. He found those certain files you didn’t want him to. The ones about the offshore accounts and the shady practices. He was most interested in the files you were planning to frame and blackmail him with.” Cadson stared down into his glass, but said nothing. “People don’t actually hire me consciously. It’s more a matter of mindset. How much they want someone dead and how much they’re willing to sacrifice. Mr. Holland, for instance, can no longer remember 1991, the happiest year of his life. That’s the year he got his master’s degree, met his wife, and had the best steak he’d ever eaten. To you it may not seem like much, but trust me, if he knew, he would not have agreed. So what next?”

Several thoughts went through Cadson’s head at that moment. He wondered where his life went wrong. He wondered if there was any chance at all he was getting into any sort of heaven. He wondered if he really had known it was going to end this way.

“I know this is important, Mr. Cadson, but I have places to be.” There was a hint of impatience in Death’s voice that made a single thought arise in Cadson’s head. It was almost like Death was worried. Cadson thought about it a bit more, making sure his question was perfect, and praying that he was right. Death stared in rapt attention as he opened his lips.

“You have places to be. I have rights.”

“Is…that a question?” asked Death, a look of confusion appearing on its face. Hope surged into Cadson.

“Not at all,” he said. “If I don’t ask you the last question and my rights are not fulfilled, that means you can’t kill me early because shit happens. Right?”

Death cocked its head to the side, a calculating expression on its face. Its golden eyes stared right through Cadson as it sat there in thought. Finally, a wide grin spread over Death’s face. It let out the lightest, most wonderful laugh that Cadson had ever heard.

“That is correct, Mr. Cadson,” said Death, leaning in close. “But have you weighed the possibilities? You may be scheduled to die tomorrow. Isn’t there some answer you would be willing to give up one day for? Can you live knowing that you traded away the chance?” Death paused a moment. “And won’t Mr. Holland be very much trouble for you shortly?”

“I’ll deal with it,” said Cadson. He turned away from Death and went back to sipping his bourbon. “Good night, Miss.” Death sighed and got up from the bar stool. It laid one hand on Cadson’s shoulder and lowered its lips to his ear, despite Cadson’s suspicion that no one else could hear it.

“Not many have made it this far into the game, Mr. Cadson. Congratulations. But I want you to know that I always get my man. I’ve gotten every one of them in human history in fact. I’ll see you soon.”

Death smiled once more and walked towards the door. As Cadson watched from the corner of his eye, the figure disappeared halfway across the room. He made a silent toast and drained the remainder of his glass. As he slammed it back onto the bar top, the bartender walked over to him.

“Can I get another bourbon?” asked Cadson. The bartender looked at his watch.

“I think you’ve got time for one more,” said the bartender. While the bartender poured the drink, Cadson looked back at the room and wondered if the people knew what had just happened, if it had, in fact, happened. The bartender put the drink down in front of him.

“On the house, in fact,” he said with a smile before walking away.

“Thank you,” muttered Cadson, his mind elsewhere. As he took the first sip of his drink, he absentmindedly reached for the bowl of nuts.

Credit: Alex Taylor

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Graveyard Lottery

September 2, 2016 at 12:00 AM
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I saw that the Waller family dug up another grave today. Yet again, they’ve sunk thousands of dollars into the hope that they’ll find their son, Alex. Hope has proven to be a costly endeavor for them. As I’ve been told, they’ve spent well over a hundred thousand dollars on digging services alone. The story is nothing new. It keeps repeating itself like a broken record.

It’s such an odd sight to say the least. Every once in a blue moon, Nickolas and Judy Waller return to our town with a team of highly paid professionals. A backhoe is unloaded from the back of a truck. It creeps across the hallowed ground to the area where a concrete statue of Saint Lawrence stands before 36 graves like a lonely sentinel. Through the wind and rain, his facial expression never changes. With a crucifix in the crook of one arm and the other raised to the heavens, he stares solemnly upwards as if to offer the souls below him to the Lord. Saint Lawrence shouldn’t be there. Those 36 graves shouldn’t be there. That theatre fire should have never happened.

The beastly machine revs up its motor and fills the air with cloud of diesel exhaust that’s as dark as coal. Scoop by scoop, the machine slowly claws away at the earth like a tired animal desperately trying to escape the trap. First the sod is ripped from the ground and tossed to the side. Soon after, a few bucketful’s of top soil is piled up alongside the grave before another pile is made for the caramel-brown clay.

While the digging happens, Nick and Judy stand close to each other while quietly praying and singing Hallelujah in hopes that this hole will be the last they will ever have to excavate. Suddenly, the machine pulls up a unique mixture of earth; one that is composed of clay and soil that is black as pitch, and rich with decay. The hired men now know that their work with the machine is done for the time being as they send it crawling away from the grave.

From there, the men put on pairs of rubber overalls and gloves; and respirators on their faces. They then descend into the hole with their shovels. Like a volcanic eruption, scoops of soil spew from the hole until the dull, yet loud sound of metal sticking wood is heard. At a slower pace, dirt continues to fling from the open grave. In time, one of the men climbs out of the hole and retrieves a bundle of rope from the truck. He tosses the rope down and within minutes, the backhoe roars back to life. The rope is then attached to the machine’s arm. With the utmost care and skill by the operator, the old rotting casket is hoisted out of the ground.

The old wooden box is placed off to the side of the hole and is quickly covered by a sheet of tarpaulin to conceal it from curious eyes. Once more, the men descend back down into the hole and continue to carefully dig for several hours. Just like all the other times, the men run out of black soil and find only clay the deeper they go; indicating that what they are looking for isn’t there. Judy in a desperate plea yells to them, “Please keep digging! I know my baby is in there! You just have to go a little deeper!” Just to satisfy her, the men keep on with their work until the sun begins to descend. But as the sun fades away, so too does the spark of hope in both Judy and Nickolas.

When the hole has been dug far below a reasonable depth, it is deemed as a failed venture. The men climb out of the grave and replace the casket and soil in the same order they removed it. The backhoe is loaded onto the truck, the men hand the Wallers a business card, say their condolences, and then drive away. Yet, Nickolas and Judy remain at the graveyard until it is too dark for comfort. They do not gaze upon the grave they have dug that day, rather, they stare with a strange mixture of sorrow and hope at the grave that lies next to it, just waiting to be exhumed. They walk away from the matter for now, while Saint Lawrence remains just as still as before.

