The garden is filled with a sour scent of decay; flowers dead owed to disregard. He is in my every thought as I sit alone with the cold night air caressing me. My heart races while my mind is flooded with a perilous notion of the terror he brings to all who come near him. The dread he causes reveals his sinister nature. When the wind disturbs the trees they begin to rattle and I feel him approaching. A black crow’s cry overhead frightens a nocturnal rat and it runs to its hole.
He crawls towards me; my body quivers and my blood stirs. In stillness I wait for him to come nearer. He lays himself on my stomach as we join in rapturous ardor. I place myself around him and he unleashes a depraved yearning within me, an unknown freedom. A gleam of happiness emerges in his eyes revealing his ecstatic pleasure. His every limb moves with fervor for hours. He rests his weary head on my leg as he tires.
While dawn approaches his weak limbs collapse by my side. My restive head pulsates. My mind is dispersed, fraught and disturbed. My limbs frenetically shift up and down as my being is unsettled and pleads for alleviation. I breathe deeply while in a treacherous form. Filled with an insatiable ache, darkness defeats me. I yield to madness. I am no longer my own.
As he serenely lies drifting to sleep, I pierce his stomach. His limbs jolt and thrash as he frantically struggles to escape. I pierce him deeper. His eyes widen while he fearfully looks at me one last time. His sacrifice is immense. With a final tremor he dies. I begin to eat him. After a time, what remains of him hangs on my silk black-widow’s web.
The house sighed; it breathed in the damp London air, feeling the aches of its age and the ever-present river mist settling into its wooden joints. Expressing its displeasure, it creaked and groaned, but the residents had grown used to the house and ignored the noises, accepting them as part of the cacophony of the city they lived in.
The house, unimaginatively called the Adler Street Boarding House, was owned and operated by Mrs. Mabel Toms, who had suffered the misfortune of marrying beneath her, and to a man whose love of gin left her widowed.
The house cared not for time and its passing, nor for the events beyond its walls, or the fabrications Mrs. Toms told to get a few extra pence out of someone. Even the residents and their daily lives lulled the house into a half-sleeping state, their shared tales of misfortune and bad luck seeping into the very structure.
But the arrival of a new lodger woke the house, along with those already living within.
“Mr. Smith, I’m Mrs. Toms, the owner. I run a clean and comfortable establishment. Lodgers are admitted by the week, payment is per week in advance.”
“I need a place for a few months.” The newcomer glanced around the parlour without moving his head, eyes flitting from one side to the other.
“And what business are you involved in?”
Mr. Smith frowned. “I’m… I’m doing research.”
Mrs. Toms leaned in, nearly spilling the weak tea she’d had the maid prepare. “Ah, a man of science, how interesting.”
“Actually, it’s more the study of… buildings. Yes, I’m researching London’s buildings.” He shifted in his chair, emphasizing the point with a nod.
“Oh. Well, that’s important too I suppose.” She waved toward the stairs. “Would you like a tour of the house?”
“No, it’s not necessary, I’d like to get settled as soon as possible.”
While the landlady discussed the contract with Mr. Smith, the other tenants waited to be introduced. Violet and Faye, done with their clients for the night, left their rooms to peep into the parlour, sizing up the worth of the newcomer. The house appraised the individual. The tall thin frame, the dark hair and moustache done in the current fashion. The clothes were well-maintained but worn; the fabric shiny in places where repeated ironing had left its mark, and the cuffs of the once-fashionable shirt frayed.
Mrs. Toms walked Mr. Smith over to a copy of the rules displayed prominently on the parlour wall. The house knew them by heart: they were posted in every room.
“No gentlemen callers in the rooms. Callers are to be entertained in the parlour only.” The house shook with amusement that Mrs. Toms could read this rule with a straight face. The tremors were blamed on the wind.
“No noise after 8pm.
“No animals or children.
“Laundry is to be left outside the door by 8am.
“The front door is opened at 6am, locked at 10pm.
“No spirituous liquors to be brought into the House or drunk there.”
Once again the house expressed delight at this oft-broken rule, and the fact that the word ‘house’ was capitalised.
