Estimated reading time — 17 minutes
Note: Contains minor gore; please consider this alongside the plot setup (evident within the first sentence) as this may be a story some of you will wish to avoid.
Peter Helford hadn’t exactly planned on murdering a child. But when money came and knocked on his door, he had been all too accepting of it. After all, cash was something he was in desperate need of anyway. He was an anxious man who clenched onto every last penny he could find. While some called it greed, he called it living in poverty. In all fairness, Peter wasn’t exactly at the top of the economic chain. Every day he worked at a Shell Gas Station for a pathetic payment of minimum wage. Peter probably wouldn’t have lived in his house as long as he did if it wasn’t for the aid of the Collins family. Every summer, Peter helped out around the Collins Household and was rewarded generously. The Collins were a very rich family. Nobody knew how they got their fortune. There were rumors that they were involved in drug trafficking, but others scoffed and said their riches were simply inherited. Whatever the case, money was money. And that was exactly Peter’s mindset when Gloria Collins knocked on his front door one muggy August morning. He answered it, and found her standing there on the doorstep. She was dressed in all black, as usual, and her sleeves were long despite the heat. He opened his mouth to speak, but she beat him to the punch, tersely asking, “May I come inside?”
“Of course,” he replied, holding open the door as she stepped into his living room and made herself comfortable on the couch. She was perfect. Her blonde hair was curled just right, her skin and clothing were both devoid of any wrinkles, and she seemed to radiate a sense of calm professionalism.
“Shut that door, Peter. We have a lot to talk about,” she ordered.
“Oh?” he said, shutting the door.
“My husband and I have been talking a lot lately.” This was fairly unusual. The Collins’s were not lovers, they were partners. There was very little chemistry in their relationship. Peter raised an eyebrow.
Gloria sighed, and for a moment she looked older than she really was. Then she took in a deep breath and let it out:
“I want you to kill my son.”
Shock should’ve been the first emotion Peter felt, but it wasn’t. Kevin Collins was an optimistic young boy who had the blondest hair Peter had ever seen. He was so skinny that he more or less resembled a pole with glasses. Even though Peter didn’t know that the little nine year old child had been a mistake, he probably could’ve guessed it. It was as simple as this: The parents did not want him around. They never had, and they never would. He was a constant nuisance to them, not because he was bad, but because he expected so much from his mother and father. Every day, a brutish Harley Collins would lumber out of his house in a business suit and drive off until seven o’clock at night. Gloria Collins, on the other hand, was a full time online student. She would rather stare at a computer screen all day than pay a lick of attention to her own child. However, Kevin wanted them so much to be good to him. Peter remembered a night last summer when he had stayed late at the Collins Residence, and heard the boy asking for a goodnight kiss. He had been dusting the room next door, and the walls were permeable to sound.
When Kevin spoke, he did so with obvious caution in his voice. He seemed to believe that it would hurt him if he raised his voice too high.
“Um… mom, could you come in here for a second?”
There was a quick patter of footsteps, then, “Yes, Kevin? What is it?”
“Do you think, maybe, you could give me a goodnight kiss?”
Gloria had simply chuckled softly. It hadn’t been a nice laugh though. It was instead the kind of laugh that made gooseflesh begin to creep up the nape of Peter’s neck. “Now, Kevin, your mother is very busy right now,” she responded, clearly annoyed. “She’s taking a course online that needs her full attention. I don’t have time for things like this.”
Just like that, Gloria had left the room. Peter was finished dusting, but he stayed where he was for just a moment longer. Just long enough to hear Kevin begin to sob.
Kevin wanted his parents to have fun with him. He wanted to play games with his parents, wanted to go to Carowinds with them, wanted to bond and grow close to them, wanted to be loved. However, Gloria and Harley Collins couldn’t care less. To them, Kevin held no more importance than a pesky mosquito that was constantly buzzing in their ears.
