My dream faded away into the blackness of the room, leaving my memory as the confusion washed over me. Did I hear some-
The phone rang from somewhere in the dark, accompanied by a dim light as the phone’s screen lit up. I reached for it, noticing how damp my blankets were. Did I piss my-
Self? I snatched the phone off my nightstand, not wanting to hear the piercing sound again and put it up to my ear. As I did so, I realized it was just sweat, I was fine.
The voice came through with an authoritative tone. Cop. “Jack?”
“Speaking, who is this, and why are you calling at this hour?”
His words cut out for a brief second, replaced by static “I’m [Static] with Magrath police department, Dominic Thompson told us you would be reliable. We really need your help, we’ll pay as much as you like and you can work whatever hours you need, we’ll compensate you accordingly.”
Dominic Thompson? I hadn’t heard that name in years, and yet, as the name probed my ear canal, I felt a wave of guilt washed over me.
“Sure, I won’t be cheap though, I charge extra for police work. When do you need me there?” I asked, marveling momentarily at how easy that answer had been. Money motivates.
“As soon as possible. Can you leave tonight?”
“Sure, sounds good officer.” I disconnected the call and got out of my bed, my joints aching in sync with my headache, the hangover had already taken effect.
I threw together a small travel bag with three days-worth of clothes. I’ll wear them more than once, if I must I can buy more. I grabbed my keys and some aspirin to quell the pounding in my head. I chewed it slowly as I steeled myself for the trip ahead. I watched my house shrink into nothing more than a spec in my rearview mirror.
After a decade; it was time to go back to Magrath, a town I never thought I’d set foot in again. Although, I guess some things are never meant to be.
The Smoke curled above me, the scent ingraining itself in my clothes as the tar embedded itself in my lungs. I recalled the previous night’s events as I took another drag of the cigarette, the nicotine flowing through my body as it worked to alleviate my stress. I exhaled, the smoke billowing from my mouth like a chimney, clinging to the air under the streetlight above, casting shadows of dancing tendrils up the side of the apartment building and across the scene that lay before me.
She was in her late thirties by the looks of it, her dyed brown hair swept across the ground beneath her, as if melting to the ground as it mixed with the blood that pooled from her broken skull. A pity, from the fullness of her cheeks and the contour of her lips, I could tell she was once beautiful. Her ID described her eyes as being blue, but her corpse refused to share that, the top half of her head concave inwards, as if it was trying to touch her lower jaw.
Skull fragments littered the ground around her body, mixing with the grey matter and arterial blood that covered the ground below. I took another long drag from my cigarette, the smoke working its way down my throat and into my lungs as it desperately tried to kill me. Not this time. An exhale expunged the smoke from my body once more, the white cloud holding in the air for a moment before dissipating into the air around me. I threw the used-up cigarette on the ground, grinding it under my foot as I stared studiously at the woman’s corpse.
Her legs were broken at awkward angles, as if she’d been trying to run in opposite directions at the same time. The jeans she wore looked stretched, the fabric pulling and twisting to match the position her legs were now in. Her arms were tucked under her back, causing her back to arch out slightly, as if she were doing a partial bridge, maintaining contact only with her shoulders and rear. Her light blue shirt now stained red in places, the signs of a struggle taking place.
“Fuck me Jack, what do you think happened to her?”
The voice belonged to Deputy Officer Dominic Thompson. He was a long-time friend of mine and had been the one that spurred me into private detective work when we were younger. He always figured I could be more effective without all the red tape. There still was some, of course, but being private, I was able to take some liberties.
Unfortunately for our friendship, I’d left shortly after twelfth grade, leaving everything and everyone behind. My old friends became distant memories. Though, sometimes I wonder if it was his influence that had spurred me on to eventually become the very thing that he said I should be. It had been just over ten years since the night I left when I got the call to help on this case, and I couldn’t help but wonder if he still would hold it against me.
“How many does this make Dom?”
“Eight disappearances, three homicides.”
“Do you think it’s just one person? And what’s the time frame?”
He shuffled, as if embarrassed “We don’t know, and – uh – two weeks.”
‘Fuck me Jack’ was right. I continued looking at the girl’s broken body, surveying the scene, trying to see anything other than her mangled corpse that looked suspicious. I felt bad for the teen that found her on his walk home from a friend’s house. He was slightly intoxicated and called it in as soon as he got home, by which point several others had seen her body as well.
I walked to the nearest cruiser, producing a white linen sheet from inside the trunk. As it unfolded making a small rasping sound, several other officers looked over at me. I nodded grimly before placing the sheet over the body, obscuring it from view as if shielding God from the atrocities of man. The detective overseeing the case came over to me, his eyes downcast with diminished pride.
“What are you thinking Lewis?” He called me by my last name, a formality.
I paused, formulating my thoughts into a coherent sentence. “Looking at her, there was a struggle. That much is evident through the blood on her clothing. Her legs look dislocated if not broken, as are her arms. Those would have to be done with a weapon of significant weight and someone of significant strength. The damage to her head was probably done last, I assume whoever did this wanted to cause them significant pain. The perp probably used a sledgehammer of some variety to do all this damage, however the shapes of the wounds suggest otherwise. An autopsy will be needed for further investigation. In the morning I’ll begin asking the locals if they witnessed anything, see if I can build up a profile.”
“You don’t think she jumped?” Detective Hanson asked, shooting me a questioning glance.
“There’s no way she could have jumped that would have allowed her to break both legs, both arms and cave in the top of her skull like that. Not unless an anvil followed her down. No, I suspect foul play was involved.”
He shrugged, lifting the corner of the blanket, recoiling at the sight of the body.
“Do we have a name?”
I pulled back out her ID, reading from it as I answered him, “Elizabeth Wildbrooke, thirty-seven years old, one hundred and five pounds, five feet four inches tall. At least, that’s what her license says.”
As Detective Hanson walked around the scene, looking at the blood spatters, I pulled out another smoke, biting the end of it as I set it ablaze, the sweet relief of nicotine coursing through my lungs. My mind ran through scenarios, always coming back to manslaughter. I’d need to see the other files, see if there was a connection between this and the other murders. That meant convincing Dominic to allow me to view the files of an ongoing investigation. I exhaled; smoke billowing as I waved Dominic over.
Dominic approached as the remaining smoke left the haven of my lungs; this was going to be a long night.
A few hours later, when the body had been taken and the cleaners had finished cleaning up the blood Dominic and I found ourselves in a small police bar a few blocks south of my apartment complex. It was one of the few bars left in town where you could freely smoke while you drink. I’d finished half a pack since I’d arrived on the scene. As the froth nestled halfway down the pint, sitting atop its bed of Guinness, I looked at Dom, who’d appeared to have aged significantly over the course of the day.
With a few drinks in us, I decided to ask, “Dom, you said that she was number ten, what happened to the nine others?”
“Look, Jack, I don’t want to talk about work, I appreciate you helping out with this investigation, but I don’t want to talk about work outside of work. It’s the one thing that’s kept me sane all these years. I’ll get you the files, you can see for yourself what happened to the others.” When he caught me staring blankly; he chuckled dryly, “that’s what you were going to ask, right?”
I managed to pitifully mumble “ultimately” as I took another swig of my drink.
We’d made small talk instead; it didn’t last long before we dived into personal stuff. Dominic spoke of the new house he’d gotten, his wife. It sounded like he really made something for himself. He asked if I was still seeing her… Emma. A downtrodden look must’ve crossed the path between he and I, for as soon as he asked, he inhaled sharply, as if wishing he could retract the question. I explained solemnly that we had split up a few months back, well split up is a funny word for it. The word “split” assumes a conversation was held and closure was shared mutually to some degree. No, one day I got home from working a case for a rich banker who’d assumed his wife was cheating on him. She was, with the gardener, pool boy, mail man, hell, even the pizza guy. She was one adulterous act away from being a full-fledged pornographic actress at that point. But alas, I returned home from a day filled with watching and snapping pictures of his wife knocking boots to an empty home. I don’t mean that she took her clothes and left, literally everything was gone, the furniture, my stuff and her stuff. The whole place was spotless, save for a little bit of dust that had settled in the corner. Dominic watched me; his eyes full of worry as I finished my glass of Guinness, signaling to the bartender to bring me another.
I lowered my head into my hands the warmth of the drink bubbling across the surface of my face as I nearly wept the closing words, “All my successes as an investigator and I still couldn’t find her Dom. I don’t even know how she did it.”
He reached across the table, a firm yet gentle hand placing itself on my forearm, the reassuring gesture enough to quell the desire to break down right there. Dominic, it seemed, was still a very good friend.
The fire of friendship was rekindled with a gesture and turned into a roaring blaze in the fumes of alcohol that night. We recounted old stories of easier times and boasted tales of all the women we’d bedded over the years – significantly exaggerated, as with most men. Closing time came and we stumbled out of the bar, our breath a sure giveaway of the substance coursing through our veins as it inebriated us to the very core. Our laughs echoed down the street, bouncing off the tall buildings that lined either side. With no inkling as to the degree our lives would soon change, we carried ourselves down the street, our laughs eventually fading to little more than whispers in the night.
I awoke to the alarm blaring from my cell phone, signaling the start of another day, sending shooting pains through my dehydrated brain. I groggily got up on wobbly legs, the alcohol evidently present within my body. I shakily took in my surroundings, nice living room, olive green couch where I had only recently lay, large flat screen TV and a rustic oak coffee table. I must be in Dominic’s house. Sitting on the couch, I rubbed the sleep out of my eyes as I tried to sober up. I was almost fully composed when a melodic, feminine voice rang out a surprised gasp from behind me. Wincing slightly, the pain of the headache that accompanied the hangover blared into the periphery.
Turning, I took her in; a wave of nostalgia washing over me. Her name was Shannon and she was a tight member of our group growing up. Her bright red hair hung loosely over her shoulder, ruffled from a night’s sleep. She wore a red men’s plaid pajama top although on her slender, petite body it looked more like a dress. The nostalgia was replaced by a momentary lapse of lust, quickly replaced by shame at the realization that she must be Dominic’s wife.
My voice came out in a hoarse, embarrassed “hey Shannon.”
She smiled gently, her words soft and embracing “Hiya Jack.”
We stood there for a few moments, unable to find the right words to say to each other after the twenty odd years we’d spent apart. I never thought I’d come face to face with her again, I wonder if Dominic knew of the history between us. Her emerald eyes sparkled in the morning sun that cascaded through the nearby window, softening as she took me in. I must’ve looked like a mess after last night’s drinking. Regardless of this, she caught me off guard.
“You look good Jack.” Her gentle smile twitching playfully for a moment before vanishing entirely.
“It’s uh – it’s been a long time.” God you’re so awkward. Idiot.
Her smile came back in a more somber tone, like a realization passed in the recesses of her mind. “Yeah, yeah it has”
I was spared from further awkwardness when we heard Dom’s footsteps from the roof above us, approaching the stairs that entered in the corner of the room. In the moments following, we saw his feet appear at the top of them. Carrying his body down the stairs towards the main floor, where we were standing. He looked about as bad as I felt, his eyes red and puffy, hair up at odd angles and his pajama shirt misbuttoned. He smiled painfully, waving his greeting as he moved across the open space into the kitchen, producing a bottle of painkillers as he clicked on the coffee machine. Upon the realization that we were unable to hold a proper conversation, Shannon and I followed suit.
We crossed the space to the counter, where three bar-style stools stood, overlooking the kitchen counter. The timer on the microwave read 7:00am. Dominic popped some toast into the toaster, pushing down the lever as he pulled out the margarine. As we gathered in silence, the coffee machine produced its elixir, beeping incessantly as it finished the pot. Dom slid two tums, Advil and a cup of coffee over to me, smiling sheepishly as he did so. I graciously accepted them, placed them in my mouth and chased them with the scalding liquid.
I excused myself when I finished sipping, stepping out onto the front porch and lighting up a smoke. The world around me numbed as the familiar embrace of the cigarette took hold of me, elevating my spirits as I reflected on the prior day, returning slowly to the focus of work. The smell mixed with the smell of the prior nights rain, mixing and molding into the grey sky above. I took a few more large puffs, projecting the smoke out into small rings and clouds, paying homage to my childhood days when I would lay and watch them cross the sky. When the smoke was finished, I put it out, leaving the butt smoldering slowly on the walkway.
As I entered their house, I heard words drifting from the kitchen where they stood; in the middle of a conversation.
Dominic’s words floated through, slow and somber; “…left him Shan, he came home to nothing.”
Worry edged Shannon’s words as she replied, “that’s awful, when?”
“He told me it happened a few months ago.”
“And then he finds out about us, to make matters worse.”
A small amount of concern climbed into Dominic’s voice “What do you mean?”
So, he didn’t know. “I mean; to have such a horrible break up to come home and find out that his two closest friends had gotten hitched? That must be hard on him Dom, don’t you think?”
The concern faded from his voice, replaced with a touch of sadness, “Yeah hun, I know. Do you think-”
His words cut off as I entered the room, the sadness etched into the lines on my face must have been evidence enough that I had heard their conversation. Realizing this, Shannon walked quickly over to me, wrapping me in a tight hug, her voice quivering as she explained how sorry she was that it had happened to me. I was surprised by her gesture of emotion, though her words fell on deaf ears as I took in the smell of her hair and the feeling of her body against mine.
After a series of apologies offered from Dominic and Shannon, we left with our abdomens unsettled. Though, it was unsure if it was an effect of the drinking or the trepidation of where this investigation may lead.
We stopped at Ferguson’s general store on the way to the station; the familiar storefront looked aged, different in a way from how I remembered it as a child. The lens of childhood had been removed from my eyes, a critical one put in place of it, replacing the uncaring view I once had. The windows were streaked, an indifferent hand having wiped down the glass, leaving trails of soap and dirt intermingling on the surface, tarnishing a great view inside. As I approached the metal framed door, I took note of the state of the bricks; having lost their bright red coloration, the sun fading away the color as the years hand flown by unapologetically.
I was surprised to see that the cashier working the register was the same one that had been there years ago – Mr. Ferguson. He smiled when he saw me enter, his bright eyes reflecting the emotion written by his mouth. A moment’s hesitation before his smile turned whimsical, obviously contemplating how he should address me.
“Well helloooo Jackie” the old man’s eyes showed all the affection they did when I was a child, mustering up the same greeting he would give me when I was younger and would visit him almost daily.
Dominic, Shannon, me and our other friends would always ride our bikes throughout the neighborhood when we were young, high on childhood freedom. We’d pedal down the main street to get to Ferguson’s. The warm air pumped through our lungs, supplying our bodies with oxygen as we’d race down the street to get frozen desserts and sodas. Sometimes, if Mr. Ferguson was in a good mood – which was most days – we’d get a free piece of candy. I smiled slightly at the fond memory of childhood.
“Hi Mr. Ferguson, how’ve you been?”
His smile faded a little, evidently wounded by the monotonous tone of my voice as I replied, my smile not reflected in my eyes. He gave a simple shrug and started to talk, getting cut off as I turned and walked to the pharmacy aisle. I could hear Dom’s quiet apologies as he entered the store behind me. I paid him no mind, grabbing a bottle of tums and Ibuprofen before heading back to the counter. As I approached, Dom and Mr. Ferguson cut off their conversation, their eyes sliding curiously across my face, as if to see if I heard their conversation.
“What have you been up to Jack? Dom tells me you’re a big shot Private Eye now”
I chuckled dryly at this; much of my earlier work stemmed from old rich men with supermodel wives wondering why they’re not faithful; it took me years to get my foot into assisting on actual cases. My reputation built up because of the speed and thoroughness of my investigative work, but it also helped to know someone that hosted a lot of police charity events in his manor. Now I can say, I’ve seen my fair share of crime scenes over the years, moving around city to city, travelling to help with strange cases and horrific murders enough to put any city on edge. However, I always found that after working a big case, I’ll always return to the level at which my work started; back to cheating wives and thieving neighbors. It was one such night that Emma disappeared.
I told none of this to Mr. Ferguson instead I shrugged “I get around.”
He laughed, joking about modesty and remaining humble. His fingertips graced the old cash register as he entered my items. He eyed the number, tilting his reading glasses to get a better look at the small digital display. I handed him a twenty after a few moments and told him to keep the change – a small repayment to the old man that sweetened my childhood.
Not even five minutes later we pulled up to the station, my car sputtering as we came to a stop outside. Dom shot me a curious glance obviously off-put by the noise my engine had produced. I shrugged and slid the transmission into park, giving the old girl a rest as we left to do our business. We walked into the precinct, the air carrying the fragrance of coffee, paper and old building; the smell of bureaucracy. I smiled, happy that I’d passed up working for the police.
We approached the front desk, where a female officer sat. Her name tag read Smithson and looking at her she seemed familiar. I recognized her as an image of a small girl filling my thoughts as I took in this woman before me. Her blonde, wavy hair was cut into a short bob and her shoulders were wider than I remembered due to an increase in muscle mass. Even though I’d recognized her it still took me a few moments for her name to fall into place in my brain, and even longer for it to reach my tongue.
Astounded I said her name out loud “Darla?”
Growing up, Darla had been a very petite and timid girl she’d never spoken much in class except for when she was called on. She had no friends and never seemed to want any, she kept to herself for as long as I could remember, and when I left, I’d never thought about her again. I felt a pang of guilt as I recalled how she would sit near me in almost every class from kindergarten to twelfth grade.
Her eyes widened as she realized who I was “I thought that was you, how’ve you been Jack? I haven’t seen you since – hell – since you left. Is this your first-time back? It’s been what eight, nine years?”
My voice quieted as I recalled the night I left, I forced back the choke that worked it way up my throat as I responded; “Ten years, and yeah… it’s my first time back.”
I steeled myself, unsure of what other memories she might stir up, thankfully she just smiled out a cheerful “Welcome back!”
I smiled back, relieved that she didn’t mention the night I left again. Not wanting to make small talk however, I turned to Dom and asked if we could go look at the files now. He playfully rolled his eyes and signaled for me to follow him, which I did.
The filing room was a small, cramped and dimly lit room. I walked up to the desk and shrugged off my jacket placing it on the back of the office chair that sat before it, looking at Dominic expectantly as I did so. He turned and left, returning a few moments later with a filing box.
I looked at Dom incredulously “Really? A bit old school, don’t you think? What next, you’re going to tell me that the rest of the files are all microfiche?”
He scoffed then stifled a laugh “I know, it’s not as up to date as the areas you’re use to working in, but we still prefer the old pen and paper ways around here.”
“Do you have any slate for me to write on grandpa?”
He shook his head, smiling. Then turned and walked away. Leaving me with the filing box 2015 MURDERS was written along the top and sides of it. I rolled my eyes, realizing this box contained all the files of the town’s murders.
I removed the lid, chuckling mildly as I looked at the two wide and one thin file folders within the box. The entirety of the murders that occurred here, were narrowed down to three that laid in this box. All within a two-week period. No wonder it was assumed that they were all connected. I reached in and pulled out the first file.
The first death was that of a High School Sophomore named Noah Brackman, he was a prodigy football player. His parents were so convinced he would go pro that they had recently decided to move to a bigger city with a higher scouting rate when spring ended and school was let out. He never did see the summer, his life cut short as if the powers at be had snuffed out a wildfire. He was only 15. His parents had found him in his bedroom, how their hearts must have shattered when they saw their prodigy son in that state. They have since been put into protective custody where they get visited by a psychologist five times a week. The pictures were… disturbing to say the least. And the autopsy revealed what the pictures had not.
Unlike Elizabeth, there was no conceivable way to mistake this as a suicide. Noah’s body was in perfect condition if you excluded the fact that his face was missing. His face had been filleted off, leaving the muscles and tendons below in place as if done with surgical precision. His eyes even remained in their sockets. Upon first the first investigation of the crime scene, the detective could not determine where the skin of his face had ended up. On his initial report he even wrote, “It remains unclear what became of the victims face, as of right now we are assuming that the murder has taken it for whatever purpose.”
It wasn’t until the results of the autopsy that their assumption was proven false. Noah’s face was with him the whole time; it was just a couple inches down his esophagus. Noah, it appeared, had died choking on his own face. This mortified not only the coroner, but a multitude of cops stationed in the town as well. In fact, all of them were recommended for counselling once the investigation was finished.
Forensics revealed there was no organic matter at the crime scene either. Whoever had killed Noah was not only highly skilled with a knife, but also very aware of just how little the police need to figure out who the perpetrator was. They’d covered their tracks well, leaving behind not even the smallest fleck of skin or piece of spittle. They were a professional.
I spent another hour reading over the other information in the file, such as the family’s income, acquaintances, neighbors, friends, where they worked, where Noah went to school, where they were moving to, whether Noah had any enemies. He seemed like a very well-liked individual based on the description his parents had given, the police hadn’t even pushed it any further. I sighed, frustration making my chest feel tight as it mingled with the building anxiety. I pulled out my notepad and jotted down ‘talk with Noah’s classmates.’
I put the file down and stood up, walking through the stacks of files back towards the door. I looked around for Dom and couldn’t see him anywhere. With that I walked outside to have a smoke, passing Darla on the way out.
My anxiety eased as I drew the cigarette from the package, the familiar feeling of the tightly wrapped paper calmed my nerves. I fished in my pocket for my lighter. I withdrew it, propping my cigarette between my lips and sparking the lighter. I protected it from the wind with my other hand but when the wind proved relentless, I moved around to the side of the building; using the wall as a barrier to protect myself. My mouth began to water with anticipation as I tried once again to light the smoke. This time, my efforts were rewarded.
It was quieter here as the noise that poured from the busy road was significantly less audible. I had just released a lungful of smoke when I felt a slight tug on the hem of my shirt. I turned, surprised to see a girl no older than five standing just behind me, her piercing light blue eyes staring intensely into mine.
Startled, I took in the child. Her petite form was soiled; dirt sprinkled her face, hands and her nightie. Which was also torn in several places. Her feet were bare exposing fungus ridden toenails and multiple lacerations, no doubt from walking along on gravel; her feet were just too tender and the rocks would have torn through her skin like paper. What caught me off guard the most were her eyes, the light blue seemed to be glowing no, burning with intensity, a hyperawareness not reflected in her ragged form. She stared into my soul and I felt all heat leave my body. I recalled the first time I met her.
I’d been working my first big case, the disappearance of some big shot banker’s missing daughter only days after her fifth birthday. The clues all pointed to a kidnapping. The glass from her bedroom window lay shattered on the floor, her furniture overturned as if she was trying to get away and a lone tuft of her short blonde hair nestled delicately on her pillow.
I’d been inspecting a rather suspicious back alley when I caught sight of her – a flash of pink, disappearing around the edge of the building, vanishing from sight. I followed, catching mere glimpses of her, always turning the next corner, always too far for me to see.
I finally caught up to her outside of a dented metal door, its surface pocked with dirt and neglect, displaying its age and intent. It was there to keep us out. She looked at me then, much as she looked at me now, her eyes intense and daring.
She spoke, “You’ll find me in there, Jack. But it doesn’t end here, ask my father about my birthday.” She dissipated moments after she said this, like smoke drifting away from a fire, becoming part of the air and travelling away.
The message was cryptic, and I stood there for a couple minutes thinking I was losing it, that maybe the pressure of it all was getting to me. I reached for the door; the handle fitting roughly into my palm as I began to turn it. Surprisingly, the door was unlocked, and I was hit with the smell almost instantly. Something was dead, and it had been for a while. I’d turned on my flashlight, anxious to find the source of the smell, hoping beyond all that the apparition was fictitious, a fabrication of my stressed mind. Hoping, that what lay before me was not the body of a young child, but that of an animal that had gotten trapped in behind the metal entrance, dying of starvation.
I was not given such liberties. As my flashlight swayed around the foreign room, the object of my anxiety came into view. Laying, dirty, on the ground before me was the child. Her pink nightie stained with dirt and grime, her feet bare, and her hair plastered to her head in a mess of congealed blood. I held back a mixture of tears and vomit as I saw her, my emotions running rampant at the seams of my existence. This wasn’t the first time I faced the cruelties of mankind, but it was definitely the hardest.
I pulled out my phone and called the police, they arrived within minutes followed by ambulances and fire engines, all eager to save the innocence they were uncertain had been lost. The girl was dead, presumably for days. They couldn’t save her.
In the days following, I had met with her father who didn’t seem sad enough. His eyes showed victory behind his crocodile tears, and his posture displayed no mourning, only relief. As I stood there, judging his preposterous weeping, I recalled what the child had said to me ask my father about my birthday. So, I did.
His weeping subsided almost immediately as his eyes sharpened and he looked closer at me. Without knowing what it meant I pushed harder “What happened on her birthday?”
He started trembling, his eyes watering (not with fake tears mind you) and he looked me dead in the eyes. “I just missed my wife, and…” my gut hitched, and I had to hold down the bile that was working its way up my throat. Was he suggesting what I thought he was?
In short, yes. He had raped and murdered his daughter on the night of her birthday and disposed of her body the day after. I made a quick call and disclosed my findings to the police. They graciously swooped in and took care of the rest. He got a life sentence and was sent to a maximum-security prison with some of the meanest bastards to ever walk the earth. He only lasted a few weeks in there before he was found hanging in his cell “DIDDLER” carved into his bare chest. Not even criminals take kindly to others that harm children. It was still nicer than what I would have done if I’d had a chance at him.
When my dreams turned to nightmares; fueled by the feebleness of my own actions to prevent such atrocious crimes, I turned to the bottle. It provided me solitude. The alcohol made the sleep dreamless and brought a welcome peace to the rising tide of chaos around me.
Even with the alcohol, the girl would appear, enshrined in filth, and always urgent. Even though I was not a superstitious man, I came to accept that she was more than a simple figment of my imagination. No, she was as real as real can get. She brought with her warnings, instructions and even locations at times. In fact, on several occasions had led me to save the proverbial day. Never would she stay for longer than it took to get her message across, and regardless of the message; I always left with a feeling of unease.
So here she stood before me once again, as she had numerous times over the years. It was as if she was an omen of bad things to come, investigations to take a turn down a route no one expected. She came as a warning, a chance to steel myself against this damnable world, or flee from it altogether.
I shakily tried to lighten the pitch of my voice as I began to say “hey, it’s you, are you- “
She cut me off, a somber tone reflecting in her eyes, “There’s a malicious presence here Jack. Head home, there’s nothing that you will find here that won’t try to destroy your very being. The road you are travelling will lead to nothing but misery.”
I smiled halfheartedly, “You know I can’t do that. But I don’t suppose that this time you’ll tell me what I’m in store for will you?”
