Estimated reading time — 47 minutes
Bridgewater state prison and penitentiary was built five miles from the nearest city, on an otherwise empty expanse of prairie. The tall towers surrounding the inner perimeter stood like silent sentries guarding the concrete cellblocks built one by one over the past thirty years. The facility’s main building currently housed over three hundred inmates. There were twelve cellblocks in all, with thirty precast iron cells in each. Along with their freedom having been taken away, inmates privacy was also a thing of the past as the guardroom monitoring station set cameras to silently cast an eye over everything facet of life in the blocks. Beyond that was the consolation room, otherwise known as “the visiting area” where inmates conversed with loved ones and legal representatives. The visiting area had twelve seats on each side of the Plexiglas, one side for inmates, the other for their visitors, which consisted mostly of inmate’s girlfriends, spouses and children.
It was a typical hot July evening when Counselor William Chandler sat down, wiping the beads of sweat from his brow. The air conditioning had brought almost immediate relief as he walked in; causing him to think that on days like this, maybe being behind bars wasn’t such a bad idea. With his briefcase at his feet and his hands folded on the counter he patiently waited for his client Martin McGonagall to arrive. Martin was the former District 1 fire chief in the sleepy little town of South Hadley, Massachusetts. Martin had been held by the state for extradition for the last four years, during which time his wife had filed for divorce and virtually every friend he thought he had, seemed to have disappeared from the face of the Earth. Normally a homicide investigation would run for up to one or two years. Then again, there were still many questions and very few answers regarding the crux of the case, which was Martin’s son.
With a loud clack of withdrawing bolts the steel frame door swung open and in walked Martin escorted by a corrections officer named Gould. Gould was a larger man with a morose face overtopped with a luxuriant head of jet-black hair which he styled with Butch wax hair products. Inmates knew better than to rub him the wrong way. Let’s just say a few of the more brash ones had found themselves on the floor with a mouthful of tile in their face after they had pushed him just a little too far.
Gould sat Martin in his chair and locked his leg restraints to a steel loop secured to the floor beneath the counter. Gould nodded at Chandler and Chandler nodded back. Martin looked down at his hands; they were small and delicate with concaved fingernails. Regardless, they were the hands of a murderer, a man who’d committed filicide. The stage had been set, it was three years when he appeared in court; the judge slammed his gavel and ordered he be executed on the first of January of the upcoming New Year. Only when Gould exited the room did Chandler initiate the conversation. Chandler picked up the phone on his end, and placed it to his ear. With slow, mechanical movements and an unresponsive look Martin did the same on his side of the Plexiglas.
“Good morning, Mr. McGonagall.”
“Morning, Counselor.” Martin replied.
“I’m glad you agreed to speak with me today. It’s been a while since our last session, hasn’t it?”
“Too long…” Martin replied dryly.
“Do you know why that is, Mr. McGonagall? Do you know what our situation is currently?”
“Because we’re approaching our deadline, aren’t we?”
He sighed exasperatedly. “It would seem so…I haven’t given up hope just yet but time is becoming scarcer. Unless…” , as he paused a moment for dramatic effect, “unless, we could argue diminished mental capacity; it’s not too late even now, I’ve seen it work even this late into the sentencing, there’s still a chance-”
“Counselor,” Martin interjected. “It’s already too late for me; you and I both know that. I’m done fighting this fight, if I plead insanity they’ll send me away to the State hospital and Lord knows I do not wish to spend what time I have left in such a place like that. But I also do not wish to go back home, for there is nothing left for me there either. I know I’m not crazy and I understand the seriousness of it, but I swear to you I had no intentions of doing what I’ve done.” he said in a shallow tone.
“Can I be frank with you, Mr. McGonagall?”
“Any ordinary case would have resolved itself by now, but as you know this is far from ordinary. The victim’s blood was found on your clothes, and the same caliber revolver found in your possession matched the victim’s wounds. Which begs the question…” he paused a second time, “If you did not kill your son, then who did?”
McGonagall did not reply immediately, he sat there leaned back in his chair and thought for a moment or two, “I never claimed he was killed by another, counselor…” A frown lined delved between Chandler’s eyebrows, “I was the one who pulled the trigger, I was the one who fired all six shots, it was by my hand which he died, but I promise you I did not wish death upon him. The six rounds which I fired were meant for somebody else…”
“Who?” Chandler asked.
He sighed a second time, “I have accepted my fate and know what lies ahead of me, but before I do, I want to tell you my story. I will give you my testimony which I withheld from the courts and you can take this one to the bank, because every word will be the whole truth and nothing but the truth so help me God.”
Chandler leaned back in his chair and folded his legs, with an amused look on his face. “Very well then,” he replied, “you’ve got the floor, Mr. McGonagall.” he said gesturing to him.
“You’ll think I’m crazy, that much is certain. You may consider pleading insanity after this anyway, but I ask that you only listen, nothing more, nothing less.”
Chandler looked at Martin as if he had just declared himself a flying, purple cow. “I have not spoken to anyone about this in years. It happened shortly before Christmas with a fire at the College Inn. Do you remember it, counselor?”
Fire has a mind of its own. It lives, it breathes, it eats, it hates…On the morning of December 14, 1986 the world could have been mistaken for a movie, as the blackness of the smoke was in sharp, dark contrast to the light snowfall that gently descended from above. No creature disturbed the stillness as even the birds seized from flying. The serene New England winter image was shattered by the blazing inferno hovering over the College Inn over on College St. in South Hadley. The looming flames burned everything and eventually would destroy anything in its wake.
The College Inn (or the “CI” as most people called it) was a favorite hangout spot for Mount Holyoke students and professors. Opened in the 50’s the CI kept its rustic and relaxing charm that had the college crowd and the locals blending in unique combination of academics and blue collar. The wooden tables etched with names, phone numbers and protest slogans from the 60’s, to the big, black leather couch, the popcorn machine in the corner and the pinball machines in the bar area, gave the place a feel that was all its own. Mount Holyoke students in particular went in for meals, organizational meetings, dates, and even laid back study sessions. Long tables with several ashtrays allowed students to study and talk amongst one another.
Like most places back in those days, smoking was permitted indoors. There were some who said that it was the smoldering ash that brought the place down that night, but for most patrons the slow rising haze was just another piece of the ambience that made it feel like home. The CI was also home to some of Mount Holyoke’s “informal traditions” such as first-year hazings. Rumor has it there were a couple of freshman who were locked in the freezer that night suffering the torment of some upper classmen who when they were finally let out were stripped of all their clothes and told to make it back to their dorms. Already chilled to the bone they decided to turn on the gas stove that night to get back some warmth before their jaunt across campus, and forgot to turn of the burners as they snuck out the back door that night. In any case, the CI was almost too good to be true. A small town place where almost anyone who walked thru the door could be called a friend.
While the students and Professors loved the place, the feeling was not mutual with respect to the Mount Holyoke administration who felt the CI was more of an eyesore lingering on the edge of their bucolic campus. They were forever talking about buying the place out and building their own more modern day version of a campus hangout, that didn’t have so much of what they called the “townie” feel. Rumors had it there were plans already drawn-up which would soon make the CI a place the alumni could reminisce about when they came back for the annual class reunion. Depending on how you felt about the place, fortunately or unfortunately, the charming little establishment had met its untimely ending on this cold December morning. As the fire caught wind, the smoke billowed into the sky and was visible all the way from the Granby and Belchertown line. The fire was reported by Karl McGonagall, one of the chef’s at the College Inn and the South Hadley fire chief’s son, Chief Martin McGonagall. Firefighters from all over the Hampshire County came to the scene to aid the South Hadley fire department. The College Inn was one of the many buildings that was lost in the fire that morning, including the campus’s Odyssey bookshop, Campus Photo, College cut-ups (hair salon), even a newly opened tailoring shop. The fires smoldering flames left no trace of the once valued, economic structure of South Hadley behind. All that remained was the blackened surface of the CI’s floor panels and aromatic smell of melted paint and scorched wood and a repugnant smell to your nostrils while your brain feels as if it is an abomination to the air.
“This is a real shit stain on the holiday season…” Martin said absently.
