THE GHOULS OF SPRINGFIELD
by JOHN PURFIELD
rave robbery is an ancient tradition among the poor. Wherever the rich have tried to take their earthly possessions to the grave, there have been the less scrupulous among the impoverished who are willing to find a spade and put those hoarded goods back into circulation. It’s easy to trade a sense of indecency for righteous indignation when you can’t feed yourself and a local hierophant or pharaoh is being buried with more value in gold and jewels than you’ve ever been worth.
Modern burial habits don’t allow for the traditional methods of grave robbery. People aren’t interred with the same amount of pomp and waste that they once were. Heirloom jewelry and gold coins end up in estate sales, or the pockets of next of kin, rather than in the ground. This puts those of us intent on lightening the load of the departed at a disadvantage. If you want to rob the dead, you have a very narrow window to do so. Fortunately, local obituaries do us the favor of lighting that window brightly. Take this blurb for example: William “Bill” Mortinson, 86. Passed August 12th. Service to be held at St. James, August 17th, 12pm.
Who among Bill’s friends and loved ones is not going to be at that service? I don’t doubt his family is going to bicker over the estate and fight tooth and nail over Bill’s possessions, but most folks have the decency to wait until the funeral is over. In other words, at noon on August seventeenth, we have a length of time during which William Mortinson’s house and possessions will be left unguarded.
Houses with adjoining garages are always a godsend. The garage tends to run up near the property’s fence line, giving us some degree of cover. Cover is scarce in the middle of a suburban day. While Kit works the lock I take a look up and down the street. Two story houses run east and west as far as the eye can see, all painted from the same palette of browns and taupe and tans and creams. All yards are uniform green and trim, all driveways occupied by SUVs or modern economy cars or pickup trucks that have never seen a day’s hard hauling. People are out riding lawnmowers or washing their vehicles. A band of kids throws a Frisbee.
Kit has the door open. Melissa and I follow him into the cool air of the garage. There is no vehicle to speak of; it must have already been claimed by squabbling grandkids. The heinousness of grave robbery pales next to the viciousness with which a family will rip apart a dead man’s legacy. People used to fight their kinsman over land and titles, today they do it over bank account balances, collector automobiles, and fine china. It used to be grave robbers would unearth a body, strip a few rings from it, and leave it for the dogs and crows. Kit taught us it was this sort of thing that once gave rise to legends of ghouls. Quite the history buff, Kit. He loves the dark stuff, too. Ghouls, he said, were undead monsters that dug up and ate corpses. Villagers or tribals or what have you would find their dead neighbors all dug up a day or two after a funeral, and they’d be half eaten because of scavengers. This would happen a few times more than once and instead of lynching the local conmen they drew up stories of zombies, which was great for the grave robbers. Of course, we can’t rely on superstition today, but then again we don’t have to dig up graves either. We come in through the side door, carrying a few backpacks, and sometimes we manage such a level of discretion that nobody knows there’s been a robbery.
From William Mortinson we end up taking a few small electronics, some jewelry and a stack of hundreds we find in an envelope in his study. Kit decides he has to have this tome on local history from the old man’s library, and we have to stop Melissa from trying to pull her vandal act. If she weren’t Kit’s girlfriend I would have convinced him to cut her loose a long time ago. It’s always the same story with that girl - we get into a house, pack up a few small things, enough to make us a decent dime, and she starts in with some harebrained idea about ripping the copper out of the walls or flooding the bathrooms like those assholes in Home Alone. She thought we could take a giant flat screen television off the wall once, and drag it down the street to my car without anyone noticing. When I said no she tore the fucker down anyway and beat it to shards with a chair. Melissa’s got a temper.
We leave the way we came in, our backpacks a bit heavier, Melissa pouting because we wouldn’t let her defecate on the master bed. We have been doing this for nearly a year now, never hitting more than one house a month, and never in the same township. Only once have our exploits made the papers, and it was because we let Melissa follow her fancy. I think some of our robberies go unnoticed, and many go unreported. I consider our crimes petty in the grand scheme of things. We don’t hurt anybody, and what we take doesn’t really belong to anyone. It’s all in between owners. We rarely desecrate, we don’t dig up bodies, and we leave nothing for the crows. Maybe sometimes when we take something we rob a grandchild of a smidgen of their inheritance or a grieving widow of a comforting memento. Our actions, by most measure, are far from ghoulish.
Fall begins in earnest mid-October. Leaves turn on the branch, the sun burns orange like a great pumpkin god, and a cool wind enforces modesty in dress. Something about the time of year, its ambiance perhaps, always makes me restless. There’s a dreadfulness to it that makes you reevaluate your frailty and your place in life. When everything’s in that process of dying around you, and doing it with such pageantry, you begin to suspect that maybe there is something greater, and not necessarily out among the stars, but nearby, in the ground beneath your feet, the bark of the trees or the evening shadows on crisping lawn grass.
Kit receives an acceptance letter. He will be starting graduate school in the spring, studying history. He will be doing so several states away. Melissa goes ape-shit, of course. She clings to him like a drowning child to a buoy and the news of his impending relocation sheds light on more dark corners of her insanity than even I had thought could exist. Her penchants for theft and vandalism ripen into drug abuse and violence. She develops a taste for off-white powder, and I don’t think she has the means to get cocaine. One night she puts a frying pan through the front window of the apartment we all share and the neighbors call the cops. They leave, thankfully without remarking on any of the stolen property in our place, when Melissa promises to stop screaming and Kit refuses to say anything about the claw marks on his cheek.
I’m happy for him. He needs to get out and away from the woman. This town isn’t big enough for Kit, and rarely produces someone so academic. That book he took from Mortinson’s library, for instance, was on the subject of local crime since 1800, and Kit spent a good four weeks buried in it. He was an expert on our state’s bank robbers and serial killers before Halloween.
It is a Tuesday morning around 9 or 10 when we find our last job. I’m on the couch with a beer, having just finished my graveyard shift at the warehouse, and Kit’s looking at student housing online. Melissa comes in, or rather she falls through the front door, riding the tail end of a crack and rum binge by the look of it. Her multi-day jaunts have become common, and Kit doesn’t try to rein her in anymore. The other week she reappeared after three days and passed out. Kit found needle marks on her arm. I know it hurts him, but in the long run, I think it’s going to make separation easier. Our lease ends in December and Kit’s going to have to get on a plane. I’m going to find a studio apartment near the warehouse and Melissa…well, there are plenty of gutters in town.
Melissa’s got a newspaper. I hope she had the sense not to take it off the neighbor’s doorstep. She slaps it on Kit’s keyboard and taps repeatedly on the article to which she wants to draw his attention.