The first emotion Peter felt when Gloria asked him if he would kill her son was curiosity, and the first question he asked Gloria was, “Why me?” After all, he was a man who was about to enter his fifties. His whole body seemed to be gradually fading, and his hair was taking on a new salt and pepper coloring.
“Because,” answered Gloria, her icy blue eyes never wavering their piercing glare, “I know you won’t turn me down.”
That night, Peter collapsed onto his bed in exhaustion, even though his day hadn’t been particularly strenuous at all. His mind was whirling; he was ecstatic, but also strangely frightened. Gloria had offered him one hundred thousand dollars. His brain could barely process it, One hundred thousand fucking dollars! But in return, he would have to murder a child. Peter had always felt sorry for Kevin, and he could even relate to him slightly. He himself was raised in an environment where his parents didn’t fully care about him. Many of his teenage years had been spent alone, in his room, with the sweet sounds of music blocking out the arguing of his mother and father. On top of that, Kevin was incredibly innocent. He was always trying to get the attention of his parents. He was always trying to make them love, even though it was a lost cause from the beginning.
Peter thought it over. He tossed and turned all night, unable to get any sleep as he weighed the pros and cons. He would probably feel guilty for a long time, and experiences like this one were supposedly damaging, but still… money. And anyway, Gloria had told him he could do it in any way he desired. Just as long as Kevin was gone, the deal was done. It could be quick, silent, and it could be painless. He mused over the best way to do it. Maybe a bullet to the head? Quick, yes, and just about as painless as he was going to get it. But silence was at stake, and he didn’t own a gun anyways. Strangulation? Absolutely not, it would take minutes on end to cease Kevin’s breath forever. He pondered a few moments longer. What about slashing the throat? It would definitely be quick. The boy’s heartbeat would drive the blood out of the body in a matter of seconds. What about silence? Yes, making a throat cutting silent was also doable. And finally, painless: How bad could a little cut hurt? All boys like Kevin had probably skinned their knee at some point or another. The only thing different about this was that the cut would be cleaner, thinner, and it would bleed a little more. It was perfect. However, something was still wrong. If Peter was going to carry through with this, he wanted to do it in a way that would save him of some guilt. He needed to do it in a way that Kevin wouldn’t know it was he, Peter, who had killed him. Peter sat up in bed. It was useless trying to sleep anyways. He reached for his nightstand and grabbed his pack of cigarettes. When three smokes had been expended, he had it: the perfect plan to murder Kevin Collins.
It took Peter a week to mentally prepare himself for what was to come, but eventually he knew the time was right. When the time came, he was driving towards the wilderness of Scotland County. Kevin was in the backseat, and he was more excited than ever. He had known little of Peter before this, but now looked up to him with a new sort of respect. It wasn’t every day a man was nice enough to take you camping, especially if your own parents wouldn’t.
“Hey sir!” Kevin piped up from the back, “Why are we doing this again?”
“Well, Kevin, your parents need a little time to themselves. They want me to take you on a little trip.”
“A trip to where?” Kevin asked, “Oh man! I know that we’re going camping, but where? What’re we doing?”
“We’re just going to camp by the Little Pee Dee River. We’re going to get to know each other. Live like real men for a while…” Peter felt a momentary tug of guilt, “Maybe even tell some ghost stories around the campfire.”
“I love ghost stories!” Kevin squealed, and Peter felt his gut wrench. He had loved ghost stories too as a kid. Just like how he had had uncaring parents. Did he wear glasses when he was a child? Peter thought about it for a second. Yes, he had, but he had long since switched to contacts. His hand came up and touched the side of his face, as if to pull off a pair of invisible spectacles.
Peter confided in himself for a short few seconds. How was he going to go through with this if he was already feeling guilty? He told himself to be cool and collected. Everything would go according to plan. Meanwhile, Kevin was pulling out his battered copy of Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark from his knapsack.
“Whoa there,” Peter said, forcing a smile, “Let’s wait until dark before we start with that, alright?”
“Oh, okay. Sure,” Kevin replied. “Say, do you have any ghost stories?”
