“Wait, where?” That couldn’t be right. Zeb double-checked the address on the display.
POSSIBLE TRIPLE HOMICIDE: 512 Maple Avenue, White Pine, NC
“Well, shit. Here we go,” he thought. “On my way,” he said, as the radio sent his voice careening through space.
It wasn’t a long or hard drive. In fact, Kevin knew exactly where he was going. White Pine was his old hometown. It’s not the type of place to get much attention from homicide—not that they didn’t have their share of domestic quarrels that ended with some woman or man blowing their spouse’s head off. He had seen plenty of that, but that happens everywhere. Put a couple people in a house, depress them economically, give them booze and guns, and you’ve got a recipe for any measure of violence.
He thought over some of his cases as he drove. Second to last time he was called out here, it was for a knifing. Joel Osborne’s boy. Zeb remembers walking into a kitchen that looked like a scene from the Saw movies. He hated those movies. Joel was a drunk. His son was a bastard. Everyone in town lowered their voices when they talked about him. They didn’t ignore him; gossip was too much fun for that, but they had to signal that the usual Southern sensibilities would be offended by the actions of their subject.
Teenaged Mitt caused trouble for everyone at the local high school. Joel would be called in to pick up his son, and the teachers would purse their lips and look the other way while the father mentally and verbally beat his son on their way to the truck. Mitt was accepted into the Marines straight out of high school, but he was back in town just months later. Dishonorable discharge. Joel couldn’t take it. The gossip continued in its hushed tones, and Mitt worked various construction jobs as a laborer and lived in a trailer near his father’s house.
The report said that he died from massive blood loss and pulmonary laceration. Zeb didn’t have the read the report to know that. Mitt had brought home a girl from an out-of-town bar. They were both drunk, but apparently, she wasn’t as far gone as he thought. He attacked her in the bedroom, but she managed to break free. The phone was hanging from its cord when the police and EMS arrived. Zeb remembered thinking that it fit the area to have a corded phone on the wall. She had the time to dial 911 and grab a knife from the counter before he made it into the kitchen. He was very drunk, and she had some training in some form of martial arts, Zeb couldn’t remember which.
She had bruises all over her body, and the EMS people said that she was coated in his blood. She was in shock. She answered his questions in single syllables. The last he heard, she had gone back to her family out-of-state. Hopefully she got some help.
That all happened on a Friday. He expected the call on Sunday. In fact, he had warned his superiors about it. Joel didn’t show up at church that morning. Joel was a regular. He hadn’t missed a Sunday in 45 years. He arrived ten minutes early and always sat on the inside end of the pew in the back row of the balcony at the local Baptist church. He placed a twenty in the offering plate every morning, and he always asked the preacher to pray for his boy.
Zeb made the drive back out to White Pine. Joel was in his barn. There was a note in the dining room, apologizing for the mess. The buckshot had made a mess.
When Zeb asked why no one had gone to see Joel on Saturday, the local police chief said that some officers planned to check on Joel at the church service. Zeb knew they had waited on purpose. The chief didn’t like Joel’s type. He knew he wouldn’t be coming to church that day. Zeb had sighed and thanked the chief for his time. He knew there was no changing those politics. He’d have better luck trying to put Joel’s face back together.
That was the last time he had been out to White Pine for work. This time was different, though. Maple Avenue was in the “nice” part of town. “The big house street,” as he remembered calling it when he was a kid. This was usually burglary territory. Someone egged a car. Every now and then domestic violence. Joel couldn’t remember the last time they had a reported homicide here. Every now and then some old lady or man would die in their house, but that’s just life—he chuckled—the last part of it, anyway.
The house was massive, by small town standards. Most of the houses in town were mill houses or brick ranch homes. This would’ve been the mill owner’s home. He grimaced as he pulled up to the checkpoint. They had closed down the entire street for this one. A couple reporters spotted the government plates and tried to flag him down. He ignored them. A local officer moved the barricade so Zeb could drive through. Zeb recognized him: Matthew Haynes. Nice kid. He was several years younger than Zeb. He grew up in White Pine and signed on to their police force after going through the County’s community college law enforcement program. His face was grim. Zeb guessed that he hadn’t had to deal with anything worse than the local bar getting a little out of hand.
“Hey Zeb. The chief’s somewhere inside. He’ll be glad to see you.”
The chief may have been glad to see him, but that’s all relative. A starving person is glad to find a piece of bread, but that doesn’t change the fact that he’s starving. Zeb saw the severity of the situation on the chief’s face.
“No. Nothing’s missing.”
“Maybe they got scared when they saw the family. Panicked. Killed them. It happens all the time.”
“Does the killer usually paint a mural on the wall afterwards?”