“Habits of cleanliness are expected. Any person guilty of filthy or dirty practices or rendering himself offensive to the other lodgers will not be permitted to remain in the House”
“I’m particularly strict with the last rule, Mr. Smith. You’ll find I cannot abide foul smells.” Again the house shook, for East London was nothing but a gathering ground for every noxious odour imaginable. She turned to face the newcomer. “Welcome to my establishment.”
The man’s lips moved, a lopsided grimace confused as to whether it was expressing happiness or regret. Or something else. The house shuddered again and this time there was no wind to blame the groaning on.
The house was woken early one morning by the hammering of a harried hand upon the locked front door. An angry Mrs. Toms, dressed in a tattered bathrobe and making noises much like those of the house itself, pulled a key from the set she carried and opened the door. Mr. Smith rushed in as the parlour clock struck the fifth hour of the morning, slamming the door closed behind him. The cool air of late summer swept in with him.
“Mr. Smith, do you know the time?”
The man’s eyes darted around but did not meet Mrs. Toms’. He wrapped his overcoat, unnecessary for this time of year, around himself. “I’m sorry.”
“I don’t hold with this type of behaviour, Mr. Smith. You know the rules, the door opens at six.”
“I’m sorry, it won’t happen again. I…” he swallowed and looked around once more before continuing, “I got caught up in some research and lost track of time.” With that he rushed up the stairs to his room. Mrs. Toms, in her state of half-sleep and still suffering the effects of a gift of a bottle of gin from a local admiring constable, didn’t think to wonder how a person such as Smith, said to be studying historic buildings, could do so in the dark.
Mr. Smith entered his room, still clutching his overcoat around his body, and locked the door. Pacing the room a few times he finally breathed, the exhale sounding both desperate and relieved. When he finally relinquished his hold on the coat, the house saw that he carried something beneath, something red. Placing it reverently on the chair, one of six identical ones that stood in each bedroom, he ran his finger along the object slowly before turning away and undressing. There was blood splattered on his frayed shirtsleeves and collar, and the house knew there was blood hidden in the folds of the dark suit jacket he dropped to the floor. Naked, he went to the porcelain basin and washed in the cold water. The house watched the water turn pink then red with the remnants of Mr. Smith’s evening activities. When the lodger donned his nightshirt, kissed the piece of flesh and climbed into bed with a peaceful look on his face, the house was quiet.
“I’ve come to ask if you heard or saw anything suspicious last night.” Constable Maxwell was in the dining room with Mrs. Toms. Mr. Smith stopped himself from entering, instead remaining within listening distance hidden in the hall.
“No, no, I don’t think so.” Mrs. Toms shook her head then winced.
“No screams? Any unusual activity outside?”
Mrs. Toms again shook her head, the motion turning her pale.
“Are you well?” Constable Maxwell’s concerned eyes stared at the landlady.
Waving him off, Mrs. Toms attempted a smile. “I’m fine, Maxwell, really.” She leaned in close. “I admit I couldn’t sleep last night but found your bottle worked a treat.”
Maxwell smiled. “I’m glad, Mrs.” His face flushed red and he cleared his voice. “But back to business, you understand I must ask these questions. Something horrible has happened you see, not far from here.”
Mrs. Toms knew the value of good gossip; the more graphic the details the better. “Cup of tea?”
Mr. Smith still stood outside of the doorway, listening, his face grey with fear.
“Do tell me what happened, Constable.” She winked at him.
“Well, if you promise not to repeat any of what I’m about to say.” At her nod, he continued. “A body was found early this morning, a young woman,” he paused, lines of anxiety on his forehead, “one of those types that’s friendly with the gentlemen, if you catch my meaning.” He waited for confirmation from Mrs. Toms before continuing. “Now, I must warn you, the details are not for a lady’s ears.”
“Maxwell, we’ve known each other a long time. Have I ever struck you as the faint-hearted type?”
The policeman snorted then grew serious. “No ma’am, I didn’t mean to suggest anything.” At her acknowledgement he continued. “The woman’s throat was cut.” He drew his finger across his own to illustrate. “And her stomach, well, that was cut too.” He motioned above his stomach.
The landlady covered her mouth with her hand in horror.
“Are you all right for me to continue?” His eyes were wide with worry.
“Good God, there’s more?”
Maxwell nodded. “I heard the coroner say that part of her,” he swallowed and took a gulp of tea, “her stomach, part of it was missing.”
At this a small shiver of pleasure shook Mr. Smith and he whimpered so quietly that only the house heard.