“Did we land on the moon?” I ask, half-curious about what her little junkie mind has found so interesting.
“Fuck yourself,” she spits at me. She gets down on her knees at Kit’s feet and puts a hand on the crotch of his jeans.
He pushes it away.
“I found a job for us. One last one before it all ends.”
Kit brushes the newspaper to the floor and turns his eyes back to his computer. “Not a chance,” he says.
“Come on Kit. Yes, say yes.” She starts using the high whine that makes me grind my teeth.
“No. Not jeopardizing my future for a couple bucks.”
“It will be more than that this time. This one will be big. Look, Kit. Kit, Kit…Look at the article.” She shoves it under his nose, ignoring his attempts to push her hand away.
I sip my beer and remain on the couch, pretending not to pay attention.
Kit humors her with a sigh. He squints at the headline, the black and white photo of the deceased, and the unusually lengthy columns of fine print. He takes the paper out of Melissa’s shaking hands.
I watch him read, mounting excitement evident on his face as he does. I want nothing but the best for Kit, but a big part of me hopes he finds a good reason to take the job. I could use the money; I’ll be putting a deposit on another apartment soon.
“This guy,” Kit says, standing now, “I know who he is.” Kit shakes Melissa off of his leg and disappears into his room. “I know the name,” he calls. When he emerges again he’s carrying the book he swiped from Bill Mortinson.
I get a glance at the cover, and the title, for the first time.
“Springfield Nightmares: Our Bloody History From 1800 To The Present”
Kit flips maniacally through the pages, tearing several leaves in his enthusiasm. “Here,” he finds his mark, “Marcus Jameson.” He taps violently on the page as if everybody in the room weren’t already paying attention to him.
When Kit has little fits like this I think I understand the attraction between him and Melissa. They’re both obsessives, though their passions differ.
“1924. Helen Samson, sixteen years old, disappeared from her residence. She was the third in a string of ten reported disappearances in eight years…” Kit slaps a few more pages back and forth, “…primary suspect in what was to become known as the case of the Springfield Vampire, Marcus Jameson, was heir to a string of meat plants and twelve years old at the time of the first disappearance in 1921…Jesus. That means he was about one hundred and six years old. Is that right, Mel? Check the paper.”
Melissa obediently picks the newspaper off of the table where Kit left it. She forces her eyes to focus, her hands to be still.
“Yes. One hundred and six.”
“Why the Springfield Vampire?” I ask.
Kit shrugs. “I suppose because young women were disappearing at nighttime.”
“Alright.” I look back to the television, a more reliable form of entertainment. Nevertheless, I can’t help but be a passive listener to the events unfurling in the room.
“So we’re going, right Kit? The funeral is Friday. We’ve got time to get our shit together.”
I watch from the corner of my eye as Kit’s resolve dissipates, his better sense overtaken by curiosity. He stands silently beside the kitchen table, playing with his beard, eyes flitting back and forth from the book to the newspaper.
Melissa, who can manipulate with the best of the devils, seizes the moment. She slips a finger over the top of his jeans and leads him gently away, towards the bedroom. She shuts the door behind them.
I get another beer and turn up the television.
The next few days are spent in amateur surveillance. The Jameson residence is a lavish mansion, by Springfield standards, surrounded by a ten-foot wall and ominous in its silence. It is probably one of several that Jameson owned, but we aren’t so ambitious as to hit multiple properties in a single night. I am about ready to call the job off when I see the “Protected by Home Security System” sign on the gate, but a little research and we figure out a way:
Home Fortress Technologies, the company responsible for the Jameson Mansion’s system, relies on Voice over Internet Protocol for communication. If the power were to go down, the system would cease to function. Home Fortress would then place a call to the residence and notify them of system failure. We need this call to happen about two hours before the funeral service so that the power outage can be acknowledged, but with less than enough time do anything about it before the funeral. The power box supplying a whole half of the street stands in Jameson’s yard, which is actually ideal because all we have to do is hop the wall and then we have cover while we sabotage. We pick out a spot on the wall’s perimeter where it runs up against a copse of trees. This will be our point of ingress.
Friday comes. The sky provides a gray canvas for the red and gold of the leaves. The clouds are dark and pregnant. Most of the streets are empty at 10 am on a workday. I pull up to the final traffic light before Jameson’s block, and a mangy black dog crosses the street in front of the car.
It glances at us without slowing its trot, and we watch it disappear down an alleyway.
We pull alongside the copse, and Melissa exits the car. We idle a moment, watching up and down the street for witnesses to her incursion. She carries a stepladder with her, upon which is tied a length of rope. The other end of this rope is connected to Melissa’s belt. She sets the stepladder down at the base of the wall and mounts it. With the added height, she is able to clamber over the wall and pull the stepladder over after her by use of the rope. This is the sort of ingenuity bred by expensive drug habits.
I accelerate down the street and park the car a block away. Kit and I will wait here until Mel calls and signals the all-clear. Kit is in the rear seat, having chosen to sit by Melissa for the trip. I try to catch his eye in the rearview, but he avoids my gaze.
“We could leave,” I say, “last chance.”
“Mel would come back and murder us.”
“We make one phone call and she gets arrested for trespassing and vandalism of city property. Intent to burglarize, too, if that’s a thing.”
Kit finally looks back at me through the mirror. “She’d get out and be back on our doorstep by the end of the weekend, probably with a bunch of crackheads ready to cut us open.”
“She’s not going to let you go, Kit, you know that right?”
“Yeah,” he sighs, “I know.”
A moment later his cell phone begins to vibrate. Kit answers the call and puts it on speaker. “Yeah Mel,” he says.
Mel’s voice comes harshly through the phone. “There’s no one here.”
“What do you mean there’s no one there?”
“I mean there’s no one in the fucking house.”
“How do you know?” I ask.
“’Cause I’m inside right now. Want me to send you a picture?”
“What the fuck, Mel? Get the hell out of there. The service doesn’t start until noon.”
“I say we’re all clear. We’re all clear. I’ll meet you at the side door.” And she disconnects the call.
“Crazy bitch.” I rub my face. Though she had given her word that this time there would be no deviation from the plan, no unwarranted destruction, violence, or risk-taking, it didn’t surprise me. It dawns on me that we, Kit and I, were insane for putting our lives in her hands. I make eye contact with Kit in the mirror again and know that he’s thinking the same thing.
We exit the car and walk down the block to the wall of the Jameson residence. On its east side, opposite the point where Melissa scaled the wall, is an iron door set into the brickwork. Kit knocks on it quietly, and Melissa opens. She grins at us.
“Did you hit the power box?” I ask.
“There’s no need.”