She simply shook her head solemnly as she turned into vapor, her body dispersing into the air. It never ceased to catch me off guard. Gooseflesh rose over my body as heat returned. I heard Dom call my name from somewhere behind me and took another huge drag of my cigarette before turning around, fear creeping up along with uneasiness and I exhaled as the edge of stress was taken off once more.
I looked at him picking up the slightest amount of urgency in his voice as he spoke “you find anything Jack?”
“Not yet, but there are a few things I’ll need to pick at a bit more. Is – uh – everything okay Dom?”
He flicked his eyes to something just out of view then back towards me, his voice shaky as he spoke “Uh – Yeah Jack. Let’s just get back inside, I want to get this thing done as soon as possible.”
I returned to the filing room, shrugging off the feeling of unease as I slid out of my jacket. It faded substantially as I looked back to the case files, their contents poking out from their manila home haphazardly; warning of the prickly contents inside. Akin to a child, I was eager to see all the pieces and slowly piece together the jigsaw, even if it meant getting hurt in the process. Thus, I abandoned myself to the research process once again.
The second victim was a young woman, around twenty years old named Veronica Stillwell. Still-well, yeah right, she most definitely is not well. Her injuries were interesting, the photo’s revealing what the autopsy confirmed. She had been killed by blunt force trauma; her wounds were significantly less severe than Elizabeth’s had been, she was covered in pressure wounds, but her body was not mangled. Additionally, a ring of purple wrapped around her throat, though not in the shape of hands. No, this was shaped more like a rope, as if she’d been hung prior to the murder.
After speaking to her parents, officers had found that she had recently been accepted into an Ivey League university on a full academic scholarship. She was ecstatic, posting to multiple social media sites as well as telling almost anyone she’d speak to in person. Her parents said that she had been glowing, as if all her dreams were going to come true. For whatever reason, however, the officer didn’t question anyone else, leaving it at the parents. I reached into my breast pocket and produced my notebook, the pages crinkled quietly as I jotted down ‘Veronica’s friends, school, and parents’.
I flicked through the remaining pages, finding nothing else interesting about her. She appeared to work at a floral shop in the market square. She had been saving to buy a place of her own when she found out that she’d finally been accepted. It seems that her promising future was snuffed out as well. My pen scrawled across the thin, lined paper of my notebook ‘Jealousy?’
It makes sense. I flicked through the other files, cross referencing the missing persons’ descriptions against the hypothetical modus operandi I’d build up. My gut tightened, each of the missing persons were upstanding members of the community with very promising futures. I quickly jotted down the addresses of the two homicide victims into my notebook. I needed to figure out what was going on in this town.
The little girl’s voice echoed through my head as I set a mental map in place “The road you are travelling will lead to nothing but misery.”
I know kid. It always does.
I stood up and plucked my coat off the back of the chair. It was time to get some answers.
I stood outside of Noah Brackman’s house; notebook in one hand, coffee in the other. The drive had been uneventful and relatively short one. One of the benefits of small towns, it takes five minutes to cross from one end to the other. And should you be feeling super adventurous, you could cover all the roads within an afternoon. The same couldn’t be said for cities.
My feet carried me up the meticulously maintained path one step at a time. Though the motion was basic, the thoughts flowing through my mind were anything but. For as I neared the door, my mind had already covered dozens of reasons, motives, and methods for stealing the life of the victims the way the murder had. Assuming there is just one. Though I carried myself confidently, in that moment I was anything but. My strongest motivator kept coming down to jealousy, and though it was a very useless, ugly emotion, very rarely does it escalate to murder. Let alone three murders and eight kidnappings. No, there had to be another reason.
Thus, I knocked on the door to the Brackman house. The three solid knocks were loud yet not intimidating, after several moments of waiting, I heard shuffling. With entrance swung open with a slow yet deliberate swing and I saw a defeated looking man standing there, his eyes downcast in shame and sadness.
I took him in, trying to glean any information his outfit could give me. It didn’t look like he’d left the house in a week. His housecoat and pajamas were stained with sweat and god only knows what else. I offered a smile that was not reciprocated, however, he just continued to keep his eyes glued to the floor.
He didn’t look up as he said, in a small voice “h-hi, can I help you?”
I gave an empathetic smile, “Hi, my name’s Jack Lewis. I’m a PI employed by the Magrath Police. Would you mind if I asked you some questions?.. About Noah?”
He looked a little surprised, but smiled, “Sure, come on in, I have tea on.”
“Oh no I couldn’t, you don’t-”
He held up a hand, cutting me off, “I don’t have to, but I want to. It’s been quiet around here, I could use the company”
A puzzled look must have crossed my eyes because when he met them, I saw nothing but unfathomable pools of sorrow etched deep within. I wanted to ask him what had happened, but nothing came out. I was baffled by the sheer depth of sadness this man possessed. So as he turned in to the house and began shuffling along. I followed him into his house, eager to get some much needed answers to this perplexing case.
The house reflected his appearance, ill maintained and dirty to say the least. Pizza boxes were piled up on top of dishes, there was a fork embedded into the couch and several green masses littered the floor. From the kitchen a high pitched squealing rang out – the tea kettle no doubt. Mr Brackman walked into the kitchen and I did not follow, for I feared what I might smell or find in that room should I choose to enter.
I took note of my surroundings. There were two chairs; matching green lazy boy recliners facing about forty five degrees of each other towards the small tube tv that stood on a small folding tv table. Between the chairs stood a small side table, covered in a high pile of used tissues. Between the chairs and television, there was a small coffee table. It looked worn with age and neglect, though it’s surface was obscured with pizza boxes. A couple of which has fallen off the table and onto the floor. I looked to the floor then, noticing the mouldy green spilling out from beneath Mr. Brackman’s chair, as if something had died underneath it.
The air was musty and held in my lungs as I breathed. It assaulted my nose with the smell of decay and rot. Underneath that were tones of excrement that even a pig would turn away from. I realized that this man was lost after the loss of his son, like the light of his world had been drained of any remnant energy. I felt sorry for him, for this road was one I could have traversed many times over the years. I waited anxiously for Mr. Brackman, not wanting to spend any more time here than necessary.
He came back moments later with one dirty mug and one surprisingly clean one. As he shuffled over, I caught myself looking at the mugs, hoping I would get the clean one and not the dirty one. Thankfully, I did. I cleared my throat in preparation for our conversation, eager for answers and moving this case along. I didn’t want to stay in Magrath longer than necessary. I hit record on the small pocket sized tape recorder and set it on the table.
I’d never liked taking notes while someone was talking to me unless necessary. I didn’t have that viewpoint until the first time I’d gone to therapy. The therapist had refused to put down the notepad while I talked and often times I felt like I had to pause what I was saying so she could catch up. I found the experience so patronizing. As such, I would carry a tape recorder with me – though they now just used 64gb sim cards instead of actual tape – and I would simply transcribe the recording later.
It allowed me to not only ensure I heard everything right and engaged in a conversation, but it also allowed me to have physical proof of what they’d said, should a case ever go to court.
I adjusted myself in the chair, and began, “So Mr. Brackman -”
“Please just call me Ed. You need a family to consider yourself a mister.” tears welled up in his eyes, but receded as he gained control over his emotions once more.
I waited a moment more before asking, “So Ed, what could you tell me about your son.”
Ed began in a shaky voice, “Noah is – was a great kid. He’d never done anything to displease me or the wife. In fact, he went above and beyond in all aspects of life to make us proud. He was the best son a father could ask for. He gave us hope for the future, you know. See, my wife and I” he trailed off, “we weren’t the best of parents, couldn’t provide the type of life we felt he deserved. He’d always wanted to pursue a ‘higher education’ but we couldn’t afford it, so when he’d shown promise as a football player, we absolutely had to find a way to get him a scholarship playing in university. We were going to move and everything. The future seemed great. Now.. not so much.”
Tears began to stream down his face, dripping off his stubbled chin onto his housecoat, adding darker spots next to stains that littered the fabric. This was a broken man, one who’d centered his life around family. I’d wanted to ask about his wife, why she wasn’t in the picture, where she’d gone off to. But as he began to calm down and wipe the tears from his face, I knew that I couldn’t do that, not quite yet. I’d come for answers about his son and those took priority.
I reached down and grabbed my mug, fingers wrapping tightly around the ceramic handle. As the warm liquid flowed down my throat Ed grabbed a used tissue from a pile on the side table next to him. I tried not to shudder as he opened it up and used it again, then wiped his eyes with it. I placed my mug down as he grabbed another one.
I’d waited until he finished blowing his nose, “He was killed a couple weeks ago, as I’m undoubtedly sure you’re aware.” He nodded at me, “Sorry Ed, would you be able to say yes for the recording.”
His eyes widened slightly as he looked down to the recorder, as if he hadn’t seen me place it there. “Sorry, yes, Noah was murdered a few weeks ago.”
I nodded to him, and once again continued “Did he have any close friends, acquaintances or anyone else that could have done this to him out of jealousy? Had he been acting strange before his untimely demise?”
He gathered his thoughts for a few seconds “His main group of friends were this small rat like boy named Robert, and there was another one on the other end of the size spectrum named Larkin. They were the main ones, went everywhere together. There were a couple others he’d been hanging out, one’s name was Zachariah – goes by Zach. The last was a girl, I don’t know her name, but they called her Tricks? But with an X. Like the cereal.” He paused, then remembered the other question I had asked. “He wasn’t acting strange per say. He’d just been focused on school heavily lately, staying late and studying at school well after it had ended. Even on the days that he’d had football practice.”
“Do you happen to know where these boys live?”
He thought for a second, “Robert lives next to Larkin, been that way since they were kids. They live a few blocks west of here, do you have a pen and paper? I’ll write down the address for you.”
I handed him my notepad and a pen, opening the notepad to a fresh page. He quickly scribbled the address down, and then something else on it. He handed it back smiling anxiously. I shot a quizzical look his way then looked down at the page, there was Larkins address though, below it is where my breath hitched. It was a small phrase, one that sent off alarms within my head. No, as the sweat began to form droplets on my forehead and my hands began to tremble. I read the name posted below the address. The name of the home’s owner. Samantha Grace. Someone I hadn’t seen since the night I left. Almost ten years ago.
Ed looked at me with curious eyes, wondering why I looked like I’d seen a ghost no doubt. I composed myself, quelling my personal dilemmas in pursuit of justice. I thanked him for giving it to me and stood up, excusing myself. It appeared as though I’d have to slay some demons afterall. I picked up the voice recorder and turned it off, sliding it into my pocket.
As I slid my jacket on, Ed approached me, “Thank you for visiting Jack. It’s been nice to have some company. It’s so lonely here.”
His question spurred on the question I’d forgotten to ask, “Where’d your wife go Ed? You never mentioned why she left.”
His expression paled, “We were both on leave for grief following the death of our son. I had been trying to hold in my emotions so I could be there for her, y’know. Last week she asked if I could go out and get something, I don’t even remember what it was now, but looking back I know it was something benign in nature, like cereal or something like that. Anyway, when I’d come home, she wasn’t here. That’s all there is to it. Everything that belonged to her was gone, even some furniture. She must’ve been planning it for a while, to move out I mean. It’s like she had a team of professional movers come and haul everything out. There was no trace of her anywhere.”
I felt my heart pump out one really hard, solid beat before flying into another furry. Ed broke into tears and I turned and left without saying another word. Ed’s wife had vanished, gone, as if she’d planned it. Everything of hers was missing. No indicators before she left.. Just like Emma.
“The road you are travelling will lead to nothing but misery.”
I needed a smoke. Bad.
I left Ed’s house in a hurry and walked back to the station while chain smoking. By the time I’d returned, I’d finished the remainder of my pack and smelled like a smoke factory. I’d need to get more, and soon. For this trip to Magrath was starting to stir a lot of memories, old demons I thought long dead after the torrent of alcohol I’d sent to kill them. However, alcohol doesn’t kill demons. No, it quiets them, subdues them and pushes them deeper down than you’d thought possible, but they’ll rise. They’ll scourge your mind with hellfire until you take another drink. Then they’ll quiet. Then they’ll let you live in peace and tranquility. Stumbling mindlessly from one bar to the next.
I’d had my share of alcohol over the years. But then again, I have my share of demons too.
The hours passed with reckless abandon as I organized notes and transcribed the recording, my fingers splaying over the keyboard with ease as I’d listen, pause, and type. My mind often drifted during these writing periods as the mundane task of transcribing can be broken down into very mechanical monotonous subsets of actions. Thus, as I typed, my mind drifted to Emma.
We’d med each othering in Magrath as we were just teenagers. Love had blossomed like it does when you’re young and full of hormones. We were set to build a life together, to find ourselves in each other, to build a family grow old. When the days would grow long and our bones would grow tired, weary and brittle, I foresaw us sitting on our porch, drinking fine wine and talking about our achievements. Talking about how we made it out of small town life and built something together in the big city.
On the day I’d found the house empty, my world was shattered. I thought she’d left me for reasons unknown. Perhaps she’d been growing tired of my working schedule, my absences due to work or what have you. But I often received long breaks after working jobs due to the average price I would charge clients. We were never rich per say, but as my reputation grew, we sure got close. Now, after hearing what Ed Brackman had told me, I’m not sure if she ran away or if there was something going on that I didn’t know.
I finished transcribing the recording as the sun moved into its last quarter in the sky. The blazing ball of heat and warmth cast its friendly glow over Magrath, and I knew, no matter what happens down here, at least it would carry on shining. Regardless of what that little girl said or not. For now, I would need to ask Dominic for a favor.
It felt like days had passed since that morning with the coffee, yet it had only been half a day, and as I walked up to his cubicle, he smiled, looking up from the paperwork he was half heartedly reading.
He smiled, “Hey Jack, any headway?”
I answered truthfully, “A little, I spoke to Noah Brackmans dad, he mentioned a few of his friends that would be worth talking to. They’re in school this time of year, correct?”
His smile faltered but he managed to hang onto it, “Yeah, we heard you went. And yeah, they should be, why?”
“I need you to call the school tomorrow morning and let their teachers know I’ll be stopping by to question them. I don’t need a warrant but they can easily get you guys to remove me. I figured getting you to tell them would be paramount to them assuming I’m above the law.” I paused, adding with a wink, “between you and me though, I’m not. How’d you hear I went to Ed’s?”
“You forget small towns Jack, everyone talks, it just travels around a lot quicker here.” He laughed slightly, then wrote a memo on the notepad next to him, looking up to me shortly after. “What are their names?”
“Three boys, one girl. Boys go by Robert, Larkin, and Zach. Girl goes by a nickname, though I don’t know her real name, Trix.”
He looked back up at me, startled as I said the fourth name. “Trix? Are you sure?”
I looked at him curiously, “Yeah, do you know her?”
“That’s my niece. We can go see her as soon as I’m off if you’d like.”
“Sure, but after that I have a bit more running around to do, one more potential lead I have to touch up on.”
“Okay, that’s fine.” He paused to check his watch. “It’s 3pm now, be back here at 4 and we’ll leave.”
With that I simply nodded, then walked back to the filing room for another look through the files. I’d checked out the murders, as that’s what I was called in for, but something was nagging at me, driving me towards something that had been eating me away for months. I needed to see the files of the missing people and see what on earth was going on in Magrath.
The cardboard filing box for the year was pristine. The corners came to sharp points and the edges were crisp and unblemished. I pulled it off the shelf, noting that it was lighter than the murders box had been. The face of it had “MISSING PERSONS” written across it in black sharpie, and underneath that was “1990-____.” They’d obviously used this as a sort of “all cases” box, as the blank end date suggested they’d add it once the box was full.
I plucked off the lid a smirk edging onto my face as the lid first held resolutely to the box, then slid down with a satisfying slowness. It landed on the table with a soft “whump” and with the lid off, I could see the contents inside. There were several files, all in manilla files. They were stacked neatly to one side. I reached out and read the file names, removing the most recent eight ones. I returned the filing box to the shelf, returning shortly after and sitting down, anxious to see if my hunch was correct.
The first file belonged to someone by the name of Gina Brathford. She’d lived with her common law partner, though they had only recently graduated from a university in a city several hundred miles south, they had resigned to move back to their hometown. Although Gina was born and raised in Magrath, her partner Susan Locksar, was raised just a few blocks from where they’d gone to school.
I scanned through the document with a scrutinizing attention. Looking for the one detail that may confirm my hunch. Where in the hell was it? Though the first page concerned the character background given to detective Hanson by Susan, the second page contained the information I was after. There lay the single piece of information that would push the relation between Ed’s wife’s leaving and Emma’s from a manifestation in my mind of pure coincidence, to something of substantial value. My eyes flowed over the wording used by the Detective, and my heart began to beat harder in my chest as the words travelled from my eyes into my mind. “The disappearance is interesting as all of Gina’s personal effects have disappeared with her. It is only with my due diligence that I am even typing this out, for if I were to write this based on evidence alone, it would be my opinion that Gina had simply left Susan. Perhaps out of some lover’s quarrel or some scandalous affair. Though my heart truly aches for Susan, I do not believe that this is a missing person’s case in the slightest.”
I had to re-read the part several times. For my mind could not comprehend the insinuation of what I had stumbled upon. In my years of experience, it was common to occasionally stumble across two or three cases within a notable time period. However, my brow began to sweat as I leered over the remaining files, both excitedly anxious and curiously horrified at what the contents of them might be.
With a trembling hand, I gripped the third file and apprehensively turned over the manilla folder, barely noticing the familiar scent the file had. The thought flickered across the back of my mind, affirmed as I read the obligatory filing introduction on the first page. This report was done by Dominic. I frowned, though for reasons unbeknownst to me at that particular moment. Was it not proper form for officers to fill out most if not all reports at any level below a crime befitting capital punishment. Though, as my face tightened I realized what had formed the expression on my face. Jealousy.
I scoffed inwardly, I had nothing to be jealous of Dominic for, I had a successful business in a big city, with a huge number of clients. I was sufficient in all aspects of life. Except for love, Dominic has Shannon, you have… What did I have? Emma could have left me still, the evidence proving otherwise was in my hand, I simply had to look.
My eyes flicked down, past Dom’s name and onto the contents of the file that was now folding in the unintentional vice grip I was imposing upon it. I scowled, and resigned myself to reading.
The second disappearance was another sophomore, it wasn’t a surprise that he went to the same highschool as all the other victims. Afterall, there was only one highschool in the town. I devoured the file with fervor, trying to pick out the details and be as objective as possible. Name – Shawn Peterson – didn’t care, age – 16 – didn’t care, hobbies – video games, reading, coding – didn’t care. I suppose in my meager definition of objectivity, I simply meant apathy. For I was apathetic, it wasn’t for solving the case that I was scrutinizing every detail in that moment. No, it was a pathetic attempt to redeem myself and the very facts that I would have to face should my fears become realized.
The second page once again contained the information I was after. Dominic was studious of the kids bedroom, I had to give him that. “Shawn was last seen by his mother that evening, as she left for her shift at the nearby hospital. She worked through the night, which would have given Shawn more than enough time to pack up and leave. However, as far as she knew, he had no friends that owned a vehicle large enough to fit both his bed and his second hand projector tv that she had bought him for his birthday that year. She returned to an empty room. It was typical for her to wake him up as she would get home, in order for him to prepare for school. However, as she opened the door, she revealed there to be no contents within. She immediately called it in. After a thorough search of the room, I am appalled that I must report, there was absolutely nothing in his room, not even the faintest spec of dust could be found. It’s as if all traces of anything other than the room itself has completely disappeared.”
My mouth hung agape and the palpitations in my chest returned, rendering me short of breath. I noticed the sweat as it began to trickle down my back to the hem of my shirt. My brow became slick and my hands grew clammy. The utter culmination of guilt and fear overtook me as I began to inflect.
Emma had disappeared in almost the exact way that these others had disappeared. For the child it would seem as though only the belongings in his room were taken, but as a child, who are we but the things we kept in our rooms. For the adults, however, the personal effects were taken and all traces of them seemingly wiped from existence. As the realization overcame me, I placed the manilla folder back on the table, the last inkling of doubt holding resolutely against the idea that these could all be connected.
In a last ditch effort to prove my doubts true, I hurriedly scanned the remaining six documents, combing briefly over the victims information and going straight to the scene investigation portion of the report. My efforts were not rewarded, however, for within the documents, there were the same details outlining the disappearances and the items of the victims. My brain wracked with possible scenarios, bordering on the insane as I posed instance after instance of possibilities. However, I could not come up with any conclusion into who, why, or even how these kidnappings were done. How did these people disappear, were they taken or did they all seemingly leave in one great simultaneous manner. I couldn’t explain it, and thus, I found myself falling down the rabbit hole of madness as I tried to come to terms with the disappearance of Emma.
How could this happen to her if we were hundreds of kilometers away?
The last thread of hope appeared as a familiar face, appeared in the doorway. Saving me from the thoughts that threatened to consume me and dig up the grief that had once been directed towards losing the love of my life. Dominic Thompson stood in the doorway with a bemused look on his face.
“You know Jack, you’re not super punctual. Here I was thinking you would meet me at four and we would leave. Imagine my surprise when you’re still here fifteen minutes past, head in your hands, looking like an insane person. Everything alright man?”
I looked up to him wearily, subconsciously grateful for his timely rescue “Yeah, let’s discuss it on the way, I’m ready to go. If I spend another minute here, I swear I’ll go insane.”
I let out a weak chuckle as Dominic turned. I followed him out of the dark oppressive building and into the sunshine that poured a molten gold shine over the streets. It was an autumn evening in Alberta, and though the time had read 4:15pm, the sun had already begun it’s descent into the western horizon. I took a moment to pause and let the sun shine its radiant warmth over my weary face, closing my eyes as if to soak up all of it that I could.
Dom and I sat in the comfort of my car, it’s worn leather seats comparably softer than the chair I’d been using in the filing room. She sputtered to life as I turned the key in the ignition, whining hesitantly before finally turning over. I reached over to the glovebox and pulled out one of many boxes of cigarettes that I had stashed. Dom shot me a curious look, his eye brow shot high above its normal location as if to say is that normal? I laughed self-consciously as I slid into gear and began the journey down the road.
The smoke billowed out of the sliver I’d cracked in the open window. The nicotine eased the stress that had been creeping within me as I drew in another long drag. I held it in as though my body would absorb more of that addictive cure-all and not more of the tar within. When I released, the white cloud dissipated through the window, being carried out like a forgotten memory, drifting slowly into the into the sunset’s golden light.
I’d been driving all of three minutes when a sense of embarrassment overcame me. I looked over to Dom as I pulled the car over. “Uh, I don’t know where we’re going”
He stifled a laugh as he said between tight lips, “I was wondering when you’d say that. Thankfully we’re headed the right way. It’ll just be the next left then right and then we’ll be there.”
I slugged him gently in the arm as I pulled back onto the road, “So about those files…” I trailed off.
His eyes slowly made their way over to me, wider than I was expecting them to be, as if he was surprised I’d want to talk about them, “Jack, I really don’t want to talk about them.” He let loose a deep and breathy sigh, “but, I guess I owe you that much.” He looked to the clock on the dashboard then back at me, “pull over here, I’ll give you 15 minutes, then we’ll go.”
I dug around in my mind, trying to find the most coherent way to string together my malformed thoughts and culminate the findings of the day’s research, “Dom, first off, those murders I have nothing on them thus far, and I’m hoping your niece will be able to shed some light on the whole scenario. Though, when I went to visit Ed Brackman, something odd was revealed to me. Did you know his wife left? Just out cold, like Emma”
Dom paled, as if anticipating the next string of words I’d throw together “I had no idea, why?”
I steeled myself, hesitating briefly before spilling out the words that had been held back in my throat, “same as the missing persons Dom. Exact damn same, same as Emma too. You saw the Peterson kid’s house, you saw that all his stuff was gone, it was the same for all the others too, the same for Ed’s wife, and the same for Emma. Dom, something big is happening in Magrath and I haven’t the foggiest fucking clue as to what it could be. Perhaps everything that’s going on is a result of..” I choked up, not wanting to delve into my past. But I had to, right here, right now it needed to be said, at least, “the reason I left. Dom, I think some freaky shit is happening, and it could all have to do with the damned night I left.”
His face grew grim as the lingering rays of sunlight poured in through my windshield, it would be minutes now before it descended its final arc in the sky. Dom swallowed but didn’t say anything, he was doing the same thing we did as kids, and for the first time since I returned, I saw the scared little boy I’d befriended in kindergarten. The look was fleeting though, as he got his emotions back under control.
Finally, he opened his mouth and began to speak, “Jack, I’m terrified of this damned case. Ask Shannon, I spend every night awake except for when I fall asleep drunk. There’s no information we can glean, no piecing it together and no explaining it. The whole department is on edge, I don’t know why you came, but I’m glad you did, if anyone can solve this, it’s you.”
Something caught me off guard, “what do you mean you don’t know why I came?”
He looked puzzled, “what do you mean? We got an email from someone very high up telling us to expect your arrival, to assist with the trouble we’d been having. That you’d expressed concern for your hometown and wanted to help out the best you could.”
It was my turn for puzzlement, “Dom, I got a call the other night to come down and help. They said you gave a reference for me, told me I was needed, that they’d pay double my rate.”
Dom looked absolutely baffled “Who called you?”
“His name cut out, right as he was saying it, I didn’t bother to ask it he sounded serious.”
He caught me in a frightened glance as he reached into his pocket to pull out his phone. In turn, I pulled out mine, knowing what I needed to show him. He frowned, at the same moment I pulled up my call logs, panic spread through me as I couldn’t find what I was looking for.
“The call isn’t here, I swear I was called.”
Dom looked blankly at his phone, “The email isn’t here either.”
The exchange that followed could only be described as borderline insanity, as we both spoke to each other and ourselves. We began questioning ourselves and each other, swearing up and down on what had happened to bring us together. There are no words to describe the level of panic that coursed throughout my body in that moment, for as I stare blankly at the call history on my phone seeing no incoming calls in the past few weeks, my body began to shake to the core.
Dom looked over to me once more “Something fucked up is going on here, I think working the case may provide the answer.”
With that, I slid the car into gear and maneuvered us the remaining block down to Trix’s house, where perhaps another clue may be given as to what affliction had befallen the town of Magrath. Where answers may be gleaned, and minds may be mended. Though, as we pulled along the faded asphalt road onto a less travelled road, my thoughts lingered on the words that hung in the periphery of my mind over the past several hours.
“The road you are travelling will lead to nothing but misery.”