“Oh yeah,” Peter returned, “I certainly do.”
“Well, where’s your book?” Kevin asked, reaching for Peter’s backpack.
“Hey! Don’t touch that stuff, okay? And all the stories I know are memorized.”
Kevin withdrew his hand, and Peter let out a sigh of relief. After all, suspicion may have been aroused if Kevin had looked into his backpack and seen the latex gloves, rope, lighter fluid, and the knife. Then, Peter realized, he probably would’ve thought they were nothing more than camping supplies. He was over-thinking this by a long shot.
Peter and Kevin reached their destination soon after. They pulled over to the side of the road, grabbed their equipment, and headed off into the woods. It wasn’t long before they ran into the Little Pee Dee River. The waters were placid. To one who was looking at the body of water from a certain angle, it would appear they were seeing a large pond. It was the perfect place to dump a dead body.
It had been nearly thirty-six years since Peter had last gone camping, and Kevin was even more inexperienced. It took them an hour before their tent was pitched, and by the time they were unpacking their belongings, it was already beginning to grow dark.
“Can we tell ghost stories now?” Kevin asked eagerly.
“Well, the sun’s just beginning to go down. I think by the time we get a fire going it should be dark enough.”
“Yes!” Kevin hissed to himself, pumping his fist.
“Now the first step is to gather some kindling. Start collecting dry leaves, twigs, anything that’ll serve the basis to a good fire.”
While Peter didn’t know much about camping, he did know a thing or two about starting a fire. He had made sure of this by looking it up on the internet prior to the trip. After all, burning a knapsack full of one’s possessions takes a decent fire. Kevin was a hard worker, and in no time at all, the necessary kindling had been gathered. Taking his time, Peter arranged a few large stones in a circle, and then put the kindling in the middle. After that, he stacked some nearby sticks in a lean-to arrangement over the kindling while Kevin watched in awe. Finally, he struck a match and threw it into the mass of dry grass hidden by the sticks. In no time, a blaze was starting to flicker. The wind through the trees picked up slightly, and the fire let loose a roar as it spread, blossoming into a crackling inferno.
“Wow…” Kevin murmured, obviously impressed. Peter sat down in the dirt next to the flames. He looked at Kevin, saying, “Go on now. Get your book and read me a story.”
Kevin obeyed. He read scary story after scary story from his book until the night sky had grown black. Kevin was enthusiastic about it to say the least. Whenever he came to a scene that was particularly gory or frightening, his voice would deepen slightly, and would eventually morph into a forced whisper. There were plenty of gruesome campfire tales in his book. There were stories of rotting bodies being found, decapitated heads, corpses coming back to life, and even cannibalistic butchers. But Peter remained unruffled. He had a story that he knew would frighten Kevin to his core.
“Okay, stop,” Peter told Kevin when he was halfway through the narrative of a ghost with bloody fingers.
“What? Why? This is like, the last one!”
“Don’t worry about that. I have a good story, a true ghost story. And it takes place right here, by the Little Pee Dee River.”
“You swear it’s true?”
Peter smiled in spite of himself. “Yes, it’s true. When I was your age, my father told me this story, and I told this story to everyone in my Boy Scout troop. It scared all of them shitless…” He stopped, testing to see if Kevin would be affected by the profanity. He wasn’t. “… And so now, I think it’s only appropriate that I tell you.”
“Do it,” Kevin replied. His voice was light and breathy, like that of a young girl on her birthday who is about to receive a gift. He reached into the knapsack that was lying beside him and pulled out a bag of marshmallows. Grabbing a nearby stick, Kevin speared the marshmallow from the bottom up and stuck it over the flames.
“Alright, I’ll tell it if you can keep the interruptions to a minimum.”