“My eyebrows are still singed from the flames.” said Lieutenant Michael Theriault while lighting a Camel on the corner of his mouth. His face and his hair still smeared with amber and black soot.
“Were there any casualties?” Martin asked.
“A chef and two waitresses got caught in the flames, poor souls.” Theriault responded.
“That’s a cryin’ shame, have they been identified?”
“William Skillet was the name of the chef; the waitresses were students here on campus, Sherry Shrewder and Martha Krautler, they were roommates.”
William Skillet was a withdrawn individual with no family or close ties. A decent man but a heavy character with a plump, overweight face most women did not find so attractive. As for him, no one would bat an eye or shed a tear; however, the same could not be said about the two waitresses. They were young, elegant artifacts at the peak of their lives, where humans were most adventurous.
“Any leads on what caused it?”
“Defective furnace, possibly; it’s still too early to tell.”
“Well the sooner the better. Now if you’ll excuse me I have to go alert some family members that their kids won’t be home for Christmas…” on that note Martin left the scene, leaving the once great structure in ruins.
“How dreadful.” said Martin’s Wife, Julia.
“It’s gone, everything burnt away with the fire.” he replied.
“My typical obligations have turned from monotonous to anything but…”
“Do they know what started it?”
“A defective furnace, most likely.”
He lit a Newport, the taste of the fumes and nicotine was stale and heavy but so enticing at the same time. Julia plucked the cigarette out from between his middle and index finger and stole a hit for herself, she ashed onto the ashtray in the middle of the dining room table. The couple sat in the bleakly lit room, and for a short period they sat quietly across from each other. The shutters on the windows rattled against the house as the driving force from the wind propelled them vigorously back and forth. Finally Martin mustered up the courage to ask, “How’s Karl?”
“He’s locked himself up in his room; I think this whole thing has him shakin’ up real bad.” Mrs. McGonagall replied.
“Well what he’s seen is enough to shake a person’s entire existence.”
“Yes, let’s just be thankful. I don’t think this town will ever make a full recovery from what happened this morning, but our son is safe, isn’t that all that matters?” she asked. She reached her hand across the table for her husband’s for consolation while smiling at him. The two transitioned to the master bedroom where they made sweet, passionate love.
January 7, 1987
Life returned to normal, but that area up at 17 College Street still remained barren and without reformation. Eventually everyone disregarded the College Inn as a current establishment and just referred to it as a nostalgic memory.
That day a man walked into town. He was an older man. His hair was receding; his face was haggard with a sallow complexion. He wore a long, wool pea-coat, a fatigued, gray v-neck and a distressed pair of Hoover, ankle-boots. His movement was subtle; however, there was a certain skip in his step, a movement that appeared almost jovial. He walked along route 116; the air was thin and dry, the frigid wind chapped his knuckles, yet he smiled gaily as if there was much to celebrate.
That evening the phone rang in Martin’s office; he let it ring once, he let it ring twice, then three times before answering. “South Hadley Fire Department, Chief McGonagall speaking…”
“Chief, it’s Jaffrey McKenna.” Jaffrey was a captain with the South Hadley police department, and was the shift supervisor on the graveyard shift that night.
“Jaffrey, what reason do you have for calling this late? I was just on my way out the door.” he exclaimed.
“Wish I could say it was for better reasons, but tonight is the exception…”
Martin’s chest felt light; bemused by his tone of voice he asked, “What has you troubled?” he leaned forward in his arm chair.
“One of my men brought in a vagrant to the station tonight, no name, no wallet, no other alias, just enough cash in his pocket to make bail. We ran his fingerprints, they came back inconclusive. It’s almost like he dropped right out of the sky.”
“How can that be?”
“Can’t explain it myself, Martin; just when I’d thought I’d seen everything…” McKenna said staring through the one-way mirror in the police station.
“I still don’t see how this relates to me?”
“He’s said nothing to us all night, except that he wanted to speak with you…”
“He specifically mentioned your name and says he needs to speak with you.” an unsettling feeling began to well inside of him, his brain crashed as a moment of silence besieged their conversation.
“Martin, I won’t force you to come in if you don’t want to, but we’re in a bit of a pickle right now and your help-”
“I will speak with him.” Martin said interrupting Jaffrey.
“Can you come by tonight?”
“I can be at your station in ten minutes.”
When he arrived at the station, he was greeted by Captain McKenna in the dayroom at the front entrance and Officer Willkie, whom apprehended the stranger. Willkie was young with two years of prior service as a campus police officer for the University of Massachusetts, Amherst.
“Why was this man apprehended?”
“Trespassing over at the CI…”
“The scene of the fire?” Martin asked, “Why would he want to go there?”
“I found him in the dark, just standing there in all the rubble and the wreckage.” said Willkie.
“Was he violent?”
“No, actually he was very passive.” Willkie replied, “But that’s not what worried me.”
McKenna stood arms folded, intently staring at Willkie as he spoke to Martin.
“Then what did?”
“I-it’s difficult to explain but the composure of his voice it…Well he just startled me is all.”
“I still don’t understand?”
“You will once you’ve seen him…” an ominous sense of danger crept up Martin’s vertebra at that moment. It was as if a sinful presence were with them that evening. McKenna and Willkie escorted Martin to the interrogation room over on the opposite side of the station. Martin was first taken to the opposite side of the observation mirror where two law enforcement officers sat quietly staring into the interrogation room. The room was poorly lit and smelt of ground coffee and aftershave. The two men looked distraught as Martin entered the room he stared past the glass and saw a frail and slender old man in a worn-out pea coat sitting handcuffed to the table. His lanky hands were interlocked together on the cold, steel surface of the table. He sat there patiently. While his face was placid, his eyes were hair-raising, almost caused him to stagger backwards. His eyes were jade-green with nets of wrinkles at the corner of each eye. They were so brightly lit that it was as if the turbines behind his eyes were firing off on all cylinders. While they were mesmeric they also brought on a cold sense, as if they absorbed all the love and good feeling in the world.
“You recognize him from anywhere?” McKenna asked sternly.
“No, I can’t say I do.”
“Well he certainly seemed familiar with your name.”
“Are you sure it was me he asked for?”
“He specifically said your name, and then he noted the 1st district’s fire chief.” McKenna replied.
“Alright, I suppose I’d better get in there and see what our guest wants.”
He entered the room; the light from the suspended ceiling lamp overwhelmed his field of vision with a variety of mottled spots. He unbuttoned his coat and placed it over the chair’s railing. He sat across from the stranger, whose facial expression had not altered since he arrived. He simply followed him with his unpleasant green eyes as he walked into the room and took his place across from him. They stared back at each other for the longest time. Martin stared at the man’s elongated fingernails as they gently tapped against the table’s metallic surface; riddled with grime and discolored from years of poor hygiene. The look of contempt on the man from across the table who surveyed him made his bones feel weak; it felt as if holes had been eaten in them by some terribly corrosive acid.
Without any exchange or a greeting of the day he initiated the conversation with, “This is the part where you start speaking, mister…”
The strange man smiled boisterously at him, this statement did not vex him. Instead he merely engaged in their conversation with one simple word.
With a perplexed look the he asked, “Excuse Me?”
“Fire.” the man repeated.
Finally he was able to make the connection and realized he was referring to the fire over at the College Inn.
“Do you mean the fire at the CI?” Martin asked keenly. “What exactly do you know about it?”
“I know a faulty furnace wasn’t the origin of it…” the strange man replied.
“Just what are you saying, sir? Are you claiming the fire was set on purposely? Is this a confession?”
A derisive laugh fell from the man’s shriveled lips as if he were mocking Martin.
“What the hell are you snickerin’ at?” He asked now feeling annoyed, “Just what do you know?”
“I know many things, Martin…” the strange man replied with a grin exceeding the far corners of his jaw line revealing a set of teeth that were too many and too big on his ashen face. They were crooked and as green as gooseberries. His face went slack, the color draining from his face, with his eyes unfocused.
“How do you know my name?”
“As I’ve already said I know many things, like the four policemen standing on the opposite side of the glass.” he said without breaking eye contact with Martin, “Like how Officer Willkie’s breathing has double-timed. I can see fine beads of sweat streaming from his pores like drops of rainwater. I can smell Officer Hawthorne’s Fahrenheit aftershave.” he said lifting his nose to the ceiling as if the scent of it was wafting through the air vents.