A noise outside interrupted them. “I must be going, Mrs. Toms. I’m sorry, but I have to ask once more, you heard nothing last night?”
Mrs. Toms started to shake her head, then stopped and frowned. “Well, there was…”
Mr. Smith’s stomach, which only moments before had felt the most exquisite joy, now cramped so hard he doubled over.
“No, never mind. It’s nothing.” She rose and saw Constable Maxwell to the door, not noticing his puzzled expression, the soft sound of footsteps outside of the parlour door nor the sudden groan of the sighing boarding house.
August turned to September and the season turned overnight, as it often does in London.
“They’ve not got any leads yet, it’s terrible, just terrible.” Mr. Harris Lawford, a rat catcher at Billingsgate market, and Mr. William Gridley, labourer and aspiring writer, were having breakfast in the parlour when Mr. Smith walked in.
“Smith, come and join us. The buns are still warm.” He pointed to a chair.
Mr. Smith reluctantly joined them. “How’ve you been getting on? Few weeks with us now?”
“Yes, yes, I’ve everything I need.”
“We were just talking about this business of the young girl’s murder.” Mr. Gridley shook his head but there was a gleam in his eye. “It’s the stuff of madness, truly. A tale too terrible to tell.” He smiled at his own line.
“Don’t let him fool you, he’s a ghoul, always looking for grisly things to write about.” Mr. Lawford finished his tea, dregs and all. Wiping his mouth he stood. “I must be away, the rats won’t catch themselves.” With a slight bow he grabbed his hat and left.
“I must be off too, nearly late.” Mr. Gridley. He paused to look at Smith. “You have an interesting face. As I writer I notice these things, it’s my job to notice, you know? To really observe everything around me. You must let me make you a character in a story.”
Mr. Smith nodded at the compliment and watched Gridley turn and open the door. He shivered as a gust of autumn wind blew in, but the house knew it was more than the cool air that had caused the reaction.
“Is that you Mr. Smith? My, you’re getting in very early!” ‘Early’ sounded like ‘orly’ to Mr. Smith’s unexceptional ears. Orna was in the parlour, lighting the fire. The clock had just struck the hour and the light was already filtering into the windows. Orna was the young woman employed by Mrs. Toms to help clean and cook. Mr. Gridley often remarked on her Irish accent and her slim but sturdy Norse features, promising to make her a character in one of his stories.
Mr. Smith started. “Orna, what are you doing here?” Once again he wrapped his overcoat around his body. “I didn’t think you worked on Saturdays.”
“Oh I don’t normally, no, but Mrs. Toms asked me to do a final clean before the winter sets in.” She shrugged. “I can use the money.” Orna frowned. “You found a shop open so early?”
Mr. Smith looked down at the roughly-wrapped bundle in his hand. “Ah, yes, I did. Wait, no, it’s a gift from an, um, friend. Some, uh, drawing materials.” He bowed at Orna and swept by her and up the stairs.
The maid shrugged again and returned to her task of dusting, humming an old Irish tune as she did so.
Upstairs Mr. Smith went into his room and closed the door quickly, his breath coming in desperate pants. The house shifted a fraction and the door opened again, creaking gently on unoiled hinges. Mr. Smith looked, his eyes wide, until the door hung fully open. When no one entered he closed it again, this time pulling the bolt across.
He placed the bundle on his bedside table and undressed. As with before, his clothes were stained and he followed the same procedure: wash himself, wash his clothes. But this time he remained naked. The house watched, disturbed but fascinated. It had seen many things in its time, including the nocturnal activities of Violet and Faye, who both worked as charwomen but who occasionally supplemented their income by inviting gentlemen into their rooms (Mrs. Toms turned a blind eye to this behaviour; rent was king in Whitechapel). But it had seen nothing like this.
Mr. Smith walked over to the bedside table, placing his feet just so on the worn carpet. He reached down and opened the bundle, revealing a piece of bloody flesh, and lifted it with both hands, raising it to his face. With a look of ecstasy he smeared the organ on his face, then continued caressing his chest and stomach, finally reaching his genitals. He groaned as he rubbed the pulpy object the length of his engorged member, his hand moving faster and bits of flesh falling to the floor. With a great sigh he finished, his head held back, eyes closed. After a moment he straightened and looked around, noticing the blood and tissue on the ground at his feet. Remaining naked, Mr. Smith spent the next half-hour cleaning both himself and the room before re-wrapping the organ and placing it in a sealed jar under his bed.