We arrived a Trix’s house shortly after 5:00pm that evening. The sun cast its last rasys across the land as it descended past the crest of the horizon, plunging the world into darkness. I slid out from behind the wheel and stretched. I focused on the loosening of the muscles as I bent over, anxious to focus on something other than the mind snapping topic Dom and I had discussed on the ride over. From the looks of it, Dom wanted to avoid the subject as well for acknowledging it would be paramount to accepting insanity.
Dom gestured for me to follow him. I fell in line behind him as we climbed the brick steps towards what was a familiar place to him, yet an alien landscape to myself. As the stress began to creep in, I found myself itching for a cigarette. My mouth began to salivate at the thought of the familiar feeling of the filter pressed between my lips, the sweet release of nicotine as it entered my bloodstream once again. Though at that moment, my hankering was not something that could be sated.
He turned to me, disclaiming, “So, Trixie is usually home alone. It’s nothing to be concerned about though, my brother is a professor of law at the university and her mom works long hours at the hospital. The result is a lot of downtime here, so I visit her whenever I can. Just know, she may get emotional when Noah gets mentioned, she’s had a tough time with his passing.” He paused, “they were dating when he was killed, it absolutely destroyed her. Although she’s been getting better, I don’t think the mention of his name will do her any favors.”
Dom approached the door and pressed in the small white button, ushering a resounding chime throughout the house. A smile splayed upon his unsure lips as we heard the first sounds of someone shuffling on the other side. The door flew open and a girl no older than sixteen threw herself at him, wrapping him in a bear hug.
“Uncle Dom!” She exclaimed, a wide grin spanning her pale face.
He smiled as he embraced her, and for a moment, I wasn’t seeing the Dom that I had grown up with all those years ago in the lonely streets of Magrath. I saw the face of a man who had what I desired, he had an abundance of love in his life, an overflowing vestibule of compassion for his family that had undoubtedly contributed to Shannon falling in love with him. For a moment, albeit a brief one, a pang of jealousy coursed through my body, followed by immense guilt. As I looked on towards Dom, my thoughts moved into the dangerous realm of “what ifs” What if I’d never left, what if Emma and I had never gotten together? Could things have been different?
I shook my head slightly, as if to shake out the thoughts that were coagulating inside. When I finally was able to think straight again, I looked up to see Dom and Trix finally break off the hug. Dom looked at here with the affectionate eyes of a father, and motioned for me to come closer.
“Trix, this is an old friend of mine that I grew up with. His name is Jack.” He paused to allow her a moment to look me up and down, “Jack, this is my niece, Trix.”
I outstretched my hand, “It’s a pleasure to meet you Trix. I suppose you know why I’m here.”
She glanced to Dom, then back to me smirking, “well, if uncle Dom’s numerous stories about you are true, then you’re quite the detective. My guess is your here to fix all the messed up crap everyone turns a blind eye to in this town.”
I looked to Dom whose face had turned a light shade of scarlet, “I like her.”
We made our way to the living room, and I couldn’t help but draw comparisons to Ed’s house from earlier in the day. From the looks of it, his brother had done quite well for himself in the years following my departure. Though from the outside, the house matched the others, it was evident there had been some heavy remodeling done within. The lacquered hardwood floor stretched out over the open concept space. The entryway where we stood was slightly lower than the wooden floors, no doubt to keep any water brought in by any visitor from getting onto the expensive floor that covered the entirety of the visible house.
A fireplace stood along one wall, the chimney was made of intricately placed rocks and a slate black grout running between them. The walls were littered with pictures of the family on holidays, with groups of friends, and during important moments. There was a lot of love contained under the roof, and I found myself smiling as I looked around taking it all in. I looked at the dual grey sofas facing each other as if to spur on conversation. Between them sat a large coffee table made of a large, treated piece of driftwood, smoothed and machined to allow for the glass top to be placed on its surface. Beyond laid the dining table and further, the kitchen itself.
Though I stood there, smiling dumbly at the interior design Dom wasted little time. Next to me, he shrugged off his shoes and took the single step onto the hardwood. I followed suit and stretched my feet as I slid them out of my shoes.
We sat on the couches facing each other, Trix on one, Dom and I on the other. She smiled as Dom and her were recounting a story of some prank he had pulled on Dom several years back. I didn’t pay much attention, instead I worked on ways that I could pose the questions that had been lingering at the forefront of my mind. Hoping that she would be able to reconcile what Ed had told me, as well as provide another direction by which to search for the answer to this entire case.
When the conversation was replaced by an echoing laughter from them that I half heartedly joined in on, I knew it was time to begin to ask questions. Let her finish laughing before you go and stir up painful memories you apathetic asshole.
As her laugh ceased and she wiped a joyful tear from her eye, I began “Trix, by now you know the reason your uncle brought me here don’t you?” I paused long enough for her to nod, “good, what can you tell me about Noah?”
Her eyes brightened despite the tears welling up, “He was amazing. We met young, as most people do in this damn town, and we became the best of friends. He really solidified our group, as a leader. He would lead us through all our adventures; the times we’d venture into the woods, go hiking, build snow forts…” her eyes flickered to Dom, “drinking. Our lives were full because he was in them. It was almost like he was this little ball of light that you were drawn to. Yeah, you could almost say if he was a light, I was surely a moth.
“I didn’t even realize I was falling for him until high school had started up, and by then I had been such a tomboy I didn’t even consider that I could have those feelings.” She loosed a chuckle, “I guess that these things kind of creep up on you, huh? Anyway, one day he told me he shared those feelings and I was ecstatic, began thinking of a future with him and stuff… y’know? About a month ago, he told me that his parents were set on moving, that because he was a prodigy child, they wanted to maximize his chances at a football scholarship. I told him I’d move with him, you know, convince my dad and all that. Deep down I was heartbroken, there really is no way to put it, it felt like my world was uprooted. None of that matters though now, be-because he’s – because he’s dead.”
She began crying. It hadn’t happened all at once though. It began to fester slowly in her speech, showing as minor bobbles within her voice. Ebbing up and down as her throat contracted from the grief, and as she wrapped up her last sentence, her words began to be incomprehensible. The tears slowly turned into cries, and those cries turned into her all out bawling into her hands. I didn’t push it, even though she’d only backed up how Ed’s son was an upstanding boy, it was enough for now. At least until she stopped crying.
I sat there dumbly as Dom stood up and walked over to her, wrapping her in a tight hug. She gripped onto him, her cries muffled by his uniform. He rested his head on top of hers and he closed his eyes, shedding a tear himself. His hand stroked her back as they sat there, and eventually her cries began to space a little more.
I realized, as he consoled her, that she was still just a child. A child whose world revolved around the life she’d built in her classes, with her classmates. It was only amplified by life in a small town and though she was beginning to mature, her scope of life was limited to the sixteen years that she’d spent here. Sure she travelled a lot and saw a lot more of the world than most people her age, but all of that was from the constrained lens that tourists had. She had yet to lay awake at night contemplating her role within the world, questioning the feebleness of her actions on the world. She’d yet to have the existential crises that shape a lot of your adult life, because, at the end of the day, she was still a child. I looked down solemnly at the tragedy that had befallen her life and cursed the uncaring god that allowed this to happen to her. When I looked up, she’d stopped crying.
Dom pulled away and she did her best to dry her face but the tears just streaked down familiar channels, as if eager to free themselves from her body. She said something to Dom in a whisper and he looked at me solemnly.
“Hey Jack, no more questions about him okay? Not tonight, she’s not ready.”
I nodded sympathetically, hopeful that tomorrow would yield better results when I questioned Zach and Larkin. In lieu of questioning, I turned the conversation to a happier tone.
I told Trix stories of her uncle and the shenanigans we would get up to. How we raised hell in Magrath when we were children, causing pain for our teachers and parents alike. And though we’d often get caught out late, ringing doorbells far past curfews, we could walk up to any house and be welcomed in with open arms, with a hospitality unparalleled in any other backwater town. I’d told her of the late night town-wide games of tag we’d play with the other kids, using flashlights to illuminate our prey if we were it. I conveyed the memories of exploration within the forests and how we’d built structures in those woods out of the deadfall that littered the forests, smiling when she told me that some were still standing.
By the time we left, she was smiling. Her eyes were enlarged with wonder, hanging on my every word as I told her of a time that had never existed during her lifetime. A time of peace and quiet within this town. A time that had shattered on that fateful night, nearly ten years ago.
I pulled up outside Dom’s house, looking at the small digital clock on my dashboard. It read 8:15pm. We’d been at Trix’s over three hours and I’d still needed to eat. I figured I’d grab something on the way to check into a motel. Though, as Dom was easing himself out of the seat next to me, he stopped and turned back.
“Hey, do you need a place to stay?”
I shrugged, “I’m planning on just checking into the motel down the street, why?”
He made a gesture with his hand as if wiping the words away before they hit him, “None of that, you can stay with us, we have a guest bedroom so you don’t need to sleep on the couch. I’m sure Shannon left us enough food as well. No friend of mine is sleeping in that motel, are you kidding me, that place probably hasn’t even been cleaned since we were children.”
We exchanged a laugh and I noted how nice it felt to laugh. Though, a thought lingered in my head as I accepted Dom’s invitation, one that stirred the repressed memories and the guilt that accompanied them. As I reflected on the thought, I reached subconsciously into my jacket pocket and pulled out the package of cigarettes contained within. Fuck, I need a goddamn smoke.
The cool air chilled my hands as I inhaled the welcome tobacco into my lungs. I let the smoke trickle out of my mouth, allowing the wind to carry it off as the nicotine began to work it’s much anticipated magic on my mind. I allowed myself to exhale as the stress began to recede into the recesses of my mind and my anxiety ceased to be at the forefront. I watched as the coils of smoke drifted up under the streetlamps, visible only in the areas the light touched. I took another drag, closing my eyes as the smoke filled my lungs once more. When I opened them, I wasn’t surprised to see a familiar face peering at me from the shadows.
She smiled solemnly, though her eyes were as intense as they had been earlier on in the day. Her dirt stained feet were barely visible under the warm glow of the streetlamp and I felt my chest tighten. She never brought good news and although I’d never seen her twice in one day, I knew this case was different.
The little girl eyed me studiously as I posed my first question, “am I on the right track?”
She nodded, then cast her eyes down, “This is the last time I’ll be able to appear before you Jack, this path, this journey you’re on, though it will fill you with grief, suffering, and agony, you will gain some piece of mind. You will find answers, though not all will be ones you thought you needed to know. Tomorrow will be a different day, a day where you will have to face your demons and overcome the hurdle that has kept you from Magrath all these years. Only when you can face it, will you be able to remove the dark cloud that hangs over this town.”
I stood there, my mind wrapping around the implications of her words; attempting to comprehend and decrypt her warning. One question lingered in the back of my head, though I knew she would not provide a direct answer, it still needed to be asked.
I pleaded, “Where does it all lead? Can you at least help me there?”
She looked up at me, her eyes losing some of the intensity that they had held prior, “the road will lead to where it began Jack, where the fires of guilt were kindled and the gates to the night of tears burst open.”
As she finished her sentence, she closed her eyes. As she began to fade into the blackness of night, I could have sworn I saw a tear trail down her small and delicate cheek. I remained motionless for several moments following, realizing for the first time the sweat brought on by fear of her implications. It appeared as though, that to solve this case, I would need to dig up old skeletons, tear open old wounds and slay the demons that lingered in the past.
I closed my eyes as fear overcame my body once again and I stood there, shuddering in the cold autumn evening.
Some time later, after my nerves had faded and the sweat from my brow had dried, I found myself standing in Dom’s kitchen. He was standing by the counter, serving up what looked to be a dish of mashed potatoes and chicken. His eyes flicked up to me as I entered and he signaled for me to come on over, handing me a plate as I neared.
“Shannon made enough food for you as well, she must’ve figured you’d be staying here.”
I reached out and took the plate from him, thanking him as I went about loading up my plate. My stomach growled deeply as I placed a large chicken breast on my plate. Funny, I hadn’t even realized I was hungry.
Dom and I sat at the table eating in silence as we lost ourselves in the depths of our thoughts. Not wanting to fall back down the rabbit hole that was this case, I decided to focus on the individual aspects of the food in front of me. Though quite common, the food was delicious, it was not hard to tell that even after all these years, Shannon had still cared deeply about her cooking. Curious, I looked up to Dom.
“So, when did you and Shannon get hitched?”
He smiled fondly, as if recalling the events of their wedding day “Well, shortly after you left, we began to spend more time together. She was in a very emotional state and I had been there for her as both a shoulder to cry on, and as a close friend to confide in. As the months passed we began to date, then eventually, I proposed. I’ve never been happier man.”
I smiled back, though it felt forced. Sure, I was happy for Dom, but in some way I figure that the jealousy of past relationships nevers leaves. It lingers in the periphery of your conscious, a sort of afterthought founded on sour emotions and bitterness. How dare you be happier with someone that isn’t me?
Dom’s smile lingered as he returned to eating, and for a while, we remained like that. Both of us weary from the day’s work and fearful of what we would find tomorrow. The unspoken unease between us seemed almost nonexistent at this point, and long after we finished our meals and bid each other goodnight; I found myself wishing, though not for the first time, that things could have been different. If only my father hadn’t been the man he was or had ruined the town the way he had.
As my thoughts lingered in the past, I dug into my suitcase and pulled out the bottle of whiskey I’d packed for the trip. I uncorked it and put the bottle to my lips, letting the content burn their way over my tongue and down my throat. The heat didn’t take long to spread over my body and into my mind, soon, the thoughts of death and decay were removed my head. The thoughts of what was to come disappeared, replaced – if only momentarily – by the buzz of alcohol. I smiled as I lay on the spare bed, as the darkness rolled in over my drunken body and brought me into a dreamless, worriless sleep.
Though I’m sure dreams came throughout that night, I surely didn’t remember them. For as my self prescribed medicine worked its magic, I found myself whisked away into the realm of dreamless sleep. Where the worries of a past surrounded by demons, monsters and world in which my father destroyed simply didn’t appear. And though, after all these years, fleeing from his sins – fleeing from the sins of my past too – the alcohol served as a catalyst for the apathy that had washed over my existence. Though the house settled around me, and my unconscious body remained that way, the dark thoughts never leave. For you can bury them, hide them, pretend they don’t exist, pretend you’d never wronged the people you loved, but when the dust settles and you stand before your maker you will have to face them. Because though you may have – in some vain attempt – sought penance for the sins of the past, if you refuse to admit, refuse to repair and refuse to acknowledge, your inner demons will grow, they will fester, and they will ultimately tear you apart.
So as I lay there unconscious, in a dark and dreamless sleep, the thought still lingers in the recesses of my mind, undulating, pulsing, mingling with the dormant demons of years past. Poking and prodding its way to the surface, and I know it’ll always be there. For when I sit up bolt awake in the depth of night; as the obscured dream continues to fade into the ignorance of my drunken stupor I know deep down that the regrets will never go away. Once more, the fear presents itself; my heart beating uncontrollably against the cavern of my chest and the thought presents itself once more.
How on earth could I face them if they knew the truth?
The smell of coffee filled the air as the sound of my alarm pierced the veil of sleep on the second day. I rolled over in bed reluctantly, feeling robbed once more of the sanctuary sleep provided from the waking world. I groped around in the dark, my hands seeking the dim light emitted from my phone’s screen; anxious to turn off the blaring tone that screamed pain into my hungover brain. A sigh escaped my mouth as I found purchase and condemned it to silence.
Still partially drunk, I swung my legs over the side of the bed and sat up and rubbed the sleep out of my eyes. Shakily, I rose to my feet and slipped on a t-shirt and sweatpants and headed towards the kitchen. I drew near, and heard voices coming from within. Dom and Shannon were mid conversation and though I knew it would be rude to eavesdrop, I remained hidden from view as they carried on.
“… but Shan, why won’t you tell me what happened the night he left? I know something happened, his house didn’t burn down for no reason, he didn’t leave for no reason, and Emma didn’t disappear for no reason. Shan something fucked has been going on in this town for far too long, and I think that perhaps you know what caused it.”
A stifled gasp escaped from Shannon’s mouth as if the words struck her, “where is this coming from Dominic? Why on earth would I know what happened? Why don’t you just ask him?”
The frustration rose within Dominic’s voice, “I can’t ask him, do you know what it would do to him to force him to relive that? He’s already got one foot in the grave Shan, I don’t think he’s gone to bed in years without the sauce to help. He has problems, I don’t want to add to them.”
A small fire was lit within my chest as the anger grew. He may have seen himself as a caring friend, but my problems were my own, I didn’t need his opinion on how I lived my life. The rage was bubbling, boiling beneath the surface of my skin as I readied myself to walk out and face him. But a sound from the other room stopped me mid stride.
It started as a series of strange repetitive exhales, and it took me a moment to realize what was going on. Dominic was crying, empathy overcame me as the anger faded rapidly. He wasn’t judging me, no, he deeply cared. He didn’t want to subject me to whatever torment forcing me to relive the past could entail. No, what he said, he’d said not as someone with spite in their heart, but compassion. My shoulders sagged as the realization overcame me. I’m sorry I doubted you Dom.
I stepped out from the hallway I had been hiding in. Shannon stood behind Dom, her arms wrapped around him as he sobbed at the kitchen table, head in his hands. Her eyes snapped open as I walked over, they betrayed the expression of horror contained within them, as if to say “Shit, how much did you hear?”
I smiled gently at her, and gestured for her to move away from Dom. She frowned, but stepped back nonetheless, curiosity overcoming her compassion. When I reached them, I placed my hand lightly on Dom’s shoulder. His sobs grew quiet and he looked up at me. I was momentarily caught off guard.
It’s a strange thing, seeing someone you respect so highly cry. Though, as Dom looked up at me, tears running down his cheeks and onto his chin, I felt something in my heart click. For, respect builds up something false in the mind, dehumanizes people in the eyes of the people that respect them. It’s a strange contradiction, respecting someone, for as the respect you have for them grows, you begin to stop associating human traits to them. In your mind you may build them up as someone strong, someone resolute, firm in their beliefs, yet you seem to forget that underneath, they face the same struggles you do. In that moment, I saw Dom, not as the hardened cop with a firm respect for the community, whose life was perfect and only had positive emotions, but as a man who was facing a dilemma. He empathized with my pain, put other’s emotions first, by placing himself in their shoes. He knew my past was a tragic one, yet, although he wanted answers, he wouldn’t push me, for fear that it may elicit an unfavorable response in my psyche.
My hand remained on his shoulder, and an understanding passed between us, “I’ll tell you all about it, but not right now Dom. Tonight, after work, we’ll go to the bar, have a few beers and I’ll tell you the tale of my father, the things he took from this town and the things he took from me. I’ll tell you about the night I left, the night that I set my house on fire and ran away with Emma.”
He nodded and flashed a weak smile, “sounds good Jack, whatever you need.”
In an attempt to lighten the mood, I let out a shaky chuckle, “what I need is a damn shower, I smell like ass.”
He laughed an over exaggerated, yet hearty laugh. The kind of laugh that comes forth when someone desperately needs something, anything to cling onto other than the thoughts fluttering around in their head. When he’d calmed down, he sent me on my way to the shower.
I was grateful, to say the least. For it was only under the torrent of hot water that the anxiety finally melted away and my heart slowed. I’d never told anyone about what really happened that night, though, I’d need a lot of alcohol to get through it.
We sat outside of Fairmount secondary school in Dom’s Honda Civic. Though he’d made the call to speak to the kids on my behalf, he’d decided to tag along, having finished his paperwork yesterday before leaving. I shifted uncomfortably in my seat. I was antsy, I wanted to get this case moving, I wanted answers, and more than any of that, I wanted to be out of this claustrophobic car working my way through the case.
Dom must have realized my anticipation when he’d glance over, “just a few more minutes Jack, then we’ll go inside and wait in the office for the kids. Why don’t you have a smoke or something while we wait?”
I frowned, perhaps that was the reason I was so anxious, I hadn’t had a smoke in almost eleven hours. I couldn’t remember the last time that had happened. Typically, I’d have at least a pack a day, I’d always have one before bed, one or two throughout the night, if I woke up with the craving, and the first thing when I woke up. Yet it appeared as though my distraction outweighed my addiction the prior night and I was now in the midst of withdrawals. I nodded to Dom and stepped out of the car, fumbling in my pocket for the box of cigarettes within.
The autumn air assaulted me as I placed the filter between my lips, already calmed by the gesture alone. Pavlov sure knew about human conditioning. After a few tries, the end was alight and I began to inhale the familiar smoke deep within my lungs. The nicotine flowed through my body and I could feel my muscles loosening as I took another drag. Though they may kill me one of these days, they sure helped take the edge off on stressful cases such as this one.
As I took another drag, I realized that the cigarette had been reduced to one smouldering butt. Why not another? I reached back into my pocket and withdrew yet another one, this time savouring each deep inhale and the feeling of the smoke filling my chest. I exhaled and watched as the smoke drifted up and away, free of the chains of this town. I envy you.
My thoughts of freedom and smoke were interrupted by a loud school bell. I bent down and looked at Dom, who simply nodded and maneuvered himself out of the car. I flicked the remaining cigarette on the ground and stepped on it, then followed Dominic towards the oppressive brick building that lay before us.
The three boys sat across from us in the small conference room, their eyes wide and posture nervous. I studied each of them as they sat there, their skin beginning to form little rivulets of sweat. I laughed inwardly as I noticed they had subconsciously organized themselves by relative size. Robert, the smallest was closest to the door. At 5’4 and a whopping 95lbs, it didn’t surprise me why Ed har referred to him as ratlike. His face, though etched with fear still appeared mischievous, I didn’t envy him, certainly he would be the student blamed for anything “inexplicable” in any of his classes.
Next to him sat Zachariah, or Zach as he preferred to be called. He was an averagely built sixteen year old, coming into his body well. Though he was 6’10, he appeared to be covered in a thin, lean sheet of muscle. Based on his physical appearance in conjunction with the fact that he appeared less afraid than the others, I figured he was an athlete. Dominant on the field, yet not at the top, that would have been his unfortunate friend Noah. His eyes were focused on the table, yet his jaw was set. Once I was done surveying him, I slid my eyes to the mountain next to him.
The mountain’s name was Larkin, a staggering 6’5 with a solid mixed mass of muscle and fat on him. His blue eyes flickered between Dom and I at a rapid pace. Out of the three of them, he was the most afraid, the most worried about what they were here for, and if they were in trouble. If anyone knows anything, it’s him.
I pulled out my tape recorder, “You boys know what this is?” They nodded in unison, “good, I’m going to record our conversation for my own personal reference, do you consent to being recorded.” Another series of nods followed, I hit record and set it on the table.
Not wanting to single him out, I began “Hi boys, my names Jack Lewis, I’m a private investigator. I was hired by your town’s police department to investigate the recent disappearances and deaths. I was told you were friends of Noah’s, and as such, I have a few questions for you.”
The room changed in a way I was not expecting it to. Instead of the anxiety dissipating as they realized they weren’t in trouble, the anxiety got worse. Their eyes widened, but none of them said a word, Zach looked up from where he’d been staring and met my gaze.
Dom spoke next, “Now, you boys aren’t in any trouble, if you were, we wouldn’t be meeting you here, we just want to know what you know. Jack?”
“Yes, the first question. Did Noah have anyone that would have wished harm upon him? Any enemies, rivals, teachers, etc. anyone you can think of?”
The boys looked between each other, unsurprisingly, it was Zach that spoke, “No sir, no one we know of.”
To the point, blunt, gave no information away that wouldn’t have answered the question. This was nothing to go on. Yet. I reached into my pocket and pulled out my notebook, flipping it open to a blank page. I held it so they couldn’t see that it was blank.
I pretended to read off the sheet, “Did anything happen before the night of his untimely death? Anything that could have led to this happening?” They looked to each other again, again Zach answered to the point, giving away no more information.
I realized I would get nowhere with him sitting in the room, so I decided to change tactics, suddenly grateful that Dom had tagged along. I asked them a few more routine questions; who were their friends, had they seen anyone suspicious lately, had Noah been acting funny, but each time, it would be Zach that responded. It became clear to me that they were looking to him to be their new leader in Noah’s place.
With enough time having passed to make it no longer obvious what I was trying to do, I declared the next phase of the interview, “Okay, could Larkin and Robert please follow officer Thompson here back into the reception area. I would like to get everyone’s statement separately.” The boys looked at Zach, then to me. “It’s okay, this is pretty routine, right Officer?”
Dom only nodded as he stood up, the two boys followed suit. As he led them out of the room, he paused in the doorway, he shot me a curious look and closed the door behind him.
Zach’s demeanor broke within seconds, the fear worked its way over his features as the realization that he didn’t have to look strong in front of his friends now set in. He wiped the sweat off his brow and there were dark patches forming under his arm-pits. I watched as he did everything possible to avoid eye contact, though, eventually he stopped and met my gaze. I sighed and relaxed into the chair, reminding myself once again that I was talking to a child who had been to a funeral for one of his closest friends.
I broke the awkward tension that had began to form in the room, “So Zach, would you be able to tell me about any time you spent with Noah in the weeks before his passing? It doesn’t have to be anything that you think I would find important, just anything that happened. Absolutely anything could be important.”
He stared through me for a moment, then slid his eyes away shamefully, “Yeah, sure. Uhm, things got strange around a week before he died. We went to a party together. Trix, Noah, Robby, Larkin, and I. We didn’t want to tell you at first because, well, we don’t want our parents to know. Would it be possible for you not to let them know?”
I had to force the smile not to emerge. Though their friend had died, their world’s still revolved around the events that transpired within their homes. From Zach’s response, it was evident to me that to him, his parent’s opinion of him was something he held in highest regard.
Using that knowledge to my advantage, I smiled, “You know, I’m not a cop, so nothing you say to me has to go back to your parents.”
He visibly relaxed, some of the fear erasing itself from his face. He took a moment to recompose himself, and launched into the tale of the night they went to the party.
Zach and his friends had been excited about this party for the past week, having spoken about it almost every break between classes and every lunch period. They’d texted about it at length and had even talked about some plans for what they could do together afterwards. I smiled as I fondly remembered my first highschool party, the anticipation that seemed to overcome me. It was a mixture of excitement and nervousness. To partake in the forbidden fruit, only to wonder why it had been kept from you afterwards. As Zach recounted their conversations, I found my mind wandering to those feelings, those moments, and then all the nights I’d spent in the years following. Hitting up bars, and drinking until the pain went away.