Zeb felt the disgust welling up in his throat when he turned the corner into the living room. A man and a woman were seated in chairs in the living room, both facing the wall where a TV had been. They were dead. The man’s eyes were propped open with toothpicks; a bloody smile was painted onto his face. The woman’s head had been meticulously wrapped in masking tape, and something resembling a surprised face had been painted over the top. The TV was leaned against the wall. The public tv station was playing. The wall, which had been white, had a mural on it. Zeb stared for a moment. The mural was a picture of the room. The paint came from the body on the TV stand. The monochromatic mural showed the room as it had been altered. The bodies sat in their chairs, staring back in a sort of meta-observation. The painted TV leaned against the painted wall, and the morbid palette was half-mirrored in the base of the image. It was the center of the image that caught Zeb’s attention, made his heart sink. In the middle of the portrait was an image of the police chief, looking down at his feet, and another man. Wearing the same clothes as Zeb. Staring directly back at him.
The house was old–ancient by some folks’ reckoning. The flagstone pathway ran in a somewhat straight fashion towards the entrance, and a few carefree wrens flitted around in the foliage. The grounds were in that state of disrepair that, while still showing the original care and love of minutia, clearly advertised the present state of dismal affairs. The property was not obviously abandoned, but a casual observer might have made that pronouncement, had he been asked. A few apple trees stood in one corner of the lawn, drooping with the weight of the load that came so predictably every year. The ground underneath was strewn with half-rotted fruit, and bees, birds, and other wild beasts from the smaller variant of the animal kingdom enjoyed the feast. Various foliar plants overgrew their bounds, and the grass rose in patches throughout the lawn. Helix Hedera had claimed half of the brick facade, and while at one time controlled, it now seemed to enjoy free reign of the mortar and whatever handy crevice might fall under its grasp.
I say that the house might have been deemed abandoned; indeed, even the old iron gate out front seemed to have given leave of its duties and swung freely, unlatched, all the while moaning out some ancient song of dismal gloom. A total abandonment, however, was not the case, as you have probably already guessed. If you were to stand at the road, and carefully watch between the bars of the old fashioned windows with their wavy, opaque glass, you might think that, every so often, a fleeting glimpse of a stray ray of light could be caught, and in rare cases, when the wind howled and the lightning flashed, you might even get the notion that a face had appeared at one of the windows. Soon, after a time or ten, you might start to believe that the old house still served its purpose, and further, if the fancy took you to discuss this in the pub at night, under the influence of some spirit and in the presence of friends, you might decide that you should affirm your theories. Thus, I decided to brave the moaning iron gate and traverse the old flagstones.
The day was chillier than I had anticipated. The wind didn’t exactly whip through the shrubs, but I wouldn’t degrade Euros’ work to a mere breeze. I marched somewhat bravely to the front door. The door knocker was a great cat’s head. Its eyes looked into mine, and I found this the most unnerving thing since I had stepped foot onto the property. At that moment, a wren flitted by and sang on the ivy to my right. I took this as a good omen, and the knocker echoed into the dark hall beyond. The door knob turned, and clenching my teeth with what I hoped was an expression of goodwill, I prepared to meet my host.
A conflict of emotions welled up within me as the door swung open. Foremost in their ranks was surprise, for standing before me, clad in a cream colored silk dress with edges of black and wearing a bright red cloche hat, was one of the most beautiful women I had ever seen. She wore her black hair fairly short, and her face wore an expression of mild amusement. Fright and confusion closely followed my surprise; I had not expected such a young host, and I certainly was not prepared for one this stunning. My visage must have betrayed me, for she smiled and laughed out, “why, you look as if you’ve seen a ghost!”
I stammered a bit before finding my manners. “Well, yes. I su-suppose I might! My apologies, miss!”
“Do come in; we so very rarely receive guests here. Jane, fix our visitor a cup of tea!”
With that, I quickly removed my shoes and was swept into the hall by the mere force of her personality. “Come with me, our sitting room is the second door on the right.”
The interior of the house could have possessed no greater a degree of a disparate mood to that of the exterior. On the walls hung paintings of men and women, not recognized by myself, but no doubt great in some form or place. The ceilings were made of a polished black wood of some sort, Ebony, if I were to hazard a guess. They reflected the light from the surprisingly bright gas fixtures that lined the halls. The walls were a mahogany paneling, inset with rings and various geometric shapes of cedar, cherry, and other fine woods. The paintings were not hung with any particular reference or pattern, but to say that they were imprecise would be a farce, for each hung as though it could hang in no other spot. The floor was unlike anything I had ever seen before. Someone had taken small pieces of wood, about one to two cubic centimeters in volume–some square, some not, some with no defined shape–and strewn them throughout the entire expanse of the hall so that they sat with corners upended and sides facing every which way. Lacquer had then been poured over all to create a smooth surface. Every so often a shiny trinket or coin had been trapped beneath the sea of clear coat, and the sheen mirrored itself in my hostess’s eyes. She beckoned me into the sitting room, and I took my seat in a plush chair beneath a great painting of some old hunting party.
My wonderment at the house was soon drowned. A chill had swept over my heart, and the reason stood in the second door of the room. An old hag, no doubt the Jane whom my host had summoned, stood with a tray of teapot and cups. If my host was beautiful beyond word, then this woman, if I may call her that, was frightening beyond thought. Her smile cracked the lines of her face as she looked towards my seat, but this expression showed no more pleasure or amiability than the rudest gesture of the most crass of my friends. Her hair sat as if it resented its position on top of such a vile mass, and her clothes, while kempt and undoubtedly expensive, hung on her frame as though they were ashamed of their duty. “Tea?” she said with a look, and though I made no verbal response, I took some with cream and sugar, but still, it was strangely bitter. Again, that horrid smile appeared as she turned away, and I swear that I saw a faint reflection of the same on my host’s face as she too took a cup from the tray.