The house was still that night, suffering the early autumn storm in silence.
Constable Maxwell was back the next day. “Same as last time, Mrs. Toms, investigating.”
She waved him in, ignoring the unknown policeman waiting outside. Shutting the door on the man, she pointed to a chair. “Not another murder?”
“Aye, and a nasty piece of business it was. Poor lass had her throat and stomach cut.”
Mrs. Toms’ eyes widened. “How horrible.” She pointed to a cabinet nearby. “Drink?”
The constable shook his head. “Not while I’m on duty, and especially not with him,” he nodded his head toward the door, “around, watching. He’s been brought in from the City, apparently folks don’t think we’re doing enough on our own.”
“Well, I’ve nothing more to report than last time.”
“Another young woman was there, says she saw a man in the area hurrying away. Says he was,” Maxwell checked his notes, “shabby genteel. Know anyone of that description?”
A snort escaped Mrs. Toms’ lips. “Everyone in this neighbourhood. All fallen on hard times, all still in possession of some remnant of their past.” She shook her head. “No, that could be anyone.”
The constable sighed and nodded. “I thought so myself, but had to ask.” Another nod toward the door. “I must go, other houses to visit.”
He rose and allowed himself to be shown out. Mrs. Toms poured herself a glass of gin and sank into a chair in the parlour. A second glass followed and soon the landlady’s snores could be heard. Only the house knew that the in the kitchen, Mr. Smith had been listening.
The house shifted as Mr. Smith hurried up the stairs, causing him to stumble. He recovered and raced to his room, bolting the door behind him. Scurrying nearly along the floor, he reached beneath the bed and brought out a jar, the same one containing the object that had provided such ecstasy only a day ago. The look on Mr. Smith’s face suggested it was now an object of fear.
Grasping the jar, Smith opened his door slowly, peering out and listening. The other residents were out and the maid was running errands. All that could be heard were the landlady’s gin-infused snores and the house’s groaning. He winced at one particular wooden crack, worried the noise would wake Mrs. Toms, and made his way to Mr. Gridley’s room. Finding the door unlocked, he slipped into the room. Few of the sun’s rays managed to squeeze through the grime on the window and Mr. Smith waited until his eyes adjusted to the gloom, listening for approaching footsteps. Falling to his knees he pushed aside the bedside cabinet and pried up a board from the spot. The house grew angry at the violation and Mr. Smith turned toward the door at the great groan that came from the staircase. He froze as the landlady snorted, muttered something inaudible and returned to her sleeping state. He remained that way for a number of minutes, praying that the house would remain silent, and then continued his work. The board finally came loose and with a final longing gaze at the jar, he placed it beneath the floor next to another of similar shape and size, and whose contents were just as disturbing.
Three weeks went by with no further news or event. The house breathed a sigh of relief, for surely it was over; whatever reason Smith had for these mutilations, he must have found his resolution. But the house was to be disappointed.
Mr. Smith was bloodier than previously; washing over and again only produced pink water and grey fabric. The house knew blood never fully washed out; it had been witness to a number of harsh attacks on Faye and Violet. But this seemed not to bother Smith as he completed his own ablutions and performed his perverted, shabby ritual once more, this time with two organs. When he had finished, both organs were forced into another jar; where once they had their own space in a living body, now they enfolded each other as if in sympathy.
“I’m off, we should get a drink later Smith.” Mr. Gridley smiled at Mr. Smith.
“Um, sure.” Mr. Smith took a sip of coffee. “Oh, Mr. Gridley, before you go, may I borrow some ink from you, I’ve run out and must, um, note something down before I forget it.”
Mr. Gridley turned, frowning. “Of course, maybe I could get it for you later, I’m late this morning.” He faced the door again.
“It really is important…”
The labourer and part-time writer stopped. “Well, I could let you get it yourself, if you need it.” He thought for a moment. “Why not. It’s next to the basin, close the door after you.” With that he swept out.
As the floorboards opened, revealing the contents of the space beneath, the house watched as Mr. Smith groaned and rubbed his crotch. Refocusing, he placed the third jar with the others and carefully fitted the boards back in position.