I forced myself to refocus, thankful for the tape recorder that sat on the table, making a mental note to listen to it later. Zach mentioned that when Friday approached, they’d decided to pull an elaborate “sleepover” maneuver on their parents. Trix’s parents were out of town, so they would all sleep at her house once their after party activities had concluded. Though, the boys would tell their parents they were at one of the other’s house, and so on. It wasn’t uncommon for them to have sleepovers so their parents didn’t even question it in the slightest.
When school had concluded on Friday night, Zach, Robert, Larkin, Noah and Trix had all walked to Trix’s place where they spent the next four hours getting ready for the party. They laughed and recounted stories from their youth, the previous times they’d snuck out, and all the different rights of passage they’d undergone as a group. To them, this day marked a milestone in their group. This would be their first time drinking alcohol outside of their homes and they were ecstatic. I fondly recalled the first time alcohol had touched my lips, it seemed so long ago, within the borders of this town. It was strange, seeing the next generation moving through the same motions that I had once gone through myself. I smiled and continued to listen.
“The party” Zach had finally mentioned, was at one of the junior’s houses, a young man by the name of Corey Spelding. Corey and Zach didn’t always see eye to eye, but they’d known each other since elementary, same as anyone else who’d lived in this town their whole life. Corey had invited Noah, and by extension invited Zach and the rest of Noah’s group as well.
They got there shortly after eight o’clock, having walked the distance from Trix’s house to Coreys over the span of twenty minutes. The house was full when they’d arrived, and the music could be heard drifting around the house from the back yard. They walked around and saw a bonfire, teenagers drinking and the other festivities that went along with a highschool party.
Zach explained that there wasn’t much notable about the party itself, Noah and Trix had mingled some, but other than that, the rest of the group remained as wall flowers. He added, between parts of his story, that Trix and Noah assumed no one knew they were an item, though it was obvious whenever they were together. He chuckled at this, but then went on with the story.
“Uhh, we left shortly after eleven I think it was. I guess we were all just tired and wanted to sleep, so we walked back to trix’s and then went to bed. That’s pretty much all there is to it. The following week nothing else really happened, sir. Noah was a little distant, but he didn’t seem off other than not hanging out with us after school. He would just say that he was too busy or something along those lines.” He turned his head, refusing to meet my eyes.
I was floored by the way he’d abruptly ended the story; as if there wasn’t anything else that happened that night. Though as I looked into his eyes, I could see that he was terrified, as if recounting the party had brought his mind to linger on something that he had been repressing up until that moment. Whatever had terrified him so, was scarier to Zach than anything I could have done to him. There was no more information that I could get from him. So I thanked him for his time and sent him out of the conference room. Perhaps, the others would provide more insight into whatever happened at that party.
Robert was the next one to enter the room. His eyes flitted nervously around the room, as if the walls were covered in eyes that threatened to judge him for any action that he made. His discomfort proved contagious, and on several occasions, I found myself looking anxiously at the walls myself.
He lowered himself into the chair and looked across the table at me. One on one, I was able to notice the dark rings under his eyes. He hasn’t been sleeping. He looked dreadfully tired, but even without the rings under his eyes, that was evident. His shoulders drooped and his body appeared to lean with each passing moment.
I broke the silence “Haven’t been sleeping Robert?”
His eyes flicked over to mine and widened as though he was forcing himself to stay awake, “No sir, I – uh – I can’t. I’ve been having nightmares, sir. They’re awful, I can barely sleep for five minutes, let alone a whole a whole night.” His head dipped slightly as he spoke, though he bobbed it back up. He was teetering on the edge of unconsciousness. I wouldn’t be able to question him, not like this. Though, I still needed answers to what happened after that party.
My voice came out shakier than expected, as though fearful of the answer I would get, “Robert, Zach told me about the party, but I need to know, where did you all go after?”
His eyes shot wide open, and he suddenly became very alert, “No, no, no. I can’t, no. Don’t go there if you don’t have to. No, No! You shouldn’t, don’t go, don’t. If you go there, you’ll end up like the rest. We’re headed there too, you know. It’ll happen to all of us, my dreams, they tell me that, they’ve shown me where the others were taken. I can’t. The fire consumed everything, but it didn’t consume it, it didn’t destroy it. His face was melted, he remains, it remains.”
I frowned, suddenly very concerned for the boys health, I stood and walked around the table to go and comfort him as his speaking was reduced to nothing but pitiful sobs mixed with garbled incoherent nothings. As I reached him, however, he suddenly went quiet and his head hit the white surface of the table in front of him. I changed course and flung open the door, calling out into the office to call for the school nurse or an ambulance.
It’s funny, in moments of high stress, the level of detail that passes through the eye and deep into the brain. For in that moment, I saw the flowers slowly wilting on the receptionist’s desk, their once piercing yellow petals now pale with age. I saw the receptionists computer open to her Facebook profile, she had been on a page for single mothers. I saw the digital clock change from 08:23 to 08:24. I saw Dom’s face become strewn with confusion, the receptionist’s face became strewn with concern. Though, what stuck out to me the most was the identical looks of fear that had etched itself onto the faces of Zach and Larkin as they sat side by side in the old green plastic chairs. Their hands gripped the sides tightly and their knuckles white with the tension that had built up within.
The paramedics arrived shortly after and prepped the boy to be brought to the hospital. The EMT I spoke to had ruled it as Robert just being over tired, spontaneous unconsciousness brought on by lack of sleep. I was certain that the doctor would rule the same, though, based on the other boys expressions, I figured they still knew something I didn’t.
As the paramedics were carrying Robert out of the linoleum corridor, I turned to Larkin, who had brought himself to stand in the midst of the situation. “I don’t need any fancy explanation right now, you can tell me when you feel like it, I’ll give you my card.” I slipped him my card, and he took it, before looking up at me. “Call me when you want to talk, all I need right now is a location, where did you go on the night of Corey Spelding’s party?”
His eyes widened as fear overtook him once more, his voice came out uneven and laced with fright, “we went to the old Lewis house, the haunted one that burnt down nearly ten years ago.”
Dom and I sat at the table in the filing room of the precinct. Our mind lingered on the events that occurred at the school and the final statement made by Larkin as Robert was carried out by paramedics. His eyes were intense, worry seeping through his usual gentle gaze as he looked at me. He knew as well as I did, what needed to be told. And it was there, within the oppressive walls of the police station – where the bureaucratic atmosphere weighed on our shoulders – that I told Dominic a story he’d never heard before. One that was buried behind layers of secrets and red tape, embedded deep within this town’s history though obscured from the masses. A story of love and corruption, a story about a young man and his father, and the night that the town of Magrath would change forever.
Fear has always intrigued me. The heart stopping, knee shaking, cold sweat that overtakes your body and hinders all thought process. The primal instincts of fight or flight course through your veins, sharpening only one thought while it dulls all the others. Survive. This instinct, though used less now than in the times of our tribal ancestors, still remains to this day. It has led people who were otherwise “unfit” to run a mile, to sprint it with ease, mothers to lift cars off of infants, and incredible acts of self defense to take place. All of these actions allow your mind to stray from the fear. They provide a conduit through which to expel it and allow you to think clearly once more. There was no instinctive action that could have numbed the fear that coursed through my body on the night of October 20, 2005, the night I fled Magrath, tail tucked between my legs as a fire roared behind me.
Winter came early that year, and by October 5th, the white symphony of snowflakes littered the sky like falling pieces of cotton. The grounds were covered, large snow banks stood like guardrails along the sides of the roads, and tall mountains were piled up on resident’s lawns, and though it was close to Hallows Eve, they’d opted to string colored lights from their eavestroughs and set up christmas trees in their living rooms. Autumn blitzed by that year and Magrath had been turned into a winter wonderland.
Standing outside, I admired the twinkling of the streetlights against the snowflakes; the world was calm and the street quiet. There were no cars on the road, no pedestrians on the sidewalk, and I could feel a smile creeping along my face. For a moment, everything seemed alright. The dismal nature of my homelife seemed a distant memory as I turned and began walking up the stairs to Emma’s house.
She greeted me at the door, her smile beaming as she took me in, “hey you, are you lost?”
I sniggered and pulled her in for a hug. I held her tightly to me for a moment, as if afraid loosening by the slightest margin would cause her to disappear. After several minutes, she broke off the hug and pulled back, concern lining her eyes.
With a shaky breath, the words flowed from her, “what’s wrong babe? Did it happen again?”
I smiled half heartedly as tears began to trickle slowly down my stinging cheek. The cold moved in, cooling the liquid as it flowed. The silence encroached on us, filling the air around and the fictitious expanse that grew between us. I lifted my hand to my shoulder, touching the spot that hours ago had began stinging. Not only the skin, but my very soul hurt. The kind of hurt that could only be rendered by someone in a position of authority, love and protection. As the moonlight poured over my body, I found myself crying not for the first time over the pain my father inflicted.
My body shuddered as the sobs racked my body and Emma wrapped me up in her arms once more, “Shush Jack, it’ll all be okay. I’ve got you now, it’ll all be fine.”
I pulled back and looked at her. Her eyes were filled with tears and small streaks had began to form on her face as well. It was a ritual that we’d performed numerous times, one that brought us closer together, but made me dependant. For in her arms, the pain was lessened. In her arms, the pain was less severe and the memories of my father’s beatings sifted into the past, to be repressed until moments when I was alone. When the night was silent and the walls would speak. Telling me horrible stories of abuse and pain, of the things he’d done and the things he would do.
My voice came out shaky as I looked into her sparkling blue eyes, “I’m done with all of this Em, done. I can’t live like this. He’s been pushing all of his shortcomings onto me, I hate it. Maybe I deserve it, maybe I should take the beatings with a smile on my face. But the screams Em, my god, the screaming, I can’t handle it. How on earth can I let this go on Em, something has to be done. I’m going to tell the police tomorrow.”
Emma smiled weakly and nodded her head. She didn’t say anything; she knew that I wasn’t looking for a reaffirmation of my beliefs or sympathy. I simply was soundboarding; using her as an emotional lightning rod by which I could expel the feelings – the shame, the guilt, the agony, and fear – building up inside of me.
We went inside her house, leaving the cold sting of the outside air for the warmth of the indoors. Her parents were already asleep but we still tiptoed up to her bedroom, afraid to disturb the silence that had befallen the small bungalow she called home. We climbed the wooden staircase, anxiety flowing through our veins as we took the twenty steps to the top stair. Though my body was still sore from crying, my mind had become transfixed on one action. Lust filled my mind; brought forth by the swaying of Emma’s hips on the steps in front of me.
When we entered her room, she turned, her eyes seemingly eating me up, as she reached forward and lifted my shirt off of my body. My skin contracted as her fingernails grazed my flesh, and I found myself becoming erect. In kind I removed her clothes, now firmly entranced by not only her body, but the magnificence of my love for her.
We spent the next hours making love, taking each other in and merging our souls along with our bodies. Our bond was solidified that night, the lust had been spurred by a mutual feeling of admiration and love for one another. Although it was not our first time bedding one another, it was one of the most passionate, raw, and emotional experiences either of us had ever had.
For it was while we were wrapped up in each other’s arms that night that we allowed ourselves to blossom, to become one, and embrace the primal urges that had long since festered within ourselves. With each other, we’d attained something more. Something pure, something beautiful, and something that brought out a single thought. For as I lay there, arm tucked under her as she drifted into sweet nothingness, I reflected on the events of the day and vowed, not only to myself, but to Emma that I would do anything for her. This vow, although innocent in nature, spurred a great deal of pain for the both of in the weeks to come, for unbeknownst to us at the time there was a dark wave cresting over Magrath, and when it finally came crashing down, our world would change forever.
I awoke the next day to a sun shining in through the bedside window, and for a moment, the events of yesterday and the evening we’d shared had been all but forgotten. It wasn’t until Emma began to stir that like domino’s toppling, memories began to fall into place.
She turned and sent a tired smile my way, one that pulled back her upper lip slightly so the faintest hint of her upper teeth became visible behind hit. I leaned forward and kissed her, closing my eyes, as I pulled her in and inhaled her scent. Though laced with sweat for last night’s festivities, her scent breathed heaven into my lungs. I broke off the kiss, smiling.
She pulled back, her eyes reflecting the tired smile that had reappeared on her face, “what is it mister?”
My heart skipped a beat as I looked into her eyes, my mind struggling to find the words to explain exactly what she meant to me, “Em, you’re all I need.”
She tried to say something else, though it came out as indiscernible babble, which, to me, sounded awfully suggestive. Though, she tried once more, I could barely hear it. Apparently it was enough for her though, and she placed her head down on the pillow and fell back asleep. I remained awake, however, resigned to the statement I’d made the night before on the front porch of Emma’s house. Today, I would tell the police about my father, the captives he kept and the secrets he contained within our large, intimidating manor.
Getting out of Emma’s wasn’t an issue, I’d snuck out multiple times over the several months we’d been dating and had since reduced the strenuous activity of scaling out her bedroom window down to a science. I would simply open the window and fling myself to the tree that stood a mere six or seven feet from her window, grab onto a branch to steady myself, then let myself fall the remaining three or four feet to the ground below. As her bedroom was on the back of the house, I then only had to hop the fence to the back alley and I would be in the clear. Though the snow had made it slightly harder to hide my tracks, the tree had been close enough to the back pathway that I could propel myself off the branch and land on the path with little issue.
No, the issue was and always would be, getting home. My father never worked, and though we’d lived in a large house that overlooked the town, he’d never needed to. Our family helped build the town, thus we’d owned a significant portion of the properties on it. The shopkeepers would pay us a monthly allotted rental amount, and we’d allow them to conduct their business. My mother worked at a local florist shop, though she’d claim it was as a hobby, I knew it was simply to get away from the drunken stupor my father had always found himself in.
I approached the house, though to call it a house would be paramount to calling a tank a common car. No, the house was a monstrous southern plantation-style home, with a wrap around veranda and marble pillars. Though the house was large, there were only two floors. The ground level and upper level. From the upper level you would experience a breathtaking view of all of Magrath. The house stood over the town like an Idol, screaming wealth and importance to an otherwise indifferent audience.
As I stepped up the stone brick path, head hanging low with remembrance of my father’s actions, a tear began to trickle down my face. I looked skyward, as if to keep the tears from escaping and noticed the black cloud moving overhead. It was colder this morning, and I found myself shivering as I finally reached the double doors that led to the foyer of the house. What an absurd waste of money.
I was unsurprised upon entry to find the house was silent. My father would have surely drank himself into a stupor the prior night, and my mother, would be at the flower shop, even though the sun had only just begun it’s journey behind the clouds above. I began the trek down the long hallway, passing the den on the way to my room.
My heart froze mid-beat in my chest as I saw my father standing within. He was facing the fireplace, and though his back was to me, I knew he was acutely aware of my presence. I dared move as he began to lift the tumbler that resided in his hand up to his lips and finished the contents.
He loosed a sigh as he moved the glass away from his face, “what am I going to do with you? My disappointment of a son. Where were you last night Jack? And don’t you dare lie to me.”
I shuddered and felt my throat tighten, and my mouth go dry. Any courage granted to me from the night with Emma had vanished, replaced by the all consuming fear of knowing the one ending this conversation would have. I’d have to pick my words carefully, for though any attempt to stave off the oncoming blows would prove useless, there would still be a chance to soften them a little.
My tongue felt heavy and my voice shaky, “I was at Emma’s, sir.”
He scoffed distastefully, “that harlot? Are we not of superior blood Jack? I’ve told you this before, we cannot associate ourselves with the common rabble! Our family has overseen this town since it’s foundation, and we must keep our blood rich, clean of any common filth. I will not tell you again, do I need to remind you what happened to that other girl you used to bring around here?”
I paled and became locked deep in memories. They swarmed my head even as my father loosened and removed his belt. The assaulted my vision even as he began to strike me with the belt. They rendered me defenseless, even as he pushed me down and pummeled me into unconsciousness on the plush carpet below.
“Don’t fuck this up for me, Jack”
I awoke sometime later in the comfort of my bed. Though this wasn’t the first beating I’d received over the years, it was one of the worst. I turned over in bed, tears running down my bruised face but resignation coursing through my veins, it was time to report that bastard.
In less than an hour later, I was at the police station talking to Detective Mark Hamlon. His gut jutted out towards me like a tumor, invading the space between us and demanding attention. He looked comfortable in his old age and appeared to be riding the position as long as he could before the chief forced him into retirement. I shuddered as he walked over to me, his entire mass jiggling with each step.
We went into a private interrogation room, where I sat across from him at the metal table. It felt strange being in the room, though he looked completely at ease, and I realized it was probably his favorite room in the whole building.
He eyed me studiously, and asked with a raised eyebrow, “so, you told the receptionist that you had information about all those missing people?”
I nodded, “yes sir, I know where they are and whose keeping them.”
If he was surprised, his face didn’t show it, “Does your daddy know you’re here Jack?”
My blood ran cold. He knew who I was, who my dad was. I was about to open my mouth when he held up one greasy, thick finger to pause me. A smile spread over his face that rippled through his multiple chins, he moved his hand and wiped the drool that had begun to pool off.
Condescension leached into his words, “You shouldn’t go sticking your nose into your daddy’s business Jack, he’s a good man. He doesn’t deserve some punk trying to sour his reputation, don’t you agree?”
I was dumbfounded, this man that swore an oath to protect and serve, to put the needs of the public before his own, was defending my father? I felt like I’d been struck, not like the strikes from my father, but like I was hit directly in the soul. My young mind had always held up law enforcement as something infallible, pure, and adamant. Never in my life had “corruption” even been in the same sentence as “police officer” in my mind. Yet, as this man sat across from me, a smug smile splaying over his large features, the puzzle pieces began to slide into place. No one had ever caught my father for one reason.
“He’s paying you off, isn’t he?”
The smile never left Hamlon’s face, “He makes sizable donations to the force, and keeps us all nice and comfortable. In return, we sometimes look the other way for some of his more nefarious deeds.”
My blood was boiling; I stood up and hit my hands on the table, “You’re all dirty cops! You took an oath to uphold the law of this country, doesn’t that bother you?”
His smile vanished as his face turned red, “you don’t know the way the world works kid. You think everything’s all sunshine and rainbows? Well it’s not, everything has a goddamn price and you’d do well to learn that. So sit your ignorant ass down and listen you entitled shit.” I sat down slowly and he continued, “I wish there was something I could do, I really do, I know what your dad does to you, hell we all do. But he owns this town. Every single piece of land in this town is all traceable to your father and his father before him. His word is the law here. There’s nothing we can do. He has people all over this damned town scouting for him, keeping tabs on everyone, especially you.”
He sighed and slumped back in his chair. For a moment, I didn’t see the grotesque man I’d seen before. I saw someone who’d signed up to make a difference, only to have the system chew him up and shit him out. He was beaten long ago, and there was nothing he could do to help me. There was nothing anyone could do but me. I needed to figure out what I was going to do to stop my father once and for all. Having gotten all the answers I needed, and being nowhere closer to seeing my father behind bars, I stood up and slid on my jacket. Detective Hamlon followed suit.
As I walked out from the grasp of the oppressive walls of the precinct, the black clouds had moved over the entirety of Magrath. Having escorted me out, Detective Hamlon remarked at the weather, “There’s a storm coming Jack, best be ready for when it gets here.”
I nodded, my mind enraptured by the coalescing shades of grey fighting amidst the sky. Marking a path of inclement weather over the town I’d called home for the formative years of my life. In that moment, I stood out of my body, overlooking all the events that brought me here, to this point, at this moment. I smiled dryly and began walking, I would need to talk to Emma, she would be able to quell the demons waging war within my mind and calm me enough to think straight. For in that moment, clouds were moving across my mind as well, wrapping around and distorting my thoughts, forming one lone objective amidst the cacophony of memories. I needed to get the hell out of Magrath.
As the thought flitted through my mind, Emma’s voice came flooding in. Her words from our morning in bed flowed forth with stunning clarity, “Jack, let’s just run away.”
Emma’s home was empty when I got there. I knew her parents had plans for the day – a trip down to the city for some anniversary shopping, Emma had told me earlier in the week. Yet, I figured Emma would have been home. As I approached the open door, a feeling reminiscent of a stone falling within my gut hit me. Something was wrong, and within moments, the anxiety to know exactly what began to overpower me.
I stepped through the doorway, appalled to see that the house was stripped bare, there was no trace of anything within the house at all. Her parent’s belongings were gone and though I knew my way around the house pretty well, I felt like I was walking into unfamiliar territory as I stepped between rooms.
I then noticed the silence. It was eerie. Though it had been quiet outside, there had still been the noise of the occasional car, or the rustle of trees in the wind. In here, there was no sound to speak of, it was simply as though someone had turned the volume on the world all the way down. I found myself hyperventilating.
A streak of blood ran up the staircase, leading to Emma’s room on the floor above. I followed it, the trepidation forcing its way through my veins. I could feel it creeping through my muscles, tensing the various capillaries that lines my mouth and jaw, tensing in my shoulders and riding through my back. I wanted to scream, but my mouth felt wired shut. For as I entered Emma’s room, I saw no trace of her belongings. No trace of her presence or anything else within her room. No, what I saw was a single word written on the wall in a dark red substance. “Harlot.”
I don’t remember the journey from Emma’s house to the manor. My memory comes back as I throw open the doors to the absurdly large house, lungs stinging, legs burning. My back, forehead and neck were slick with sweat. I didn’t care. I had to find Emma.
I ran down the hallways, searching for any indication of where my father could have brought her. Though, I persisted. I threw open the doors to unused rooms, dug through old closets, turned over furniture, looking for anything that could tell me where he’d brought her. There had to be a secret room somewhere in this God-forsaken house and I was determined to find it.
I’d been in the middle of flipping my parent’s bed when my eyes flitted over to their walk in closet. There, nestled in the depths of the white carpet was a single scarlet droplet. From the way it glistened in the overhead light, I could tell it was fresh. It was there, I would find my answer.
I dropped the mattress and moved into the closet, pushing aside clothes and shoes, throwing boxes and hats out of the way. As I was moving my father’s suits to one side of the closet, my hand brushed a small bump on the wall. Curious, I moved my hand back and sure enough, I felt it again. I extended my thumb and jutted it into the precarious bump. To my surprise the back wall began to shift and I hear the whirring of the mechanisms within as they worked.
Within moments, I was facing a wooden staircase leading into the murky depths below the manor. Leading into a basement I’d never known we had. I stepped onto the first step, wincing as the wood groaned beneath my weight, the wood having grown weary in it’s old age. As stealthily as possible, I continued down the steps, placing foot after foot, hearing groan after groan as I neared the end. What end that was, well, I had yet to find out.
The stairs led to a large empty room. The walls were made of concrete blocks and old hanging light bulbs littered the ceiling, illuminating their surroundings with their yellow incandescent glow. Using the little light, I navigated my way around the room, anxious to find any trace of Emma and my father within the depths of the manor.
I knew I was close when I heard faint wimpers coming from one of the rooms connected to the one I was in. And as I made my way over I could hear my father scolding Emma, calling a “harlot”, “peasant” and any string of vile words he could think of. I looked around for a weapon but found nothing, I knew there was only one way to end this.
I stepped into the room, my jaw set and my face angry, “Father, you brought this piece of common swine into our house? Did you forget what you told me just this morning?”
Emma’s eyes widened as I spoke, and I could see in them that she couldn’t believe what she was hearing. She was gagged, and her hands were tied firmly behind her back. My father, on the other hand, smiled and looked at me, his eyes lingering on the bruises he’d inflicted just that morning. I approached him, noticing the wicked blade that he’d held in his right hand. Gripped in his left was a fistful of Emma’s hair. His hands were stained with blood. His eyes were glazed over, red with the drunkenness that washed over him.
The smell of whiskey rolled off his slurred words, “Ahh Jack, how nice of you to come around my boy. Do you want this one? She’s pretty, but even the best swine need to be put down. It’s about time we end her miserable life, don’t you think child?”
I nodded and grabbed the blade from his outstretched hand, trembling as I did so. His eyes were sinister as he watched me place the blade upon Emma’s neck. She was crying, the tears cascaded from her eyes, streaking down her pale face and dripping onto the ground beneath her. I closed my eyes, blinking long and hard while sucking in a long, deep breath between clenched teeth.
I exhaled, and spun, swinging the blade towards my father. He simply caught my arm as if he was expecting it, “You think I’m a fucking idiot Jack? You’ve been plowing this pig like a field, and you expect me to believe you want to off her? Get a grip kid, you don’t have the balls.”
He ripped the knife from my hand and began stalking towards Emma, who’d fallen over in the commotion. She began to crawl away in a frenzy. He laughed maniacally and pursued her. I simply stood there, frozen on the spot, immobilized by the futility of my attempt to stop him. It was only when Emma’s gag slipped out and she called my name that I was spurred back into action.
I ran and tackled my father, sending the blade skittering away as we crashed into the concrete wall. He roared in anger, and began writhing underneath me, escaping from my hold on him as we lay on the ground. He scampered back to his feet and instead of going for the blade, he reached for his belt and took it off in one swift motion.
He taunted me as I rose to my feet, “come on Jackie, you know this belt, you want it don’t you?”
I screamed and charged, anger flowing through my veins as I tackled him once more, gripping the belt with both hands, pulling it free from his vice-like grip. He looked at me with startled eyes, something I’d never seen before. I took the belt and wrapped it around his neck, pulling it through the latch in one swift motion. I began tugging as he clawed at his neck, trying desperately to break free.
Yet I persisted, and rose to my feet, hanging him as he struggled to get his feet underneath him. His feet slid against the ground, however, and he was able to stand. He choked and sputtered but was unable to break free. After what felt like hours of pulling on the leather, he finally went still, his arms feel loosely to his side and he fell over on the ground. My father was dead and I killed him. And though it was over quicker than I’d expected, that night would go on to haunt me every time I closed my eyes and tried to rest. I’d always see my father’s bulging eyes sticking out of his purple face.
The following hours passed in a blur as my mind numbed itself against the trauma I’d just put it through. I vaguely remember walking down the street with Emma, headed to… somewhere, though I wasn’t sure where.
Then came the sounds of sloshing as a distinct, alcohol-like smell filled my nose, the color red, a plastic handle, and a metal nozzle. Then we were walking again.
I remember walking back to the house, then the smell filled my nose once more, this time snapping me out of my stupor momentarily as Emma looked at me, concerned. “Are you sure my love?”
Then my voice, though I don’t remember speaking, “yes, it’s the only way. This house is evil, it needs to be destroyed.”