“Mel,” Kit says, keeping his voice calm as if he were about to reason with a child, “the only reason you jumped that wall before us was to disable the power. If the power is still on, the security system is still on, which means the cops will come when we go in the house.”
“Oh no,” I feel my scalp tighten, “she’s already gone in the house. We need to get out of here.”
“Calm down before you shit your pants,” Mel snorts, “check this out.” She pulls a fat wad of paper from her cargo pocket and unfolds it before us. “I went through the mailbox and found this.”
She holds up an envelope, the sort you dread finding in your own mail - white, fine print, one big red stamp. The letter is from Home Fortress Technologies. The big red stamp says “FINAL NOTICE.” Mel has opened it.
“Security services were terminated last week due to delinquency of payment. Who do you love?”
Kit kisses her hard on the mouth.
When they come apart again Mel looks over Kit’s shoulder at me, eyes blazing a warning, or a challenge.
We walk across the Jameson property without regard to surveillance now. The wall protects us from sight on the outside, and there is nobody within. The grounds are decrepit. Dead leaves blanket overgrown grass and weeds. A tree has fallen and been left to rot. I nearly step on a long-dead rabbit hidden in the spears of dry vegetation. No one has tended the lawns of the residence in a long time.
Mel leads us to what must be a servant’s entrance - a small, discreet door in the side of the house, which she has already kicked in. The doorframe is splintered about the strike plate. We pass through into a dark hallway at the back of the mansion. Floor boards groan beneath our heels and the walls are close upon our sides. This, I decide, must be an antiquated architectural style with regard to socio-economic relations; the structure is designed to keep servants out of sight and mind, relegated to the back of the house, almost crawling within the walls like rodents. The hallway opens into the kitchen, and I realize that I have been holding my breath while passing through the dark. I let it out now, set free by what cloud-filtered light ekes in through the kitchen’s bare windows.
It is a massive facility, but bare of amenities. A thin layer of dust coats empty walls and countertops. Small metal hooks which may have once supported pots and ladles now serve as anchor points for spider webs and speculation. Industrial sinks and ovens stand in all corners, stripped of their worthy parts and left in monument to what liveliness this place was designed to entertain. It is a grim welcome to us burglars.
Kit leads the way through a set of swinging doors, much like you see separating the kitchen from the service floor in restaurants. We are in a dining hall. A massive black table sits in its center, punctuated with a silver candelabra which Melissa wastes no time in confining to her backpack. Again, the dust is omnipresent, and as we move about we disturb it, testing our lungs with grime. There are lighter squares on the walls where pictures and portraits once hung.
“This place is stripped,” I finally say what I’ve been fearing. “There’s a reason there’s no security. There’s nothing to steal.”
“You haven’t seen the rest of it yet,” Melissa counters.
“Let’s just keep going,” Kit says, “I need to see the rest of the house, stripped or not.”
And with that, I’m alone in this threesome. Somewhere the tides turned, and Kit became allied with Melissa once more. When she looks at me across the great ebony dining table, with the smug tinge of victory tugging at the corners of her mouth, I know that it was deliberate.
We come next into a parlor. A white sheet drapes over a grand piano like a cheap Halloween costume. A fireplace has gone long out of service and allows a draft into the chambers. Outside the temperature must be dropping, for the chill that meets us in this room is the sort you associate with snow or freezing rain. The floor below us is carpeted now; our feet fall silently. The photos and paintings in this room are still hanging, and we come face to face with Marcus Jameson himself.
He was a lean man if the composition of his body was true to that of his face. Weathered skin sticks to the bones of his cheeks and chin like butcher paper on wet meat. He smiles in the photo, flaunting rows of small white teeth as feckless as polished pearls.
“The Springfield Vampire,” Kit murmurs in awe.
“Whatever you say, buddy.” I can’t help but be a bit curt, the combined efforts of my good friend and his crackhead chippy having brought us into a house with nothing to steal at great risk. If I am to be the third wheel, I won’t be pleasant about it.
“Does this not interest you?” Kit is unperturbed by my attitude, “Ten women and children in eight years, ranging in age from six years old to twenty-four. Those are the discovered bodies, just the discovered ones. All victims had been partially exsanguinated and butchered. Butchered in the literal sense, mind you - cuts of meat were missing from different areas of their corpses like they were being eaten.”
“Then why’d they call him a vampire?” I ask.
“Why vampire? Don’t vampires just…I don’t know, drink blood?”
Kit shrugs and shakes his head at me, disappointed, I suppose, in my lack of reverence.
“They don’t even know if he was really the guy, do they?”
“The blood trail came pretty much right to his door,” Kit says. “All the victims were people he knew in some capacity, and the wounds on the bodies were consistent with one another. He had the ability to create such wounds, and the equipment. His father, William Jameson, had started out a butcher and created Jameson Meats in the thirties. It got big. Fast. Marcus was supposed to inherit everything, so his father trained him as a butcher and a businessman.”
Melissa slinks off into the next room. Evidently local history is of little concern or interest to the drug-addled mind.
“Bodies were found in several locations around town, including Snow Creek and the Pine Reserve. Then, in 1926, Wilma Grencick’s locket was found in a Jameson packing plant. She had been missing for some time. The entire plant was shut down. Employees were questioned, meat was searched. Nothing came of it. A week later Will Jameson sued the city for damages.
“In 1929 the Springfield Police arrested twenty-year-old Marcus Jameson. A woman, named Lisa White, who claimed to have been attacked one night by the Springfield Vampire, pointed the finger at Marcus. She had just left a party which he had attended and chose to walk the short distance between the event and her residence on her way home. She cut through Star Gulch Park and was grabbed from behind. Her assailant hit her, twice, with what she described as a heavy bag of sorts, like a blackjack maybe. Fortunately, he failed to knock her unconscious and she fought back, clawing at his face and eyes. Lisa escaped and the police showed up on William Jameson’s doorstep that night to arrest his twenty-year-old son.”
“But that didn’t stick in court,” I predict.
“No. It was too dark for an accurate ID to be made by a woman under duress, apparently. When Marcus took the stand he had scratch marks on his face, too, but he claimed these were the result of a dispute between he and his then-fiancée. Marcus walked. A few months later Lisa disappeared.”
“Disappeared…like do you think he got her?”
Kit shrugs. “Maybe. Either he got her or she left town. It wouldn’t have been a very safe place for her after accusing a Jameson of murder. Anyway, when they failed to convict him in court, Marcus got a lot more discreet. Women still disappeared, it’s said, but nobody he knew or anyone cared about. Poor girls, never in his employ, and no bodies were ever found. It’s all speculation after that, of course. You can’t connect disappearances to a string of murders just because they happen in the same city.”