Without a greeting three policemen marched into the house. One was Maxwell, who looked embarrassed by the behaviour of his colleagues.
“We’re here to interview everyone in the house. Please get them together.”
It was just after dinner and everyone was in the parlour, having a drink. “What’s all this about?” Mrs. Toms stood abruptly. “Who are you? What do you want?”
Constable Maxwell stepped forward. “There’s been another murder, Mrs. Toms, in fact two. We’re going house-to-house, the maid let us in.”
Only slightly mollified by the explanation, Mrs. Toms was still angry. “I run a respectable place here, I’ll have you know. Surely you don’t think I’d allow a murderer to stay under my roof?”
Maxwell stepped forward again but was stopped by the arm of his colleague barring his way. “Madam, I’m sure your establishment is well-run,” he looked around the room, sneering at the worn furniture and motes of dust in the air, “but I must insist you permit us to do our job.”
The house shivered, causing a shutter to rattle. The residents, including Mr. Smith, were all gathered, their faces turned toward the police.
“You’re not needed for this, Maxwell. Take the landlady into the kitchen. Details may be revealed she won’t want to hear.” He nodded at Mrs. Toms.
“They think I’m an idiot, some junior who doesn’t know what’s what. Bloody City police thugs.” Constable Maxwell accepted the offer of gin this time and gulped it down. “Details may be revealed, just who does he think he is?”
“Hush, they’ll hear you.” She refilled Maxwell’s glass. “Now tell me what’s happened?”
Maxwell looked down and shook his head. “More death, Mrs. Toms. Another two women.” The landlady nodded at him to continue. “Shocking, it was. Saw the bodies myself this time. The first was found early this morning, had her throat cut. The second only an hour later, this one was worse.”
A throat clearing made them both jump.
“Aren’t you supposed to be in there, Mr. Smith?” The landlady pointed toward the parlour.
“I’m sorry to bother you, the policeman said I could come in here for some matches.”
Mrs. Toms rose quickly and grabbed a box from the stove. “Here, here, take them.” She shook the box at Smith.
“Were you discussing the murders?”
“That’s none of your business. Now away with you.” The landlady waved him off while behind her Constable Maxwell nodded. Mrs. Toms followed her tenant, ensuring he was firmly ensconced in a large armchair before returning to the kitchen.
“Where were we?” She offered Maxwell another drink but he declined.
“No, thanks, I’m still on duty and I’ve a long night ahead.” At the landlady’s nod he continued. “The second victim, young woman, throat opened, stomach torn, face mutila…”
“Please, that’s enough. I’ve changed my mind, I don’t wish to hear anymore.” She held up her hand.
The constable nodded, eyebrows raised. Even Mrs. Toms had limits to the information she could use. “I apologise, shouldn’t be sharing details like that.”
“I’m fine, really.” Mrs. Toms’ face said differently.
A raised voice in the parlour interrupted them.
“It IS my real name.”
“Sir, no need to get angry, we’re just doing our job.” He scribbled something in a notebook, the same size and shape as the one Maxwell used. “Where are you from?”
Beads of sweat formed on his forehead. “Kent.”
“You’re a long way from home, what’s your purpose in London?”
“I’m here researching buildings of interest.”
Mr. Smith frowned. “Why? Why what? Am I researching? Because I hope to one day become an architect.” He spoke quickly, his voiced hitching.
The house shook. It had heard Mr. Smith practising those very lines late at night in his room when everyone else was asleep.
The two City policemen whispered to each other as the tenants, Mrs. Toms and Constable Maxwell looked on. Finally one nodded and turned to Mr. Smith.
“Tell us where you were last Sunday evening.”
Looking around the room but finding no sympathy, he replied. “I went to The Pavillion.”
The room erupted in hypocritical gasps; the venue, known for its bawdy entertainment, had been patronised by them all, including Mrs. Toms.
The policeman addressed the room. “Please.” He turned back to Smith. “And who were you with?”
The room leaned forward to hear his reply, so soft was his voice. “A young lady.”
The house groaned again but the noise was ignored by Mrs. Toms, who decided at that moment that she’d had enough. “Stop harassing my tenants.” She stomped over and stood before Mr. Smith, waving an arm at him. “Obviously this man has done nothing wrong, and who he keeps company with is none of your business.” The tenants were used to their landlady’s voice but the men’s faces told another story. “Leave. Now.”