“Or how you and your wife, Julia, tried to have a second child after Karl…”
His face ashen and without interpretation, before he could reply the man continued to speak. “But you couldn’t. You tried time and time again but each time you failed. Then finally it happened. You saw your daughter’s heartbeat; you felt her push against your wife’s uterus, those five months were like treasure. Then you discovered the unborn child was diagnosed with Tay-Sachs. The doctor left you with two options let the child be born and endure the pain of watching her suffer for whatever life she may have, or have the baby aborted… Eventually you surrendered and your wife decided to have the child aborted. Every time after that you looked at your wife you saw those same wounded eyes, the same heart-broken look you so loathed.”
“Now look here you-”
“Your wife’s cooch was dried up before Richard Nixon went to China.”
“I swear to Christ if you ever speak of my wife that way again I’ll-”
“DO NOT MENTION THAT NAME TO ME AGAIN!” the man yelled in an irate voice as he slammed his fist down onto the table. The room fell silent; both men were at a loss for words. The sheer mention of Christ set his filled his veins with fire and made his heart turn to rage.
“Just what is it you want? Why are you here?” he finally asked.
“Et profecto sanguinem enim animarum vestrarum requiram animarum vestrarum requiram de manu cunctarum bestiarum…” said the man.
“What?” Chief interjected but the man did not stop.
“Et de manu hominis, de manu viri, et fratris ejus requiram animam hominis. Quicumque effuderit humanum sanguinem, fundetur sanguis illius : ad imaginem quippe Dei factus est.” He finished.
“What is your name?”
“I go by many names, you may call me Crighton.”
“Well Crighton, where is it you come from?”
“I come from the west.” he replied.
“I don’t know who you are so I’ll only ask you this once, what business do you have with me?”
The man leaned in closely and spoke softly, “Redemption…” His voice fell to a shy whisper.
“Once I have done what I’ve came here to do I will leave.”
“Well Mr. Crighton, you do whatever needs to be done, just steer clear of me…” his sternness once again did not vex the man, he just continued staring at him.
“I never wanna see you again, Crighton. Be sure that I don’t.”
Martin stood up then removed his coat from the railing and proceeded out the door. He returned to the other side of the observation mirror where the four officers sat unresponsive to what just took place.
“What do you suppose he means by that?” one of the officers asked.
“Just some churchgoer drivel is all, they’re just empty words.” McKenna said.
“He’s just some nomad destined for a life on the breadline.” Martin added.
“The man was just speaking a bunch of gibberish a moment ago.” said Hawthorne.
“It wasn’t gibberish, it was Latin.” McKenna said.
“How does some simpleton know Latin? How could-”
“The man is clearly off his rocker, I see guys like him every day wanderin’ the streets beggin’ for loose change. It’s as simple as that, okay?”
“It’s late all I want to do is go home to my wife and my son. Will he be spending the night here?”
“We’ll keep him in one of our unoccupied cells till Monday, hell appear in district court.” replied McKenna.
“Will he go to jail?”
“Convictions for trespassing resulting in jail time are uncommon nowadays, especially with the courts too concerned about overcrowding jails. He’s got just enough money on his person to make bail and first time offenders usually get let off easy.” McKenna said. “Best case scenario, judge will give him a verbal warning, a slap on the wrist, a bagged lunch and send him on his way.”
Wednesday, January 12
11:57 PM, that night the cold was at record breaking temperatures, Martin awoke to the sound of Julia’s shriek from the kitchen. A crash like falling glass followed, he bounded out of bed to aid his wife.
“JULIA!” he called out to her.
He ambled down the stairs in his tartan bathrobe with his brown leather slippers with the rundown heels; his hair was all in sleep corkscrews and Alfalfa cowlicks. He found Julia standing in the middle of the kitchen, her hands quivering with remnants of shattered glass scattered across the kitchen tile floor from the glass of water she poured.
“Julia, what is it?” he asked making his way towards her avoiding the broken glass on the floor. At first she didn’t even recognize her husband was standing right beside her. But her gaze was not just fixated on the kitchen window it was fixated on something beyond it.
“Dammit, Jules talk to me!” he was now flustered, he’d not referred to his wife as ‘Jules’ since before they were married. Finally with one finger she extended her arm and pointed past the kitchen window towards the white crossbuck fence surrounding their property.
“Th-the window…” she stammered. He turned toward the window, “There was someone outside just now.” she said. Her voice trembled as she struggled to emit those words from her lips. Avoiding the broken glass he made his way over to the window, his eyes scanned the surrounding area for the intruder but could barely see anything aside from the lonely streetlamp on the opposite side of the lane. The thicket surrounding their property only obscured his field of vision more. There was no one to be seen from his perspective.
“Are you sure you saw something?” he asked.
“I’M NOT CRAZY, I SAW SOMEONE OUT THERE!” she shouted.
“Okay, okay, what were they doing?” he asked trying to wrap his head around this.
“I got thirsty and went to get a drink of water. When I came over to the sink I heard something outside. It sounded like laughter.” she described. “When I looked out the window I saw what looked like a man; he was sitting on the fence post, he was looking right at me…” she said pointing towards the edge of the property.
“He was just sitting there?” he asked.
“Yes, I already told you he was sitting there staring at me!” she said with less hostility then before.
“What did he look like?”
“I couldn’t tell because it was too dark, but his eyes…his eyes almost looked as if they were glowing like animal eyes. I know how this may sound but I’m tellin’ you the truth, I know what I saw!”
A faint noise from behind them as something shifted. They turned to find Karl standing at the threshold of the doorway, staring vacantly at them, like a confused child watching a domestic dispute between their parents.
The hour following Julia’s little night terror; two police officers came to the family’s home. Officer Humphrey, now a resident of Amherst but had lived in South Hadley until he was twenty responded to the scene first making him the lead investigator of the incident. Humphrey was a brawny, young man with a dark, ebony complexion that was as dark as midnight. Officer Ryder, a stout character who always wore a pair of spectacles stood at the doorway, arms folded while Humphrey spoke with Martin and his wife. Humphrey sat at the head of the dining room table, his note pad unfolded with his pen tapping incessantly against the surfaces amber-black wood. Mrs. McGonagall sat in the chair left of Humphrey with a half-lit Newport, while Martin sat opposite to her.
With a confused look Humphrey reinitiated their conversation. “What else can you tell me about this strange man?”
“Not much…” she said as she exhaled, a cloud of smoke filtered under the light of the dining room table. “He was perched up on the fence like an owl on a branch; he was just staring at the house.”
“At any point did this man actually enter the premises of the house?” Humphrey proceeded to ask.
“No, no he did not.”
He sighed. “Well I can’t guarantee you anything, aside from what you’ve given me already I-”
“His eyes!” She interrupted. “His eyes, I tell you they glowed like sapphires. That unspeakable glow in the shade of the night churned my stomach!” she continued ranting on about his eyes.
“Yes, I’ve already heard your description, but people with green eyes are much more ordinary than you might think; my aunt has green eyes herself.”
“You can’t understand because you didn’t see them, there was nothing ‘ordinary’ about these eyes. I felt as if it were some kind of spirit staring back at me!”
“Things can always seem different when we’re disoriented, Mrs. McGonagall. It was late and you were tired. Have you been sick recently, perhaps even going through some changes?”
“I’M NOT GOIN’ THROUGH MENOPAUSE GOD DAMMIT’ I’M TELLIN’
YOU WHAT I SAW!” she shouted as she pushed back her chair and stood on her feet.
“Mrs. McGonagall, please I’m just tryin’ to wrap my head around this.” he said calmly.
Martin walked around the table and sat beside Julia to help her simmer down a bit. He placed one hand over her shoulder and held her cold, clammy hands with the other. The perspiration from her sweat glands was noticeable by touch; he noticed the beads of sweat in the depression on her upper lip. He felt her body tremble as he held her tight.
“I’ll take what information you have given me and put a BOLO out for a man who fits this description. In the mean time you both should get some rest, Officer Ryder will be posted outside your house for the remainder of the night.”
Martin resented himself for not saying this sooner but finally he spoke, “Humphrey, I think I might know who it was…”
Both Humphrey and Julia’s gaze turned towards him almost instantaneously.