“I guess.” I scratch my head and watch Kit, staring into the painted rendition of Marcus Jameson. This guy really got under his skin somehow. He had a tendency to obsess over things, but how he committed all the dates and names to memory over such a short time like that was a trifle worrisome. “What do you hope to find here, Kit? Think you’re going to solve the case?”
Kit chuckles a bit and shakes his head. “No. I just wanted to be…I don’t know, in the presence of it somehow. I don’t know if that makes sense. This is the closest I’ll ever be to Marcus Jameson, here, in his house, going through his stuff, walking where he walked. I want to see what it feels like.”
His answer doesn’t do much to soothe my worry. “Well let’s get going then,” I say, “we’re still trespassing, like it or not.”
Kit and I find the Jameson library. It is a modest room relative to the rest of the house, though all four walls sport floor-to-ceiling bookshelves, and upon these shelves are all manner of books. Here, I think immediately, is where I’m likeliest to lose Kit. He surprises me by taking only a perfunctory glance at some of the titles and moving on.
“Not much of value,” he says.
“Mel’s ahead of us,” I say, “probably stripping the rooms of electronics and whatnot before we get there.”
Kit mumbles something. We move on.
The main hall, upon which the front door opens, is a great marble affair. A red, velvety carpet leads from the double doors to a wide staircase, and climbs these to the upper levels. We are crossing this hall, seeking the other half of the bottom floor, when the silence is shattered by a most unwelcome noise.
The doorbell rings.
Kit and I freeze in our tracks, not fifteen feet from the main entry. My eyes roll slowly to the periphery and catch the glint of light moving on the door handle as someone on the other side turns it against the lock.
Kit grabs me by the wrist, his fingers rigid as rebar with panic, and leads us across the room. The carpet muffles our footfalls, and in a moment of fear-heightened sensitivity, I hear rain drops beating a forlorn tattoo on the roof above. We scramble across the adjacent hall and into a dark room on the mansion’s west side. There are two tall windows here, but the sun is lost beneath the wet scab of rain clouds, and light fails to show us details of our hiding spot. We tuck against the wall on either side of the door and peer around into the main hall.
The knocking continues, increasing in persistence to the point of aggression. Worse, though, than this conundrum, than the doom at the doorstep or the discomfort triggered by our fight-or-flight response, is the answer the knocking receives:
“Hold your fucking horses, I’m coming!” Melissa screams from the top of the stairs.
“What the fuck,” Kit whispers.
We watch Melissa tromp down the main stairs, letting her boots hit the boards in a way that trumpets her annoyance. She might own the damn place, the way she comes lumbering down those stairs. She approaches the door and throws the latch, then swings the door wide and shrugs her shoulders at the visitor.
“Took you long enough,” she scoffs, and moves aside.
Two men enter the house. They are significantly older than us, perhaps in their mid-thirties, and ragged with dirt and grime. Their clothing, mostly flannel and denim, is stiff in places like dry cheese cloth, and sweat-stained in others. Despite the chill of the weather they both bear glistening patches of perspiration on their cheeks. Knit caps stretch to cover long, matted sprouts of hair and slick, worried foreheads.
One of the men spits a cigarette from his lips to the carpet and grinds it into the red plush with the heel of a dirty tennis shoe.
“Where are your boyfriends, Mel?”
“Sucking each other off somewhere, Rich, I don’t know.”
Rich is brutish, even for a junky. At over six and a half feet and broad through the shoulders, he bears little of the weakness or emaciation one expects from an amphetamine abuser. He steps up to Mel and puts a palm to her cheek, just hard enough to produce a little slapping sound, and holds it there.
Melissa quivers under the man’s touch, and her eyes go to the floor.
“So,” Rich says, “where are the goods, sweetheart?”
She responds with a slight tremble. “There’s an entertainment system upstairs, another in the back corner. Flatscreen in the guest bedroom. I haven’t been in the basement yet.”
Fuck this. I don’t know what Kit’s charming girlfriend has planned for us, given the newcomers, but I imagine it involves my share decreasing below the threshold of worthwhile risk. I slink across the room in which we’re hidden and fumble about the window for a latch or handle. I find none. I wonder, for a moment, if I could break it and escape before the sound of shattered glass draws the junkies. I tap the glass lightly with a fingernail. The resulting sound is strange, unlike what I expected, as if the glass is thicker or unusually treated. I scratch at the grilles and find that they are not wood but metal. These panes of glass are set between a grid of iron bars, painted in disguise. There is no egress from this window.
Behind me, Kit shuts the door softly and lets the handle turn at an almost imperceptible rate until the latch clicks. He turns a bolt to lock us in from the main hall, and then looks at me, silent but wide-eyed.
I want nothing more than to berate him at this moment, to throw up my hands and say “Oh, this surprises you, Kit? Your piece of human garbage girlfriend selling us up the goddamn river is a shock at this point?” Instead, I keep my voice at a whisper and motion at the window.
“No getting out that way. Is the front door clear?”
“One of them is standing watch,” Kit whispers back.
My eyes have adjusted to the low light of the room now, and as I glance around for other routes of escape its details reveal themselves. The space is dominated by displays behind glass, as one might see in a museum exhibit. One features an arrangement of cutlery, from ornate steak knives to butcher’s cleavers. Another cradles an assortment of severe metal hooks, a few longer than my forearm. Black and white photographs are hung upon the walls - captured stills of life in the meat plants. Men in long white coats stand out against murky backgrounds of grillwork and piping. Pigs and cattle hang dumbly by their hind legs, unknowingly waiting for the knife that will open their throats and end their meager experience of life on earth. Amidst these portraits is set a great framed poster for Upton Sinclair’s “The Jungle.” This must have been Jameson’s brand of humor. Against the far wall is a door leading deeper into the mansion’s west wing.
I make for this door, but Kit lingers in the room. I turn to find him groping at one of the displays, running his hands along its underside, looking, perhaps, for an opening.
“I’ll catch up,” he whispers hoarsely.
I won’t pretend that self-preservation is less than foremost on my mind. All my well-wishing for Kit and whatever lingering sense of loyalty I might have had for Mel as a friend-gone-rotten were fading, feeling less and less like viable reasons to stay in a strange house populated by the ghost of a serial killer and a threesome of thieving crackheads. So, when Kit says that he will “catch up,” I take it as license to leave him behind. It’s your future, Kit, and I’ve done what I can.
I slink through the door, deeper into the west wing of the mansion. I find a couple of servants quarters, though without furnishings or adornments. The windows are similar to those in the gallery: barred and reinforced. Being the richest folks in town, I suppose it’s no real wonder that the Jameson’s took such security precautions.