But they weren’t finished. “I’m afraid not. We’ll be searching the rooms now.”
“Whatever for?” Even the house shuddered at her voice.
“We’ve had a witness come forward and say the killer wears a cloak.”
Mrs. Toms sniffed. “A cloak? Bit posh for around here.” She looked around the room smugly.
“We’ll still be searching the rooms. If we find nothing of interest, we’ll leave. The sooner this is done the sooner you’ll be rid of us.” The policeman’s tone was firm, his stance rigid.
Mr. Smith’s room was the last to be searched. They looked at him, eyebrows raised, when they found books on architecture and a few poorly-drawn and unrecognisable sketches of buildings. “Did you do these?”
Sweat was now rolling down his face. The house noticed, if no one else did. The house had seen Smith take these same drawings out again and again, masturbating over them the way Mr. Lawford did with the risqué photographs of scantily clad women he thought were a secret.
“You’re not very good, are you?”
At this Mrs. Toms’ ire rose to new heights. “Now see here, we’ve done as you wanted, now leave this place you ill-mannered little man.” She gave a small nod to Smith, who was holding himself up with the bed frame.
The man returned the drawings to the table and allowed themselves to be pushed from the room, all the while glaring at Constable Maxwell. The man received a look of sympathy from the landlady before being shoved out of the house by one of the other policemen. Mrs. Toms reserved a special frown for certain occasions, and decided this was one of them. Glaring at the men she gave them a mocking curtsy and slammed the door behind them.
No one but the house noticed that Mr. Smith, rather than accompany the rest of the tenants in ridding the house of the policemen, had stayed behind and was now in Mr. Gridley’s room, his hand in the space beneath the dresser. He heard sounds more keenly and the house took advantage of his panic by shifting the floor outside the writer’s room, causing footstep-like sounds. But it was no use; Mr. Smith retrieved the jars and fled back to his own room, frantically opening the lids and throwing the contents onto the small coal fire. The house allowed more air to enter the chimney, causing the fire to spit angrily.
“Mr. Smith, what is going on?” Mrs. Toms was in the doorway, waving a hand in front of her. “And what is that smell?”
Smith quickly grabbed the poker and turned the coals over, hiding the burning organs. “I’m sorry, I think a rat died in the fireplace.” He poked the fire again, mixing the quickly disintegrating flesh with coals.
“And you didn’t think to take it out before lighting a fire?”
“I didn’t see it.”
“Well at least open the window, for God’s sake man.”
The house was certain, after the events of that evening, that Mr. Smith must surely stop his unnatural behaviour. The house was wrong.
The heart lay in the wash basin, illuminated by sunlight filtered through a grimy lace curtain. Mr. Smith dragged the chair to the basin and sat in front of it, staring at the organ that even the house recognised. After a quarter of an hour he reached over and put his finger in the aorta, drawing it out slowly. The sucking sound made the house shiver, rattling the window, but Smith didn’t notice. He just stared.
Night found Mr. Smith in the exact same position as he had been in all day. He’d remained immobile for hours, despite the house’s attempts to move him. But now, finally, he stood. All was still, save for the usual noises of the fitfully sleeping tenants, their dreams as impoverished as their lives. Smith passed silently by their rooms and went down the stairs, turning into the kitchen. Kicking aside a matt he opened the small door in the floor leading to a disused cellar; he lowered his head and entered. The small room smelled of earth and mold and as Smith crossed to the far side he held his breath as long as he could. Reaching into his pocket he withdrew a knife and used it to dig a hole in the earth beneath the long-rotted floor boards. When he was done he replaced the knife and brought out another object. The bundle was small and soft, blood dripping from the folds of the cloth.
Mr. Smith placed the heart in the hole and quickly refilled it, smoothing the dirt over before replacing the floor boards. Backing out of the space he took one last look before leaving, carefully closing the door and replacing the matt.
“You’re an early riser, Mr. Smith.” Smith had thought he might encounter Orna but he didn’t care. Peering at the bags beside his feet, Orna’s brow wrinkled. “You going someplace?”
“Actually, I’m leaving.”