The grave that was dug up today was that of Jack Davidson. As I’ve been told, his mother and father finally gave in when the Wallers offered them 400,000 dollars. Now that I think about it, they were actually going to settle for 350,000, but that changed. Just before Paul Davidson was about to sign the papers, Judy made the comment that there was a silver-lining to the loss of his son. When Paul asked her to explain, she said that Paul and the others were lucky that she and her husband had to pay to search the graves of their loved ones. She went on to say that it was better than winning the lottery.

The price immediately jumped to 400,000 dollars.

I’m actually surprised that the Davidsons gave in. They always said that they weren’t going to play the Waller’s little game. They said that the way the Wallers had it set up was so callus and disgraceful, that it bordered on insults. You see, the Davidsons may have been offered 400,000 dollars, but that doesn’t mean they would actually receive 400,000 dollars. The Wallers have their contracts set up in a way where they would only have to pay if their son is found in the questioned grave. Now that I think about, Judy’s comparison to a lottery is actually quite fitting. The only gambit that the unwilling players had to wager was a son, brother, father, mother, or daughter.

I’ve paid close attention to this game over the last two decades. The first family that played the game were the Jacksons. Ever since Harold Jackson died, the family struggled to make ends meet. They sold out for 2,000 dollars, if I remember correctly. I don’t think they would have done it if they weren’t so desperate for money at the time. Of course, Alex wasn’t found in Harold’s grave, and the Jacksons never received any sort of prize. As the laws of probability dictated, the original odds were 1 in 36, but after Harold was exhumed, they became 1 in 35. Henceforth, the cash prize went up slightly when the people around here realized that the graves of their respective loved ones could be the lucky one. As the years went by and the odds increased, so too did the price.

Around these parts, the excavation and the desecration of the grave is viewed as one and the same despite the good intentions behind it; but that’s not to say the people around here won’t go against their morals when a big wad of cash is waved under their noses. I think it’s a dirty rotten shame that the Davidsons sold out. Their son Jack was far more deserving of a peaceful slumber than having his corpse pulled out of the ground. He was a fine young man. As a matter of fact, there was once a time when I looked forward to calling him my son-in-law. But that fire burned away the pages of the story that had yet to be written.

I can still recall that fire now as I saw it over twenty years ago. It was an average night and I was just about to fall asleep when I heard the sirens wailing past my house. Out of panic and curiosity, I went to the kitchen window and saw that the theater down the street was engulfed in flames. I quickly put on my shoes and sprinted towards the blaze. All I could do was watch helplessly as the flames climbed higher into the night.
The firemen wasted no time in connecting their hoses to the hydrants. Despite their loud shouts, I could hear the sound of screaming coming from inside of the theatre. As the water began to spray onto the fire, a team of the firemen sprinted into the building with their axes in hand.

After a few minutes, they pulled the first person out of the building. His name was Derek Svenold. He was caked in soot; and burns covered a large portion of his body. He looked lifeless as they laid him down on the grass across the street. All I could do was watch with shock. Until then, I’d never seen a dead body, but the horror of it all only became worse as the firemen laid more people next to him. The others had not faired to so well. Unlike Derek, their bodies where charred black and were unidentifiable in the darkness.

The smell was the worse. Never before had I smelled burnt flesh. The smell in and of itself wasn’t what bothered me. It was the idea that my nose was inhaling the essence of a dead body. I held my nightshirt over my nose to block it out while the people around me fled away from the scene feeling too sick to take much more.

Before the ambulance arrived, they had 25 bodies laid out on the grass. It was then I saw something that I can only describe as a miracle. Derek, the man that I assumed was dead, suddenly sat up in a fit of violent coughing. His eyes first locked onto the fire across the street. I saw the way they became wider and wider as the refection of the flames glinted off of them. He put his hands on his face, then his chest, and finally his legs. Without words, I knew he was in disbelief as to how he got away from the fire, and how he could be alive. He then turned his head and looked down at one of the charred corpses next to him.

He touched the flaky skin, pressed his fingers into it, and said, “Hey, ‘you alright?” When his question went unanswered, he began to gently shake the body. “Hey, wake up.” He said. I could see the realization starting to sink in just as the ambulance arrived. The paramedics quickly noticed him and helped him to his feet. Derek fought against them. He screamed while pointing his finger at the corpses, “What about them? What about my friends? What about my sister?”

As they put Derek in the back of the vehicle, the firemen carried even more bodies out, all 36 of them.

The sights and sounds of that night severely damaged Derek. Not only were parts of his skin disfigured, so too was his soul. He was prescribed pain killers for his recovery and quickly became addicted to them. I supposed the chemicals helped to fill a void that was burned away, if only temporary.

I wanted to help Derek anyway I could in the months that followed. I’m not a specialist in mental health, but I know that lending an ear can make a world of difference. With a great deal of compassion and respect, I asked him what it was like. I asked him how he felt about it all. Oddly enough, he told me a story that seemingly had nothing to do with fire at all, but after telling me I realized it had everything to do with it.

When he was only a child, one of his chores was to empty the mouse trap in his father’s garage. It was one of those live-traps; the kind that is made from galvanized steel and has little air holes punched into it. The idea behind these traps is to catch multiple mice without having to constantly reset it. Eventually, the mice could be taken out into the wild and humanely let go. At least, that’s what the advertisers sell it as. Instead, most people like Derek’s father have a rope tied to the trap so that it can easily be recovered from a body of water.

That was Derek’s duty. Once a week he would take the trap down to the river and toss it into the water. He said that he remembered the way the mice would squeal and thrash around as the trap sank into the river. Their little claws would scratch against the metal as every single one of them fought to keep their mouths in the disappearing air pocket. He said it would take about ten minutes before the air bubbles would stop coming up. When the job was done, he’d pull the trap out of the water, dump the dead mice, and put it back in the garage.

At the end of this little story, Derek said, “That’s what it was like to be stuck in that fire. Everyone in there was trying to claw their way out. People were being stepped over. Bodies were washed in flames. All I could do was watch as the people around dropped, one, by, one.”

Trying to be helpful, I told him, “There’s a reason why you survived Derek.”

He then gave me a look that bordered on annoyance and anger, “That’s what everyone tells me. I don’t know why in the hell I should have lived while the others died. I’ve talked to therapists, preachers, old folks, and people like you. You all tell me that I have a purpose in life. You all tell me that there’s a reason I lived, but none of you can tell me why.

“I’m surrounded by blind people. They tell me that I need to find the light switch, but the damned light switch isn’t even there. Maybe I’ve been given the gift of life. If I had it my way, I’d give it to someone else. I sure as hell don’t know what to do with it.”