I’ve seen mansions in movies featuring the obscenely rich, housing slave owners or Wall Street hotshots or orphaned superheroes, but the films fail to plumb the depths of such residences. The sheer expanse of the thing, room after room punctuated by broom closets and crawl spaces, smaller hallways that disorient and make you miss that cereal box compass you carried as a child…no one deserves this much territory. The possessions for which they use the space, too, are numerous to the absurd. Here is a pool table, here a bar stocked with unopened bottles and glasses holding cocktails of dust and grime. Here is a room of discarded artwork - statues, paintings, light fixtures and glass pieces intentionally distorted into alien asymmetries. I find a room with a baby grand tipped on its side, surrounded by crimson walls and lit by sconces emerging from the floor. Somehow the whole thing looks like a murder scene.
A left turn somewhere, and I am back in the main hall, underneath the grand staircase. I hold my breath and listen for the intruders. The other intruders. I had thought to seek out the servant’s door, the one by which we entered, but somewhere my sense of direction failed me. The main hall is silent. I emerge, keeping towards the walls and the shadows that run rampant in the unlit expanse of the Mansion in the autumn rain. Then the main door comes into sight, free of sentry, and I dash for it.
I get the handle in my palm and jerk with enough force to make my shoulder socket scream a warning.
The door does not budge. It won’t as much as creak under my efforts to open it.
I check the locks and latches. All are undone. The door should swing freely, and yet it does not. Panic puts an acrid taste in my mouth, sharp and metallic like a battery on the tongue. I pull harder. Nothing gives.
Then a hand falls on my shoulder and wads the fabric of my jacket between its fingers as it makes a fist. This is not a friendly hand.
I am spun around and pushed until my back is against the door I just tried to open.
The man who has ahold of me is dirty junkie number two, the one who is not, as far as I know, named Rich. A cloud of body odor and the smell of hot trash hangs about him, nearly as oppressive as his physical presence. He snarls at me through a set of yellow and brown teeth behind cracked lips. His breath on my face is like a plate of roadkill held under my nose.
“Rich,” he cries out to the mansion’s expanse, “I got one.”
He holds me against the door while waiting for the others, one hand on my chest such that I have to breathe through my diaphragm. I thought drug addicts were supposed to have weak constitutions, but this man has no trouble applying a good deal of force. Some glint in his bloodshot eye, a challenge or a predatory impulse, perhaps, dares me to force my way free. I will decline this challenge; I don’t think there is any violence of which I am capable which would dissuade this man from hurting me.
Melissa and Rich enter the main hall.
“Hold him there, Bill,” Rich calls from the second-floor balcony. They descend the stairs and approach us. Melissa has a lunatic grin on her face. Her hair is tussled and her pupils dilated. She works her jaw back and forth over a phantom piece of gum. High. Probably freshly plowed by her amphetamine-crazed pimp on a dead man’s bed.
“Where’s Kit?” She asks me.
I look from her to Rich to the sinewy demon holding me against the door and try to estimate the probability of a lie working.
“Kit left,” I try.
Bill digs one of his dirty fingers into my face, up under the cheekbone. I squeal; there’s no way to make it sound more dignified without lying.
“I don’t know where he is, I don’t know where he is!”
“I don’t believe you,” Melissa says, “you don’t go anywhere without Kit holding your hand.”
“I don’t know, I swear to God.”
Bill’s finger is creeping towards my eye, his jagged fingernail flirting with the soft membrane below the lower lid.
“Don’t, don’t. I don’t know where he is, I don’t know where he is.” My cheeks burn and eyes water. My breath catches in my throat and sobs start escaping my mouth.
“What a little faggot,” Rich says. He lights a cigarette and shakes his head at me through the smoke.
“I know how we can find the other one,” Bill says, never taking his eyes from mine. “Same way I found this little shit.”
“How’s that, Bill?” Rich asks.
“Come here, let me show you.”
Bill takes me by the hair and drags me along, holding my head below the level of my waist such that I have to crouch nearly to my knees, sometimes using all four limbs to keep up. My scalp is on fire. I feel hair tearing, hear it even.
We move through the main hall and into the far recess of the east wing, past the kitchen and the servants’ entrance. I cannot lift my head to see, but the carpet gives way to linoleum, and finally to…steel?
“What the hell is this?” I hear Mel exclaim.
“Pretty sure it’s a panic room,” Bill says. “A lot of rich cunts have them to hide in when they get scared of poor people.”
Bill throws me into a corner. We are in a great metal box. There is a staircase leading to the upper level so the panic room can be accessed from either floor. One wall is occupied by high definition monitors, which show rooms throughout the mansion. Somehow I doubt it is a service of Home Fortress Tech.
“How did you find this?” Rich asks Bill.
Bill shrugs. “It was just open.”
They were probably airing it out, I decide, but neglect to share this revelation with the rest of my present company.
Below the grid of monitors is a computer station. Bill takes a seat here at an office chair and begins rapping on a keyboard.
The monitors flash from room to room, blinking electronic eyes, peering into the dark nooks of the mansion, searching, searching…
“The whole security system is controlled from here, basically,” Bill says with assumed authority, “you can lock all the doors and windows, change the camera feeds, whatever.”
There is a cot in one corner, a locker in another. Plastic jugs of water and boxes of Meals Ready to Eat are stacked along one wall. No visible weapon. Perhaps in the locker, but I doubt my captors will let me explore. They are between me and the ground floor exit, which would take me quite close to the servant’s door if I could get to it. A set of steel stairs wraps about the wall, climbing to the top floor. If I retake my footing quietly enough, I can dash upwards and out, assuming the doors up there are open as they are down here.
“…when I saw the dipshit here in the hall I just locked all the outer doors,” Bill continues.
Melissa and Rich seem occupied with his explanation.
I slowly get my feet beneath me, praying the rubber of my soles won’t squeak on the metal floor.
“Find Kit,” Melissa barks at Bill.
“Muzzle your bitch,” Bill says to Rich, “she’s getting a mouth on her.”
I rise and run. I wish I could say I exploded from a crouched position like a sprinter, or a football player or something, but the truth is that I’ve never possessed a great deal of athleticism. My adrenaline has to count for something, though.
“Hey!” Rich yells.
I am throwing myself up the stairs, hands pulling on the rails, feet pumping against the steps, all the time expecting a hand to snatch my ankle, or perhaps a projectile to strike me between the shoulder blades.
I reach the first landing with such force behind me that the right turn is difficult to make without pushing off of the wall. I hear junkies behind me on the stairs, pounding on the perforated metal steps I just ascended. I am on the second flight. I can see the upper floor of the panic room. It has a lounge chair, a television, and a bar. A part of me registers as impressed and mildly offended by the opulence, but the animal fleeing capture doesn’t allow for full exploration of these feelings.