Kevin nodded his agreement, and Peter began:
“This is the story of the Lord of Lies. That wasn’t his real name, of course, just a sort of nickname, like Bloody Mary, or something along those lines. Anyways, our main character in this story is a man named Joseph Thorn. If you want me to describe him, I guess he did have one defining characteristic: His eyes. Joseph had the strangest eyes you’d have ever seen. For whatever reason, his irises were bright red. Other than that he looked more or less normal. He lived up in a town not too far away from here back in the 1930’s. Every day after work, Joseph would hike down to this river with his fishing gear, and he would fish his heart out. Now, you have to understand Joseph was just an ordinary fisherman. There was nothing particularly odd about him. As a matter of fact, Joseph led a pretty good life. He was married to the most beautiful wife in town. Her name was Barbara Thorn. People said she had a laugh that could put mockingbirds to shame. But, while she was gorgeous, she was also unfaithful.
“When 1942 rolled around, America was in a state of chaos. It was decided that we were going to be entering World War II, and all men who were eligible were being drafted, including Joseph. Well, as the war raged on, Barbara became more and more lonely. There are some women who could wait lifetimes for their man to come back, but Mrs. Thorn was not one of them. In her free time, she began to visit her next door neighbor, who went by the name of Kenneth Carl. Mr. Carl hadn’t been drafted because he was an invalid, you see—
“What does that mean?” Kevin asked suddenly. “What’s an invalid? Sorry for interrupting.” His marshmallow had caught aflame, and Kevin blew on it frantically, trying to preserve some of the golden brown crispiness.
“An invalid is someone who is weak to the point where he can’t do everyday things, someone who has a severe illness or injury. This man, Kenneth, he was in a wheelchair. I can’t remember why, exactly. I think my father told me at some point or another, but if so I can’t recall. Barbara started out just assisting Kenneth. He usually had a helper around to make life easier for him, a hired man, but he had been drafted for the war. What started out as just service to someone in need soon turned to something else. Kenneth and Barbara had an affair.
“Well, when Joseph came home, he wasn’t all the same. The war had changed him a lot. He wasn’t the happy fisherman that the townspeople had come to know and love. He had grown distant. Things only got worse with the affair. In small towns, news travels fast. It wasn’t long before someone told Joseph his wife was cheating on him. Can you imagine coming home after fighting for your life, only to discover that your wife no longer loves you? It was tough shit for sure, and Joseph took it pretty hard. He stayed down by the Little Pee Dee all day long, fishing from dusk to dawn for days. Some people even say that he slept down there by the river. He was doing a little more than fishing while he was down there though: He was plotting his revenge.”
“What did he do?” Kevin questioned, his built curiosity overwhelming the need to stay silent.
“I’m getting to that. One day Joseph confronted his wife about the affair. She immediately burst into tears, as I’m sure you can imagine. While she was bent over sobbing into her hands, Joseph said to her, ‘Don’t worry, it’s going to be all right.’ Then he slipped his filet knife out from his belt, reached under her arms, and cut her throat.”
There was a moment of silence as Peter let that statement sink in.
“Then, Joseph went over to the neighbor’s house. The helper had been fired at that point. Barbara had taken his place, so he didn’t have any trouble getting in. He just cut the screen on the front door, reached inside, disabled the lock and went right on in. He found Kenneth asleep on his bed. He walked up beside him, and right away Kenneth woke up. As I’m sure you can imagine, he was pretty scared, and he instantly started calling for help, but Joseph hushed him up. He put his hand on Kenneth’s shoulder, looked him in the eye, and said, ‘Calm down. I’m not going to hurt you.’ Then, real quick, he drew out his knife and sliced open Kenneth’s throat too.
“Joseph waited until night before wrapping both the bodies up in a tarp. Then he took them down to the Little Pee Dee. He found the biggest stone he could before tying both bodies down to it firmly with a few feet of rope, and pushed them into the water. He gave the fish something to eat for the next couple days.”
Kevin threw a fearful glance at the nearby river.