She nodded, then the world was bright. I saw the orange reflection on the snowflakes as they fell over magrath. The angry black clouds from earlier were gone, replaced with a much lighter grey that covered the city in a sea of white. The snowflakes continued to fall that night, long after Emma and I got into my father’s Mercedes. Long after we began our trip down the road and even after me merged onto the highway. The snow tried, and failed to fully halt the roaring fire that we left behind, as the idol that stood over Magrath burnt away to ashes, leaving nothing but embers and coals…
Dom’s eyes remained transfixed on me, as if searching for an answer in the features of my face. I hung my head, exhausted after recounting the tale that haunted me all these years. It felt good to tell him, it felt good to let it out and address it rather than leave it buried to collect dust.
Dom stood up, and I looked at him surprised, “where are you going?”
He sighed, “well, even though I’ve never had one Jack, I think I need a fucking smoke. Care to join me?”
I chuckled and stood, happy to share my addiction with my friend. And moments later, as we stood outside the precinct, looking towards the ruins of the place I’d once called home, the place I’d need to return to once more, I could have sworn I saw dark clouds on the horizon.
The ruins spanned the crest of the hill. Blackened, charred remains littered where the house had stood, and though some areas had remained untouched by fire, the elements had claimed them through the years. Lewis manor had fallen usurped by its only heir, destroyed in an act of emotion. I wiped my eyes as I looked over the remnants of the place I’d once called home, the tears were not of sorrow, nor of pity. The tears were a reminder of the rage that coursed through me that night. The wet emotion that bubbled forth and streamed from tear ducts, that made it hard to speak even though you could scream.
I reached a tentative hand out and stroked the mailbox that stood precariously in front of the manor. Still vigilant despite the destruction behind it. I ran my fingertips over the metallic letters fastened to it as Dom walked closer to the dilapidated husk in front of us. He walked to where the door jam had been, and knelt down. After watching for some time, I joined him.
“Did you find anything?”
He shook his head, though remained silent, stoic and reserved. I knelt down to get a closer look at where he was looking, though what I saw wasn’t a clue or even anything that would have been of any interest on its own. No, what I found were several wet spots, splattered at his feet, marking the otherwise dry path. Dom, was crying.
I put my hand on his shoulder as he wiped his eyes with his cuff, “what’s wrong man?”
He looked up to me, his eyes rimmed with redness, “I held it against you. All these years I held you walking out on this town against you. I never had any idea of what you were going through, what he put you through Jack. I hated you, hated you for leaving us behind, without so much as a goodbye. When you came back, I was mad. Mad that you could stroll back in like some bigshot and take over the entire case like it was nothing.”
I waited, allowing him to vent the feelings he’s been keeping inside for years. Welcome to memory-fucking lane Jack, you piece of shit. I felt bad, sure, though what is it to feel bad in hindsight? Guilt. I felt guilty for the ones I’d left behind, the ones that I’d given little thought to as I fled Magrath. I’d saved Emma, I’d killed my dad. Sure I was but a child whose world had flipped on its axiom, but in the grand scheme of things I was still nothing but an unruly asshole that left his best friend behind without so much as a farewell or an explanation.
Dom continued, his voice growing shaky as he got to the meat of his emotions, “Jack, I’m a piece of shit. There’s no other way to phrase it, but so are you. You could have told me, I could have helped. We were friends, hell, we were best friends and you told me nothing – denied contact for so many years then show up out of the blue. I guess if the money’s good enough I’ll show up. What type of motivation is that, you left so much behind, you didn’t even mention you mom when recounting the night you left. Sure you brought her up briefly, but I wonder how much shit she went through after you left. Husband: dead, son: missing, house: burnt down.” He paused, catching his breath, his face changed to a more somber tone, “Fuck Jack, I’m sorry. I didn’t mean-”
I stopped him, “No, you’re right Dom. I didn’t consider the fallout of my actions, I was only focused on myself. Hell, even now I’m focused on myself. I’ve been blinded by my past this entire case. You’re right, I’m a piece of shit. I’m a fucking asshole, but I’m also the best shot this town has of sorting out these murders.” I stood up and extended a hand to him, “So what do you say, friends?”
He reached up and took my hand, “till the end.”
A question lingered, “Dom, is my mom – is she still around?”
He looked at me, teary eyed, “yeah Jack, at the flower shop, all these years later she still runs it. Doesn’t need to – she got your dads money and life insurance – but she still is in there every day.”
I nodded, when this was all over; when the demons had been put to rest, I’d go see her. Begin down the roads to making amends.
We looked up at the black clouds as they continued to move overhead, threatening to pummel us in the impending inclement weather. It brought with it a threat, a promise and a warning. One that had been reverberating through my head as if it were stuck on repeat. As pain pulsed through my head, I heard her voice once more.
“The road you are travelling will lead to nothing but misery.”
Dom and I scoured the ruins, scrutinizing every piece of suspicious charcoal or rock we came across. At one point I came across a large indent in the ground and based on the location within the outline of where the walls once stood, I understood it immediately. I stood in the stairwell that once led to the basement where I’d killed my father all those years ago. I glanced around the manor and did one more take of my surroundings. There was a surprising lack of graffiti on the structure, and I’m sure that had something to do with the urban legends that had erupted among the children of Magrath. Dom filled me in on all the precarious details as we searched the ruins top to bottom.
Dom explained that in the years following my “blazing departure”, the town struggled to heal. Unbeknownst to me at the time, the manor had been a sort of heritage mark for Magrath. It had been there when the town started, and it was there for the entirety of its existence. Now, though it remained an idol, its mangled corpse sat on the hill; an ugly scar that reminded them of the wound left on the town.
When I asked Dom why they never got rid of the ruins, he simply shrugged and said that my mother had been the one to refute its ultimate destruction. She’d claimed that it needed to remain there as a grim reminder to the town of what fate awaits tyrants. Instead of using my father’s money to repair and rebuild the house, she’d put the money back into the town, building apartment complexes. She turned around the police station and removed corruption from within. Dom had risen through the ranks so quickly due to my mother’s removal of most of his superiors. She’d reported the corruption to the FBI spurring on a low profile federal investigation that led to the incarceration of several higher ups within the police force.
When her efforts into the police bore fruit, she turned to her flower shop and tended to it full time, giving out flowers to all who entered free of cost, allowing Magrath to become immaculately covered in flora.
As my mother turned her sights towards the town, the local children turned their attention towards the manor. The stories started off as harmless, they were simply stories surrounding the nature of the fire. Benign things such as “gas leak” and “lightning strike” were quickly replaced by “son or mom.” They had no idea how close to the truth they were. When that theory grew tired, they’d turned to the supernatural; suggesting ghosts, demons even a satanic ritual gone wrong. He said the last one with a chuckle.
After several years had passed, one story became rooted in legend as the older children grew up, leaving the story behind for the next generation of kids. As with most urban legends, the onset of the story was steepled in truth, and thus, every child knew to whom the house belonged. Yet they’d solidified in their minds that he was a devil worshiping sadist.
As the years progressed he became more and more bold, spending less time before performing his “rituals.” These rituals included human sacrifice, bloodletting orgies and various other unspeakable sins. Eventually his heinous actions gained the attention of God. God decided that the world didn’t have room for such a malicious being, and thus, rendered him from the face of the earth, reducing the mansion to nothing more than a pile of flaming rubble.
Though I was unimpressed by the story, it made me curious, for when an urban legend is born, it spurs on more than stories. It spurs on something else, something slightly illegal. Rights of passage, such as the one that Noah and his group of friends had done on the night of Corey’s party.
I swept my eyes over the dresser that had once been mine, and looked at Dom, “could you do me a favour?”
He met my eyes, “sure thing, what is it?”
“Get Trix here, I need an explanation”
He nodded and unclipped his phone from his uniform’s utility belt. He unlocked the phone and punched in her number, then held it up to his ear. After some time, he frowned and lowered his phone, checking the screen to ensure that he dialed the right number. He repeated the process several times before he met my eyes once more.
The words came out in a concerned, shaky tone, “something’s wrong Jack, she’s not answering her phone, she always answers her phone when I call?”
I stepped out of the house and began walking towards him, “well then? Lets go check on her, the house isn’t going anywhere, we can risk the half an hour it would take to go see her.”
He looked at me as he clipped his phone back onto his belt, “thank you Jack, it’s probably just nothing, but I’d like to be sure.” He looked a lot more afraid than someone who thought it was probably nothing.
Several minutes later we were speeding down the residential road that held Dominic’s brother’s house. Dom gripped the steering wheel with an anxious strength that rendered his knuckles white. The feeling of anxiety clung to the air as we pulled up alongside the curb and got out. Dom was the first one to make a move; quickly unbuckling his seatbelt as he threw open the door. I followed suit only half a heartbeat behind. I had a nervous feeling in my gut, something wasn’t right.
Dom unlocked the door with a key on his keychain and we stepped into the house. The air was stale as if no one bothered to let the air cycle through the house recently. Dom called out several times as we took slow deliberate steps around the silent house, the unspoken truth swimming through our minds. There was no one in this house, it was too quiet. Something unnatural was going on.
We went down the hall into Trix’s room, and our worst fears were realized. The room was bare, the dark red walls were all that remained of the room. Inside there was no bed, no dresser, no personal effects of any kind. Dom stifled a gasp as he ran into the room. I stepped in after him and put a hand on his shoulder.
He turned and looked at me, his eyes wide and mouth agape, “Whu- where’d she go? Where the hell is her stuff? What the fuck is happening?”
I looked him in the eye, “Something fucked happened on the night they went to that house Dom. We need answers. Now.”
But we wouldn’t get answers right away. No for as we were rushing to Trix’s house, something horrible was happening in another room, in another building in Magrath. In room B1-07 in Magrath’s intensive care unit, Robert was dying. His parents had stepped out of the room momentarily, and though he was monitored by machine. No one saw what slipped into his room. And when his parents returned a mere five minutes later, his life had vanished, his soul flitted to wherever we go in the afterlife. And on October 2, 2015 Robert Erskine Fielding was pronounced dead.
The call came as we were walking out of the house. I didn’t think Dom could go any paler, though as he lowered the phone and tapped “end call” on his screen, I was proven wrong. It took a moment for him to overcome the utter hysteria that threatened to override him in that moment, but as I stood there, watching him, I saw him quell the urge to curl up and cry; instead he slid his professional face on and filled me in on what the phone call was about. Then, he asked for a smoke.
I shook my head playfully and handed him one, “those things will kill you man.”
He laughed, “oh shut up, as if you’re any better. It’s been one shitshow of a day.”
I chuckled through tight lips as I lit mine and inhaled. Then I handed him the lighter. He lit his cigarette and inhaled in kind, coughing as the smoke hit his lungs. I smiled and took another drag, closing my eyes as it worked its magic and the stress faded into the stillness of the afternoon air.
We arrived at the hospital no more than half an hour later. As we walked through the automatic doors the scent of hand sanitizer, gloves and nylon flowed through the air and up into our nostrils. To us, it was an unfamiliar smell that reminded us of being sick, long hours waiting, and mourning. However, to the staff on site; it was the smell of medicine.
We walked down the linoleum hallway towards room B1-07, the B ward was the letter designation that the hospital had given to the ICU, the “1” represented the floor, and the “07” the room. I glanced into the other rooms as we walked by. In one I saw a man covered head to toe in bandages, in the next a woman who – other than the large apparatus shoved down her throat – looked normal and lastly there was the room with Robert’s dead body in it.
To say the body was mutilated would be akin to saying that Dhamer was an average, run of the mill man. No, Robert’s body was broken beyond compare, his limbs were jutting out haphazardly like a marionette in the hands of a child. His elbows were pointing towards his sternum, there were additional bends in each of his forearms so his hands were touching the crease of their own respective elbows. There was a giant hole in the center of his chest and his legs were brought through as though threading the needle. Though that wasn’t the worst part. His head was expanded; as if someone peeled off his face and attempted to stretch it over a bowling ball. The skin was torn in several places, allowing blood and viscera to dribble out.
I walked closer, and was greeted by a sight that turned my stomach, in the fissure of his chest, the ribs were broken off and jutting into the surrounding exposed organs. I turn to Dom, whose face had grown horrifically pale. He turned and gripped the edges of the trash bin near the door mere seconds before he began throwing up. As his body repeatedly racked, I walked closer still to roberts corpse, nausea bubbling in the depths of my throat. Something caught my eye.
As I peered into the mangled corpse of what was a perfectly healthy boy, I saw a folded sheet of paper perched precariously on the edge of where his spine had been snapped off. I hesitantly reached in and slid it out, winching as coagulated blood clung to the edges of it. I looked at it studiously and began to open it slowly. The note was small, but the message clear.
You’ll never find them.
I froze as I felt my chest tighten. The fear gripped me once more and adrenaline began to course through my veins. I turned and looked at Dom who’d only just raised his head from the garbage bin. He didn’t see me looking at him initially as he was focused on wiping the remaining bile from his mouth. Though, as he met my eyes, he froze and flicked his eyes to the note in my hand.
His voice came out hoarse, shaky and tired, “What is that?”
My voice betrayed me and cracked, I handed it to him, and as he read it, his face turned pale, then flushed with red as anger consumed him. He turned and began walking, pulling out his cellphone as he left the hospital room, leaving me no choice but to follow.
He made several quick calls; the first of which was to detective hanson, who’d been en route to the hospital, Dom explained that we had a lead and were heading to the Lewis manor. He said that he’d explain later, but they’d need a forensic team down to inspect the room and to make arrangements to move the body. Then he called Shannon to explain that Trix was missing and that he and I were going to get her back by any means. He’d paused and met my eye, then said one phrase that made me forget everything else I’d just seen.
We broke several traffic laws on the way to the manor, speeding through red lights and flying through traffic signs. Dom didn’t care and simply reached under the steering wheel and flicked a switch that turned on his car’s built in sirens and police lights. We arrived in just a fraction of the time it took us to get to the hospital initially. When we pulled up to the house, Dom rushed out, urging me to hurry as he stalked toward the ruins.
I rushed forward and caught up to him, trying to find understand what he was looking for. We approached the large hole where I’d stood less than an hour ago, though it felt so much longer. I looked him in the eye, my fear rising.
Though it felt cowardly, I uttered out, “I’m not going down there man, not now. Last time I was in ther-”
He didn’t let me finish, “I’m not asking you too, hell, I’m not sure if there’s anything even down there. Nothing about this case makes sense. How is any of this happening?”
He plopped down on the ground and started crying, his emotions finally breaking through the demeanor he’d constructed earlier. His poker face was gone, and now, everyone would know he had a losing hand. I sat next to him and looked into the sky. The clouds were almost beautiful as they cast their shadows over the land; blotting out any sunlight that threatened to penetrate through this false demeanor we’d constructed over the past few days.
We were both scared shitless and we knew it. I from my past, and Dom, for the fear of losing all he’d built here. I sighed and sat silently next to Dom as he wept, his cried carried into the air by an indifferent wind.
We sat there for hours, though I’m not sure how much time was actually spent, it felt like hours. The sun had settled into the horizon and the night had swept over Magrath. Though the darkness washed over the land Dom and I remained at the manor, the futility of the case washing over us, rendering us weak.
After he finished crying, Dom seemingly caught his second wind. He stood and stalked up to the caved in floor, eager to get into the basement below. He began throwing the pieces of charred flooring to the side and after some time, he finally revealed the remaining staircase into the depths below. He turned back to look at me only once, flashing a weak, charcoal covered smile my way before taking his first tentative step downwards, followed by another, then another. Soon, when the top of his head disappeared into the murky depths, I laid back on a pile of rubble and looked up into the black sky above. The clouds seemed thicker.
I awoke to the sound of screaming. I’d not remembered falling asleep, and when I awoke, it took several moments for me to realize what had happened. I looked around as if to see what could have possibly awoken me, when another scream came from the cellar below. My heart sank. That had to be Dom.
I threw aside any precognitions about entering the basement and rushed down the stairs, my body feeling heavier with every step. The trepidation grew as I neared the bottom of the stairs and heard a gurgling sound. I took the remaining steps two at a time and burst into the room at the bottom of the stairs. It was pitch black, save for a small trail of light coming from Dom’s flashlight on the ground in front of me, from the way it was laying I couldn’t see anything other than the concrete floor.
I had just bent down and picked it up when I heard a thump from directly next to me. I looked over and shined the light. It took me a moment to recognize what I was seeing, but it soon registered. It was Dom, but he had been torn in half, directly behind him were two grey legs. My heart froze and I moved the light slightly higher.
Standing in front of me was an anthropomorphic figure, it cocked its grey and fleshy head to the side as it looked at me, it’s black eyes glittered in the flashlight. A ghastly grin stretched unnaturally over it’s grey face, revealing a set of gnarly, wet, and jagged teeth.
Like a coward I turned and ran, not even wasting a second to consider fighting it. I bolted up the stairs as a maniacal laughter filled the air around me. I took the stairs two at a time, flying up towards the ground level. When I reached the top I collapsed, breathless.
I struggled to rise to my feet, knowing I was unable to stay there, for fear that I would get attacked by that thing. As tears streamed down my face. I wanted to go back down for Dom, needed to. But as I took the first step down, I heard something that stopped me dead in my tracks.
“Come on Jackie, you know this belt, you want it don’t you?”
Fear. It overcomes, incapacitates, and hinders all normal thought process. In some cases, psychologists have seen individuals develop the fear of fear. Take insects, for example. Initially, most children will play with insects from time to time, they are harmless after all. Though, as they grow, external forces such as parents, peers and literature will foster the fear’s growth. Though, technically, we’re not afraid of the insect per se, no, we become afraid of being afraid of the insect.
I’d always thought it was a similar case with my fear towards the basement, yet, as the deep, melancholic voice emanated from the depths and that primal fear overcame my body, I realized something. Subconsciously, I must have known there was something worth being afraid of down there. The realization helped little as I turned and ran into the darkness of night however, leaving the manor – and Dom – behind.
With fear overtaking my body, I didn’t care where I was going. As my legs pumped and my muscles screamed in protest, I kept going, lest I meet the same fate that had removed my old friend from this earth. I failed to notice the tears streaming down my face until long after my body had shut down and exhaustion pushed my body onto the cold ground beneath me. I smiled as the darkness washed over me and I slipped into the comfort of unconsciousness, the escape was welcome and I reached the subconscious destination I was running to. The black clouds above boomed as thunder as the rain began to pour and I was finally whisked away from the waking world.
Dreams washed over the blackness; though to call them dreams would be paramount to calling a twinkie a cucumber. Although I’d been claimed by the realm of unconsciousness, there was no doubt that the circumstances of the findings within these ‘dreams’ were based on the events that had happened in Magrath. This was no dream, I knew it had to be a vision.
In the vision, I was walking through the linoleum corridors of the hospital, peering into the rooms as I passed. In the first, though dimly lit, I saw a young woman, Elizabeth, her crushed body twitching as though it still contained a small amount of life. I knew it to be impossible, she was dead on the street, her head smashed like a coconut, there was no surviving that. Thus, I stepped towards the next room.
The fluorescent light flickered over the victim contained within this one and I knew it had to be the second victim. Don’t refer to them as victims, they have names Jack. Veronica, her body was bruised and battered, as though she’d been thrown forcefully around the room. Wrapped around her neck was a thick rope, the frayed end showed it had been broken by some force, though what exactly, I was unsure. I entered this room, unsure of what information seeing her body in person would glean.
I approached the single medical bed in which she was laying, looking up and down the purple markings of her body. The pressure wounds lined her ribs, abdomen, and arms. It wasn’t unlike the domestic abuse cases I’d seen over the years, and a pang of sympathy swarmed through me. She’d tried to kill herself, but that thing in the basement hadn’t allowed her. I blinked and shook my head, a tear trickling down my cheek.
She snapped awake and grasped my arm, “you must do something Jack, only you can!”
Just then two long grey hands reached out from the darkness behind the bed and grabbed onto the frayed rope, and her neck. She screamed as they dragged her over the edge of the bed and down the crack. Her screams were cut off by the sound of snapping bones and I closed my eyes as my body shuddered. Not real, she’s already dead, not real.
When I opened my eyes, I was back in the hallway facing a closed door. I tried the knob but it wouldn’t budge. The door was closed and Veronica was lost to the darkness, I’d been too late. I turned my head to look down the remaining dim hallway as several new doors opened. I turned my body and proceeded to the next one.
The lights were off in this room, save for a small yellow glow coming from a bedside lamp positioned in the corner. Not very hospital like. I walked in and looked at the body that lay across the bed. Noah Brackman. I smiled sorrowfully and placed my hand on his shoulder. Another one I was too late to save.
I slid my eyes up his body and stopped on his face, remembering what the case file had said. ‘Face was gone, and shoved down his throat. Death by suffocation.’ An unfortunate way to die. The tears came again as I remembered the state of his father, sitting in his cluttered home atop his stained chair, all hope gone at the loss of his family.
Noah sat up slowly, his eyes popping out as gravity allowed them to fall, unhindered by eyelids. His teeth clacked as he began to speak, his words nearly unintelligible without lips to aid in formation. I strained to understand him, and as the grey hands reach for him as well, I finally heard what he said, though its meaning was lost on me.
“It has to be you. You must remember.”
I shook my head as tears flowed from the ducts, streaking down my already tear stained face. I didn’t know what the words meant, or what I was meant to remember, though sorrow washed over me as I recounted how he was another one I couldn’t save. I closed my eyes as I reached up and wiped my tears with the back of my sleeve.
I opened my eyes, once again finding myself standing in front of a closed door. I stood there for a second longer, placing my forehead on the solid wood of the door, and punched the door pathetically. I knew I had to continue down the corridor, though the fear coursed through me as I worried what could have possibly been in the further rooms. She’ll be there, won’t she?
I turned back to the length of the hallway, suppressing my fears and steeling myself for the next encounters. I walked up to the next doorway, the one where in the real world had contained the body of Robert, I sighed, and peered in.
He sat on the edge of the bed, head lolled forwards. I walked in and approached his corpse, another tear rolling down my cheek. I subconsciously reached my hand into my pocket, as I always did in stressful situations, searching out the comfort of the box of cigarettes. My hands found nothing, and I feared I’d have to face the next encounters on my own, with no help from my old friend Nicotine.
I sat down in the visitors chair and studied him sympathetically. He’d been a bright eyed boy with a promising future, yet, there he sat, gaping hole in his torso that exposed his spinal cord. His face was frozen in a scream and I felt my blood go cold as he slowly began to turn his head towards me, and change his expression to one of relief.
His voice came out airless, as though he was speaking without lungs, which I suppose he was, “I just wish that it had come sooner. I’d been seeing it for days, lurking in the peripherals of my vision. There was no amount of preparations or running that could have freed me from it’s sights. But you already know that, don’t you Jack?”
He turned and looked behind himself, sighing, “He’s coming again, I don’t have a lot of time left. Jack, you need to look back, go back to the night you left, even further if you have to. The answer is there. No one else can stop this, it has to be you. The reason is -”
A singular grey hand reached from the head of the bed and gripped Robert’s spine. It pulled him down and robert simply shrugged, accepting his fate. He disappeared over the edge of the bed, leaving me alone with my thoughts once again.
I sat in the visitor’s chair longer than initially intended, my mind swarmed with thoughts of failure, letting people die and the domino effect it had on the community as a whole. People were mourning, people were missing, children dead, my own girlfriend had disappeared and although I knew who the culprit was, I couldn’t simply arrest it. The damn thing had ripped Dom in half, and the police wouldn’t be able to do anything. Sure they weren’t corrupt from what I could tell, but based on the police files, the majority of them were incompetant. I slammed my fist into my thigh as frustration overtook me. If only I could remember what was so important, it was on the tip of my tongue, but I couldn’t quite grasp it. I rested my head in my hands and thought deeply, but still turned up nothing, even as I closed my eyes to concentrate harder.
When I opened them, I was in the hallway once more, though now, the chair had been moved with me. I stood, and resigned myself to checking all the rooms, hoping to find an answer to the problems if there was one. The next door loomed ahead, and I glanced back to all the closed doors behind me, noting that the chair was gone.
I reached the next room and poked my head in, not sure what to expect. What I saw inside made my blood run colder than ever before. Dom lay on the bed, his two halves seemingly stapled together along the seam, allowing him to lay there as one person and not the two halves. I stifled the scream that arose from within me. I’ve seen some shit in my day, sure, but my mind couldn’t handle it anymore and I fell in a heap, sobbing uncontrollably. My tears flowed, dripping onto the ground below.
I screamed out profanities against God, against the indifferent creator of the world. He’d left us long ago, uncaring of the world below. I’d been sobbing for a long time when I felt a calming touch on my shoulder. I looked up to see Dom, smiling sadly at me from the corner of the bed.
A tear rolled off his cheek, “Jack, this was always destined to be my end, we just didn’t know it yet. All I ask, is take care of Shannon, keep her safe. I need you to know Jack, I know.” I stared at him blankly, “I know what happened between you and Shannon, why you split and why she never wanted to talk about it. It’s okay Jack, I’ve forgiven you, and I know she has too. It was never your fault to begin with Jack, forgive yourself.”
I stood. Even as the grey hands reached from behind him and grabbed hold I knew what I had to do. I turned, but not before witnessing the hands rip him apart, busting the staples from his skin and causing a fountain of blood to erupt from his arteries. I shut my eyes for a second, then opened them. Relieved that I was back in the linoleum corridor once again.
I stalked further down and looked into the next door. There were several people within this one, all of varying age, height and sex. I looked between them, searching for someone within the crowd, and saw her. Emma. I had to keep moving though, and as I turned, I saw them look at me in surprise, I needed to see one thing here. I needed to confirm it, this one person, though I was unsure if it could be called that could prove the theory building in my head.
I looked into the next door, and saw several more people, older than the others, though they looked confused. They looked lost. Missing people. More than I imagined. I kept moving though, growing more and more desperate as I checked room after room. Until finally I came upon the last room.
The bed was seemingly empty, though I knew better. In the corner of the room was a crib. I turned and walked towards it, running my fingers over the baby blue painted wood and the small carousel that hung above. I turned the small planes and heard the familiar jingle as the sound started. Small, weak cries. I looked down and saw the child that never was looking up at me. I reached down and let him grab onto my finger.
He mouthed it, and I smiled, my tears flowing freely down my cheeks. I felt her hand slide gently under my armpits, then she tugged me back. I frowned. She tugged again. And again. Then I heard a door closing. Lastly I turned, and saw the smiling face of that creature from the basement. It drew it’s hand back and flung it through my chest. Commiting me to the darkness once more.