The door. Where is the door?
I reach the second floor and, grabbing the safety rail, whirl around to face the rest of the panic room’s upper level.
Rich is just below me, ascending the second flight of stairs, eyes blazing with promises of cruelty.
The door is against the far wall and ,through it, I see the unlit mansion, smell the effluvium of ironwork and mahogany in the dark. The door is closing, even as I lunge for it. Swiftly, and with an automated slickness, the glint of freedom beyond is disappearing, growing smaller.
I plant a final step on the steel floor and lunge. My head is out, then my neck and torso. I claw desperately at the carpet and curl my legs up to my chest. The door scrapes the tops of my sneakers as they emerge, finally, from the panic room, and the passageway is sealed.
If Rich hit the door behind me, if he bangs upon it in fury and frustration, I cannot hear it.
I scramble to my feet and look around. I need a place to hide. Where, though, can I remain undetected in a house of cameras? I hadn’t even noticed them before I saw the feed in the panic room. This means, I realize, that our entire robbery has been recorded. All our faces are on tape somewhere. I shiver. Of course, that won’t matter much if Rich and Bill get their hands on me.
I take stock of my surroundings. I am in the northeast corner of the mansion, on the second floor. I am in a hallway just outside the panic room, which Bill has locked down in an attempt to contain me, inadvertently buying me a few seconds with which to make my escape.
I set off at a sprint down the hallway. Reopening the panic room door may be as simple as pressing another button, and I don’t want to be in sight when Rich comes out again. I turn down a second hallway and immediately opt for a door on my right. I hear a faint click in the distance, which may be the panic room coming open again or may be one of my joints complaining at the sudden exercise. I shut the door behind me and let the latch fall slowly, quietly, before locking it.
I am in a bathroom of granite brick and tile. The lights have come to a soft glow, triggered by my entry. There is a bathtub set into one wall, a shower with multiple heads on the other. The toilet is partly hidden within a curving alcove in the wall. This latrine is roughly the size of my bedroom.
Surely there would not be security cameras in a bathroom.
Outside, Rich tries the doorknob. When it doesn’t move he puts his shoulder into the door.
All facets of construction are superior in this place, but that door will give way to enough force.
I slip out the bathroom’s other side, through a door into a hallway running perpendicular to the main hall of the second floor.
In the distance Bill calls out my whereabouts, communicating the camera’s feed to his partner on the hunt.
I can only fly for so long; I need a weapon. The kitchen seems a likely place, or perhaps that display room with the hooks and the cleavers where I left Kit.
Kit has been evading the cameras somehow. If I can find him, maybe…
Rich bursts through the second bathroom doorway.
I slip around the hallway corner before he lays eyes on me, and sprint for the next door. My hammering heart and shaking hands preclude me from trying to open it quietly or shutting it softly behind me.
“Where’d he go, Bill?” Rich’s shouts echo through the rooms and passages, “where’d he go?”
The room I have entered now is in the mansion’s corner. Windows on two walls look out upon the unkempt grounds of the Jameson Estate and frame the grey sky overhead. Raindrops cling to the panes like translucent pox. A four-post bed sits against another wall, but the room is too sparse to be the master bedroom. This is for guests, I imagine. The only other door is against the other wall.
I go through it, and enter the guest bathroom.
This bathroom, however, does not have an additional exit.
I have cornered myself. The windows, naturally, do not open. The only egress will be out the way I came, possibly past Rich.
I creep back to the door and put an ear to its crease.
The sound of heavy breathing reaches me from the other side.
“Bill?” Rich shouts again, “answer me, shithead!”
Footsteps approach my door.
Should I lock it? To do so would verify my presence. I decide to leave it unsecured and hope he gives the room only a perfunctory glance.
The only place to hide is underneath the bed, and so underneath the bed I dive.
The frame digs into my back. My breathing is raucously loud under here, in this close space. I do my best to calm it as I listen to Rich open the bedroom door. There is nothing between him and me now except this miserable cliché of a hiding spot. This is the first and last place any monster would bother looking for its intended victim. His dirty boots come into view, mud caked and scuffed. Then he kneels. A denim-clad knee makes contact with the carpet, then a soiled hand, and Rich is bending forward to look under the bed.
Our eyes meet, something feral in both of them - fear in mine, hunger in his.
“There you are,” he rasps, and shoots out a hand to grab me.
I screech, attempting to recoil from his grasp. The bed above me is restraining. I am trying to crawl backward, and the long, jagged fingers of my pursuer are ripping at my clothes, hair, and flesh, seeking purchase.
Something crashes, or rather thuds.
Then all is still.
I am out the other side of the bed, still clinging to the floor, expecting to feel angry talons on me. None come.
I cannot hear Rich.
I sit up slowly and look over the top of the mattress.
Kit is standing on the other side of the bed. He looks at me, something solemn in his eyes, and beckons towards the doorway.
“Come on, man,” he says, “we have to find Melissa.”
I stand and watch him leave the bedroom. He holds a great meat cleaver at his side, letting it dangle from his fingers like a shopping bag. Blood soaks his sleeve.
I walk around the bed, slowly, until I see Rich’s feet sticking out. He is prone on the floor, caught in the last moment during which he tried to grab me. I move further and see the blood soaking the carpet and the back of his flannel shirt. Rich has a great valley cut into the back of his neck, just below the base of his skull.
Kit severed his spine.
I exit the bedroom into the hallway, looking for my friend.
I find Kit in the main hall, looking down at the lower level, the great main door and the red carpet that runs through the chamber’s center.
“Melissa?” he calls.
“Kit,” I say.
“What about the other one?”
“He’s dead. They’re all dead except Melissa. Melissa?” He calls again.
“Kit, we should leave. We should get the fuck out of here right now.”
He looks at me with a frown.
“We can’t leave. You know this is all being recorded, right? Everything that’s happened here? You’re in it too, buckaroo, unless we find the storage center for all that footage you saw in the panic room.”
“We can break the computers, Kit. Easy.”
“Don’t be stupid. First of all, smashing monitors wouldn’t solve anything. Secondly, the hard drive isn’t in the panic room. It’s somewhere else in the building. I don’t know where; we have to find it. Before we do that, we have to find Melissa. Your nose is bleeding.”
I put a finger to my nostrils. It comes away red.
Kit descends the great staircase, cleaver swinging at his side.
I follow him.
“You’re going to kill her?” I ask.
Kit doesn’t answer.
“Think we should try to shut off those cameras at least?”
“I did, while you were running from the big guy.”
“What if Melissa gets in the panic room?”
Kit leads us into the west wing, down another hallway. Portraits of the long dead hang at regular intervals on the walls - white men with stern eyes and puckered mouths. Thunder cracks outside like the bursting of the sky’s rafters. A twitch of flashing light sparks across the hallway, coming in through the window at its far end.