“Well, it didn’t take very long for someone to find the corpses. Two little boys were playing by the river. They were having a contest to see who could find the most interesting thing on the river-bottom. You dive, reach the ground, grab something, and come back up. I used to play that game myself when I was young, actually. You could find all sorts of things: Coins, glasses, bracelets, necklaces. It was really a lot of fun. Back to the story, one of those two little boys resurfaced with a rotting human finger in his hand. He went home and showed it to his mother, and the police were notified, of course. Afterwards, the entire department went down to the river, with the boy in the lead. What they saw was pretty unexpected. Joseph was there, and he was waiting for them. It turned out that he had seen the two little boys make their discovery, and he knew the police would be after him soon. None of the police actually knew that he was the murderer though. That realization would come later. What they saw then and there was Joseph wading into the river, bit by bit. The police tried to stop him, tried to warn him that the waters were being searched, but he didn’t listen. He kept walking into the river until he was completely submerged. A full minute passed, and Joseph was nowhere to be seen. They waited another ten minutes until it was determined that Joseph had drowned himself.”
Peter stopped abruptly, and Kevin stared at him expectantly. “Well come on!” he protested. “That can’t be the end, can it?”
“No. It’s not the end. Joseph’s body was never actually found.”
Kevin looked at him, eyes wide, and mouth agape. “You said this really happened?”
“It absolutely did. Some people say that the river absorbed Joseph’s spirit, and that’s why no one found his body. Do you know why they call Joseph the Lord of Lies? Have you figured that out yet?”
Kevin shook his head.
“It’s because he always lies to his victims before he murders them. Think about his last words to Barbara and Kenneth. Legend has it that the Lord of Lies awakens every time he senses someone impure camping near the Little Pee Dee. You’ll fall asleep only to be awoken seconds later. You’ll feel a cold hand over your mouth, so that you can’t scream. You’ll hear Joseph’s whisper, ‘Don’t worry, it’ll be okay,’ before your throat is sliced open and your body is dragged down into the river forever.”
Peter couldn’t tell for sure in the dim light of the fire, but it looked like Kevin’s face had gone deathly pale. Peter had told the story well. No hard task, considering he had been practicing in front of a mirror for the last few days.
Kevin voiced his concerns, saying, “Sir, I’m kind of scared.”
“Hey Kid, no need to worry, it’s only a story, I promise.”
“But you said it was real!” Kevin insisted.
“Well, it really happened, but there is no Lord of Lies. I can promise you that. Even if there was, why would it be interested in you? I mean, come on, what’s the worst thing you’ve ever done?”
At this, Kevin seemed to relax slightly, and Peter faked one last smile. “It’s getting late. You should go to bed soon. I’ll be sleeping right outside if you need me.” Kevin nodded his assent and let out a yawn. He was obviously worn out.
“Goodnight Sir. See you in the morning,” he muttered tiredly, getting up and ambling into his tent. Peter sat by the fire for a second, motionless. Then he retrieved his backpack and unzipped it. He reached inside and pulled out the latex gloves. Wiggling one finger in at a time, he slipped them on. They stretched over his flesh, fitting like a second skin. He reached into his backpack once more and pulled out the other required materials. He placed the small paring knife on the ground next to his sleeping bag (it was the closest he could get to a filet knife), before pressing the start button on his stopwatch. Now he would wait.
After an hour had passed, he knew that the time had come. The most important time. Something occurred to him. He could stop this. He could go to sleep right now and pretend like this was just a regular old camping trip. Then he remembered the money. He was feeling slightly ill to his stomach, as if he was going to throw up. One hundred thousand dollars, he reminded himself. The four words became a chant in his head. One hundred thousand dollars, One hundred thousand dollars, One hundred thousand dollars. He repeated the words again and again as he approached Kevin’s tent, knife in hand. He was gripping the handle tightly, so tightly it hurt. But he continued his advance until he was there, kneeling by the entrance flap of the tent. It’ll be over soon, he thought, and then I can have my money.