I awoke with a start, flailing my arms as I returned to reality. It took a moment for my body to realize I was awake however, as I was still not hearing anything and my vision was blurry. My chest hurt, though and I reached down to feel if there was a hole through it where the monster had punched. I breathed a sigh of relief when I felt my wet shirt clinging to my skin.
My vision cleared and I saw Shannon standing over me, her face, though only illuminated by the excess light from the other room, was a mask of concern unlike anything I’d ever seen. I slowly rose onto my aching legs and stood in front of her. Her eyes were red and puffy. It was obvious that she’d been crying most of the night.
The guilt of Dom’s death washed over me, combined with the final part of the vision. And as I looked into her worried eyes, I felt the wall that was holding back my built up guilt, sadness and remorse crumble once again. I started sobbing uncontrollably, muttering incoherent nonsense to Shannon as she walked over to me and wrapped me in a gentle hug.
We embraced for some time, my sobs reflected in hers when I filled her in on what happened with Dom and the house. The events of the past few days and the night I left. I told her everything and she broke down further. Though it felt good to let out all the pent up secrets, I couldn’t help but hurt as the old wounds were opened up once again. Though, there was one more wound I had to rip open. Though, it would require my old friend mr. booze.
We sat in the kitchen drinking jim beam from the bottle. Shannons tears still trickled freely, though they’d slowed some time ago. The alcohol helped with everything, I suppose. We talked at length about the days when we were young, when the times were easier and there were no worries save for the faint fear of parental punishment. In those times, my dad was nicer and the town was safer.
As we slunk into a drunken stupor she told me the story of how her and Dom got married, how their parents had initially fought the idea due to them being friends for so long and the potential of ruining such a good friendship. Those protests were ultimately shot down though, as they realized how strong the love they shared was. Though as she said this last part, her face contorted slightly. I didn’t press.
She sighed and continued, “I suppose I should tell you. Dom and I, we weren’t doing the best. He’d been working long hours and taking double shifts at the precinct. It was wearing on our relationship. I’d only see him maybe once a week, and although he was always a sweetheart, I felt like an afterthought in his life. Like it was the Dom train and I was just along for the ride.” She made a small noise like she was disgusted with herself, “I’m sorry, I know he’s dead but I can’t help but feel a slight bit relieved. Is that awful? I feel like that’s really awful to say. It’s just.. Dom was married to his job before he was married to me.”
I nodded at her point, too far gone at this point to make any coherent addition to the conversation and simply studied her in the dim lighting of the kitchen. I marveled at the way her emerald eyes seemed to grow in the faint stream of moonlight that cascaded through the open window, glittering faintly with the tears that welled up. She brushed her eyes with her index finger, tracing along the lower lid so the tears would be pushed out without causing more to follow. She then tucked a loose strand of hair behind her ears; the bright red contrasted vividly against her pale skin.
The attraction was still there, though I knew I needed to tell her something, something that had been hidden deep within myself. But alcohol blurs the mind, obscures all thoughts and releases any inhibitions the consumer has. So, although I knew it was wrong, and I knew we were both mourning, I reached across the table and placed my hand on hers as I continued to lustfully drag my eyes over her.
She met my eyes and chewed her lower lip, studying my face as I leaned across the table and kissed her. It wasn’t a magical kiss by any means. No, it was a wet, sloppy kiss that was born out of desperation and drunken stupidity, the kind of kiss that we both knew we’d regret in the morning but didn’t care about in the moment. It was the kiss of old lovers, who, under different circumstances could have become spouses. Could have made something more of this world and the people in it.
As I ran my hands through her soft, lavender scented hair, I could feel the tears running down my cheeks melding with the tears running down hers. I breathed, and a small sob escaped her lips as she tried to as well. I could feel her hands moving down my chest, feeling the buttons of my shirt as she slowly undid each one. I pulled myself away, I had to. Her husband had just died and I was taking advantage of her. Yet, as I opened my mouth to protest, she brought me back in, her lips sending her pleading message with me.
I submitted to my lust and allowed the actions to overcome me.
Hours later, under the covers next to my deceased friend’s wife, the sobriety began to take hold. It started in a waking dream as the alcohol slowly faded it’s drunken visage from before my eyes. As the darkness fogged my vision I remembered everything. I remembered dating Shannon in the early days of highschool. The days when my father was first undergoing his metamorphosis; when the status of my girlfriend began to matter to him.
I recalled the hospital from my earlier vision and the child that never was, reaching from the crib and grabbing my outstretched finger in his tiny, pudgy hands. The way he’d babbled as I stood there looking at him. I’d never had the chance to be a father, at least with Emma and as I stood there staring at the baby, my mind wandered to the night in the manor. When Shannon ran by me screaming, a thin trail of blood behind her on the ground. I tried to reach out to her, tried to stop her from running out, ask her whats wrong.
“Get away from me. You’re all fucking nuts.”
I should have ran after her, should have stopped her there and had been there for her. Though as I turned, a hollow feeling spread through my chest and my eyes rested on the trail of blood leading down the hallway into my father’s study.
I walked in, and saw him standing amidst a pool of blood that began to congeal on the floor below, mixing with the ark carpet below. He lifted his head then turned, a victorious smile on his lips. He met my eyes and outstretched his hands towards me, a lumpy mass of flesh.
“Jackie, this is what happens when you try to breed with swine.”
He dropped it onto the floor and as I looked at it, my heart sank. The child that never was looked at me, unformed face unseeing, settled on the father that couldn’t protect it. I wept for hours, clutching my unborn son close to my chest, the faint thought echoing through my head. We hadn’t even told him she was pregnant. He chuckled to himself as he walked apathetically out of the room.
I awoke in a cold sweat, hyperventilating as pain worked its way through my chest. I turned, and clung to Shannon, desperate for the reassuring touch of another as I began to sob. She raised her hand and put it on my shoulder. And Though I’d been filled with guilt after sleeping with my friend’s wife, in that moment the pain of losing a child I’d never had filled me with more grief than anything else.
I sobbed into Shannon’s back for hours, well into the time when the indifferent orange haze of the morning streamed into the bedroom and illuminated our adulterous act. When the city began to stir, unknowing of the events of last night, of the horrors of my father and unknowing of the monster that lived in the ruins of the old, burnt down Lewis manor that overlooked the town. A dilapidated idol, indifferent to the world it hindered and the lives it claimed.
I shrugged myself out of bed and shambled into the shower, hoping to wash away the guilt that rode through me, resigning myself to apologize to Shannon, to speak to Larkin and to save Dominic’s niece. Though if it were to be an act of friendship or a plea for forgiveness, I wasn’t sure.
I’m a shitty human being, but I’m facing my demons.
Shannon was sitting at the kitchen table, eyeing the empty bottle of Jim Beam that refracted the sunlight and cast a rainbow along the table’s wooden surface. The sun caught her hair, shining brilliance throughout her flaming red hair, giving it a goddess-like shine that made my breath catch in my chest. She was gorgeous, and though it was wrong what we’d done the night prior and guilt flowed through my veins, I did not regret it.
I walked over to her, and caught her emerald eyes, her tears twinkled in the orange sunlight, “Jack, about last night. I – since you came back, I couldn’t help but think about us and what could have been. You’re different now, but I’m different too, your father changed that for both of us. But – the timing just wasn’t right. We shouldn’t have done that last night, I fear I’ve ruined things between us, tell me that’s not true Jack?”
I smiled and placed my hand on her shoulder, “It’s not true Shannon, we were drunk, suppressed feelings got the better of us and we acted on them without our better judgement. I agree, the timing wasn’t right, we should have waited. Dom – he – that thing killed him, I intend to kill it, if it even can be killed. But before any of that, I need to do something else. Something I should have done long ago.”
I pulled out one of the other chairs at the table and settled down into it, resting my hands on my lap as I hung my head, “I’m sorry Shannon -”
She cut me off, a surprised expression crossing her face, “for what?”
I looked into her eyes somberly, “Do you remember the night that you ran out of my house?” I paused, gauging her reaction, “I never got the chance to apologize for that night, so I would like to apologize. Shannon, I’m sorry. I’m sorry for not being there, for not killing the bastard then and there. I’m sorry for not doing anything about it. I’m sorry for letting that bastard kill our child.”
She broke down, her already red eyes spewing forth tears as she sobbed uncontrollably. I knew this was something she must not think of often, due to the pain of losing a child. I looked at her, studying her small frame as she wept, and began to tear up myself. I stopped myself from crying however, there would be time for that later. As Shannon cried into her hands, I walked over and wrapped her in a tight hug, which she reciprocated. I realized how difficult the path forward for her would be, but I knew that it was one we could take together if her heart so desired.
I left her there in the sunbathed kitchen, her cries filling the space of the tiled room. She understood that I had a job to do and whisked me off, sending me out into the cold morning air with a light peck on the cheek. As the warmth radiated through my cheek and body, I reflected on the oddity of the situation I was in and felt a surge of guilt course through my body.
As I walked out the door I took one look back over my shoulder into the house. Shannon sat there, face resting in her hands, sobbing. There was no amount of preparation for what I had yet to face, the steps I would take to avenge her husband’s, my friend’s murder. And though, I was a shitty friend overall, I would make amends by saving his niece. I had to.
If I didn’t, I don’t know what I’d do with myself.
I trundled my car down the stretch of residential street leading to Larkin’s house, checking each stoop’s numbering as I progressed further down. The dew strewn lawns glittered vibrantly in the morning sunlight and I thought back to Shannon crying. I wondered how she was faring now. I shook my head, reprimanding myself for getting distracted. I needed to focus, now more than ever. I pushed down any remorse I was feeling and carried on, comparing home addresses to the one jotted down on the notepad.
When I pulled in front of an older bungalow with grey siding and masonry foundations, I checked the gold plated numbering next to the front entrance. I sighed as I realized the numbers matched the ones on the street and I knew I was at the right house. I rubbed my weary eyes, clicked the door locks open, and stepped out of my car onto the unkempt sidewalk that bordered the road.
The school had given the students a day of mourning. One to mourn the death of Robert Feilding, who’d died in the hospital the prior day.
My feet shuffled beneath me as I wearily approached the metal screen door that stood as a barrier to the home of Larkin Grace. The school had given the students a day of mourning. One to mourn the death of Robert Feilding, who’d died in the hospital the prior day. Nervousness coursed its way through my chest, though not due to Larkin, but due to his mother Samantha.
We’d dated very briefly before Emma and I got together, but parted on rather innocuous terms. Though I knew she still carried a torch for me. She’d been working at the gas station on the night I burnt down my family home with Emma, and knew the events surrounding it to some degree. This would be a difficult conversation if she was present, but Larkin had information I didn’t. What happened the night they went there, why was Robert singled out, and maybe he knew what that thing was.
I stepped onto the crumbling cement step and rang the doorbell, hoping Larkin would answer. To my relief, a weary looking, red-eyed larkin answered the door. His eyes widened when he saw me. He quickly looked up and down the road then grabbed my hand and pulled me inside. His erratic behaviour worried me, but as he closed the door to his house, I breathed a sigh of relief. There was no sign that his mother was home.
Larkin led me into the family room, I noticed his feet sluggishly sliding across the hardwood floor, I doubted he’d been sleeping. I looked around and took in my surroundings. From the large worn and cracked leather couch and matching loveseat, I could tell this room was either used frequently, or they didn’t care much for their furniture. Perhaps a mixture of the two. Several gouges lined the hardwood, from moving objects around, no doubt.
I flicked my eyes over to the large projector television that sat angled in the corner, an older model. As I surveyed the table, empty mugs and stray garbage that lingered, I could imagine Larkin and his group of friends lounging here, enjoying a movie night or talking about their ambitions. I felt sorry for him, he’d lost so much in the past month.
I looked to Larkin and saw him smiling soberly at me, “have a seat detective.”
I smiled and did as he asked, “I’m not a detective, just a PI. I have little legal authority.”
Larkin nodded knowingly before sheepishly plopping down onto the loveseat that sat perpendicular to me. He brought his hands up and rubbed at his eyes as if trying to rub the tiredness away. After some time, he finally stopped and sighed; looking down at the floor in dismay.
I began, “how have you been?”
He glanced up and met my eyes, “Fine – okay, that’s a lie. I haven’t been sleeping. I can’t.” He flicked his eyes away nervously.
I put as much concern into my voice as possible, “Why can’t you sleep?”
His expression stiffened, and he gave a cursory glance to the corner of the room, “I don’t know man, I just can’t. Maybe it’s the weather or something”
I wasn’t buying it, “So, it wouldn’t have to do anything with what you saw at the old manor?”
His eyes widened and his mouth opened as fear took his body, but he tried to play it off, “Wh-what do you mean? Saw? W-we didn’t see anything there. We just-”
I cut him off, “Look kid, I don’t have the time or the patience to dick around right now, my friend died last night right before my eyes, and so did yours, everything is going to shit in this town and for some reason I think I can stop it. What happened at the damn manor?”
Larkin’s eyes widened and his jaw set, “Okay, sir. I’ll tell you…”
Larkin’s tale began where Zach had left off the day before, but where Zach had told me they’d simply gone to bed, he told me that they had walked down the street a few blocks further and surmounted the hill where the manor stood. He explained that in the moonlight, it gave off a malevolent feeling, as if the very air would lash out and strike your soul from you body.
He apologized for the wording, but his point was clear. They’d experienced a murderous intent that wanted to cause them nothing but harm. They carried on however, spurred on by an unspoken peer pressure. No one wanted to let down the others. Though as they milled about the ruins, they stumbled upon the small cave in that denoted the entrance to the basement. Larkin had been in another area of the house and hadn’t heard them calling out when they found it, so he continued to look, studying the mailbox and a small journal he’d found among the rubble. When I asked him about the journal, he simply shook his head, saying he wasn’t able to open it as there was a lock on it. Who the hell locks a journal?
It was then that he heard the first voice coming from the other side of the old dilapidated structure. He slid the journal into his pocket and walked over the fallen beams and piles of ash. When he made it to the other end, he saw his four friends pulling boards and other pieces of the broken structure out of the hole. They stopped when he approached and gave him the “what are you doing watching? Get your ass over here and help” look.
He proceeded to assist them in removing the remaining debris, and though they hesitated when they revealed the dark grey cement steps leading down, they soon found themselves venturing down into the inky blackness below.
When they’d reached the bottom of the stairs they’d found themselves in a large concrete room submersed in darkness. Noah was the first one to pull out his phone and turn on the flashlight, illuminating the surrounding area in the dim light. They illuminated the expanse of the room, perplexed by how this structure could have remained intact while above it the world was on fire.
They searched for what Larkin explained couldn’t have been any less than half an hour, scouring the walls and floor, looking for anything that could make for an intriguing story to tell their peers. That’s all they were after, though as they came upon a room that was sealed off with fallen debris, they received more than they bargained for.
They spent some time removing the rubble from in front of the doorway, their inebriated minds paid no heed to the amount of danger they were in. They didn’t care that one false move could cause the roof to collapse on their heads. No, they were on an adventure, and they sought to reap the rewards of their labour and find something worth either telling others about, or that they could sell for monetary gain.
As they moved away the last part of rubble obstructing the door, they were all flung backwards. Larkin explained that he and Zach were closest to the door when it happened, and it was as though proximity accounted for the distance they were flung. The two of them were thrown into the wall on the opposite end of the room, Trix was thrown into the middle, but Noah and Robert remained relatively close to the door.
Though Larkin was knocked out after hitting the wall, he described waking up to the most blood curdling scream he’d ever heard in his life. It was a scream of pure terror, one that emanated from the depths of Robert’s abdomen and rattled them to the core. Needless to say, although they were all disoriented, they managed to get to their feet and close the distance to the door. What they saw haunted them.
It was a humanoid creature, roughly seven feet tall, with pale grey skin. The skin glistened in the dim light of their fumbled phones as though it were covered in a moist film. It’s facial features were nondescript and smooth as though someone had begun to create a face, but stopped when they realized they made the mouth too big. I shuddered, knowing full well what he meant.
He then described how the long arms ended with oversized, thin hands that were tipped with taloned fingers, each one seemingly carrying the sharpness of a razor blade. The group didn’t waste any time.
“The creature was slow,” he continued, his voice wavering as he recounted their final moments in the manor’s basement, “I don’t know why exactly, maybe we woke it up and it was still partially asleep – I get like that sometimes, you know? My mom says that I get it from my father, but I think it’s just something guys go thro-”
“Larkin,” I interjected.
“Right, sorry. Anyway, we bolted out of the cellar faster than we’d ever run in our lives. Noah was out first, followed by Robert, Trix, Zach and then I was last. We grabbed some of the debris and began to pile it back over the entrance of the basement. We didn’t know what the hell that thing was, but we figured we couldn’t let it loose on Magrath.” He paused, a look of contemplation on his face, “though I guess we did, didn’t we?”
He looked down towards his feet, a sad look crossing his face. I scolded myself; this kid was still mourning and I was asking him to relive what was probably one of the most horrific nights of his life. One that would no doubt shape the very person he would become. He looked back up at me, and I felt pity, not for him but for myself. Sure, he’d seen some scary shit, but when I was his age, I was only a couple years off of killing my own father. I was living a nightmare, he just glimpsed one.
I steeled myself, “What have you been seeing,” panic flashed across his eyes, “you have been looking all over the room, when you let me in you glanced around like a mad man. What is it?”
He began to speak, but stopped, then sighed. “Promise not to think I’m crazy?”
I nodded, “yeah, how could I write you off at this point, I’ve seen the damn thing too.”
He gave me a knowing smile, “alright then. I see it, everywhere. That’s why I haven’t been sleeping. As soon as I close my eyes, I can feel it’s breath on my face. It’s rancid, it smells like rotting meat – like when you leave the ground beef out too long and forget to cook it? I do that a lot, my mom, she hates it when I do that, says we’re was-”
I chuckled, “you’re trailing off again kid, stay with me.”
He sighed, “Sorry, I find it hard to stay focused. The lack of sleep isn’t helping. Anyway, I’ve been seeing it everywhere. It’s been getting closer, I know it’ll take me soon, just like it took Noah’s mom, and just like it took your girlfriend.”
I paled, “What did you say?”
He looked confused, “I said it’s getting closer, I wonder what it means to do, it scares the shit out of me. Oh – by the way detective, I forgot your name, what was it?”
I rubbed my hand across my face. I must have heard him wrong the first time. I guess I haven’t been sleeping too well either, “I’m not a detective kid, just a Private Eye. My name’s Jack Lewis.”
He smiled and led me to the door, while I put on my shoes, he asked, “Do you know a Martha Lewis?”
My blood ran cold, “Uh, yeah, why?”
He paused and cocked his head, “Just one second.” He turned and walked into the other room, coming back with a heavy leather book with a small padlock on it.
He passed it to me, “uh, thanks?”
He chuckled, “It’s the one I found at the manor, I figured if you’re looking into things, you should have it.”
I frowned and slid the book into my jacket pocket, “Thanks kid, I have to go now though.”
As I walked out the door he sighed, “I had a strange dream about a woman named Martha Lewis. Though, that was weeks ago, first time I slept after we left that damn manor – speaking of, you share the same surname as the manor, isn’t that a coincidence? You know, my mom says there’s no such thing as coincidences, she says ‘it ain’t no coincidence the sun makes the flowers bloom or the cold makes the snow fall, why is anything else different?’” He shrugged, “wives tales my father says, though, there’s something about those flowers…”
As he trailed off I bid him farewell, trudging down the cement path and back towards my shitty car. As I slid behind the wheel I finally allowed myself to breathe. Larkin had helped me more than he thought, and as I waved to him as he stood there on the stoop, I noticed him staring off at something behind me.
I slid into first and sputtered out of there, leaving the kid behind. I did know a Martha Lewis, and she was a cunning woman. Smart, business savvy, but also had a heart of gold. She owned a flower shop in town, so that’s where I’d go next, no matter how reluctantly it was. It was time to see my mother.
As I drove down the well maintained road toward the market road of Magrath, I slid the journal out of my pocket. I didn’t move my eyes off the road in front of me – you can never be too careful these days. I pulled over as I took out the remaining contents from within my jacket, my good friend nicotine.
I slid the car into park and stepped out of the vehicle, letting it idle while I got my fix. I sparked the lighter and ignited the smoke on the first try, smiling at the one small thing that went right for me. I inhaled deeply, allowing the smoke to fill the spaces within my lungs the stress eased as I held it in. I smiled and exhaled, watching the smoke twirl as it billowed out of my mouth.
I inhaled again, fighting the cough that rose up. I exhaled and blew several rings into the air. I watched them float into the black clouds above. I turned and looked into my car, eyeing the notebook that now sat on my passenger seat. Curious, I opened the door and plucked it off the seat, feeling the weight of it. I turned it over to the cover and froze.
On the cover, pressed into the leather in elegant calligraphy, was a simple phrase.
For Jack Lewis, Love Dad
The damn locked journal lingered in my mind long after I’d finished chain smoking the rest of the pack, after I slid back behind the wheel, and even after I rolled onto the market road that stood at the centre of Magrath. There was a melange of feelings bubbling and boiling within me surrounding the damn book.
Fear was the most prominent, I feared it could have been anything from one last abusive parcel of my long deceased father. Something he’d written preemptively to traumatise me from the grave or stir up old memories of the beatings and the nights I cried myself to sleep, wondering why I wasn’t good enough anymore.
Hope was the second most prominent feeling. For in the recesses of my heart, I hoped that there was still some semblance of the man that he was before he became abusive, before the wall of my house turned into the bars of a jail cell. Long before the night where I’d wrapped the belt tightly around his muscular neck and pulled until his face turned purple and his eyes threatened to burst.
I hoped the words contained within the journal were not the words of ate I’d grown accustomed to, but the words of a love long forgotten, from the times when we were still a family. From a time when I was happy to return home knowing I would be wrapped tightly in the arms of my loving mother and father. Those days were better, and I hoped beyond words that there was something inside that may stir those memories and not the ones of the hellscape I’d burnt to the ground ten years ago.
Thirdly, a tinge of wonderment flowed through me each time my eyes laid upon the calligraphy inlaid in the leather. The wording invoked an unconditional love within me that I still felt for him, even after all these years. There was no way to describe it. I’d grown to despise that man, fear him, resent him, hell, I’d been the one to kill him. Yet, like a child staring out their front window, waiting for a father that would never come home. I held this hope, this wonderment and fear that within the book would be the words to absolve him of his sins. I yearned for his praise, the recognition of a man who stole my own child away from me. It made me sick to my stomach.
Though, in order for me to know which way the book leaned, I would need the key. For I had no desire to ruin the book in any way. Should this be the last proclamation of love from an abusive father, I would want the book preserved, to remember him like he was and not what he became. A stray tear trickled down my cheek as I reflected on better days in Magrath, a time when life seemed full of wonder and bliss, and not despair.
I continued down the market road, searching for the familiar gold lettering of a long forgotten fragment of a different time. I downshifted as I neared, and parked parallel to the curb as I arrived at my mother’s flower shop.
The words were laden with gold leaf, a small symbol of the wealth behind the foundation of the store. Mounted to a plaque of weather treated mahogany and fixed to the building since the day she’d started it, over thirteen years ago. Though the storefront next to it was vacant – large black curtains pulled tightly across the front windows – it did little to distract the eye as it was naturally drawn to those shiny gold letters;
LEWIS FLOWER BOUTIQUE
I’d been dreading this moment. The same way one dreads seeing their lover after a fight when you know you were in the wrong. And I’ll be damned if I wasn’t in the wrong. Hell, I’m probably damned anyway. I stepped out of my vehicle onto shaky legs and feet that threatened to fail underneath the weight of my guilt.
Each tentative step seemed to take millenia, the time seemed to go so slowly, yet my heart so quickly. As I neared the glass entrance I felt my palms grow slick with sweat and my mouth dry, the confrontational anxiety welled up inside of me and I had half a mind to turn and run. If only Dom was here. He’d say something witty, something that would take the edge off and allow me to move forward with ease. I felt my heart drop as I looked back to the empty passenger seat of my car, where we’d sat and talked not twenty-four hours ago. I miss you man.
I sighed as an all too familiar dampness presented itself once again. I took the final step to the door and opened it. My nose was instantly overwhelmed with the smell of exotic flora. The bell above the door jingled, though I hardly noticed it given the pleasant assault on my olfactory system.
A familiar voice drifted out of the back, “I’ll be right there, just tending the bromeliads.”
I smiled, my minds eye was filled with memories of Sunday morning cinnamon bread and monthly family picnics. My stomach performed a dance as I recalled the nightly stories and songs from my childhood. The voice carried with it the memories of not only a time when things were better, but a time long before my innocence was shattered. I guess you’ll never forget the sound of your mother’s voice.
She emerged from the doorway at the rear of the store and halted immediately, hand flying up to her mouth as she stifled a surprised scream. We began walking towards each other as she hesitantly raised a hand out in front of her as if to touch me, but she pulled back at the last second, almost like she was afraid I wasn’t real.
All hesitancy was gone as I replied to her simple question of my name and I found myself wrapped tightly in a bear hug. I smiled as I stumbled back, returning her hug with a chuckle.
She pulled back and studied me, as if assessing my growth, gauging whether I’d grown into a man or remained a boy over the past ten years. I sincerely hoped it was the former. I studiously committed her new look to memory.
She’d visibly aged since I’d seen her last; her once vibrant brown hair now streaked with greys that threatened to overrun all other colors entirely. Her eyes, though still sharp enough to cut glass, had been softened around the edges, by sleepless bags and tired wrinkles. Her once prominent figure had grown thinner, signs of self care depleting with the loss of her family. My smile wavered, and I knew she saw it.
She placed her hands tenderly on my cheeks, “My son, I’m so glad you’ve come home.”
Knowing any lie would be caught instantly, I told her the truth, “Honestly Mom, I’m not so glad to be home. Magrath’s changed a lot since I left, and I’m not sure if it’s for the better.”
She nodded knowingly, “It’s changed alright, that’s definitely one way to put it.” She paused in thought, “Jack, I’m truly glad to see you, though I know you wouldn’t have come back unless it was absolutely necessary. I think there’s a lot we need to talk about”
My mother smiled over her shoulder as she led me through the back of the store, “Surely you noticed the shop next door was closed on your way in?”
I frowned, but nodded, “yeah, it had these large black curtains that blocked out any visibility into the store from the outside. Why? Were they friends of yours?”