It was only a couple of months after our conversation that Derek overdosed on pain meds. Unlike the others that died in the fire, Derek’s passing went quietly. The last victim of a disaster is rarely mentioned after all?

I don’t think that he would have wanted any recognition either. I remember how much it tore him up to see the aftermath of the fire being played over and over again on the news. Indeed our little town had its fifteen minutes of fame. Albeit the notoriety was neither asked for nor desired. Especially when our fifteen minutes turned to an hour, a day, a week, a month, and finally, a year.

It wasn’t the fire that gripped the attention of the newsmen. Oh no. They focused on the one person that didn’t die in the fire; and that person certainly wasn’t Derek. I suppose it’s noteworthy when the son of a wealthy family goes missing without a trace. That son was Alex; son of Nickolas and Judy Waller. And a son of a bitch if you listen closely to the hushed whispers around town.

There really isn’t much to say about Alex. He was a college kid that took up residence in our town for two summers. It seemed like his favorite past-time was to indulge in the fiery burn of whiskey, as his favorite haunt was the local bar. As sure as a dew covered flower finds the morning sun, nighttime would find Alex wasting away in a corner booth.

You could almost set your watch by his routine. At around 8 o’clock every night, he’d leave his apartment above Nix’s Garage. He’d venture past the Old Catholic church, the graveyard, two blocks of homes, the theater, and would finally end up at the bar. When last call came at two in the morning, he’d make the same journey back, only in reverse; while stumbling and staggering the entire way.

This fact was well known and was quietly talked of as gossip amongst ourselves when he was out of earshot. Normally, this type of behavior is overlooked by us townsfolk. After all, we already have our fair share of bottle dwelling persons. Like the Bremar brothers; the proud veterans that proudly show their battle scars from the war, even if the wounds are in places where no one wants to look. Even our mayor keeps himself in good spirits. An outsider might see this as a problem, but we actually get a sense of safely from it. I mean, the man can hardly find the wallet in his own pocket, let alone someone else’s.

The complaints made about Alex’s drinking habits were not the main issue. It was just another thing to talk about with the spicy indulgence of gossip. There were other things about Alex we did not take kindly to. For the sake of politeness, I will not say where Alex hailed from, but I will say that his upbringing did not correlate with our own.

As I remember Alex, all I can recall is a snide young man that refused to adapt to the long standing traditions of our little social order. These arbitrary social laws have never been formally written, bear no legal standing, but are heavily instilled by the wrath of a father’s belt. I’m led to believe that the Waller’s idea of normalcy finds ours backwards and barbaric.

These are the three basic laws of our little culture:

Never touch another man’s money.
Never touch another man’s tools.
And never touch another man’s woman; whether it be his wife or his daughter.

Alex was the worst offender of the third. As the way it is seen around here, the best way to deal with a feral dog like Alex is to drag it into the back alley and thrash it around until it scurries away with its tail between its legs. The method behind the madness usually works. I say usually because it certainly had no effect on Alex. As I recall, there was more than a few times that Alex made a lewd pass towards one of the local girls, only to have it met with the fury of the lady’s brother, father, or the like.

For those two summers he was with us, this behavior did not change, but it went away immediately after he vanished without a trace. I don’t think the general public really noticed his absence at first. That theater fire clouded every mind like a morning mist looming over the harbor before the storm.

I don’t think anyone can be blamed for not noticing. It’s especially sobering to see 36 graves being dug in advance for the ones you knew. 36 may seem like a small number in and of itself, but when it comes to the matter of death, it’s a lot.

I remember watching all 36 of those graves being dug. The first two or three didn’t seem like a big deal; they were just holes. But to see so many blurred the lines of reality. There was so much dirt scattered around that each individual hole seemed to blend in with the other. In a way, it reminded me of a mass grave that was dug in the heat of war. The only things missing were the multitude of tangled, bloated corpses, and a dusting of lye.

Through all the blinding chaos the fire brought, there were still two people that noticed Alex’s disappearance even though they were a long plane ride away. Those people were his parents, Nicholas and Judy. As mothers and fathers usually do, they called and sent Alex letters on a weekly basis. When Alex failed to return either of these things for two weeks, they became suspicious. Then after a month, they dreaded the reasons why.

The Wallers sent our sheriff to check on Alex at his apartment. After several knocks on the door at several different times during the day without a reply, the sheriff had the landlord open the door. What they found of course was nothing out of the ordinary. There were no signs of Alex or any sinister hints to his whereabouts. It simply looked like Alex stepped away from his home for a while and could return at any moment, but he never came back.

Of course this was all newsworthy material and it didn’t take long for a flood of volunteers to come search for him. For weeks they walked in a line through the fields and woods with no results. These searches soon stopped when Janette Thomas revealed what she allegedly saw one night.

What Janette had to say about the matter completely trumped all the theories to Alex’s whereabouts. The story itself is shaky at best, but it’s the one the Wallers believe beyond a shadow of a doubt to be true. She supposedly saw Alex being murdered with her own eyes.

According to her, it happened two days after the theater fire. She like many others took to the bar after the horrible disaster. Many sorrows were drowned that night, including her own. You see, she lost a nephew in the fire, and the presence of alcohol and good company helped heal the wound.

She remembered going outside to have a cigarette when she saw Alex strolling along on the sidewalk. He was clearly intoxicated like usual. The sight would have been brushed off had it not been for a particularly haunting detail. She saw a figure behind Alex as he walked. Alex was completely unaware of it too. While Alex sang a happy song off-key, the person skulked ever so carefully behind him, occasionally ducking into alleyways when the opportunity presented itself.

The person followed Alex for several minutes until they passed by the graveyard. The mysterious figure than veered into the darkness of the yard where the 36 graves were dug in preparation for the next day’s massive burial.

Just when it was thought that the person had long since left Alex alone, the figure suddenly burst from the shadows of the graveyard. He or she was brandishing a shovel. There was not a word spoken between the two, save for the brief scream made by Alex before being struck across the head with the shovel. The blow knocked the young man over and he was motionless, but it didn’t end there. The assailant continued to mercilessly beat Alex with the shovel over and over again.

When at last, the killer seemed exhausted, Janette quite clearly saw Alex being drug into the darkness of the graveyard. Beyond that, no one is sure what happened. This all led to a very thrilling theory made by Janette. She assumed that Alex was buried in one of the already open graves. It made perfect sense too. All the killer would have to do was dig one of the holes a little deeper, throw the body in, and cover it up with just a little bit of dirt. Then the next day, a casket would have been laid over the body, buried, and no one would ever be the wiser.