“Last Friday night, I was called into the station to speak with a man; a man who went by the name Crighton. He had no identification, no wallet, seemed like your typical bum.”
Humphrey’s eyebrows lifted with the look of anticipation and skepticism at the same time.
“He told me he’d come from the west just to speak with me. I had no previous relations with this man but the way he spoke to me it was as if he’d known me all his life…”
“What exactly did he say to you, Chief?”
He contemplated this for a moment, and then he said, “Nothing, just talking out of his ass, the same nonsense you hear in men who claim they will liberate the world from darkness.” He said neglecting to repeat the parts where he knew about Julie’s miscarriage and so on. “McKenna told me he would hold him over the weekend. Crighton must have found out where I live; I’m willing to wager my salary it was him perched up on that fence post tonight.”
“How could you not tell me this?” Julia asked in a shallow voice.
“He seemed like some no-name beggar McKenna’s guys pulled off the street. Thought maybe he was just looking for a few hot meals and someplace warm to sleep.”
“Well if it was him out there tonight, we’ll find him. You can rest assured, Chief.”
It had been more than two weeks since they heard back from the police. Things were beginning to return back to normal, when one solemn night there was a low tapping sound of someone or something moving along the side of the house. The noises sounded almost like they were made intentionally, as if the culprit wanted the McGonagall’s to be conscious of its presence. Julia shuddered at the sound of a loud clash coming from outside of the house, back by the old, rickety shed near to edge of the property, followed by the ominous clicking sound like claws dashing across the veranda out back. Martin grabbed his baseball bat (that he used for summer softball league) leaned against his bedroom nightstand and proceeded down the stairs. He crept stealthily to avoid alerting the trespasser that had currently taken asylum outside their residence. The cold wasn’t the only thing that made him to break out in gooseflesh that night. As he stepped out onto the back veranda the sounds seized, the woods grew still. Perhaps they were from a raccoon or a fisher cat that’d wandered into their yard rummaging through the bottom of a Frito bag in the garbage.
He then noticed something unusual in the light of the moon. Something placed by the wood stand; a dark object low to the ground. At first he thought it was a black liner trash bag. As he began to walk towards the foreign object he noticed a putrid smell originating from it. Just like I thought, some dumb animal scavenging through the trash. But the trash did not smell of pizzas crusts or used coffee filters, or cigarette butts. There was an iron like odor, a bit like rust but very faint; it made his eyes water and put a detestable look on his face. He was now only feet away from the object, when he was finally able to comprehend what it was he staggered backward onto the icy, glacial-like earth. It was a corgi, the Carkhuff’s pet, Tobey, from down the lane; he was dead. His head was bashed to bits, like someone went to work on him with a shovel or some other blunt object. His tricolor fur was tarnished with bright red smears and his innocent blue eyes stared unresponsively back up at him as if they were condemning him. Just then his wife screamed. He rushed back towards the house where the backdoor was opened just a hair. As he rushed back in he saw his wife standing in the dim light of the living room, her hands covered her mouth to hide the stunned look on her face. Before he had time to ask he saw what it was that startled her, a message on the wall, a message written in huge staggering letters, a message written in blood. The plasmid substance still fresh and moist as it cascaded down the plain white composition of the living room wall. It read… “Give me what I want and I’ll leave”
“Whoever did this is one demented sonuvabitch…” Officer Ryder said examining the scripture on the McGonagall’s living room wall.
“The sonuvabitch was in my house, I’m tellin’ you, Jaff!” Martin said whispering attentively to McKenna in the kitchen to avoid letting the others catch wind of their conversation.
“We’re doin’ everythin’ we can do to find him, but right now there seems to be no sign of forced entry.” McKenna replied.
“The backdoor was open, not much just a crack, but I knew I left it shut see.”
“You’re telling me this man was able to sneak past you, move through your house undetected, have time to write the message on the wall, and then slip back out into the night again?” McKenna said proclaiming how ludicrous it sounded when said aloud. An unpleasant look drew on Martin’s face as he was able to interpret McKenna’s mockery.
“I’m not sayin’ it wasn’t him, but your speculation is more far-fetched then it may sound to you.” he continued.
“Maybe so but there’s no doubt in my mind it was him! The Dog! The Carkhuff’s pet! He beat the poor thing till he saw its brains. Certainly you found somethin’ there?”
“I’m afraid not; we found traces of splinters and bark in its fur.”
“What does that mean?”
“Self-inflicted; can’t make since of it. Poor thing must’ve gone stark raving mad and rammed its head into a tree till it knocked its brainstem loose.”
“He did this! I don’t know how but he did this!”
“I don’t disagree with you, but first things first; I need to ask you somethin’…” A look of uncertainty now appeared in McKenna’s eyes.
“What is it you are not tellin’ me, Martin? You claim you never knew this man before that night yet he seemed to know you. I’m not saying you’re intentionally withholding something from me; but maybe there are some withdrawn memories that you can’t recall. Perhaps an accident he feels you are at fault for?” Martin thought long and hard; perhaps he’d subdued some memories deep in his subconscious, but no matter how hard he struggled to remember he could not place the man for the life of him.
“Don’t hang me out to dry, Martin. As one man to another do you remember him from somewhere before?”
“No…” he replied. “No, I can’t say there is anything I remember…”
McKenna sighed exasperatedly. “Very well, but there is something else I should tell you…” His look magnified as an uneasy pitch swelled inside of McKenna’s voice. “That night at the station I listened to the audio recordings of your conversation in the interrogation room. When Crighton spoke to you in forgotten tongues…I had the message translated.” He pulled out a little scrap piece of notebook paper from his pocket and handed it to him. The note read, ‘And surely your blood of your lives will I require; at the hand of every beast will I require it, and at the hand of man; at the hand of every man’s brother will I require the life of man. Whoso sheddeth man’s blood, by man shall his blood be shed: for in the image of God made he man’.”
“Genesis 9:5…” Chief said remembering that passage from the King James Bible he kept in his bureau drawer.
“Yes.” McKenna replied. “That night, do you remember what he also said to you that night?” McKenna asked.
Redemption he thought to himself.
In the days leading up to the end, Julia’s mother had fallen very ill; he thought it’d be best that she go visit her parents out on Nantucket until her mother was well again. Of course that was not his real reason for sending her away. This affair had plagued Julia with fear; she could no longer get out of bed to get a glass of water at the kitchen faucet anymore. He’d just wanted her out of the picture till this whole thing blew down wind. She’d wanted to bring Karl with her, but at the same time she did not. She became apprehensive around her son, there was a change within him they could not understand, but nevertheless he had changed in some manner which was most ominous and somewhat hostile. In the end she went alone leaving her husband and son behind.
The house phone began ringing; Martin answered it midway through the second ring.
“Chief?” it was Willkie, he seemed startled, his voice was all but a whisper. “I need to speak with you.”
“Well, what would you say we’re doin’ now?”
“In person, please…” he implored.
“Alright, where at?”
“Meet me at the Budget Inn just off of route five; I’m in room twelve…” Willkie hung up the phone, leaving only the endless sound of the dial tone behind. Twenty minutes after their conversation, Martin pulled into the parking lot at the Budget Inn. He noticed Willkie’s ‘81 Toyota Cressida parked in the spot between rooms’s eleven and twelve. He walked up and knocked at his door twice before Willkie answered. The door swung open, he stood before him in a white tee shirt and jeans, his hair was unkempt, beads of sweat trickled down his cheeks and neck. He looked and saw the petrified look on his face; Willkie pulled him in quickly then slammed the door behind them.
“Were you followed?” Willkie asked as he peeked through the drapes.
“No, of course not.”
“Are you sure?” he asked now flustered. Martin now stared wide eyed at Willkie evidently stunned by the vehemence in his voice.
“Yes, I’m sure. For God sake’s what’s got you so wound up?”
“I need to talk to you about him…”
Willkie then sat on the edge of his unmade bed, a half empty bottle of Jack Daniels perched on the chipped wood nightstand; in addition there were two empty coke cans beside it. It seemed Willkie had been hitting the bottle pretty hard that evening. A small metal wastebasket sat on the opposite side of the room next to the television set. It overflowed with crumpled note paper and empty liquor bottles begging to be emptied. He took a seat in the desk chair across from Willkie.