“Oh.” Orna had made friends with Faye and Violet, despite Mrs. Toms’ disapproval, and was treated like a little sister by the men but she rarely got involved with the short-term tenants. “Well, I hope you liked it here.”
“I did, my dear, thank you.” He reached into his pocket. “Can you please give this to Mrs. Toms? It’s a letter thanking her. Tell her I won’t be asking for the return of any excess rent I’ve paid, I’m aware I’m leaving mid-week.”
Orna nodded and, along with the house, watched the man known as Smith pick up his cases. He took a step toward the door and stopped, turning to look at the maid.
“Here. I want you to have these.” He withdrew an envelope from a side pocket of his leather case and handed it to her.
“Can I open it?” Orna’s eyes glinted and a small smile played on her lips.
“Please do.” He watched her intently.
She carefully opened the envelope and pulled out a small pile of papers, all with drawings on them. Her face fell. “You did these?”
Smith nodded. “Yes. But you may have them.” He adjusted his travelling items and turned back to her from the doorway, which shook at his touch. “In case I become famous someday.”
For a limited time only, the first Deadman’s Tome T-shirt is available for purchase! You could wear any other shirt. Yeah, you could wear that superhero shirt and pretend to make a difference in the world, or you could wear a shirt that means something. A shirt that shows off your support for the craft, for horror literature, and the authors featured on Deadman’s Tome.
The Deadman’s Tome emblem is a symbol of power of pagan origins hijacked by the illuminati to protect the wearer from internet trolls. No, not really. Deadman’s Tome is a horror ezine that just so happens to have a sick looking logo. Wearing this means that you support horror writers, and that much should make you proud.
Sunday, the perfect day for relaxing with a cold beer and a new short from Deadman’s Tome. If you don’t drink beer, then perhaps a glass of scotch or a shot of jack would be a good alternative. If you’re one of them “well-balanced” individuals that don’t want to get tipsy at 9AM, then you could lie to yourself with mimosas or bloody Mary’s.
Not that inebriation is needed to enjoy the latest horror shorts. In fact, you might find that you hardly even touch your beer, adult-drink, or alcoholic juice. Take for example B Thomas’s Woman in Red, a brutal and relentless tale of a murderous blood thirsty couple as they deal with an immigrant problem that is not too different from Europe’s current state of affairs.
Gabrielle Esposito’s Killer Instinct is a short and demented tale of bloodlust that’ll disturb those with fragile sensibilities.
A tale doesn’t need to be drenched in blood in order to disturb the reader. Take for example, Lisa De Young’s The Gates, a short journalistic tale of roommate conflict, grave digging, and an obsession with the dead. I guarantee, that The Gates will leave some readers riddled and eager for another read.
Enjoy a story? Like it, comment, and share it with others. I assure you the authors will thank you for it.
I possess an unbridled love for the city of London. On more than one occasion I have referred to it as my city when in fact it can truly belong to no one. Or so I believed. The influx of migrants into already cramped living spaces. The people living atop one another. Whitechapel had become overrun with bums and vagrants.
And yet I continued to remind myself that life is cyclical. All would rectify itself when the time is correct. Lidia does not share my patience.
“It is damnable to think of the things they do in those disgusting brothels!” I watched her slam the kettle onto the table top, rattling the dishes. “What money they have they should be spending on food not drink and cheap whores.”
“Most have fallen on hard times. They deserve some form of happiness no matter how damnable it may be.”
“They’re Jews and whores. Don’t be so accepting Jack.”
I pulled my coat from the hook and put my hands on her shoulders. She was a spitfire. It was what drew me to her. I kissed her on the forehead and hoped it would not be what pushed me away.
While the over crowded pubs provided difficulty in obtaining a drink, there was a great deal more entertainment than before. Trade-offs I suppose. No sooner had James and I sat down at a corner table did the entire thing crash to the floor as a drunken behemoth of a man punch someone in the throat, driving him back and into our table, splintering the wood and barely missing our drinks.
“Well I say! Damn good show tonight.” James said and slapped his leg. The man from the floor grumbled, pushed splintered wood from his chest, and charged at his assailant. I looked to the bar tender (a man I had known since boy hood) and he simply shrugged and downed a shot.
“Yes, I suppose it is.”
“What’s the matter sport? Don’t seem like yourself.”