It was a good theory. It was a perfect theory. Unfortunately, Janette’s credibility was quickly called into question. You see, Janette is one of our more colorful residents. The poor woman just hasn’t been the same ever since her husband got hit by that train back in ‘73.

Ever since then, she’s been spinning these wild yarns about the most ridiculous things. She’s gone on record that she’s been abducted and probed by aliens. She claims to have a time machine in her basement; but refuses to show anyone because she’s afraid the Military Industrial Complex of the Antarctic Elephant Corps will have her eliminated. And to top it all off, she didn’t bother to tell anyone about what she saw that night until three months after it happened.

The lawmen may not have given her account much credence, but the Wallers sure did. They believed every word Janette told them, even if the story varied slightly with every retelling. Henceforth, the Wallers became absolutely convinced that their son was buried beneath one of the caskets where Saint Lawrence stands guard. It did make perfect sense after all?

There was just one problem. Neither the Wallers, nor Janette knew which grave it was. Thus, as things go, the graveyard lottery was born. The Jackson family was the first to give in at $2,000. The casket was dug up and nothing was found. They then moved on to the plot of Jeff Thomas and his surviving family didn’t budge until they were offered $30,000. The price just kept going up from there on out. I would have never imagined that the Wallers would have ever offered a family like the Davidsons $400,000. There’s been whispers going around town as to how much the Wallers will offer to dig up that one last grave. The one that has been left untouched for the past 20 years.

Some say they will offer a million before a deal is made, and others argue that they will never make an offer considering that their finances have since gone to hell. But, that’s been said before and it’s been proven to be false. I think it’s just so strange how people are willing to donate so freely to such silly causes. Then again, Nicholas Waller is a salesman by trade and selling such a thing just comes natural.

I remember when he was interviewed on the news. He talked about how his son made the Dean’s list for three straight years. They showed a lot of pictures of Alex when was just a little boy; still wet behind the ears and shitting in diapers. You know, the usual bullshit? It makes me wonder if the Wallers would have stopped looking for their son if they knew what John Leroy knows. I’ll go out on a limb to say that they’d be ashamed of Alex if they knew his dirty little secret. John has only told this little tidbit of information to a select few people. And when I say a select few, I mean a very select few. As far as I know, maybe four people know about this, myself included.

On the night the theater burned down, John came home from work at nine like he usually does; and like usual, he gave himself a quick shower and went to bed. Sometime during the night he got out of bed to use the toilet. As he walked past his kitchen window, he saw Alex strolling along with a cigarette in his mouth, and a drunken sway in his step. When Alex passed by the theater, he tossed his cigarette butt into the dumpster next the theater. John didn’t think much of it at that point in time.

When he finished relieving himself, he walked back to the kitchen to get a glass of water. When he looked out of the window, he saw that not only was the dumpster on fire, but so too was the theater.

Yes, Alex Waller was responsible for the death of 36 people. The little shit would have gotten away with it too, but luckily someone had the good sense to smack the little bastard across the head with a shovel. If you ask me, justice was served.

Come to think of it, I’ve probably said a little too much. You can blame it all on the booze. I’ve been soaking in it ever since the fire. I tell you what, you don’t know shit until you’ve inhaled the charred flesh of the ones you loved. You don’t know how those screams still ring my ears. You don’t know a damn thing.

Am I a little upset?

No.

I’m absolutely furious.

Alex knew what he did! I could see it on his face! I could see it in his eyes! He looked like a pathetic little child fearing the belt! I know what that look is! I’ve seen it in my own child’s face for God’s sake! I saw it on her beautiful face! I saw it in her beautiful blue eyes!

And those damned Wallers had the nerve to tell us that there was a silver lining to our loss. They told us that we were lucky! We were lucky that they had to pay to dig up our own! They told us that it was better than winning the lottery! I don’t care how much money they offer, I’m not going to play their little game! And to hell with those degenerates that sold the caskets of their family! Is there no decency left in this world?

I’ve seen the way the town is looking at me! Every eye is looking at me! They whisper to themselves! They want to know what the final jackpot will be! The filthy rats! Those filthy traitors!

I’ll show them! I’ll show them all! I’ll show them like I showed Alex! I’ll show them what it’s like to have something forever taken from them! Oh God, it will be so satisfying to see the look on their faces when I turn them down! Why should their child have gotten to live when my own died?

Maybe then they’ll know what it’s like to be living in this nightmare! Maybe then they’ll know what it’s like to have a granite slab and a story that was never written!

It doesn’t matter if they have all the money in the world! I will not let them disturb my daughter’s rest!

The winner already lost it all!

Credit: G. Preeb

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What Haunts the Fields

August 18, 2016 at 12:00 AM
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“In the midst of the fields, they say are where the bodies were found. They were nailed to a stick of wood and used as scarecrows, but not before their bones and organs were removed and replaced with straw.”

“Is the story true?” Jonas asked.

“Of course not, my boy,” Hicks replied, laughing his way into the kitchen.

Hicks was a sixty year old man who had lived across from the fields his whole entire life. Jonas was a young seventeen year old male who was hitchhiking along the road that sits just outside Hicks’ home. Hicks felt bad for the boy, so he allowed him to stay in the spare bedroom of his home, in exchange for work around the farm. He’d only been there for four days and everything was well, but there was something about the fields that gave Jonas the creeps. It was the way the crops swayed inconsistently with the wind. It was the smell that would linger around the fields and make its way toward the house. But most of all, it was the stories that Hicks would tell him about the fields.

Every night before he’d go to sleep, Jonas would take a peak at the fields. He’d never see anything other than crows, but one night he saw something else. It fled across the fields and disappeared into the distance. He didn’t get a desirable sighting of the thing, and that’s what scared him the most. The only thing he saw was a dark shadow. He didn’t look away, even after the thing had already disappeared, he kept his eyes gazed out at the fields. He thought about what Hicks had told him.

Dying is not exactly what people are afraid of, it’s the fear of the unknown. Nobody knows what comes after death, so they fear dying in every way possible.

In this situation, Jonas was fearing the unknown. If he had gotten a more desirable glimpse of the thing, he’d know what it was. It’s the fact that something is out there and he had no idea what it was. That’s what scared him the most.

The next morning, Hicks and Jonas both were distressed to find some of the crops in the fields to be destroyed. Thinking about what he saw the night before, Jonas was convinced he knew what had destroyed the crops. He informed Hicks about what he saw. “It’s the damn crows,” Hicks said, ignoring what Jonas had told him. “It’s always the damn crows.”