The beautiful face turned to me and she began to speak, but soon, the room faded, and the red cloche bobbed back and forth as the melodic voice of my host melded into the background, aided, no doubt, by the drug in the cup.
I awoke in a new room. The ceiling was of the same design as the hall, but the floor here was carpeted with a fine, tall carpet that felt like grass beneath my feet. The walls here were barren, except for one painting. The outline of a man stood in depthless space, surrounding by nothing but gray brushstrokes. Almost every detail of the man was complete. His clothes possessed a realism that made me question his status as a painting, but there was one feature which stood out prominently as missing. His face contained no features. As though someone had blurred the head with a skin-tone paint, he stood with no eyes, mouth, nose, or facial hair. Beside him stood a woman. I blinked again, for I hadn’t seen her before in the painting. Her face was too, in the same manner as the man’s, blurred into oblivion. A red cloche sat upon her head, atop her short black hair.
A faint recognition dawned somewhere in the back of my head. I watched as the figures moved and conversed, while the gray made no changes. Slowly, swirling like ripples in water, the painting melded away to nothing, and once more, I fell asleep.
I lifted my head. The rest of my body felt as though it were restrained by some omnipotent force. My vision was foggy, and harsh lighting beat down from above. The voices around me were garbled, and I couldn’t make out my company, but I thought I imagined a blur of red and a menacing smile. I fell asleep.
“We found him last night. He seems to have passed in his sleep. We let him wander when he wanted; he didn’t pose a fall threat or seem to bother anyone else. We think he just came in here, sat down, and just never woke up.”
The man in the white jacket and well-organized attire spoke somberly. The elderly woman with the tear-stained face watched as a gurney was wheeled out towards the door. She didn’t say anything in reply, and her eyes wandered through the common room, pausing on a painting on the opposite wall. The Victorian house was attractive and somehow familiar. A flagstone path lead up to the door, and she moved closer to look into a window, for she was certain that a face had appeared, a familiar face, wearing something she recognized.
She decided that her eyes had deceived her, and walked out through the doors, which were adorned with paper hearts and cut flowers. She passed the desk and the calendar with February 14 circled in red felt pen. She walked down the stairs of the asylum, and as she did, she paused and pulled a hat from her purse, an old red hat that had seen many years and better days. She looked up into the sky and smiled, a smile that cracked the lines on her face. When she got home, she poured herself a cup of tea, a bitter-tasting tea. She fell asleep, and the red cloche fell to the floor.
I don’t often write short stories, but I enjoy them. I started writing a short story for Valentine’s Day four years ago, and I missed last year, so this makes story number three. Enjoy it? Have a great Valentine’s!
This is a continuation of Food Theory — Part 2.
Over the centuries, many different sub-concepts and theories have evolved from the human knowledge of food. Some of the strangest and most interesting were developed by a
wacko psychologist named Sigmund Freud. It’s not what you think.
Freud was obsessed with one particular aspect of human nature: hunger. Freud proposed that every action taken, both intentional and subconscious, is fueled in some way by hunger. Through his methods of tropsyanalysis don’t bother looking it up, just try to remember your Greek and free association, Freud was able to draw many interesting conclusions about the nature of the appetite. Freud found that many people were hungry as children; they grew up wanting food, yet they were denied it by their parents. Freud expanded his repression theory to include multiple factors. He proposed that people who dislike certain foods do so because they were overfed those foods as a child. Traumatic experiences with badly cooked food were also blamed for aversions to certain foods. Remember that time you were attacked by that huge killer donut? No, Freud didn’t think you would…
Through his method of free association, Freud was able to discover what he thought were the underlying problems with many people’s appetites. Patients would be given a variety of foods and asked to report their associations with each. Tastes like chicken…
One of Freud’s most controversial theories is the Edibles Complex. Freud stated that all children wish to eat their parents’ food. Babies are given baby food, but they desire to take their parents’ and eat anything that is edible. Using this theory, Freud justified many cases of theft, covetousness, and even murder. Anything, in Freud’s eyes, could be justified if the perpetrator was hungry enough. Even Grand Larceny of Pop tarts. That’s a pretty big deal.
Freud states that all people are born liking everything, yet they develop appetites and dislikes for certain foods due to their surroundings and upbringing. This is why most people from the North dislike sweet tea. They have been raised to abhor that Southern delicacy which all truly awesome people like.
Thankfully Unfortunately, Sigmund had a propensity for cigars. He was warned that smoking them would endanger his health, but he ignored the advice and continued smoking–citing his theory that his hunger for cigars was naturally unavoidable. Eventually, he developed cancer and persuaded his doctor help him commit suicide. After administering lethal amounts of pancakes, Freud’s doctor declared him dead. This is why I have never written on pancakes. I try to steer clear of potentially controversial topics.