We enter a room, and within this room is a cage. The room is unfurnished, bare and windowless, but for this cage at its center. Within the cage is a hole in the floor where a spiral staircase begins its descent into something below. The door to the cage swings freely.
“What the fuck is this?” I whisper.
“She went down there,” Kit points with the cleaver. “I watched her on the cameras.” He pulls the cage door open and steps inside. “Are you coming?”
I stand outside the cage door, looking first at the black circle leading down to untold depths, then at Kit, who wears a blank stare. His eyes are as inscrutable and dark as the pit into which he walks.
“Yeah,” I say, “yeah I’m coming.” Why? Why do I continue to follow? I know, to some degree, what happens next, and that I don’t want to be there for it. Yet I continue, because I’m in it too, buckaroo.
We mount the wrought-iron spiral staircase, and we descend.
My relief, when we find ourselves in something as innocuous as a wine cellar, is palpable. Kit’s disappointment is equally obvious.
“This can’t be it,” he says softly.
“What do you mean?” I ask.
He shakes his head.
Wine racks crowd in around us, dusty bottlenecks protruding from diamond-shaped outlets in grand, wooden constructions. The walls behind them, the ceiling above and the floor below are stone. The cellar elbows and Kit glances furtively around the corner before turning.
“Are you sure she came down here?” I ask.
“Shhh,” he puts a hand up to quiet me. “Melissa,” he sings quietly, and the stone sings back. “Mel-issss-aaaa…” He tightens his grip on the cleaver.
A wine bottle shatters just above his head, and Kit jumps back around the corner.
“Fuck off!” Melissa shrieks. Another wine bottle explodes against the stone.
“That’s really expensive wine you’re throwing, dear,” Kit calls.
“Where’s Rich? What did you do to him?” She screams back.
“Same thing I did to Bill. You saw.”
“You fucking freak!”
Another bottle shatters, and a spray of glass shrapnel rips across my face. I put a hand gingerly to my cheek, feel little protuberances of sharp green crystal and the warmth of blood rising behind skin.
Kit bolts around the corner.
I hear Melissa scream, and there is an unspeakable thud, as of a body hitting a floor with no give or padding.
“It’s alright,” Kit calls to me, “she’s down.”
I peek around the corner, afraid I will find Kit triumphant over another scene of bloody death and open gashes. Instead, I find him breathing hard and leaning on a wine rack while Melissa lies at his feet, clutching her face. She is barely conscious, stunned to silence by the blow Kit landed with the dull side of the meat cleaver on her jaw. She moans softly.
“Jesus,” I shake my head as I approach, “Kit, that was nuts. Would never have guessed you had it in you.”
“Yeah, well, self-preservation and whatnot. Help me search the cellar.”
Kit begins examining the creases where the racks are bolted into the stone, peeking through the spaces between the bottles, and running his fingers along the floor at their base.
I look down at Melissa for a moment and fight the urge to fetch her a kick while she’s on the ground.
“What are we looking for?”
“A hidden passage,” Kit replies plainly, as if this is the most natural thing in the world.
“Yeah,” he says, a hint of impatience in his voice, “seriously. Look for something behind the racks, or scrapes on the floor where a door would come out.”
“Or maybe there’s not a secret passage down here at all.”
“There has to be. I promise you.”
We look behind the wines, along the floor, and we scrutinize the spaces of stone between the wooden racks. Kit’s frustration mounts. He mumbles under his breath and glares at the walls as if he could intimidate them into revealing some secret. When Melissa makes a pitiable little moaning sound on the floor again, he puts his foot against her throat and grits his teeth.
“You keep quiet you druggie bitch,” he says.
The cellar is shaped like a horseshoe, with the spiral staircase at one point of the U-shape. As you walk around the two corners, the wine gets older. At the very far end of the cellar, I pick out a bottle to put in my backpack; this is the only thing I have taken thus far from the Jameson Mansion. I wipe the dust from the bottle before putting it carefully in a side pocket. Then I notice it.
The grey dust under the cellar’s dim overhead bulb makes all the bottles appear uniform. Somewhere near chin-height on me, however, is a bottle that shines free of this ghostly film. This bottle has been touched more frequently, or at least more recently, than the others. I put a hand on it. The bottle does not move in its space, the wine within does not splash about, as if the whole thing were anchored into the rack. I pull, and the bottle does not come out. I twist, and something creaks.
“Kit,” I say, not taking my eyes off of the anomalous bottle, “over here.”
He rushes to me. “What? What did you find?”
I turn the bottle with a bit more force, clockwise like you would a doorknob, and I am rewarded with a healthy click.
“Yes,” Kit whispers, “that’s it. Now pull.”
The whole rack swings on a hidden hinge. It opens, and behind it is a dark passage in the stone, a set of rough-hewn steps leading even further downward.
“Haha!” Kit exclaims, “Fantastic! Let’s go.” He fishes his cell phone from his pocket and turns on the flashlight.
“Whoa, whoa, whoa,” I say, “hold up. What’s down there?”
“We’ll see, right?” Kit grins at me, happier than I’ve seen him since…well, maybe the happiest I’ve ever seen him.
“You were expecting this. You said it had to be here. Now, what is it?”
He looks down into the dark, then back at me. “If I’m right, it’s where Jameson took the women. Not the first bunch, but later in life, when he was more careful.”
“How would you know that?”
“I don’t really know, I guess, but I made a couple assumptions and at least a few were right, so here we are. Only one way to find out, huh?”
Kit starts down the steps, holding the light up before him.
“Wait,” I stop him once again.
“What, for Christ’s sake?”
“What about her?” I nod at Melissa. “If she gets up she could lock us down there.”
“Tie her up then, or bring her. Yeah, bring her.”
Kit disappears down the stone stairs, leaving me to solve the problem of the half-conscious Melissa. I start by nudging her with my foot.
“Hey, get up.”
She moves a little, gets to all fours, and a thin stream of drool runs from her mouth to the floor.
I wonder how hard Kit hit her.
I grab a handful of her hair, thinking to pull her up and lead her about the same way Bill did me, but as soon as I begin pulling, my own scalp tingles a sympathetic reminder of the pain such a method causes. I let go of her hair. When I lean down to take her about the arms I get a wafting scent of urine and realize she’s pissed herself; for a moment I feel sorry for the girl. I get her to her feet and grab her from the back of the belt. In this way I lead her down the stairs, supporting her lest she tumble and turn Kit’s assault into a murder.
The stairway curves lazily, descending for what feels like an improbable distance. I hold my own phone’s flashlight up the best I can while seeking to control Melissa’s zombie-like shuffling, lighting the way before us.