The hours went by, slowly but surely. Jonas was just finishing up work in the barn and heading toward the house when he’d heard something shuffling through the fields. He was curious, but yet afraid of the unknown. He walked cautiously into the dark fields, the moon being his only source of light. He had a pitchfork in his hands and he held that pitchfork in a defensive position as he shuffled through the fields. He heard something; he knew it was out there. Even when he was standing completely still, he heard something moving through the fields; he heard it snickering, he heard it breathing. There was something out there, but he couldn’t see it and that’s what scared him the most. Fear of the unknown.

As Jonas stood in the center of the fields, he realized he was lost. He smelled something, something deadly. He shuffled through the fields a bit more and that’s when he found it. Not the thing, not what haunts the fields, but he found a man nailed to a piece of wood as the straw hung out of his gut. His skin was desiccated and the bottom portions of his legs were removed, just above his knees. He thought he heard him breathing, but no, the man’s been dead for over a month. He heard something else. He looked to his right and that’s when he saw it. Not waiting for a second, he took off running. He ran through the fields, not even worrying about the fact that he was lost. All he could think about was what he saw. Despite the fact that he’d seen it, he still did not know what it was. Fear of the unknown.

He kept running, shuffling through the fields as horrified as he could be, until he ran into Hicks who’d gone out to look for him. He followed him back to the house, explaining to Hicks everything that he saw. “He’s out there!” he yelled. “I’ve seen him!”

“You calm the hell down, boy!” Hicks yelled. Jonas had become silent, but still shaking from fear. “What haunts the fields is not a he and it’s not a who. It’s a what, it’s an it, it’s a thing.”

“It killed a man,” Jonas said. “It’s out there, we have to call the police.”

“There ain’t nothing no police can do,” Hicks said. “We’ll be safe, just as long as we stay from the fields at night.”

“What does it want?”

“It’s the damn crows,” Hicks replied. “It’s always the damn crows.”

Jonas went to bed that night, unable to sleep with the haunting images of what he saw earlier that night on his mind. He spent most of that night, glancing out the window, fearing that what haunts the fields is still out there. It wasn’t until he began dosing off that he saw it again. Its beaming red eyes could be seen from miles away, but it was much closer than that. It was standing near Hicks’ tractor, staring into the fearful eyes of Jonas before it fled into the fields and disappeared.

The next day, Jonas still could not get the images of that night off his mind. From the dead man to the beaming red eyes of the thing, he was being haunted by the images. When the night rolled along, Jonas made sure to get inside the house before sundown. He was all alone that night; Hicks had left hours before for a supply run. Just a few hours after sundown, a scream had echoed from the fields. It was a woman. Jonas thought about it and he thought about it hard. He decided that it wasn’t right for him to just stand there and listen as the woman screamed for her life. He grabbed a shotgun belonging to Hicks, not even sure how to use it. He ran out of the house and into the fields, screaming out for the woman. She was no longer screaming, hadn’t screamed in minutes. He got to the center of the fields and that’s when he saw her. She was nailed to a stick, straw hanging out of her gut. The bottom portions of her legs were removed and were also filled with straw. He thought that she was breathing, but no, she was dead and again, it was the thing. With it’s beaming red eyes staring back at him. Jonas took off running, able to find the house minutes later. He ran inside and locked every door and every window. It was coming after him and he knew it.

Eventually, everything had become silent. The only thing he could hear was the beating of his own heart. There was a knock at the door and his heart was getting louder! Another knock and his heart was getting louder! Again, another knock and his heart was getting louder! He knew that it could have been Hicks, but he also knew it could have been the thing. His chest was getting tighter as he took a deep breath; the fear was growing more intense as he didn’t know who it was outside the door. Fear of the unknown. He walked slowly to the door, dragging his feet as he got closer and closer. He looked through the peephole, but all he could see was a bright red. It blinded him for a few seconds, but he knew what it was because he stared into that red a few times before. He ran from the door; unsure of what to do, he hid inside his bedroom closet.

Everything was quiet for a minute, the only thing he could hear was his own breathing. When the front door creaked open, the fear got more intense and his chest, even tighter. He tried with everything he had not to make even the smallest sound. The sound of footsteps wandered through the home and made it’s way toward Jonas. They were getting closer and the closer they got, the louder his heartbeat would sound. His bedroom door creaked open, whatever or whoever it was, was in the room. Its breathing, he could hear its breathing as it was louder than it had ever been before. The closet door creaked open and Jonas was certain he was the next to be nailed to a stick and displayed as a scarecrow. However, it was Hicks who stood in front of him.

“What are ya doin’ boy?” he yelled, taking the gun from Jonas.

“It was here!” Jonas said. “It was outside the door!”

Hicks shook his head as he was snickering, a sound so familiar to Jonas. “You got it all wrong, my boy,” He said, “Ya see, I left out a very important part about what haunts the fields.” He got closer as Jonas backed up against the wall. “It doesn’t just kill anybody. It picks up hitchhikers and it takes them to his home where it tells them stories about the fields.” His eyes become a bright beaming red. “Do you know what it does to them next?”

“No,” Jonas cried.

“It guts them, it stuffs them with straw and then it nails them to a stick out in the fields,” he said. “Do ya know why it does that?”

“No,” he cried again.

“It’s the damn crows,” he said. “It’s always the damn crows.”

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Capital Punishment

August 11, 2016 at 12:00 AM
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You may recall back in June of 2021, how the first live televised execution of a death row inmate had gone off without a hitch. It was one of the most anticipated TV airings in recent – and I suppose even in distant – memory.

The months leading up to the event had been filled with controversy. There were clashes between protesters and supporters. The protesters stated that the general public, especially children, should not be subjected to such “barbarism”. The supporters argued that viewing it was not mandatory and that children could be kept from seeing it by their parents if they felt it was necessary to shield them. Not only that, but it would also be a major deterrent for many would-be criminals.

Right or wrong, it had already been decided upon and approved by all government agencies involved. When it was announced in January that this would happen, it became the primary conversation point of every man, woman and child. People discussed it around workplace water coolers. Strangers discussed it on subways, buses, and in doctors’ waiting rooms. School children talked about it at recess and in gym locker rooms. It could be eavesdropped from adjacent restaurant tables everywhere. Everyone had an opinion, and everyone was curious how it would all play out.