Peter peeled back the opening to the shelter, casting firelight onto the sleeping face of Kevin Collins. He looked to be in the middle of a pleasant dream. His lips were curved slightly into an unconscious smile. His nostrils flared as he breathed in and out, as his chest rose and fell. Peter reached out a hand tentatively. He lifted Kevin’s neck, inch by inch, before scooting forwards, so that the back of Kevin’s head rested on his knee. Now Kevin wouldn’t be able to see him. It would seem likely to him that this was the attack of a stranger… or a murderous urban legend.
It was now or never. Before Peter could stop himself, he pushed his palm down hard over Kevin’s mouth. Kevin’s eyes shot open, and he let out a terrified scream that was lost in Peter’s grip.
“Don’t worry,” Peter growled in his deepest voice, “It’ll be alright.”
Then, with one quick movement of the paring knife, Peter carved a slit into Kevin’s throat. In his last living movements, Kevin thrashed desperately, but this only caused his already life threatening cut to widen. Blood sheeted out of Kevin’s second mouth in torrents, covering the floor of the tent in a brilliant vermillion red. He made one last incomprehensible attempt to shriek for help, but all that came out was a weak rasping cross between a moan and a whine.
Peter held him there for a good five minutes. He had a strange fear that as soon as he started to back away from Kevin’s supposedly dead body, it would jump back to life and start screeching its pain for the world to hear. After he was sure Kevin was totally deceased, he got up. Shakily, he returned to his backpack and pulled out a coil of rope, which he tossed over his shoulder. Then, Peter moved back to the tent, grabbed Kevin by the ankles, and dragged him outside. He wheezed as he exerted himself, but eventually the twosome reached the edge of the river. A rock that looked to be about half the size of Kevin’s corpse was lying a few feet away. Peter walked over to it, grabbed it as best he could, and hoisted with all his might. He managed, with some difficulty, to move it over to Kevin’s lifeless form. For the next few minutes, he fought with the rope, rock, and body. It wasn’t easy, but eventually Kevin was strapped down solidly to the stone. Once again, Peter prepared his muscles before pushing with all his gathered strength. Gradually, Kevin’s carcass skated across the mud and into the water, disappearing below the liquid glass of the river.
Peter wasn’t done yet. He retreated to the camp and began to accumulate all of Kevin’s possessions. His knapsack, sleeping bag, and his book of ghost stories were all seized and thrown into the fire. When that was finished, Peter disassembled the tent, folded it up, and pushed it into the camping bag, which was also fed to the heat.
It was over, and Kevin didn’t even know who had really killed him. Peter’s ploy had been a complete success. Of course, Peter was also disturbed by the experience. Kevin had reminded him so much of his own life as a young boy, that it was almost as if Peter had killed himself in a way. At that moment, Peter felt the urge to grab a cigarette from his back pocket and light up, as he always did when he felt stressed, but then he remembered that doing so would leave a remnant of his being here.
Suddenly, Peter felt drained. His eyes were ready to close. He realized that he needed sleep more than anything else at the current moment. After stripping the dirty, bloodstained latex gloves off his hands and slipping off his ruined pants, he slipped into his sleeping bag and curled up by the great fire. In no time at all, he had fallen into a deep sleep.
Peter’s slumber was so deep, as a matter of fact, that he didn’t even stir when the normally calm surface of the river began to ripple. Peter didn’t let out a single peep as a figure emerged from the dark depths of the dirty waters, red eyes flashing with vengeance. The fire which had sanctioned Peter was dying rapidly. The flames were shrinking lower and lower until there were no flames, only embers, which quickly went extinct. A veil of black descended over the night, and the cold crept in like a sickness. Heavy footfalls echoed off the trees until the Spirit of the River found what he was looking for.
A cold, wet, slimy hand clamped down over Peter’s mouth. He jerked awake, trying to yell out, but the hand pushed him down firmly, keeping him in place.
“Don’t worry,” the darkness whispered huskily, “It’ll be alright.”
Those were the last words Peter ever heard before he felt the rusty blade of the filet knife slide across his throat.