She stopped outside a door, “Nothing of the sort I’m afraid, I hardly spoke to them in all the time they operated there. I’m sure you’re aware by now that your father owned a majority of the properties here in Magrath. Well, not him per say, but they were owned by the Lewis name. A simple tactic set in motion by your late grandfather as a method of removing himself from ownership of the properties, should he be sued. He was an… interesting character. When your father passed, I became the sole caretaker of the estate and evicted the neighboring store owner,” a slight flicker of remorse crossed her face, “I gave them a large amount of money to help them relocate, but given your father’s… state, I knew I had to do something.”
She paused for dramatic effect and swung open the door to reveal a large furnished space beyond. It took open concept to the wildest extreme, bearing no walls between any of the ‘rooms’ within. I noticed the large black curtains hanging from the walls on the far side and understood what she meant. She renovated the store next door into a living space fit for one. Though significantly more modest than our lives had been in the manor, she appeared to have tailored the space to her interests.
Along one wall was a sea of vibrantly colored flowers, some of which I’d never laid eyes on before and intermingled within them were several species of herbs and spices. The plants were healthy and it was evident that they were very well loved. The lush petals and leaves almost glowed in the pale afternoon light that trickled in through the small cracks between the curtains, giving them an otherworldly feel.
I found myself transfixed on the plants, though I eventually tore my eyes away from them and ran my eyes along the other wall. I was caught off guard at first, never before seeing so many books within someone’s house. There were hundreds, if not thousands, each placed deliberately within the bookshelves that lined the wall.
The ages of the books seemed to range drastically. From ancient to brand new, from my position, I couldn’t make out any of the titles. I frowned as I scanned the shelves, I was unsure of why my mother would need this many books. What was she trying to learn?
She caught my curious gaze, “I know, there’s a lot of books, it took me a while to get all of them here.” She paused, “I – uh – I haven’t left this place in just over a year. Mr. Ferguson delivers all the groceries delivered and the books were delivered by Fiona Haggard.”
I dubiously raised my eyebrow, “The librarian?”
My mother chuckled, “yes, but she’s a lot more than that.”
I looked into her eyes, perplexed. Without further encouragement she began to divulge the events that happened over the past decade, filing in the areas untouched by Dom the previous day.
After she’d resolved the internal issues with the police department, she’d continued to monitor the manner. “It has… history,” she claimed, though refused to further elaborate. In the mean time she’d befriended the librarian, or rather, the librarian began to speak to her. She’d been scouring the internet on one of the library’s archaic computers when Fiona first came to her.
“You’re Martha Lewis, right?” My mother had nodded, “I’m so sorry to hear about what happened to your home, I was friends with your husband… before the change.”
My mother was caught off guard at first, her skin breaking out with rivulets of sweat as her brain began to race. The change my father had undergone was one that she’d kept under wraps, a secure family secret, something that she’d assumed was buried with him in the weeks following my departure. She began to tremble as she looked into the knowing eyes of Fiona Haggard in the library that day, and as the threads of fate intertwined and mingled, she formed a pivotal relationship with Fiona Haggard. She learned a great many things, not only about the town of Magrath, but about the legacy of the Lewis bloodline and the pact formed between two families.
My mother recounted the tale, though she assured me it was a greatly abridged version.
First, she explained that Magrath hasn’t been safe for a long time, though the residents wouldn’t admit it. The town had a dark history, darker than anything anyone really cared to know. The history has always been passed down internally by the Lewis family and the Haggard family, and when she’d been married into it, she was made privy to the information kept from the other residents.
She saw my confusion when she’d mentioned the Haggard family, and further explained that they were the family that owned and operated the library. According to her, they were as wealthy as the Lewis family, though it wasn’t monetary wealth, but intellectual wealth. She’d never been inside the hidden rooms within the library, but explained that many of the books that now lined her shelves originated from within there. She added, with a voice full of sorrow that my father had explained that beneath the library were volumes upon volumes of occult books and tomes that hadn’t seen the light of day in many generations.
She sipped her coffee between sentences and apologized for any confusion this was bringing. No shit, occult books? Ancient tomes? She smiled and began to tell me the true story of the founding of magrath, the tale of how two families joined together to subdue something they found nearly three hundred years ago.
My mother explained that in the late 1600’s, a group just short of a hundred families rode into the midwest; searching to create a new settlement in which to raise their children and increase their own prosperity. Of the families, there were two held in higher regard than most of the others, for they’d proven their intellect and usefulness to the expedition. Their family names were none other than Lewis and Haggard. They’d met during their journey westward and their family heads – two young and robust men by the names of Nathaniel Lewis and Jeremiah Haggard – became fast friends, bonding as they strode along the untapped landmass of North America.
Though both of them knew their way around a plethora of tools, Nathaniel Lewis’ desire was to be a land owner and pursue building a proud and nurturing environment for which settlers could raise their family. Jeremiah, on the other hand, sought to collect all manners of knowledge and teach the young of the next generations to further advance the settlement – in his pursuit of knowledge he’d learned the languages of the land and proclaimed himself to be a competent speaker of the oral tradition held by the indigenous people of the continent. The desire to better the state of their fellow man is what spurred their friendship forward and gave them the momentum to become the future founders of Magrath.
On one night, as they were making camp, they began to notice black clouds forming on the horizon. Their eyes widened as they realized they were heading their way. They tucked themselves into their various caravans and tents as the storm blew over their temporary encampment. As they huddled together, struggling to keep warm despite the warm August weather, they began to hear a noise.
The noise wasn’t like anything they’d heard before and despite their rationalizing that it was simply the wind, they’d known it was something else entirely. The sound emerged from the rolling hills in the distance; a shrill squeal akin the noise a horse makes when trapped in mud. I evoked feelings of utter horror within all manner of men and animals in the camp. Children screamed, horses nervously skittered and a few of the families took their own lives.
She explained that the sounds didn’t just evoke fear, it was fear.
Jeremiah committed himself to the books he’d carried with him for the entirety of the trip. He scoured the pages, though found no explanation for what sort of animal could create this noise. What sort of creature possessed the lungs or vocal cords required to emit such a terrible sound. When his labors proved fruitless, he didn’t give up, instead he’d insisted on finding a tribe of ‘Indians’ to provide him the answers he required. Though, he’d have to bear the storm and the shrill noise that persisted through the night.
The next morning, the numbers of the settlers’ camp had more than halved. Several families were found slaughtered in their tents; innards strewn about, wrapping around their family members as they were tied in bundles of flesh. Their remains had been mutilated beyond belief, limbs broken in several places, heads caved in, organs gouged out. It was a solemn morning punctuated by the rain that poured from the black clouds above as they buried their fallen brothers.
Jeremiah and Nathaniel set out the next morning, taking their fastest horses off into the distance where they’d spotted smoke trailing up into the fast clearing clouds after their dead were buried. They left the rest of their mourning companions behind, telling them to carry on should they fail to return within two days time. As their horses pounded over the untouched earth, their thoughts were on rectifying the situation, condemning whatever hellish beast had mutilated the corpses of their fellow settlers.
When they began to draw nearer to the smoke trailing into the sky, Jeremiah began to run through the various indigenous tongues he had acquired over the years he’d spent growing up in new england. He’d often wandered out to where they had remained hidden for fear of meeting the same fate as their kin had under the pilgrims years prior. He’d learned their languages, customs and traditions, so when they’d entered the edge of the small village, he reached into his satchel and produced a small leather pouch of tobacco.
When they breached the perimeter, they were confronted by several indigenous tribesmen wielding spears and daggers. Though Nathaniel reached protectively for his flintlock pistol, Jeremiah held up his hand to halt him, he would try to speak to them. He did not know the tribe’s name, but he began by speaking to them in the Massachusett language, one spoken by several tribes that lived in and around New England. Luckily, although his broken tongue would have been hard to comprehend, the sentries seemed to recognize it, though they themselves did not speak it.
Once they realized Jeremiah and Nathaniel did not pose any threat, they brought them into their small village and into the center where a large fire blazed. A circle of indigenous people surrounded the fire chanting as several male males dressed in their full ceremonial gear danced in beat to the drums. Though Nathaniel showed no interest in the festivities, Jeremiah was drawn in by the presence of culture he’d never before witnessed.
The sentries eyed him warily while he slid off the back of his horse and began to approach the ceremony. He did not intrude however, instead he sat on the ground just outside of the circle and watched with amazement at the pure emotion emitted by the people in front of him as they poured their very being into each deliberate shout, drumbeat and footstep. He shed tears in sync with the others, and when the ceremony ended, a elderly male with a full headdress of feathers approached him and began to converse. Apparently he’d known the Massachusett language.
They exchanged words then proceeded to walk into a large teepee constructed near the center of the village, leaving Nathaniel outside to wait. When Jeremiah found out that he was the chief of the village he presented him with the tobacco he’d been carrying since they’d left their home settlement some thirty days ago. The chief accepted it graciously and they proceeded to exchange pleasantries.
The chief was wise beyond Jeremiah’s wildest expectations and his words were steeped in the wisdom of his culture, passed down orally through the generations. They’d been making small talk when the chief said something that loosely translated to “You come to seek information on the screams, do you not?”
Jeremiah was caught off guard by this, but he bowed in acknowledgement, “yes, though how did you know?”
The chief tapped the stem of his pipe thoughtfully, “how does the sun know to rise, or the bird to fly south? There are forces at work that we cannot comprehend, for that is the knowledge of the gods. I knew you were seeking knowledge by the way you spoke the tongue of my eastern brothers. Your people care little for those they squash under their boot, yet you took time to know your fellow man. You seek knowledge not for gain, but for the sake of knowing, therefore you’d come to the only one who’d know about the force you face.” He sighed deeply, “It is our ancient adversary, though my ancestors bargained with it some time ago. We don’t disturb it’s hunting area and it won’t disturb our day to day life. Though some nights it comes when it’s hunger grows insatiable and it takes our weak, culls our numbers. Your presence distrubed it, though I do not hold you accountable, you did not know.”
Jeremiah sat thoughtfully, trying to translate and understand the chief’s words, “so, is there any way in which we may stop it?”
The chief smiled solemnly, “stop it, no. You may seal it, though only for a short time; it may be one cycle of seasons, it may be thousands of cycles. There is no way to tell for certain.”
Jeremiah looked at him warily, “Why haven’t you sealed it then?”
The chief looked away momentarily, “we cannot. From the time my ancestors entered the verbal contract with it our fate was sealed. To break the contract would be paramount to refusing ourselves to enter the great cycle. We would be absorbed by it, forced to live out a life through its eyes. We’d witness it decimate our people and wipe us off mother earth.” he shuddered.
My mother continued, “So on that day, he told Jeremiah all the intricacies of sealing the beast that lived under Magrath for centuries and made him commit to a verbal contract with him to not inscribe or record the ceremony in any way. Thus, the oral tradition of passing it on was created. Something that was passed down through generations of the Lewis and Haggard family.”
My eyes were wide as I stared at my mother, “So what happened? Did they seal it? How were they going to do it?” I slammed my hand on the table, “I need to know mom!”
She recoiled from my sudden outburst, her voice came out quiet and I immediately felt guilty, “I don’t know Jack, I’m not of Haggard or Lewis blood. What I told you was all that was written in the books you noticed along the wall. The written tradition cuts out after that. Fiona couldn’t share the parts I didn’t know, because she was married in as well. Though there is one thing she said.”
Still chiding myself for being so quick to anger, my voice came out weak, “I hope it was something useful, otherwise this is all useless.”
My mother’s gaze hardened, “She said that her husband had said something thirteen years ago that struck her as odd. It was a call out in his sleep that to this day he doesn’t know he let slip.”
My heart began to race, this could help, “what was it?”
She reached into her pocket and produced a small skeleton key and handed it to me, “He called out, ‘NO! Lewis you can’t! You can’t break the pact!”
My eyes widened as I looked at the key that now nestled in my palm. That’s what the book contains. My dad wrote it down. He made sure I would get it. He knew I could stop it!
I stood up abruptly, excusing myself as I was already heading for the door, “Thank you mom! You may have just saved us all1”
I ran out to my shitty car, mind set on unlocking the book and seeing what was inside, finding out how I could stop it. Before I entered the car though, I looked up to the ruins. To where my future would take me once more.
My heart froze as I looked to the manor. For, at the crest of the hill where he Lewis manor once stood – cloaked in the veil of a dark cloud- it watched me, its wide mouth stretching into a toothy grin. My fear turned to anger as I saw it’s horrific face.
Dom, I promise, your death won’t be in vain. I’ll kill that son of a bitch.
I sat in my car staring at the book on my lap, fear running a frenzy through my heart; causing shortness of breath. I fished in my pocket and brought out another smoke. How many of these have I gone through in the past few days? I pressed the yellow filter between my lips and pulled out my lighter, sparked it twice, then eventually lit the cancer stick. The vapor filled my lungs and I felt my muscles begin to relax, my heart-rate begin to slow and my mind to focus. I had a job to do, people’s lives were at stake and it was up to me to deal with the monster that had been plaguing Magrath.
I brought the small key out of my pocket and slid it gently into the small padlock on the front of the leather book. I took inhaled another lungful of cigarette smoke, then tapped the ash off the end. I looked back down to the journal as I exhaled and finally turned the lock, slowly, as if one small wrong movement could break it and render the information inside the book obsolete. I heard a small click as the lock disengaged. I gently pulled the lock apart and twisted it out of the small metal loop it was stuck through. I set the lock down on the passenger seat and took another puff. My forehead was breaking out with sweat. Dom’s voice filled my head, teasingly, “It’s just a book Jack, you afraid it’ll bite you or something.” I chuckled and lifted the cover, not knowing what to expect inside.
On the first page, in the same elegant calligraphy that was pressed into the front were the words;
For Jack Lewis, Love Dad
I wish I could give you the world, though instead I bestow upon you the end to a curse, a responsibility and a pact made by our forefathers. One day you will understand.
I closed the cover as tears began to well up in my eyes. The words brought forth memories of my father chasing me down the halls as we played tag, watching him peer around doors and under beds as he looked for me as we played hide and seek. Watching the stars dot the sky above us when we’d go camping, the three of us wrapped in a large blanket on the edge of a river the flames of a bonfire dancing before our eyes.
This book contains the final words of the father I once knew, the one that loved me with all he was before the beatings, before the tearfilled nights and before the days when the pain simply refused to fade. My tears streamed down my face as my heart longed for the man I knew and not the one I killed. I opened up the book and turned to the next page.
I’m certain that if you find yourself reading this, you are afraid of the thing that dwells beneath the house. I dare not commit its name to paper as names have power, and it’s already immensely powerful. Perhaps you already know it, perhaps I managed to succeed in fending it off and told you as a bedtime story of the brave soldier that fought and won the war waging in his head. Perhaps not.
Most likely, if you’re reading this I failed, and the auxiliary plan will need to be set in motion. I need you to know that by writing down what follows, I will have broken an ancient pact between our family and the people of the tribe that once lived a few hundred miles east of here. Though the tribe has long since died, and the pact has long since been forgotten by all but two of us; it remains as strong as ever.
In the year 1679 on October 7 two men rode into the small village inhabited by a tribe of gentle, misunderstood indigenous people. Our forefathers called them Indians. Though that is besides the point. Your ancestor, a man by the name of Nathiel Lewis rode in with the ancestor of the Haggard family. The Haggard man, one by the name of Jeremiah was intelligent beyond anything observed in that time period, and was a pivotal piece of the sealing of the creature we came to describe as the Grey Man.
When they entered the village, he was able to speak their language and even had the opportunity to speak to the chief in his own Tee-Pee. It was only when their conversation got deeper that Nathaniel was allowed to enter. Jeremiah informed him of the customs to use and effectively set himself up as a translator between the two men. They spoke at length about the importance of rules, treaties and bloodlines and the men promised to never record the sealing ritual in any physical way. If words are power, the written word is omnipotent. Again, by writing this, I am committing the worst taboo imaginable. But I feel it must be done.
When the men came to understand the chief, they shared from the pipe of the elders and therefore sealed their pact with the tribe for all eternity. It was only then that they were told the ritual to seal the beast, and instructed to pass on their story orally through the generations, should it ever need to be repeated. Thus, this has been our family’s burden for centuries.
I want to add that before I write down the ritual, I must make several things clear son, for I have no idea how long I have before the effects of the Grey Man begin to take hold or what they’ll be. My thought is control, Jeremiah informed Nathaniel that the chief mentioned if they’d broken their pact their soul would be bonded to the creature to some degree, but only after slaughter. My theory is that while alive, I wouldn’t be looking out the beasts eyes, but it would be looking out of mine. For that reason, I must apologize in advance.
I know you’re only fifteen, about to enter highschool, you’ve been talking non-stop about that Shannon girl. I think you’ll have what it takes to ask her out, she’ll be a good addition to our family. You’ll grow into a fine man, have a family of your own someday and hopefully never have to deal with the legacy of the Lewis bloodline.
I love you son, I just wanted to tell you that before I break the pact that has been held down by our family over the generations.
A wet spot marked the page, then another, and another. I looked up and around, trying to find the source of the sudden rainfall within my vehicle. It was only when I met my own eyes in the rearview that I realized I was crying. The tears flowing weren’t sorrowful tears, yet they weren’t happy ones either. The tears the bubbled forth were ones that came when a realization hits and your perspective shifts. It’s the kind that comes when you realize the grudge you’ve been harbouring for years has not only not been worth it, but has been tiresome. The tears that flowed out were ones of resignation. And they streamed for several minutes before I found myself able to read once more.
I never did learn the name of the tribe that helped us, though, I guess that would have required Nathaniel to learn it in order to pass it down. I’ve scoured maps, registries, and even contacted Indigenous affairs to try and find out the name. Those all bore no fruit. I’ve always gotten the plain “there’s no tribe that inhabited that land sir,” or “perhaps your ancestors were mistaken”. The monster in my basement tells a different story.
Nathaniel and Jeremiah rode into the valley where Magrath would be founded the next morning, having spent the night in a state of mediation while sitting in a pool of springwater near full saturation level with salt. It dried their bodies, drew out “evil spirits” the chief had mentioned. Once that was done, they had to face each other and tell their sins. This wasn’t a foreign Idea to them, as with most settlers, they were devout christians and practiced confession twice weekly. Though the chief explained that sins had a different connotation within the tribe. He’d simply said, “tell of all the times you had impure thoughts,” to which Nathaniel and Jeremiah immediately thought of jealousy or thoughts of adultery.
When asked, the chief clarified, “The sins you speak are ones from men against men. You must declare your people’s sins against the earth, against the times you disrupted the cycle of life and disregarded the animals. They all have a purpose and are vital to the health of mother earth, should they truly be seen as lesser than men?”
Jeremiah and Nathaniel understood immediately. The same societal constraints placed on them were not applied to a tribe that hadn’t had contact with Europeans thus far. And such, they confessed to the chief of all the transgressions their culture had placed upon the world, describing the mining and construction Europe, fires, wars, and the slaughter of animals. The chief’s eyes widened as he studied them, his mind filled with images of the European world.
Once they finished the step of confession he bid them to stand and took them to their horses, where their saddlebags were filled with various herbs. He held a peculiar leaf before them, and explained that when they saw the Grey Man, they would have to ingest it. It would mitigate the effects of it’s scream, which at close range would otherwise render them mad.
Also within their satchel was salt, nightshade, a long white blade, and something called ‘sacred earth’. According to Jeremiah, the earth was blessed by a medicine woman who had performed a separate ritual on it to imbue it with ‘the spirit of the earth’. Yeah, it sounds crazy to me as well, but having a monster contained in your basement will make you believe pretty much anything. I’ve gone down to look at it a few times; it lays on a slab of earth, unmoving, creepy looking bastard.
To perform the ritual, they needed to place the nightshade in the salt with a small amount of the sacred earth. When the creature ingests it, it will grow weak and that when they were to drive the creature through the chest of it then stuff the hole with the sacred earth and salt as well. Only then would the creature fall into a death like slumber. Nathaniel asked Jeremiah about the blade who then relayed the question to the chief. He gave them a somber look.
He called the medicine woman to join them, and she shambled out of one of the Tee-Pees that stood on the edge of the village. She looked weak and they soon understood why. Her left arm was missing from the elbow down, and her stump was covered in a mixture of salve and leaves to staunch the bleeding.
The Chief met their eyes and told them, “This is her blessed bone, one that can strike evil out of the world. Though the Grey Man is too powerful, and has grown to an almost godly level. This should incapacitate it, weaken it, and allow you to put it in a stasis. Though, even if it were weak, this blade would not be enough. The creature would need to be bonded to a mortal in order for it to be fully killed. It wants to be human, to walk among men with a fake smile on its face and cause wreckage from the light. It cannot do that as it is, humans flee. I will not tell you how to bond with it, for it is foolish. You relinquish your soul and will disrupt the cycle forever.”
With that the chief walked off, joined shortly after by the medicine woman, leaving Nathaniel and Jeremiah little choice but to set out to the valley where Magrath now stands. The ensuing battle was never passed down, though it was said that they both nearly died. Nathaniel built his house over the spot where they beat it down, and Jeremiah committed his life to knowledge. They founded Magrath a few years later, and finally it was incorporated as a town in the early 1900s.
Son. My research has led to this, to the time when I pass this torch to you. I may be able to end it, but alas, I fear that may not be the case. I can feel in the back of my mind the small suggestive voice of ancient power. I’ll lock this book and give the key to your mother. Then, I fear I’ll have no more strength to fight the monster. I’m sorry Jack, this was not my intention, but it’s all on you my boy.
Before I slip into the abyss that will always look back at me, I must give some fatherly wisdom;
Do not shut out those that love you, for they define who we are. And though family is important, your relationships with friends are brought of your choice, do not take them for granted. Remember your dad will always love you, will always care for you. I’ll be with you, in this book and in spirit.
I hope this knowledge helps.
I love you,
I turned the final page over, anxious to see if he’d left more information, more words for me to cling to. Yet, as the final page completed its path along the length of the book I noticed something was off about the last collection of pages. They seemed too rigid be pages, and as I gripped the next page, I realized that it was glued to the page behind it. I gently dissected the page from the next, careful not to tear it.
As it came up, a cut out hole was revealed behind the page, nestled within it, was a small, bone white blade. I guess now I have my weapon.
I placed the book on the passenger seat and ran my finger tip over the white blade gingerly, afraid I’d break it. It didn’t look like much; the entirety of the weapon stood at no more than six inches with the handle maintaining at least two of them. It looked like it had been expertly carved, and there were faded and worn symbols running along the length of it, as if to imbue it with some otherworldly power. I chuckled to myself, I guess that is what they’re supposed to do. At last, I placed it in my glovebox atop the bed of cigarette boxes contained within. I closed it and slid the car into first, it was finally time to face the vile creature that stood atop the idyllic ruins and bring vengeance for not only Dom, but Emma, my father and all the others it had claimed over the years.
I pulled up next to Dom’s discarded car. I’d forgotten that I’d left it there the night prior, a pang of guilt shot through me as I recalled running away in a fit of fear. I shook my head as I began to trudge towards the dilapidated structure.
The previous night’s rain had allowed more of the charcoal to seep into the burnt wooden floorboards of the structure and as I stepped over one support beam, I could see the black clouds coming back over the horizon. The bastard already knows I’m here. I smiled and tightened my grip on the blade, anxious to finally finish this and bring peace to Magrath once again. I had no intent on trying to seal it again, it would either fall on this night, or I would.
I neared the hole where I’d left Dom last night, the hole with stairs that descended into darkness and reached far down into the abyss that expanded before my very eyes. I swallowed as fear began to run through my veins, turning my warm skin into ice and making a cold sweat break out on my forehead. There was no turning back as soon as I stepped down that staircase and I knew that. Though as the feeling of primordial fear crept it’s way up my spine, I thought little of fleeing. My life, my heritage had led up to this moment and it was time for me to finally end it, finally rid the world of the being that had tormented so many people before me.
I reached into my back pocket and produced the flashlight I’d brought. I flicked it on and stepped down onto the first step, then the next, and then the next. My heart thumped louder with each step as I approached the bottom of the staircase. My stomach began to toss and turn, threatening to throw up what little food I’d consumed over the past few days. There was no turning back, no turning back…
“NO TURNING BACK”
The voice caught me off guard. It was deeper than anything I’d ever encountered and sounded like it had boomed from inside my head. I jumped to the side wall and looked around in fear, anxious to see what had muttered the words I was thinking. I let out a long breath and steeled myself. I began trudging down the stairs once more, fearing what other methods it would use to try and make me turn tail and run.
But nothing else occurred as I finally reached the bottom of the stairs and found myself in a familiar room. The large concrete box seemed more intimidating than the last time I was here, and I was hit with the smell of rot. I retched, but didn’t vomit as I brought myself under control. I shined my flashlight on the ground, revealing a pool of congealed blood and viscera that were left from the night before.
I flicked my flashlight around the room, anxious to see if I could spot Dom’s body anywhere in the room, any trace of Trix or the monster that I’d ventured down there to kill. As I stepped around the room, scanning the walls and dark spots, something light bounced off my foot.
My heart felt like it was in my throat. Sitting on the floor in front of me, stretched out as if to show me its full glory, was the belt I’d killed my father with. The black leather had aged some, but lack of use had kept it in good shape, though soot covered it in a fine layer. I knelt down and picked it up, examining it as I turned it thrice in my hands. It filled me with a cacophony of emotions, ranging from rage to sadness, I put it back on the ground gingerly and went back to scanning the room.
I felt rage bubble inside of me, “What’s wrong monster? Too afraid to face me?”
I heard a deep breath from somewhere in the room as it made its presence known, then, its voice was in my head, “Oh Jack, your taunts wont work on me. You’re a pitiful mortal, and I am a god. I stand above you foolish humans, above the very fabric of your existence. I’ve lived in these lands for millenia yet your kind always seems to think they have a right to it. We’ve been here longer, you call us ‘creatures’ or ‘monsters’ your try and shame us for living in the darkness, for feasting on the weak. Your very fear feeds my soul,” it paused, “and your father’s now.”
I grunted, “Where the hell are you?”
It continued, ignoring my question, “he’s here, he had been for years, watching me torment you, strike you. His soul nearly fractured when I killed your son and wrenched her out of that girls abdomen. Such paltry things you humans, latching onto others because you’re too weak to stand on your own. You are nothing, worse than nothing. Your sick notions of breeding are simply rooted in wanting to be like us, to be immortal in your own pitiful way. No matter, I’ll gut you like I did your little friend. The cop. His soul is inside me too, so is your girlfriend’s. How they must ache to know you fucked his wife without a second thought.”