The criminal’s name was Harlan Wade Forrester – known by all three of his names, as most serial killers seem to be. However, before his capture the public knew him as “The Red Baron Killer” because he’d left each victim with a neatly carved Maltese cross in the small of their back. He was the epitome of a vile human being. In the three years leading up to his capture he’d managed to kidnap and murder 23 people, mostly teenage girls, but with occasional adult men and women thrown in for good measure.

He had always left their corpses out in the open posed in the most ordinary situations. For example: one of his victims was found early in the morning when the sun rose, sitting on a park bench with her hand resting palm up on her lap. The hand was filled with bird seed and pigeons flapped about and ate from her palm. Another was discovered late at night riding in an el train car in Chicago, leaning against the window as if looking out at the passing scenery. She had ear bud headphones in place and an mp3 player still blasting away. And so it was with each of his victims – one found behind the wheel of a car in a K-mart parking lot – one relaxing in a lawn chair on her back patio with sunglasses and a drink with a little umbrella in it. All were fully clothed. All appeared perfectly fine and normal until approached.

The incidents had taken place throughout nine states in the Midwest. As the body count rose, so did the panic level. News story after news story surfaced with seemingly no end. It became rare to see teenage girls out alone. They began doing everything in groups – pairs at a minimum. People only stayed out late into the night if they absolutely had to. Many would not go out after dark at all. If someone was found sleeping or resting motionless in public, they were approached with great caution as the next possible RBK victim.

There was a collective sigh of relief in big cities and small towns alike on the day it was announced that he’d been captured. Relief swept over the population, and things returned to a sense of normalcy. Folks went about their lives without having to keep that madman in the back of their minds.

Harlan Forrester’s trial gripped the nation. He was without question the most hated man in America, and if you asked anyone you met, they’d tell you that they couldn’t wait to see him pay for what he’d done. It just so happened that they would get their wish.

The court proceedings were highly publicized and not a day passed that local and national news channels did not update the trial’s progress. The FCC had already been searching for a case to use as a precedent, but there were two main factors that led to Harlan’s case being chosen as the first for televised execution.

One: He was guilty beyond the shadow of a doubt. After all of the DNA and fingerprint evidence was collected and presented he had confessed to all of the killings, and even divulged two that had not yet been discovered. There was no way the FCC was going to allow a criminal to be executed on live TV if there was even a miniscule chance that he was innocent.

Two: Everyone wanted him dead. As mentioned previously, the public’s opinion of Harlan was on par with Charles Manson or Adolph Hitler. If the FCC was ever going to act, now was the time. It was a perfect storm.

The trial reached its completion in December 2020 and Harlan was sentenced to death by lethal injection. The execution was immediately scheduled for Monday, June 21st, 2021 – 6:00 PM. This brevity in the legal process was almost unheard of, but special circumstances were encountered due to the nature of the case and to keep public interest heightened for the impending broadcast.

On the day of Harlan’s execution the entire country, and many other parts of the world, came to a virtual stand-still. People took the day off to prepare their homes for viewing parties. Those who did have to work that day, made sure television sets in break rooms and conference rooms were capable of picking up the network that had won the bidding war for the broadcast.

As 6:00 PM approached there were fewer and fewer cars on the road until finally, almost every metropolitan area in the nation resembled a post-apocalyptic wasteland. Time stood still. And we all watched, riveted to our TV sets and devices.

It would come to be known as one of those defining moments that people would never forget. They would always remember where they were and who they were with when they watched it happen.

—–

In September of 2021, I attended the estate auction of a man named John Radcliffe. He had died alone just days earlier, the victim of an apparent home invasion. He had no living will and no close relatives to claim his belongings, therefore the state took control of selling his personal effects.

I always enjoyed going to auctions such as this because every once in a while I would come across a deal that was just too good to pass up. And this auction was no exception. Being a movie buff, I was excited when lot #312 hit the block. It was two large plastic tubs full of Blu-ray and DVD movies. I estimated that there were probably two hundred or more. During the sale of that lot I raised my hand several times until I was the only remaining bidder. I smiled, knowing that I had landed a remarkable deal at a mere $57.

At home that afternoon, I couldn’t wait to begin unpacking and cataloging the contents of the tubs. My initial thought as I removed the lid from the first container was ‘I’m going to have to buy more shelves.’ However, it was a problem I didn’t mind facing. I spent hours unboxing the movies and arranging them in alphabetical stacks on my living room floor.

It was what I found in the bottom of the second container that puzzled me – a small unmarked USB thumb drive. I shrugged at first and set it aside in favor of continuing my cataloging, but the more I thought about it, the more it ate at me. I retrieved my laptop and plugged in the drive. Contained on the stick was a single audio file titled RBK_execution.mp3. I double-clicked it.

The audio clip began with an inordinate amount of noise as the person doing the recording fumbled with the microphone. It then settled into the steady hiss of ambient background noise.

“This is John Radcliffe”, the recording began, “and I feel that I have to share my story. It’s been bothering me for weeks now and I want to get it off my chest.”

[He paused and cleared his throat.]

“I was involved in the live execution of Harlan Wade Forrester – The Red Baron Killer. I was approached by the deputy warden of the prison where he was being held two days before his scheduled execution and asked if I would take part in it. I had no idea why at the time. It wasn’t until I was escorted to the prison and was briefed by the Warden that I really knew what was going on.”

[There was another pause, then a sound as if he’d taken a swig from a bottle, which gave way to more ambient hissing.]

“You see, I was chosen because I look so much like Harlan – at least that’s what they told me. And I agree. I do look like him. Well, as it turns out, Harlan had actually escaped from his prison cell the previous day. Don’t ask me how he did it. They wouldn’t tell me either.

“The thing is though – they wanted to go ahead with the execution for the public’s sake. It had been played up so much and millions of dollars had already been spent on the TV contract, and advertising, and what not…”

[Another drink from the bottle.]

“They just didn’t want everyone to go back into panic mode, you know? Not only that, but the prison needed to save face. There would’ve been hell to pay if the higher-ups found out that RBK had escaped on their watch. And so… as the old saying goes… the show must go on.

“I laid there just like they asked me to. Didn’t move a muscle. I was a perfect actor. When it was all said & done and the cameras were turned off, I was debriefed, given some monetary compensation and told never to tell a soul about this. I had to sign a bunch of papers saying so. Then they let me go.”

[There was a somewhat long pause and then another bottle clank and swig.]

“Technically I’m not telling anybody. I’m just recording this for my own conscience. I need to be able to sleep better.”