“We tested the blood on the wall at your house. The room was speechless when the data came back. The blood on the wall belonged to a Michelle Stephens. Martin, Michelle Stephens has been dead for over forty years…”
A bewildered feeling dawned on him; the room felt cold as if all the warmth in the room escaped thru the ventilation.
“After that night at the station I went off the record and did my own investigation…I went searching through reports of all kinds that is until I came across something. In the summer 1943 just before FDR left the oval office. Just east of here in Charlton, there was a boy named Ed Harper…There was a girl, Michelle Stephens. I guess they were high school sweethearts or some shit. Then one day in late July, Michelle Stephens, was found floating face down in Prindle pond, she’d drowned. People were skeptical, they believed Ed Harper killed her, but there was no evidence implicating him. Her mother claimed Ed was the last person to see Michelle before police found her body.”
“What motive does a teenage boy have for killing his girlfriend?”
“Some people don’t need motive, Chief. Some people are just born crooked.” Willkie smiled bitterly.
“Everything went quiet for a while. Then two months later, a man appeared. An old man wearing a long, wool coat and a pair of Hoover, ankle-boots, does this sound familiar, Chief?” Willkie handed Chief a folder that was sitting on his nightstand. He opened the folder and in it was a faded, black and white photograph of a man in a long coat, with a thin head of hair and a leering set of eyes that told him “I know what scares you, and it’s me.” The man was standing at the shoreline of Prindle pond he recognized him almost immediately. He could not refute the uncanny resemblance of the man in the photograph to the man they know as Crighton, but this picture was more than forty years old. He who was just a child at the time of this photo had grown from a young boy to a man with the first threads of gray in his hair, but the man in this photo and the man he knows as Crighton had not aged a day in all that time since. He’s lookin’ rather spry for a man in the neighborhood of what? A hundred maybe one- hundred-and-ten years old he thought.
“Where did you get this?” Martin asked warily.
“I promised I wouldn’t say.” he replied. Clearly Willkie was doing some work with some shady characters under the table; a private investigator possibly, or an organization or criminals with all the right ties in all the wrong places.
“Five days later, Ed Harper vanished along with the strange man. Authorities believed the man helped Harper make a getaway like he was his own personal lackey or stooge I guess; but neither of ‘em was ever found. It was almost as if their entire existence was erased. ”
Martin set the folder down on the bed. “But that was over forty years ago, that would mean…are you implying…But, Willkie, that’s crazy!”
He saw Willkie’s hands as they trembled in his lap. He was beginning to think the jack and coke was setting in and that Willkie was now as shy of brains as a terrapin is of feathers. Willkie caught his breath, and started again.
“I found out Ed Harper had a younger brother, Jeremy. I did some checks and found out he still lives in Charlton, at the old nursing home, over on Masonic Home road. Maybe he knows somethin’ that can help us, mayb-”
“Willkie!” Martin yelled mid-speech. “Just stop what you’re doin’. This is absurd; do you hear yourself when you talk? You sound bat shit crazy, you know that? This is stuff you should’ve grown out of when you were ten!” he said looking at Willkie like he was crazier than a shit-house rat. He sighed for a moment. Willkie cast his eyes down at the floor and sullen red roses were blooming on those smooth boy-cheeks of his.
“Is there anything else?”
“Yes…last night h-he was in my house.”
A frown appeared on Martin’s face. “I don’t think he wanted to harm me, but he sure as Hell wanted to scare me. I was asleep in bed and woke up to the sound of something moving…that was when I smelt it.” Willkie whispered huskily. The words fell dry and bare from his mouth, which was stripped of moisture.
“I smelt something foul. I took a ragged breath through my mouth, trying to spot the source of the smell when I saw somethin’ else. It looked like a pair of cat’s eyes; I peered into the dark and it seemed like at one point they were actually glowing. When I switched on the light it was him, he was just standing there at the foot of my bed smilin’ at me.”
“D-did he say anything?”
“I could hear his voice whispering inside my head; it was like some form of telepathy. Its message didn’t come to me in words but a series of rebus-like images. He asked me what I feared most, he asked if I believed in the holy divinity or the afterlife. I thought it was all just in my head. Then…then…”Willkie hesitated, Martin could tell he was struggling to find the words to tell him. “Chief, back when I was young I did somethin’awful…”
“What did you do, Willkie?”
“H-he asked me ‘You feel bad about beatin’ that guttermonkey?’I couldn’t remember at first, but he would not let up. ‘Come now, surely you remember? Should I stipulate? The Mississippi tree emblem, the moon cricket, or simply the ‘Negro’ as you called him. Yes, you remember now, don’t you?’I never told anyone about that part of my life, you see I forgot, I forgot. ‘Perhaps you’d like to pay his mother a visit?’ he asked me. ‘Maybe tell her how you broke his arms and his legs with a lug wrench, then how you smashed his face into the pavement, how you fractured his skull. Then how you walked away and how you left him to die lying face down in a storm drain? That’s why you joined the police force; to atone for your sin, make up for your misdeed…’he was right, everything he said about me was right. It’s almost as if-”
“He has a second sight?” Martin interjected. His eyes floated away from Willkie’s as if he were speaking to himself. There was a long, flat pause in the room after that.
“I get knots in my belly every time I think about it.” Willkie finally replied. “I can’t go home and I can’t go to anyone else about this, except you because I know you know what he really is.”
“What does he want?” Martin asked.
“It’s not a matter of what he wants; it’s a matter of who he wants. It comes and takes who it wants then it leaves…”
“Just what are you sayin’?”
“He’s not human. Maybe he use to be, but not anymore. I can’t explain it but it’s not a human…”
Willkie’s cheeks puckered as he inhaled another sip of his blended drink.
“He left; he turned and walked out my bedroom door. Before he did, he said one thing to me ‘I’ll see you soon, Willkie, very soon.’ and I believe it; whether its five years, or ten years or twenty years from now I believe he’ll come back for me. For what I did, for what I’ve done…” He could see Willkie was on the verge of tears.
“I have to get home, Willkie.”
Willkie got up, crossed the room and grabbed Martin’s arm. “Damnit Chief will you quit lookin’ at me like I’ve been chewin’ peyote and think for a sec! Crighton is able to do things the rest of us only dream about. He could be over a hundred years old. Maybe he’s eternal. Maybe he’s got precognition or foresight of some kind. There are some people who got a lil dose of that.”
“I don’t want any part in this!” he screamed. Willkie stared back with a vacant look and said, “It’s too late for that.”
He ripped his arm out from Willkie’s hand, looked at him and said, “You’ve lost it, Willkie. You’ve gone and lost your fuckin’ marbles!” then he stormed out and slammed the door; the room quaked then fell silent again.
9:48 AM, the following day the housekeeping discovered Willkie in the bathroom tub, he’d slit both his wrists. The blue shower curtain was clustered at the far end of the stainless steel rod. He was still fully clothed in the attire he’d warn the night before. The open eyes now beginning to glaze, those tiny hands of his with his palms upturned. Perhaps, the most abysmal part of his appearance was his open mouth. Inside was all the clock-less silence of death. His blood coagulated around the rim of the bathroom drain leaving only the tart, metallic smell and the brittle layer of substance behind.
A cigarette sat on the edge of the sink burnt all the way to the filter. Beside it was a crumpled piece of notepaper with one sentence written on it.
“I won’t give him the satisfaction; I will not let him take me.”
All that remained was the ash from the cigarette, the filter, the crumpled piece of paper and the razor blade which he used to take his own life with. A pale cloud of smoke hung beneath the ceiling light as if it would remain there in perpetuity. Before he died he’d written something else on the glass of the bathroom cabinet, something the police would not be able to make sense of in light of his situation. On the glass in blood Willkie wrote…“Devil”
Much like the message Martin found on his living room wall just a few nights before. A droplet of water gathered at the lip of the faucet, as it grew wider and fatter finally it fell into the bowl of the porcelain sink and with it made a loud CLINK like noise.