My rage was boiling, coming up to the surface as I spat, “I’m not on trial here, beast, now come and face judgement, face me and die!”
Finally, as the noise inside my head calmed and my hearing was returned to normal, I heard the damp slapping of its bare feet on the ground. Finally. I tightened my grip on the blade and readied myself for the fight, I would kill this fiend, remove it’s stain from the earth. Yet, as the footsteps got closer and I shined my light on the figure that approached, I quickly realized that it wasn’t the creature but something else, someone else.
It’s voice came through one last time, “I have no desire to face you as I am right now. When the light is up, I rest, come back at nightfall, and we’ll talk some more. For now, a consolation prize.”
I rushed forward as she approached, tucking the flashlight and knife into my waistband as she began to teeter. I caught her just in time as she fainted into my arms. I picked her up and carried her out of the basement, up the concrete stairs and towards daylight, where I’d be able to confirm my suspicions.
When we finally reached the light, my heart lifted. I’d fulfilled at least one promise to Dom, I’d saved the person that caused him to recklessly charge into the basement the night prior. I looked down to her emaciated face, baffled that she’d lost so much weight given she’d only been missing a day. As I brushed her brown hair off her face, Trix Thompson opened her eyes.
Anger, fear, guilt and pride. Those feelings coursed through my veins, radiated through my core, and seized my heart as I heaved Trix’s body over the broken pillars and piles of rubble that littered the ruins of the manor. A coughing fit overcame me as soot blew up into my face and spilled down my lungs. I gripped Trix tighter, fearful that I’d drop her on to the ground and finish what the beast couldn’t.
My muscles were tight with anger, contracting in anticipation for a fight that was delayed. I was ready to die, ready to risk it all on some vague hope that I could end it all, that I could rid the world of either the monster or myself. It was an act of pride, an act brought forth by a promise to a friend. A promise to myself and a promise I’d indirectly made to my father.
His purple face flooded my vision as I took the few remaining steps to the car, the familiar feeling of bile arose in my throat and I struggled to choke it back down. There was no running from my past, not now, not ever again. I looked down to Trix, who lay unconscious in my arms, her fragile figure limp against my body. I would end this all, that much I had to do, but first, I had to save this girl.
I carefully opened the rear door of my car, and placed her gently on the seat. She groaned lightly as her shoulder touched the fabric cushion then quieted down as her body settled on the seat. I closed the door and walked around to the driver’s side door and climbed inside. I couldn’t take her to the hospital, no, they would ask too many questions that would inevitably prevent me from returning to the manor once night fell. Was it selfish, yes, but as I looked at my white knuckles from my grip on the steering wheel, I realized I was doing this more for myself than anyone else. I finally had a chance to rid myself of the demons that had plagued me since I was a child, it would all come down to tonight.
I slid the knife from my waistband and tossed it back into the glove box. I took the flashlight and stuck it into the small garbage compartment of the door. Popping the clutch, I slid my car into gear and eased it slowly back down the road into the heart of magrath, I couldn’t bring her to the hospital, but surely her aunt would be willing to take care of her for the time being.
As I pulled up outside Shannon’s house, I was greeted by a familiar sight. Although I’d seen her in the days prior, I was not expecting to see her standing there in the doorway, pink muddy dress and all. She smiled grimly at me, her dirt caked face cracking from the strain. I slowly got out of the car, not taking my eyes off her. As I walked over to her, she lifted her hand to stop me, shaking her head as if to warn me of what I’d find inside.
I looked at her incredulously, “I thought you wouldn’t be able to appear before me again while that thing walked around here, what’s the matter?”
She ignored my question, answering in the cryptic messages I’d grown to expect, “You didn’t heed my warning Jack, now people are dead. Sure, they would have perished eventually as the beast gathered strength. You’ve made all the right steps yet, you are in pain. Have you stopped to wonder why? Perhaps, you wish it upon yourself, you are a creature of self gratification are you not? Alas, heed my warning once more Jack, leave the town, turn and drive, drive until you run out of road, until the asphalt breaks beneath your tires and Magrath is nothing but a footnote in the past. If you enter this house, there is no more turning back.”
I sighed and set my jaw, “There was no turning back the moment I set foot in this town. I’ve been running all my life, I’ve been afraid all my life. It’s time I stop worrying about my own well being and put others first. I don’t need you anymore, please, find the light and move on. You’re free.”
Her expression lifted and the dirt began to float off her face and clothes. She smiled the first true smile I’d seen on her face as she dissipated into a warm glowing mist that swirled and coalesced into the mid afternoon breeze. I walked up to the door and steeled myself, there was something inside I knew I wasn’t going to like, but I had to go in there. Had to know.
I stepped into the small entryway of the house and was greeted by a faint coppery smell. At first I couldn’t place it, though as I stood there confused, my brain began to process the information that flowed through my olfactory nerves and into the cacophony of information that was swirling around in my mind. I slipped my feet out of my shoes as I continued to ponder the information. It wasn’t until I heard a small splash of water that the smell finally registered. Blood.
I flung myself up the carpeted mountain to the top floor, each step seemingly taking forever. I couldn’t move fast enough. As my heart pounded my mind raced, running through scenario after scenario of what awaited me in the bathroom. What horrors would I find. Please, God, let Shannon be alright. I finally reached the door and threw it opened, instantly hit with the sight that would forever be seared into my brain. I let out a horrified gasp.
Shannon lay in tub her head lolled forwards, barely out of the water. Her wrist dangled delicately out of the side, several red lines spanned across her wrist, welling with blood that dripped onto the floor below. I ran to her side, noticing the redness of the water that had mixed with the blood that flowed freely from her other wrist.
My voice came out shakily, “oh no, Shannon, no, no, no.”
I reached into the tub and pulled her out, hugging her tightly to my body. She was cold, though I could still hear her breathing. I swiftly carried her to her room where I laid her on the bed, then ran back to the washroom carefully avoiding the pool of red water that had formed on the bathroom floor. I threw open the medicine cabinet and scoured the three shelves, looking for a first aid kit.
There wasn’t one. “Shit, shit, shit!”
I gripped the counter as I racked my brain for another idea, on a whim I checked under the sink with the cleaning supplies. I pulled out several bottles of various cleaners, toppling them over as I dug around in the recesses of the cupboard. Surely there had to be something.
My hand struck something metallic and I craned my neck to look deeper within. My heart lifted when I saw a small white metal box with a red cross on it. I quickly grabbed the edge and brought it out, fumbling it twice as I turned and ran back into the bedroom.
Shannon lay naked on the blankets, her blood seeping into the fabric. I checked her pulse. It was weak, but still present. I quickly set about bandaging up her wrists, wrapping several layers of gauze around each one then wrapping tightly with medical tape. Though it was a bad job, it would staunch the bleeding, at least momentarily.
I then ran back to the bathroom and grabbed a towel to dry her off with, meticulously ensuring that there was no residue bloody-water on her. When she was fully dry, I slid some of Dom’s sweats on her and lifted her up – I couldn’t take care of her, and with Trix still in the car, we’d need to go to the hospital.
With Shannon tightly secured into the passenger seat and Trix still fastened haphazardly in the back, I reversed out of the driveway and proceeded down the road towards the hospital. The car jostled and bumped as I sped over speed bumps and red lights, but I didn’t care, I needed to get the girls there as quickly as possible.
We rolled up to the emergency doors within ten minutes of departing, making considerable time despite travelling across the entirety of the city. I slid out from behind the steering wheel and ran through the double doors into the empty triage, where the nurse looked utterly bored. She looked up and had to hide her enthusiasm when I burst in looking bewildered.
“Please, I need help.”
She nodded and lifted the phone, uttering a muffled code that failed to reach my ears. Within moments, several other nurses ran into the lobby, looking at me expectantly. I turned and beckoned them to follow, running back out to my car in the parking lot outside. I grabbed shannon while two of the male nurses maneuvered Trix out of the back seat and carried her inside. We quickly got them both onto stretchers and the nurses began to push them into the emergency rooms as I checked them in.
I’d been filling out forms for the better part of half an hour, worrying about the state of the girls. When I stood up and carried the now completed entry papers to the nurse at the desk. She’d gone back to looking bored and smiled as I approached, reaching out for the papers. I hope I get to see them soon.
She looked at the forms and frowned “sudden emaciation and attempted suicide? Uh, how did they both end up with you…” her eyes flicked down to the sheet, “Mr. Lewis? Wait, you’re not one of the Lewis’ are you?”
I sighed, “just Jack is fine, and honestly, it’s a really long story and I’m sure you wouldn’t believe it.” I thought for a second, then added, “Trix is Shannon’s niece, I’m kind of a family friend. But I’m in Magrath helping the Police Department with an ongoing investigation. You can call them if you need.”
She shook her head, “not needed, I know Dominic, sweet guy. He said you were in town. He swung by the other around lunch day to check on his mother who’s been in for hip troubles and was admitted pending a replacement, where is he by the way?”
Trying to keep the pained expression off my face, “I’m not at liberty to say unfortunately.”
In a way that was partly true and the nurse seemed to buy it, returning to looking at the sheets in front of her, brow furrowed. Thank you for paving the way Dom. I asked if there was anything else that was needed of me, to which she said no, and that she’d let me know when I was allowed to see them. I sighed and went back to the chair I’d filled out the forms in. Returning my thoughts to the case and the impending confrontation with the “Grey Man.”
A couple hours passed before one of the nurses that assisted in bringing in Shannon and Trix walked out and approached the triage nurse. He bent over and whispered something into her ear. She nodded, then watched as he walked away.
She slid the entry papers into two respective folders, then stood up and looked at me, “follow me, I’ll bring you to them now”
I followed her through the doors into the emergency ward, anxious to see Shannon and Trix, but my anger lingered. Anger directed at the thing that caused all of this. Anger at myself for not being better, and I was angry at the world for just existing. As I walked through those double swinging door, I cursed God, for if there was such a being then surely they were nothing more than a kid with a magnifying glass and we are nothing but ants.
I followed the nurse through the open space towards a curtained area on the far side of the ward, passing a man in a white lab coat on the way. I was hopeful, up until the nurse pulled back the curtain in front of them. They were both still unconscious, hooked up to various machines. I sagged, then walked next to Shannon, who’d been covered with a thick blanket to regulate her body temperature.
A voice came from the door, and I turned to see the man in the white lab coat, “She’s lucky you found her when you did. If she’d lost anymore blood, I’m afraid she wouldn’t have made it. As it is now, she should be fine, we repaired the damage to her wrists and I have no doubt she’ll make a full recovery. As for the other one…” he paused as if trying to find the right words, “well, I’ve never seen anything like it.”
He closed the distance between himself and Trix and looked at her studiously, consulting his clip board which had her file attached. “I think your description was accurate, ‘sudden emaciation’” he shook his head, “if she wasn’t friends with my son, I would have believed her to be afflicted with some form of eating disorder.”
I quickly went over the list of Trix’s friends, and began to notice the uncanny resemblance he had to his son, “your son is Zachariah?”
He looked surprised, “Yes, I assume you’re the one who questioned him at school yesterday. Does it have anything to do with Trix’s state? How did this happen?”
I couldn’t meet his eyes. Any explanation I gave would be considered as part of my descent into madness. But at this point, was I going mad? I couldn’t be. No, the investigative process is such that it leaves little room for fiction. Evidence is truth, truth is fact. If I were going mad then what had killed Dom. What had killed those kids and kidnapped others? Killed Emma.
I raised my eyes and finally met his stare, “I’m not sure doctor, I simply found her like this while checking in on her.”
He nodded glumly and wrote something down in her file, then excused himself, muttering something about “less interesting patients to tend to.” I watched as he walked away then pulled up the visitors chair and sat between the two beds. Taking shannons cold, clammy hand in my right hand and felt the thick bandages brush against my pinky finger. With my left hand I grabbed Trix’s thin, frail hand, noting the dryness as I stared sympathetically at her. I could only imagine what she’d gone through in the past day. I felt a stray tear flow from my duct down to the crest of my chin. It was soon joined by many others.
I sat there, running my mind over the case, losing myself in the mechanical whir of the machinery that surrounded me. As the hours passed my mind settled on several key facts. How on earth was I going to report this to the police department, what was I going to do about the missing bodies, what happened to the town if I failed to destroy the monster, and the one question that had been lingering in the back of my mind since I’d discussed it with Dom two days prior; who called me here to work this case?
I awoke some time later, unsure of when exactly I’d fallen asleep. The machinery around me beeped and whirred as it kept track of the status of Shannon and Trix. With the haze of sleep still clouding my mind, I looked around the room, scanning my eyes over them while their rhythmic breaths raised and lowered their chests. I drifted my eyes over the clock mounted to the wall and saw that it was nearly midnight, I then looked over the light blue curtain that separated the small space from the rest of the ward.
My eyes flicked back to the clock, haze lifting from my mind. What? The time read 11:45pm. It was night time. Time to return to the manor, time to get revenge on the monster that was plaguing Magrath and my life. It was time to either kill or be killed.
I gently pried my hands out of Shannon’s and Trix’s and quietly rose to my feet. My breath increased as adrenaline flooded through my veins and I struggled to keep myself quiet. I slid through the gap between the curtains and walked through the emergency ward towards the exit. No one stopped me as I passed the still very bored triage nurse and stepped out into the cold, brisk night. I cast my eyes around the parking lot, forgetting where I’d moved my car momentarily. When my eyes locked on, I quickly homed in on it, throwing open the door and sliding behind the steering wheel. It was time to finally put an end to this for good.
For the second time that day I pulled up in front of the manor, next to Dom’s car. I took a deep breath and put my head on the steering wheel, mentally preparing myself for what was bound to happen next. I reached into the glove box and took out the knife, gripping its hilt tightly as I felt the weight of it, felt the purpose behind its creation and pictured the medicine woman, who’d sacrificed her arm to help stop this demon. I nodded to myself and climbed out of the car, grabbing the flashlight from the door on the way out.
I trundled across the ruins, following the same path I had taken earlier that day. Stepping over the fallen support beams and piles of ash that lined the route. A fit of nervous laughter overcame me as a thought flitted through my mind, fire hazards. Once it passed, I continued on, shining my flashlight over the charred remains of a once proud and prestigious mansion that I’d once called home.
The fear reached it sumit when I came to the hole that led to the once hidden basement. I looked around, in search of what, though, I was unsure. I placed one foot tentatively on the step below, then another, and soon, I found myself once again descending the staircase that led into the inky blackness that threatened to consume me the same way it had consumed Dom.
Memories flooded my vision. Memories of looking for Emma and finding my father threatening to kill her down there, I remembered the belt, the pleading look on his face as he struggled for air. The way his tongue hung out from between his purple lips, as though searching for a viable source of oxygen. I remembered how his eyes bulged from their sockets as I tightened the belt.
I shook my head, and continued down the stairs. It’s messing with you Jack, showing you things. I finally reached the bottom without further disruption and stepped into the concrete room once more. I shone the light around, illuminating walls and open doorways. In one doorway was a small pile of rubble. I began to move towards it, recalling Larkin’s story of them clearing the rubble away from the door where the thing emerged from.
As I neared, it’s voice began to speak in my head, “I’ve watched you suffer. Watched you flail blindly through a life unfit for you. Watched you night after night drinking yourself into a dreamless sleep, chain smoking pack after pack of cigarettes knowing that eventually they won’t be enough to take the edge off. You fight feebly for a life you don’t want to live, for friends you couldn’t care less about. So come on Jackie, let me taste in your fear.”
It stepped out from the doorway, extending a spindly leg over the rubble. It stood at least seven feet tall with nothing covering its slimy grey flesh. It body, though anthropomorphic in nature, was devoid of all human features. There were no genitalia dangling between its stick like legs, nor nipples dotting its flat torso. Under it’s grey skin rippled thousands of thin black veins that flowed up its body and down its long arms. It’s hands were slender and at the tip of each finger was a long bladelike talon that shimmered in the pale glow of the flashlight.
I looked up to its face and felt my heart thud as fear coursed through me. It was bald, with no ear protruding from the sides. It looked at me with its eyes of obsidian and cocked its head the same way it had when it killed Dom. A smile stretched across its face, revealing sharp pointed teeth that appeared to be too large for its head. I opened its mouth and I gasped as its jaw unhinged allowing it to part its teeth.
My hand trembled, causing the beam of light bob along the wall and along the features of the creature. I could feel my other hand shaking, jittering the knife that I still clung tightly to. I swallowed, trying to think of my next move. I’d found the beast, but what came next? I’d been operating on the thought that I’d get to it and fight it, but how do you fight something like that? It looked to be the object of complete and utter terror, yet it stood there so nonchalantly, taunting me with its very presence as if to say “I’m terrifying and there’s nothing you can do about it.”
It took a step towards me and its voice boomed through my head, “I thought better of you Jack, all your talk earlier about ending me, killing me, ridding the world of me and yet you can do nothing but stand there and shake. It’s a surprise you haven’t pissed yourself. Your fear, your sweat, it’s delicious, now let’s see how your blood tastes!”
It swung a taloned hand at me and my body moved at the last second; muscles tightening and constricting so as to throw me backwards a couple feet. It swung again, and again, each time I was just barely able to dodge, yet it seemed to only be playing. How can you stand against something like that? I jumped back a few more feet and slipped as it came in for another swing; my feet coming out from under me.
As I fell, I could feel it’s clawed hand just barely grazing my nose on my descent to the concrete floor. I hit the ground hard, but knew I didn’t have time to lament about my carelessness or focus on the pain. I was running on pure instinct and I rolled just moments before its claw struck the ground where I’d been laying just moments before. The flashlight skittered across the ground as I came out of the roll and I cursed, though fortunately it angled in such a way to illuminate the space in front of me.
I looked to where it struck and my heart fell when I saw the deep gouges within concrete. I couldn’t keep this up, eventually it would get lucky or I would get sloppy and all it would take is one hit to end me. It wouldn’t be hard for a creature of such strength. I looked down to my right hand, where the white blade remained, even after the skirmidge on the ground. The creature halted as it looked to my hand.
Fury grew in its voice, “WHERE THE FUCK DID YOU GET THAT?”
It threw itself towards me at an inhuman speed. I barely had time to react, I sidestepped and dodged it’s outstretched hand at the last second plunging the blade deep into the tissue of its abdomen. Warm blood spurted on to my hand and I felt relief as I pulled the blade out and stabbed again, and again.
And then it screamed.
The world tilted and I found myself impacting with ground as my vision filled with horrific scenes; like all the horrors of the world suddenly decided to invade my mind at the same time. I saw the slaughter of millions of indigenous people as the settlers came to America, I saw the horrors as they were hung and executed in the name of God and the Queen. I saw as hundreds of women, children and elderly were slaughtered in the name of conquest. I saw the concentration camps of the Second World War where thousands willingly entered chambers under the pretense of showers only to get gassed to death. I saw thousands work themselves to the bone as they survived off of ‘mystery meat’ and dirt, scrounging for sustenance. I saw the horrors of serial killers and rapists exerting their will on the unsuspecting and undeserving victims that they claimed.
I rolled on the ground in the fetal position as era after era of cruelty and pain flashed before my eyes. I felt the pain of all of them as my heart lurched and thumped within my chest, threatening to explode under the sheer amount of stress being placed on it. I struggled as I brought the knife up closer to my chest and gripped the hilt tightly, before taking the blade and pressing it to my neck. I just want this to end.
As the blade nicked my neck however, the fear began to melt away; the effects of the scream began to wither and die. I lay there, whimpering on the hard ground beneath me. I heard the scuttling of something hard on the ground next to me, and I looked over to see the monster rising onto its unsteady legs.
I extended my hand towards the knife, anxious to grab the knife before it could get its bearings. My fingertips graze the handle and I used the pads to pull it closer. My hands wrapped around the handle and I squeezed tightly; feeling reassured now that I had it firmly in my grasp. I struggled to get onto my hands and knees, slowly rising as the monster began to steady. It reached towards me and I slashed upwards with the knife raking it along its outstretched hand.
It wrapped its fingertips around the edge of the blade as it cried out in pain. I tried to pull the blade back as it gripped it and held, despite the pain the blade caused. Fearing it would attack me with it’s other hand. It narrowed its eyes at it clenched tighter on the blade. I shielded my eyes as the blade shattered, erupting in a bright light that enveloped the entirety of the room.
I removed my hand from in front of my eyes, seeing nothing but the blackness of the room as my eyes struggled to adjust to the sudden darkness of light. I groped around on the floor, hoping to find something, anything to fight against the monster with. My eyes slowly began to adjust to the darkness as my hand brushed something. I grabbed it tightly and pulled it closer to me; the strangely familiar shape fitting oddly within my hand. As my eyes fully adjusted to the darkness around me I looked down at the object I was holding and my heart fell deep within my chest and disgust rose like bile in my throat.
In my hand – coiled like a cobra waiting to strike – was my father’s belt.
I stretched it out between two hands and rose to my feet, feeling a sense of purpose and intent rise within me that I had never known the likes of before. I looked over to the smoldering mess that was the “Grey Man” and began walking over, my steps labored and slow. It cocked its head towards me and began to struggle to move; it’s legs kicking out against the floor.
I looked to where it’s arms were and felt a smile spread across my face. The hand it had used to destroy the blade was nothing more than a mangled mess of sinew and black blood. It clung to the remaining stump by a single strand of flesh that threatened to snap it even gently provoked. There were scorch wounds along the side of its body and face. And as I maneuvered myself behind it, it let out a pitiful attempt of a scream.
I firmly placed a foot on its remaining hand. Then I reached down and tucked the belt under its chin then wrapped the length around its throat once, tightening it as I went. I strenuously pushed both of my hands outwards, tightening the belt like a noose around the demons neck. It struggled to breathe, and I continued to pull. Tighter and tighter as it began to thrash. Not giving any ground as its legs kicked out and it bucked, trying to dislodge my from my position. Yet I persisted.
After several minutes of fighting against it, it finally lay still; final shocks sending jolts through its legs as it lay there. Yet I held the belt, not willing to give any ground to the creature lest it still be alive. I’d been standing there for what felt like an eternity when I felt a soft, warm hand lay atop of mine.
I looked up, and saw the face of my father, “it’s okay Jack, you’ve freed us. You can let go now.”
In shock, I dropped the belt and took a step back, disbelief coursing its way through my body. There was no way he was here, “I – I – killed you.”
As the tears finally began to pour from my eyes, he responded, “you did, thank you. I wish I had more time Jack, more time to explain, more time to explain the impacts of your actions but I can’t. This place isn’t the place for the dead, so I must leave you. Thank you for freeing me Jack, thank you for freeing all of us.”
I looked up to my father’s face as he took a step back. Back into the crowd of people I was unable to save. Back into the group of those I’d loved and lost, next to Noah Brackman, Robert Feilding, and all the others whose lives had been claimed over the past decade. Next to a smiling Dominic and Emma, who looked not like they harbored any hate for me, but like they were thanking me for ending their suffering. And as I met the gaze of both of them, I could feel their overwhelming love for me as they began to dissipate into the air of the dark basement, casting it in the warm glow of their affection.
As the last of their particles scattered into the air like autumn leaves scattered in the wind, I heard the final words from the three people I longed to hold close one last time.
“I love you Jack.”
And like that, on the night of October 3, 2015, the monster that plagued Magrath was defeated and the people I hold dear were freed.
I left quite some time later; having spent a couple hours standing guard over the dead creature that lay before me; wrapped in a joyous stupor of which I hadn’t known the likes of before.
When I’d left – reassured it wouldn’t rise from the dead to torment more people, I said farewell to the air of the basement, bidding the ones I loved goodbye as I climbed the concrete stairs for the last time. I drew my pack of cigarettes from my pocket and sparked one up, not for the need of the nicotine inside, but for the joy at the feeling of the smoke as it filled my lungs, unaware that in the years following I’d try to kick that habit several times in an attempt to rid myself of the habit the same way I would rid myself of the alcohol.
I drove through the center of Magrath on that night, down the well lit man made corridors created by the buildings and homes that obliviously lined the road and I pulled up outside a familiar store front with a familiar name marked in gold leaf text. I smiled as I walked over to the building next to it with the sign that said “vacant” on the front. That smile grew louder when my incessant knocks on the door were answered by a middle aged woman with grey streaks running through her disheveled hair.
Her eyes lit up when she saw me, and wept when I wrapped her in a tight bear hug and whispered in her ear, “I’ve freed him mom, dad’s free.”
I returned to the hospital quite some time later that night, having recounted the story in full to my mother who was now alert, and at times she laughed, and others she cried, but all the while she listened intently, even when I told her the parts she’d already knew. When it was time to leave she informed me she still had some power with the police and would make sure everything was handled “appropriately.” And I thanked her profusely, kissed her on the cheek and excused myself, apologizing that I needed to get to the hospital. She smiled and nodded, sending me on my way.
When I got there, I was elated to see Shannon sitting awake in her bed, having received several transfusions over the course of the night. Trix’s parents were there too; the hospital called them shortly after she was admitted. It was a hard task explaining to Dom’s brother the circumstances of his brother’s death and the events that made his daughter so emaciated, but it helped that I was covered in the black blood that the creature had shed on me.
Several days later; after passing a preliminary psych evaluation, Shannon was released on the circumstance that I not let her out of my sight. I promised, and brought her home, where we spent the next few weeks catching up and talking about where we’d go from there and one night as we were cuddled up watching jeopardy on the couch, she asked if I still wanted her. I simply told her no, I needed her. It was true. And though we both knew it wasn’t the healthiest way to start a relationship, it was the only way we could, for we both knew of the circumstances surrounding each other’s conditions.
I never did find out who called me into town to work that case four years ago, but now it doesn’t matter. For In the years following, we moved out of Magrath and into the outskirts of another town that inhabited the Midwest, though we still returned to visit my family and Shannon’s from time to time. The nightmares still came for both, though we always slept better when we were by each other’s side.
I retired from my job running the PI firm, and decided to live on the money I’d inherited from my father that my mother had kept safe for me all these years, began caring for animals on our acreage. Ones that our son would play with and help me tend to, despite his young age.
I’m always here for him. And on these nights, when the snow falls and the flakes are illuminated by the back porch light, sparking them up like a million fireflies against the dark sky, I look at him. I look at the way he marvels over each and every flake as it shimmers down from the sky like teardrops from the angels, and a single thought fills my head and my heart. One so pure rings true of his namesake.
As I ruffle his hair and he looks at me, he says, “I love you daddy”
And as the final snowflakes fall over our property, I say quietly back so as to not disturb this serene night;
“I love you too Dom.”
CREDIT : Justin Tuts
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