[And then more ambient hiss before the recording device clicked off.]

I was in shock. I had no idea what to do with this information. It was like I’d stumbled onto proof that the moon landing was faked, and I was the only person on earth that knew about it. Except in this case there were at least a handful of others that were privy to the charade. I needed to think.

I turned on my TV – the very same TV on which I’d witnessed some guy named John Radcliffe fake the death of Harlan Forrester back in June. The evening news was on, and to my surprise, there was a mention of the death of John Radcliffe. The young lady anchoring the news was barely able to keep her composure while she read the lines from her teleprompter that told how John’s autopsy had revealed a Maltese cross carved in the small of his back.

Credit: moonlit_cove

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44 Ashbrooke Lane

August 6, 2016 at 12:00 AM
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I was seven when I moved into that house at Ashbrooke Lane. At least that’s what my parents tell me. My recollection of that time is vague. I have memories of the big tree on our lawn, running round the garden with the boy next door, and I remember sitting on the living room floor playing with my He-Man figures. But my most vivid memories are of the recurring nightmares.

To the best of my knowledge, they happened every night I stayed in that house. The first time, I woke during in the early hours with a feeling that I was being watched. I lay there in the dark, listening intently, scared to move in case it drew the prowler’s attention. I could hear or see nothing, but that feeling wouldn’t go away. There was somebody or something in the room with me. I screwed up my eyes tightly, hoping it would just pass me by. I felt the bed shake and I stiffened up like a statue, afraid to make even the slightest movement. And then I heard the sound of raspy breathing from the foot of the bed. It moved round the side of me then stopped. Moments passed silently. Then I felt the breath on my face.

Instinctively, I opened my eyes. I saw an emaciated man in a lab coat looming over me, an expression of horror etched into his pale gaunt face, veins bulging from his forehead. I tried to scream, but he grasped me around the throat with his skeleton-like fingers and dragged me out of bed. Jerking and contorting, I tried to grab onto something to stop him from taking me. He pulled me out of my room onto the landing where I gripped the stair rail. He pulled at my arms and then at my feet and I kicked and screamed in a furious fight for my freedom.

The next thing I knew, it was morning and I was waking up in my parents’ bed. They had found me sleepwalking across the landing in the middle of the night. I had a lot of nightmares as a kid, which was put down to my active imagination, but sleepwalking…that was a first.

I saw him again the following night. He yanked me from my bed with no warning and this time he managed to pull me down the stairs. Once again I woke in my parents’ bed. My dad had woken in the night and found me lying at the foot of the stairs.

I worked myself into such a panic over these dreams that my parents allowed me to stay up late with them one night. We watched TV and I strained to stay awake. I don’t remember going to bed that night; I just found myself sitting on the stairs observing the hallway, waiting for him to arrive. A grandfather clock stood in the hallway, ticking away the minutes until part of the wall opened up to reveal a concealed doorway from which he emerged. He was wearing the same lab coat I’d seen him wear before, only this time it was smeared with blood. Whatever he’d been doing inside that room I didn’t want to find out.

I watched with dread as he slowly and methodically slipped a pair of rubber surgical gloves into his hands. He tented his fingers together then turned and looked directly at me with his intense, deep set eyes. A pained grimace stretched across his chalky face. I rushed upstairs calling out for help as he crawled behind me, swiping at my heels. I ran into my parents’ bedroom. They were asleep and unaware of the commotion. Before I could reach their bed and shake them awake my pursuer snatched me up in his bony arms and started pulling me away. I managed to grab onto the door frame and despite his efforts, he could not prise me from it. He relented for a moment, his breath heavy and laboured against my neck. Slowly, he reached into his coat pocket and withdrew a scalpel, before slicing deep into my hands. I released my grip on the doorframe as blood dripped between my fingers. I shrieked out, but there was no sound. I could see mom and dad lying there fast asleep, oblivious, as this withered spectre hauled me out of their room and all the way down to the bottom of the stairs.

I tried to claw my way back, leaving streaks of blood on the carpets and walls in my wake. He pressed his fingers against my throat. I whimpered and choked, and my limbs thrashed around in frenzy. At that moment the grandfather clock in the hallway let out a single chime and he suddenly abandoned his fight. I looked up to see the emaciated figure creeping back through the door from where it came. The door sealed shut, disappearing into the wall as though it never existed.

A point came where I starting to confuse my dreams with reality. I couldn’t tell if this was all in my mind or actually happening to me in the middle of the night. During the daylight hours, I examined the wall in the hallway, looking to see if there was some indication of a secret door. I told my parents and my Nan about the dreams and though I never doubted their concern, there was not a lot they could do except reassure me. I stayed with my parents when I got particularly distressed, either in their bed or we’d bring the blankets and pillows downstairs and have a sleep over in the living room.

Nothing helped. My tormentor found me night after night, waiting until mom and dad were asleep before hauling me away. I tried to call out, but my screams were always silent as he gripped his hand round my throat. He grew increasingly violent as he tried in vain to drag me into his secret room. Sometimes he would use his scalpel across my hands or under my fingernails, other times he would inject me with a syringe, and it wasn’t unusual for him to bite my fingers. As I prepared for the dreams, I rehearsed how I would try to fight him off, what I could grab onto as he dragged me downstairs. I knew if I could just hold out until the clock chimed, then I would survive another night because that’s when his door sealed shut.

What terrified me most was the realisation that if he got me into his secret room before the chime of the clock, the door would seal behind us and nobody would ever see or hear from me again.

I don’t remember much else about that house, but we didn’t stay long. We moved in with my Nan for a while and even though there wasn’t much room for all of us, at least those nightmares stopped. And so did the sleepwalking.

Of course, I never forgot about those dreams. How could I? But I figured I was just a kid with an overactive imagination and I never considered them particularly abnormal. That is until my teens when I started to suspect something more sinister was at play. I was looking through old photo albums with my parents when we came across some from our old house at Ashbrooke Lane.

“Something wasn’t right about that house,” I heard my mom say to my dad.

This roused my curiosity. “What do you mean, mom?”

“Well, I used to have bad feelings and nightmares when we were living there,” she added.

My dad tried to change the subject, but I persisted. “What sort of nightmares?” I enquired.

“I don’t want to go into it. Just violent and disturbing dreams.”

“I had recurring nightmares in that house too,” I said.

“You were too young to remember your dreams,” my dad interrupted. “You probably just picked up on something you heard us talking about.”

I felt insulted, like they were dismissing me, but you don’t forget dreams like those. I tried pushing for more information. They weren’t forthcoming.