One day a week after that night at the route nine motel Martin found himself with Theriault at the Puritan diner; the somber sky outside emitted large flakes of snow. The sidewalk was quilted with a soft cover like a silk cloth. A young, blonde, beauty whom everyone referred to as ‘Mel’ was their waitress; she walked over to their booth. She wore a white, polo T-shirt, a pair of black, fitted-trousers, vintage Pumps and a mahogany colored apron.
“Good Morning gentlemen, are both of you ready to order?”
Theriault ordered a turkey BLT, when the lady turned toward Martin he seemed to be stuck in some sort of stupor. He stared past the opaque glass at the front of the restaurant into the white world outside. Finally Theriault brought him back to the present.
“Martin?”He raised his voice a little just to seize his attention. He turned toward the woman in the mahogany apron staring intently at him.
“I’ll have the Lone Star burger with all the doings.”
The lady called to a man in a splotchy white apron behind the counter. “Hey Jep, a turkey BLT and a Lonestar burger, run it through the garden.”
Martin was at a total loss for conversational gambits at this point; he could not conquer the overwhelming feeling inside of him. He felt somewhat at fault for Willkie’s suicide; it put him in an emotional predicament.
“Martin, are you feelin’ all right?”
“You seem distraught.”
“Still a little shookin’ up by Willkie’s death is all.”
“Willkie was at a low point in his life that he could not overcome. No one is to blame for what happened.”
“I’m not so sure I agree with you, Mike.” he replied with a barren look on his face. Had Crighton intended Willkie would commit suicide, had he intended those to be his intentions after their conference? Why else would he say that, if Crighton were what he claims to be why he would come back for Willkie, why not just take him right then and there? It would be easier; he’d be killing two birds with one stone. Underneath everything Martin knew why, Crighton’s focus was on someone else, he was not here for Willkie. If he were he would leave and all would be well again, but he could sense more was in store for him.
After lunch Martin used the restaurant’s telephone to call home. The phone rang three maybe four times, on the fifth ring he decided maybe Karl wasn’t at home. He hung the phone up on the receiver and contemplated going home instead to check on Karl, but after a moment’s consideration he decided this visit with Ed Harper’s brother needed to be done tonight, otherwise he might not ever make the trip.
He wanted to believe it was more out of guilt rather than just sheer curiosity. Two hours after lunch he had walked into a carefully ornamented, postage-stamp room. His field of vision was overwhelmed by the sight of winter-white hair, toil worn skin and angelic smiles. He walked up to a male staff member in the room who was preoccupied with escorting a feeble lady to the lounge area.
“Excuse me? Do you know where I might find a patient by the name of ‘Jeremy Harper’?” The man politely pointed to a lonesome individual at a table near the windowsill with a half finished puzzle of what appeared to be an autumn view of the Appalachian Trail. As he approached the man he saw how the man did not recognize he was standing beside him. His face was without emotion, his mouth hung open slightly like Willkie’s was the morning he was found in the bathtub and his hair was nothing but a few baby fine wisps on his liver-spotted head. He stared out into the winter sky as the snow continued to fall. HeHe
“Mr. Harper?” He asked shyly. The man turned his head slightly to the right and stared at him for a moment or two, but he did not feel as if the man was truly looking at him but instead was looking through him as if he were some sort of transparent object. The man did not acknowledge Martin’s statement verbally or physically, he just returned his gaze back out into the snow.
Martin took a seat in one of the chairs at the table; all the while the man paid no attention to him. “Sir, my name is Martin McGonagall; I am the fire Chief of South Hadley’s fire department. You may have heard about or even seen the news about the fire over at the College Inn at Mount Holyoke?”
The man continued to take no notice of him; he just stared out the window.
“Mr. Harper, I’ve come because I need your help. By all means I think what I am doing will put me at the front of the list for the loony bin; but I understand you had a brother named Ed… I know the story of him and Michelle Stephens and I know how everyone cast you and your family out afterward b-but…I think I know what really happened. Whatever happened forty years ago is happening again…”
There was a flicker of light in the man’s right eye at that moment, as if something he’d said ignited a flame within his essence.
“I know your brother vanished, and I don’t believe it was by his choice. I’m startin’ to sense you have that same feeling. Someone came here to Charlton after that summer. A stranger in a long, dark coat…” Harper’s eyes began to widen now, Martin removed the folded black and white photo from his coat pocket and slid it across the table to Mr. Harper. It was the same image Willkie showed him the night before his suicide, the black and white image of the man at the shoreline.
“Mr. Harper, do you remember this man?”Harper did not reply he just stared at the image with great horror. “Mr. Harper, I know you know somethin’ about this man. Please, I am afraid for my family’s safety. I can’t sleep at night anymore. I need you to tell me about this man.” his voice was became stern.
Harper’s facial expression was beginning to change; he began shaking his head and murmuring something under his breath. “Mr. Harper, did your brother kill Michelle Stephens?”His voice began to ascend. Harper was beginning to reiterate no over and over and over again.
“Was your brother taken?”
“NO, NO, NO!” the man repeated over and over and over again as he now pressed the palms of his hands against his ears. Harper began to thrust his head forward against the table’s bladed edge. The sound of his temple as it struck the counter was like a rifle blast; the room’s attention drew toward Harper and Martin. His voice grew louder; he continued to thrust his head forward until blood began to eject from a gash along his temple. A few droplets struck Martin across his cheek and on his jacket; he did not wipe them away. He tried to restrain Mr. Harper, but Harper would not seize from inflicting damage on him; as if he were committing some form of torture on himself. Two large men all dressed in cerulean scrubs ran over toward Harper to restrain him. Both men took control of one of Harper’s arms and attempted to remove him from the room. All the while the old man thrashed his legs and his head back and forth, as he was too old and weak against both men. He screamed something as they dragged him out of the room through the double doors. “HE’S THE DEVIL! HE’S THE DEVIL! HE’S THE DEVIL! HE’S THE DEVIL!”
Suddenly he felt the answer to his question was yes now. A speechless expression rose on his face, not one of excited behavior but one of distress. It was a feeling that filled him with awe and caused his chest to tighten with distressing pain making it difficult for him to breathe.
Martin left the nursing home in a hurry not wanting to give the staff a chance to call the police and tell them some son of a bitch was harassing the patients. As he approached his car from across the parking lot a ringing sound emanating from a telephone booth on the street corner caught his attention. His hands felt clammy, the sound of the phone put a chill in him that went from the crack of his ass to the nape of his neck. A compelling force inside of him drew him to the phone booth. When he entered it, he hesitantly answered the phone. He listened for a moment, expecting (hoping) for someone on the other line to respond first; perhaps a simple misdial was all he thought. When no sound radiated from the other end of the phone, no breathing, neither the shift nor disturbance of human movement reverberated through the telephone line.
Finally Martin mustered up his courage and answered. “Hello?”He waited for (hoped for) someone to answer back. Till finally after a few seconds he heard it, he heard the same derisive laugh from that night in the interrogation room.
“Hello, Mr. McGonagall…” the voice replied; he knew right away who it was on the other end of the phone.
“YOU!” he said in a shallow but stern voice.
“I’m delighted to be having this conversation with you. My good man, we are definitely over do for a chat.”
“Crighton…but how did you know-”
“That you were there? I am an exceptional individual; certainly you know that by now.”
“What the Hell do you want with me? What is it you want from me?”
He replied in a candid voice, “Your son.” His face slunk, he felt as if this were something he should be shocked by, but somehow he felt as if he’d already known this.
“Karl, b-but why?”
“I am merely an instrument of justice. Your son must repent for his sins.”
“HIS SINS, ARE YOU KIDDING?”His voice shot up, he quickly realized the intensity of his voice and withdrew hastily as to avoid grabbing the attention of anyone passing by.
“Your son is sick; very, very sick.”
“What the hell are talking about, he’s fine, I was just with him this morning!”
“Not a sickness of the body; not your typical head cold or seasonal flu. It is a sickness of the mind.”
“What do you mean?”
“He has a new found appetite, an insatiable hunger he cannot seem to fill…”
“My son is fine, he has done nothin’ wrong.”
“Are you so sure? I can hear the skepticism in your voice. You’ve noticed somethin’ different about him. You seem to notice how withdrawn he has become. Do you remember?” he asked.