A yellow glow comes into view below, illuminating the last few steps of the staircase. I put my phone away. We reach the bottom, and I let go of Melissa.
She slumps against the wall and falls to a sitting position there.
The room is hewn into the stone like a cave. The ceiling is low, the walls close. Wires run across the ceiling, suspending the bare bulbs responsible for the room’s illumination. The first thing I see in this light is another computer station. This one has a single monitor, but a great black box of blinking green diodes and buttons sits beside it. A number of cords run upwards from this box, disappearing into the artery of wiring that traces the ceiling. This, I imagine, is the hidden heart of the mansion’s electronic surveillance.
The rest of the room suggests intentions far less modern and infinitely more savage. Iron cages run the length of one wall, not like the one guarding the staircase, but smaller, and quite evidently meant to keep people in rather than out. They are set into the ground, doors facing outwards, and low enough that a person would not be able to stand, shallow enough that an adult would not be able to lie down except in the fetal position. Silver dog bowls sit in each of the three cages. Beside the other wall is an array of gruesome machinery. I recognize the meat slicer from my time working in the kitchen of an Italian restaurant. Beside it is a bandsaw, and next to that a blockish little machine with a tray on its top and pipe leading down into a grate of sorts. I think of that strange Pink Floyd movie, “The Wall,” when all the hamburger-faced children are marching off the conveyer belt into a pipe, and coming out the other end as stringy pink mincemeat. The floor below all this equipment has been shorn down at an angle into a drainage system.
At the far end of the room, Kit stands with his back to me. He is before a great table carved into the stone wall itself. On the wall above this platform hang an array of knives and cleavers. A set of chainmail gloves and a leather apron are laid neatly out on the tabletop.
“This is it,” Kit says, reverently, “this is where the Vampire of Springfield did his work. He kept his girls there,” he points to the cages, “slaughtered them here,” and gestures to a sink I had not yet noticed - a wide, steel bucket with a dip in its rim where a throat might fit if one were bending over it. A pipe below this sink feeds into the same drainage as that below the butchery machines, all leading to a hole in the floor of the room’s far corner. “…And he sliced them up into neat packages over here,” Kit concludes. “The blood run-off and the viscera went in this machine, maybe the bones too. All the waste went down the hole.”
I feel like vomiting. Kit, conversely, looks as satisfied as a dog with a bone.
“Why?” Is all I can ask, and I’m not sure if I’m asking why Marcus Jameson did what he did or why Kit finds it so magical.
He raises his eyebrows at me.
“Passion,” he says, “hatred, misery, love…who knows? Marcus Jameson was a butcher of women. I don’t think he bothered trying to justify it.”
“And the meat?”
Kit smiled faintly. “Maybe it went to his own table, maybe it went to the plant and was thrown in with all the dead cow and pig. Eat any Jameson meat lately?”
Of course I have. Everyone in Springfield with an omnivorous palate has eaten Jameson meat. School cafeterias served Jameson meat, the parents of the missing girls probably ate Jameson meat when they could muster any sort of appetite.
I suddenly feel all the horror and pain throbbing in these walls, feel it crowd in upon me like a constricting organ. All the echoed screams of girls and women, caught and confused, in denial of their fate, thinking it can’t happen to them, that their narratives can’t end as pointlessly as a stock animal's…I hear them, smell their blood as it leaves their arteries, feel the rhythmic drumming of viscous fluid on steel instruments, and their fear curdles the spit in my mouth. This place is haunted. Perhaps not by ghosts, but by some remains of the prematurely dead.
“Let’s get out of here,” I say.
Kit scoffs, looking at me as if I had just suggested the ridiculous.
“I’m not leaving yet. We can’t leave.”
“I’ll grab the computer and we can go,” I counter, “there’s nothing else to see here.”
“And what about her?” Kit points to Melissa, who still clutches her head in the corner.
“What about her? Leave her. She’ll either get out or someone will find her after the funeral.”
Kit shakes his head, a faint smile on his lips. “Can’t do that. You know we can’t do that. There are two dead men upstairs, and both of us have fingerprints all over this property. She’s the only one left who can give our names.”
“So what, Kit, you’re going to kill her too?”
He shrugs. “What do you think she had planned for us? She wasn’t going to let me go to grad school. You know that. You weren’t going to get to move out on your own. We weren’t leaving this place, not on her agenda. You’re lucky I did what I did.”
“Kit,” Melissa moans feebly.
“Hush,” Kit says to her, “don’t interrupt.”
“Let’s just get out of here, dust the place down or whatever so we don’t leave any fingerprints and leave her to the cops.”
“I have a more practical solution.” Kit lifts the leather apron from the tabletop and puts the collar about his neck.
“Are you going to stop me?” He hefts his cleaver and light catches on the spots of dried blood like oil in a grease trap. My face must betray the fear and reluctance I feel, for a moment later he smiles and sets it down again. “I thought not,” he begins tying the apron string, “so how about you bring Mel over here?”
“Please,” Melissa sobs from the corner. She must be conscious enough to know her fate is being decided.
I take a step back, towards the stairs.
Kit sighs, pulling on the chain gloves. “I don’t suppose I can ask you to bring the other two bodies down either, can I? Just going to let Kit clean up the whole mess. Well, get on then. Go home.”
That pulsing feeling, from the bad memories in the room and the blood in the air, is getting worse. It comes not just from the walls and instruments now, but from Kit.
“You’re not going to want to watch what happens next,” he grins. He has small white teeth like polished pearls.
I spare a glance down at Melissa, though I don’t want to take my eyes off Kit.
There’s desperation on her face and in her trembling hands. She looks at me, all animosity replaced with fear.
“Please,” she says.
I turn and run.
I run up the stone steps of the Jameson murder cave, through the wine cellar and up its twisting steel stairs. I run through the mansion’s hallways under the dead eyes of the departed Jameson men. I run through the great hall and across the red carpet that bisects it. I run to the giant double doors that previously denied me escape and somehow, perhaps by Kit’s will, they allow me passage.
As I tear across the Jameson grounds, through the dead leaves and the fallen branches and decomposing fauna, I imagine I can feel the knife in Kit’s hand, and its blade on Melissa’s throat. I can hear her screams cut off, turn into a gargled death rattle, and see her eyes roll back in her head. I feel Kit’s breath, labored with excitement.
Still I run.
I have to try to get my things out of our apartment before he comes home.
John Purfield is a graduate student at the University of Colorado at Denver. One of his horror stories is pending publication with Pseudopod, and his work has earned honorable mention in Glimmer Train's fiction competition. He is a US Army veteran and aspires to further work in the horror genre.
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