It wasn’t until I was in my mid-twenties that we were able to talk about it again. I was in the living room with my parents and my dad was reading the paper. He casually told my mom, “Our old house in Ashbrooke Lane is up for sale again.”

“Nobody stays there long,” she replied. “It makes you wonder.”

My dad nodded in agreement.

“So what exactly happened at that house?” I interjected.

Maybe it was because so much time had passed or perhaps it’s because I was older, but they were more open with me this time. My mom explained how she’d had visions of a violent murder – dead bodies lying on the floor, blood all over the walls, and she claimed she had felt a “presence”. When she was alone, she would often hear crying and it sounded like it was coming from inside the house. She also revealed that my aunt and uncle had come down from Manchester to stay one weekend and woke in the middle of the night to see a figure of a tall man at the bottom of the bed.

My aunt and uncle had passed away by this point, so I was unable to ask them about their experiences, but mom explained that they were so distressed by the incident they returned home the next day.

I asked my dad, “Did you have anything weird happen?”

My dad has always been a very grounded sceptic, but I knew something had affected him too, though he wouldn’t admit it. “There was just an uncomfortable feeling,” he said, and volunteered nothing more.

Ever since learning of my mom, aunt and uncle’s experiences in that house, I’ve been overwhelmed with curiosity. Like my dad, I’m quite the sceptic and I was convinced there’s a rational explanation for all this. Even so, I wanted to know more about that house.

From time to time I would check the newspaper, and just as my parents had said, the house was rarely occupied for more than six months before going up for sale. There wasn’t much more I could find out at this time. I’m sure the information and history is available in some archives somewhere, but I wouldn’t know where to start. However, I was passing by that area one day and got the idea to drive by the house. It was unoccupied, but I saw nothing out of the ordinary, and felt no chills or foreboding. It was just an old house. But still, I wanted to know more. I noted down the phone number on the “For Sale” sign and later that day I called the estate agents and requested a viewing.

The lady who met me for the viewing introduced herself as Andrea. We went inside and immediately I felt a shiver run over my body. It was probably my mind running away with me, but I got this eerie feeling. I can only describe it as being like the tension that lingers in the air after a big argument.

If I’m honest, I barely recognised the interior of the house. My memory was vague, but there was one area that brought to mind those recurring nightmares I had as a child, and that was the hallway.

I tried not to draw attention to myself and continued the tour as Andrea gave me her sales pitch. As we walked round, I was convinced that the wall in the hallway was hiding something.

“What’s behind this wall?” I asked.

The look on her face at that moment could disguise none of the lies she proceeded to tell me. First she told me there was “nothing there”.

It wasn’t my intention to make her uncomfortable, but I’d come this far and I wanted some answers. “There’s at least fifteen foot between here and the external wall,” I pointed out.

I heard her mumbling on about an old boiler room that had been bricked over, but she stopped mid-sentence when I started knocking against the wall. This was not my usual kind of behaviour. It was as though I’d been consumed by an obsession.

“You know something, don’t you?” Andrea asked me, a tone of surrender in her voice.

“I used to live here as a kid. Something isn’t right about this house, is it?”

Although still apprehensive, it was as if I’d freed her from an eternal silence. “It could cost me my job if I told you.”

“It can’t be much worse than I already suspect,” I said. “Was somebody murdered here?”

She hesitated and took a cautious glance over her shoulder, “Do you mind if we talk about this somewhere else? I’m really not comfortable talking about it here.”

We decided to go for a coffee and this is what I learned…

[…]

In 1953, Doctor Henry Fenton moved into Ashbrooke Lane with his wife, Mary and their teenage son, Raymond. The upper floor would serve as their living quarters and he had the lower part of the house converted into a Doctor’s practice. His office was set just off the hallway opposite his prized grandfather clock.

Things were going well for the Fentons and business was thriving. And then, one day Mary fell down the stairs in their home and broke her neck. She died instantly.

Henry reacted to the tragedy by immersing himself in his work, using the practice as a distraction from the heartache. Raymond, on the other hand, was struggling to come to terms with his mother’s death. With his father too busy to offer the emotional support he needed, he started to drift. He fell in with a bad crowd, started skipping school and there were a couple of times he’d been caught drinking or brawling and was escorted home by police.

Henry barely noticed nor cared during this time. Once he closed his practice for the day he would collapse into his armchair and attempt to repress his grief with liquor. Some nights he’d drink himself into a coma, other nights he would fly into a rage, smashing furniture and throwing things around the room, and sometimes it was his son who bore the brunt of his temper. Raymond was taken in by his grandparents soon after, leaving Henry Fenton all alone in that house on Ashbrooke Lane.

Later that year, on a cold autumn night, Henry was woken by a disturbance from downstairs. Emboldened by the liquor, he decided to go and confront the intruder. His practice was the only thing he had going for him and he refused to let some thug take that away.

Henry tiptoed downstairs in the darkness. He saw the light of a torch in the far room and heard the intruder rummaging through cupboards and shelves. Probably some junkie after the drugs and syringes he kept on the premises. Henry snuck into his office, withdrew a scalpel from a drawer and tucked into a corner and waited.

The intruder entered the room, a rucksack over his shoulder and his face covered by a black mask. Henry sprung out of the darkness brandishing the scalpel and ordered him to drop his bag.

The masked man panicked and lunged towards him, attempting to push past and make his escape. Henry swiped out blindly as he fell backwards against the wall. The intruder staggered along the hallway and opened the front door before collapsing on the doorstep.

Henry got to his feet and approached the fallen man. Blood gushed from a deep incision across his throat from where the scalpel had made contact. Henry pulled the mask from the man’s head to clear his airways.

Staring back at him in the moonlight, eyes wide with terror, Henry saw the face of his son, Raymond. His heart wrenched at the sight before him. What had he done? How could he have known?

His professional instincts kicked in and he sprung to action. Raymond thrashed about, choking and gurgling on his own blood as his father gripped his throat, pressing his bony fingers firmly against the wound in an attempt to contain the bleeding. He proceeded to drag him towards his office where he could clamp and stitch the laceration. By the time he got him there, however, it was too late.

At that moment, the grandfather clock in the hallway let out a single chime.

Patients turned up to the practice the following day to find Raymond cradled in Dr Fenton’s arms. Unable to come to terms with killing his own son, Henry had turned the scalpel upon himself, slashing his own wrists before bleeding to death on the floor of his office.

Credit: Dan Hammonds

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