“Do you remember ten years ago? Do you remember the fire at Batchelor Brook? The fire which almost burnt away two neighborhoods and half of the forest? You never did find the culprit behind it. Just an empty, red canister by the side of the road, do you remember?”
For a moment Martin almost denied these claims, and then suddenly it dawned on him. He’d forgotten all about it, he’d forgotten all about the fire ten years ago at Batchelor brook. He had stuffed that memory in a sack and thrown it into the deepest, darkest hole in the back of his mind.
“Yes, I do.” He replied.
“What of the fire at the elementary school three years after. The boy’s bathroom went up in flames like kindling; perhaps you remember that? Perhaps you’ve known for a long time but were just too obstinate to admit it to yourself.”
“How could you know all that?”
“It’s like I said, Mr. McGonagall, I’m an exceptional individual.”
“You’re a liar and a sadistic sonuvabitch.”
“I anticipated that you would deny my claims. Regardless, do not interfere with my affairs, Mr. McGonagall. Heed this warning, Mr. McGonagall… Give me what I want and I’ll leave. It’s as simple as that.”
“Maybe for you, but that’s not the case for me.”
“This is a fight you cannot win my friend, you know that.”
A pulse began to beat in the clock-spring of veins at his right temple, “First off, I am not your fuckin’ friend, and secondly this is America you SONUVABTICH! YOU CAN’T GET AWAY WITH THREATS LIKE THIS!”He yelled into the mouth piece, disregarding the likelihood of drawing any unwanted attention.
“I’ll say this once more, give me what I want and I’ll leave.” he hung up the telephone on the other end, all that was left was the empty dial tone. Martin stood there staring into the abyss, feeling afraid of how deep this had become, how alone he was in this, and how small and inferior he felt.
He got back to his car as quickly as he could manage. He was making record time exceeding the speed limit on Route 90 by nearly thirty miles. When he burst through the front door, his chest still pounding so heavily he thought it would tear right out from his chest.
He ran through the foyer into the living room calling out for his son, “KARL, KARL!” But there was no response, no shuffle of footsteps, just an empty house. He hesitated considering maybe he was too late, and then he realized where to look next. He turned and ran back out the door to his vehicle; his breathing was wheezy and fatigued from the thin, wintry air in addition to smoking a pack of Newports every week for the last twenty years. He knew where to look, at the place where it all began…
The earth was now cast in shadow; the dark-grey clouds loomed over the moon ominously. Martin had never craved sunlight as much as he did in that instant. He shuddered as the hairs on the back of his neck stood straight-up. Was it the cold or was it the thought crossing his mind that at any moment a pair of long, lanky, black hands would reach out from the shadows and drag him into the abyss. He slowly pulled his truck into the deserted parking lot in front of the few standing remnants of the College Inn. The area was still restricted by crime scene tape. Disregarding the barrier he moved through the remains of the last month’s catastrophe. The amalgamation of the wreckage and rubble buried beneath the snow and ice blended seamlessly with the grey residue.
He scanned the area he noticed two dark silhouettes standing in the hub of the wreckage. In the light of the moon he saw his son, Karl. a cold feeling crept up his spine; not the frigid January wind but something else, it felt like a million tiny legs moving inside of him. He blinked his eyes hard, as if the sheer force of it all would change the vision, or at least bring his mind out of what he thought had to be a dream. It was only then he heard someone begin to whistle an indistinct tune. As he looked closely at the second figure he saw those eyes glowing in the dark. Crighton leaned against a dilapidated door frame. He smiled down at Martin. In his right hand he held a red flannel scarf; it was torn and burnt and fluttered in the breeze, making its presence even more evident. With his left hand over Karl’s shoulder as if a friend might do.
“Get away from him!” Martin screamed as he took a step forward.
“My business is with the boy, Mr. McGonagall.”
“I DON’T CARE IF YOU GOT BUSINESS WITH SAINT MICHAEL!” Martin yelled, his cheeks flushed a cold, dark red. Crighton scoffed at him as if he were a mere child.
“I TOLD YOU, I WONT LET YOU TAKE HIM! DO YOU HEAR ME? I WON’T
LET YOU TAKE HIM! DAMN YOU! GOD DAMN YOU!”
As he reached into his coat pocket to his surprise Crighton was on him like white on rice. It was almost like magic. He was so close he could feel his cold breath enveloping his neck. Crighton took the hand that seized into his coat. Without any change in expression he squeezed down on his hand until he felt and heard the sounds of bones breaking. Martin screamed, writhing in agony as he fell onto the ground. “He already has, Mr. McGonagall…He already has.”
Slowly he turned and left Martin on the ground as he moaned in pain; Karl stood and stared stolidly at the man as he walked toward him.
“This is where it all began…” Crighton said as he held the damaged scarf in out in front of him. Karl did not waver at the sight of the scarf.
“Do you remember this, Karl? Do you remember who it belonged to?”Karl’s eyes followed the tarnished rag as it continuously fluttered in the breeze.
“Y-Y-yes.” he replied.
“What was her name?”
“And what did you do to her?”
“I- I killed her.”
“How?” he demanded, “SAY IT!”
“I burned her…I burned both of them.”
“You burned her, and you burned Sherry Shrewder. What about Mr. Skillet?”
“I burned him too…I burned them all… I burned everything.” Karl whispered without any semblance of emotion. Martin stared up at the both of them unable to comprehend the words; I burned them all.
“B-but I wish I could take it back now. I wish I could take it all back…” he whispered.
Crighton favored the boy with a stony smile that revealed a jutting ring of crooked teeth.
“But you can’t.” he said. “The Reaper must collect his debt.”
“NO, NO, KARL!”Martin screamed at both of them as he forced himself back onto his feet. He approached Crighton with his right arm extended; he reached for Crighton’s left shoulder, which felt cold and stiff like a block of ice. Not a moment after Crighton’s head turned to the point where it was almost facing the opposite direction, like an owl. Without warning Crighton’s mouth opened wide then bit down on Martin’s hand. He screamed as if his balls had been caught in a wringer. The pain was immediate as Crighton’s jaws pierced his bones. Crighton quickly let go and as he did Martin staggered away clasping his hand, afraid to look. He slowly lifted what now was his good hand and saw the brutality of his injury. His hand was bathed in veils of blood. The puncture wounds on his hand looked as they had been made by small, steel rods. The wounds were deep and in perfect symmetry. He looked up at Crighton and saw his mouth of big and rotted teeth were gone and replaced with what looked like rows of yellowed fangs…all smeared with blood. His breath was hot on the cold air, like puffs of smoke. They reminded him of the time the wolf’s he had once seen at the Southwick zoo. God would grant no child with a mouth like this for it was the mark of the beast. Crighton grinned widely at him, the corners of his mouth still smeared with his blood, yet he made no attempt to wipe it away from his mouth. All the while Karl stood frozen, staring back at both men with eyes of a marionette which had turned cold and empty.
Crighton placed his hand on Karl’s shoulder again and the two people began walking. Karl walked in front of Crighton as if he were being guided. “N-no,” said Martin, “Karl, please…”but Karl paid no attention.
“CRIGHTON!”He shouted. The man in the long, dark coat stopped in his tracks.
“What are you?”He whispered. “I MUST KNOW!”His voiced augmented. “CRIGHTON!”Crighton still standing looking forward.
“Are…are you t-the?” he stammered. He could not finish his sentence.
Crighton turned back to him; he smiled then let out a loud, wretched cackle.
“Have you forgotten so easily, Mr. McGonagall?” As he began to turn his back to him again Martin asked one last question. “Why?” Crighton stopped again, “Just tell me, why?”
He stood there feet frozen in the snow for a moment or two, and then finally he walked over and kneeled beside Martin. Martin observed with no surprise the snowflakes which touched Crighton’s coat, arms and hands smoked and sizzled like butter on a hot skillet.
“The one who sins is the one who will die. The child will not share the guilt of the parent, nor will the parent share the guilt of the child. The righteousness of the righteous will be credited to them, and the wickedness of the wicked will be charged against them.” said Crighton quoting Ezekiel 18:20. Crighton looked directly into his eyes. Suddenly Crighton’s face seemed to be running, changing, becoming something pestilent. In that moment he understood what Willkie meant the night before his death. In that moment he saw something where his face should have been. It wasn’t a man; it wore clothes like a man but it did not have a man’s face, and its eyes; its green eyes were now just utter blackness. Empty sockets, where the sound of a thousand dying screams originated from, blended with the dreadful buzzing of flies, locusts and crickets.
He reeled and fell backwards, his ass in the snow bank. He screamed in fright at the sight of the abomination which stood before him. Crighton stood up, and laughed again; he turned away from him and placed his hand on Karl’s shoulder. In that split second something snapped from inside of Martin. Seeing Crighton’s wicked hand on his son’s shoulder brought forth a fit of rage and hate which filled his eyesight with the color red. With one bloody hand he forced himself up onto his feet and from his coat pocket drew a 357 magnum revolver. As they came to the entrance he lifted the gun up and leveled it at Crighton.
“Don’t you turn your back on me!” he snapped at him. With one loud, metallic click a round expelled from the chamber and hit Crighton directly in the back (that was number one). He fell forward onto the floorboards, blood was dripping onto the icy ground as he began to crawl, and then without hesitation he put a second one in his back (number two).
“This one’s for Willkie.” He said and put two more in the back of each knee (number three and number four).
Crighton rolled over onto his back and looked up at Martin. When he saw his face he almost stopped. He was smiling, with a film of blood over his teeth; he grimaced widely up at him.
“Go on,” he insisted, his voice was now just a shy whisper. A loud gurgling sound emanated in his throat, “Do it…”
He lifted the gun over him, with one last breath Crighton said, “You can’t stop this, you won’t stop me until I’m done with you…and I’m not done with you yet.” and smiled at him.
Two more clicks, a loud bang cracked into the air as piercing as thunder but without the raw force of a storm; silence fell upon them in its wake. He fired his fifth and sixth round into his chest. There was a loud exhale of air, and then there was nothing but silence again.
A minute later, sirens came roaring up the street. The sound of gunfire was reported by an elderly couple over on Ferry Street. Men and women dressed entirely in blue and black uniforms poured out from their vehicles with their guns drawn, they yelled to the man in the dark brandishing a 357 magnum revolver and standing in the darkness of the wreckage.
“PUT DOWN THE WEAPON!” one man shouted.
A crowd of people flooded the streets and gathered at the sight of the police cruisers. Just as the crowd grew Martin saw the disdainful look of horror on their faces. One woman gasped and covered her mouth with both hands to hide her look of distress. People looked at him in agonizing shock. He stood for an unknown length of time, paralyzed by all that had happened in such a short space of time. The image of what had happened was still with him, painting everything in a slightly unreal shade. It felt as if he had taken a mild mescaline hit. He looked back at the crowd then he looked down at the ground. His face fell faster than a corpse in cement boots. In that instant his face became grayed, his mouth hung slightly parted and his eyes were as wide as they could stretch. The body which now lay in Crighton’s place was Karl. His eyes turned up to the whites, his mouth unhinged and gaping in a silent scream with six bullet holes in him, the snow began to turn red. He had been beaten, somehow he had been beaten. The Devil had bested him once again. He threw the gun away and began to walk towards the police cruisers with his hands held in the air. In the back of his mind he could hear his maniacal laughter; it was a triumphant laugh that said I’ve beaten you, Mr. McGonagall. One lonesome tear broke the rim of his right eye and cascaded down his cheek.
“It was your son who started the fire, wasn’t it?” Chandler asked.
“Y-yes…” Martin replied. “I have not spoken about that day in years, I told a former cellmate of mine about it and a few others, but I could not tell it the courts or my wife. I mean how could I expect them to believe it? The CI was never rebuilt; for years it’s remained an empty lot, until a year ago when I read that a couple of local entrepreneurs with deep pockets bought the lot and the surrounding lots and built an entire complex of restaurants, stores and even a small movie theater. I never saw Crighton again after that day.”
“That was when your wife left?” Chandler asked.
“Yes, she moved back out to Nantucket with her parents. She met another man, a shoppette owner by the name of Bradley Bowler, ‘BB’ for short as I like to call him. For the first two years she wrote to me, one letter per-week. Then they suddenly stopped. I suppose it was too painful for her to hold onto this part of her life, and I can’t say I blame her…”
“You can call me, Martin, Counselor. I think we’re long past the formalities.”
“Very well, you may call me William or Will if you’d like then.”
“Okay, what is your question, Will?”
“Do you believe? Do you truly believe deep within your heart that this man, this strange man was a demon of some kind?”
He pondered the question for a moment or two then finally he replied. “Not a demon…”
“The Bible says the Devil was set free to roam the earth, that God’s hand would not stay him. I do not know whether he was the Biblical Devil the Catholic Church refers to as ‘Satan’ but I do know he was a Devil of some kind…”
You shot a fleeing teenage boy six times, Chandler thought, the last four rounds were at point blank range.
“I will answer your question with another question, William.”
“Very well.” he replied, “Go ahead, Martin.”
“Have the police been able to identify him yet?”
Chandler looked at Martin confoundedly through the Plexiglas. “The man I told you about from the police station that night. Have they been able to identify the man who called himself ‘Crighton’?”
“N-no I don’t believe so…”
“Pretty odd for someone to go that long in life without any sort of trace of their existence… You’d think the state or the district attorney’s office would have records of someone from somewhere at some point in time. Whether he was simply just another transient or not there should at least have been some form of a birth certificate, social security number, fingerprints, dental records or even a drivers license?” He asked with a wide and genuine smile.
A chilled finger then pressed against the base of Chandler’s spine, cooling him off ten degrees. It was joined by other sensations as they rippled up his back, playing his spine like a jungle instrument. Chandler considered the idea for a moment; it did seem rather odd for someone in this day and age, even a man such as Crighton to slip through society without notice. The police and the district attorney’s office would have access to all files nationally (and internationally if necessary) when identifying a person.
“Well this man just happened to slip through the cracks, Martin. The system is fallible even in today’s society.”
Martin smiled a little and shook his head with undeniable superciliousness. Before he could finish, Officer Gould returned and stared through the barrier at Chandler. Their eyes were dead level.
“I’m sorry, Counselor, but it’s almost noon and your client needs to be back in his cell for midday headcount.”
Chandler began fumbling through his baggy Houndsooth sport coat and brought out a silver pocket watch on a heavy silver chain. He noticed the time, quarter to twelve.
“Is it absolutely necessary? Could you possibly speak with your shift supervisor and see if my client could remain here during your count?”
“That won’t be necessary,” Martin interrupted. “I’ve finished, I have nothing left to say.”
“No, it’s alright, Counselor.” He said. “I’ve told you everything; I leave the rest to you now. I ask one thing of you, can you do that for me, William?”
“Anything, you name it.”
“Please, do not come back here again.”
Chandler stared through the Plexiglas at Martin not quite sure if he had heard him correctly.
“There is nothing left for me to say. I will remain in here until God decides my time is up. There is no use in denying that.”
“But, Martin I-”
“Thank you, for everything.” he said, and then offered the counselor a warm smile. In all their sessions together, Martin had not smiled once. It was a side to him the counselor had not seen before. Then his smile died, vanished like a wisp of smoke.
Gould unshackled Martin’s chains and began escorting him back through the door. All the while Chandler watched as Martin exited his life for the last time, but before he did he peered over his shoulder and looked back at the counselor who was still sitting with the phone at his ear.
“Remember, Counselor.” Martin said. “It will appear as a man…” as the door slammed shut behind them.
Many months went by and Chandler had not returned to visit Martin since that day. The night before his planned execution, a guard on the graveyard shift was conducting hourly well-being checks when he discovered Martin lying on his cell floor. He’d managed to break off a piece of glass from the mirror that was fastened to the wall above his cell sink. All prison cells were custom made with a steel plank for your mattress, a toilet, a stool that was secured to the floor, a steel table and a window with steel bars and a view of the outside world. Martin slit his arm from wrist to elbow, Chandler could not think of a worse way to go. Before Martin’s life had ended he had left a message behind. A message inscribed on the wall in his cell. On the wall written in his blood he wrote… “Be sober-minded; be watchful. Your adversary the devil prowls around like a roaring lion, seeking someone to devour 1 Peter 5:8”
Credit: Connor Scott