“Well,” I waited as a mug smashed to the floor and three men tackled the giant to the ground. Alcohol does wonders to a person’s sense of strength and mortality. If only we could harness the abilities without the added inebriation.
“Don’t tell me Lidia.” Often times more is said by a lack of speaking, then by rambling. “For God’s sake Jack. The woman is sucking everything from you.”
“She wants a cleaner London. A cleaner Whitechapel. She’s not happy with,” I waved my arms forward.
“Well damn it then don’t go out in it! Don’t let her direct you though. You enjoy this. It’s not like either of you are boding ill. You are a doctor after all.”
Still, I remained quiet.
“Did you tell her of the other night?”
My mind flashed to skin. To whispered words, wetness, and lips pinched delicately between teeth. All the while my hand turned my pocketknife over and over.
It had been a gift from my father. “A good man knows how to leave his mark.” He had said to me. It was rare moments like this when I thought of what kind of mark I would leave.
My mind came back to the bar. “I did not. Though I would not doubt if she could smell her on me.”
“Did you? Both in the same night?” James laughed and swung his mug through the air. “Well done old man. Barkeep, another round I say! Keep the party going.” People nearby us cheered. But I did not. For their words were replaced by Lidia’s Jews and whores. Don’t be so accepting Jack. Jews and whores. Whores.
My hands slid up her bodice, a woman I did not know. My fingers on the strings. Her skin. Her flesh. Her womanhood bought and paid for by a simple coin. Once again, the consumption of ale had not led me home, but to a dimly lit building that smelled of sweat and shame. I tried to focus on the warmth that sat upon my lap. But I could not.
“What’s wrong?” She whispered in my ear. The moistness of her lips graced my skin and only infuriated me more as I struggled to remain focused. She was here, in this moment, and I was not. I was half present and she was fully aware.
“Nothing,” I shut my eyes, squeezed her chest, but the soft feel of her breasts did nothing. She let out the faintest of laughs at my inadequacy. I shoved her from me and to the floor, on my feet in an instant.
“What is wrong with you?” She screamed. “There is a proper way to treat a lady.”
“If you find one, I will treat her in such a way.”
She scoffed, “It takes a man to find a woman.”
I was out the door, coat in hand.
I saw her again, from the alley across from the brothel. The whore that claimed herself to be a woman. Vagrants slept in the shadows behind me, snoring loudly with bottles still in hand. She walked with a friend to the corner of the street before parting ways. I moved with a newfound sobriety.
My heart pounded against my chest as I eyed a coming alley. There was commotion on the opposite side of the street. Drunks. Everywhere there were drunks. Jews and whores Jack.They’re all whores Jack.
My hand was shaking as I clasped it over her mouth. She swung blindly and caught me in the eye but I gritted my teeth and dragged her into the alley. I fumbled the knife, dropped it against the stones, the blade open and exposed.
She drove an elbow into my ribs and pain shot around my chest. I kicked the knife towards me with the toe of my boot and yanked her to the ground so I could grab it. Sweat dripped from my hand as I reached down. I felt like I was burning alive as I fought her. I swung the knife into her stomach. She screamed under the clasp of my palm and jerked her body. The blade ripped her skin apart.
My hand was shaking as I yanked it out. She was sobbing and thrashing. I took a deep breath and slid the knife across her throat. Her arms continued to swing. I didn’t know what to do so I dragged the blade across her neck a second time. And then it all ceased.
I didn’t move fast enough and the blood seeped into the sleeve of my coat. I dropped her body, her head thudding against the stone and rolling to stare up at me with empty eyes.
Lidia was asleep when I arrived. But when the door slammed shut and I collapsed against it, she shot out of bed.
“Jack? Jack! For the sake of the Lord what is wrong with you? What is this? Are you hurt? You’re bleeding Jack, get up.”
I shooed her away and remained against the door. It took seconds before the dam that was my mouth broke open and a confession flooded forth with the force of a tempest. She stared, mouth open and eyes wide. My mind saw flashes of what they would do to me in jail. Of the noose. I didn’t hear her until she was leaning over me, her hands on her knees, and her eyes filled with steadfast determination.
“Jack? Were you seen?”
“No. At least I don’t believe so.”
“Good. Wash yourself and get some sleep. Tomorrow we discuss when you are to go again.”
I looked at her, stunned. My stomach in my throat. “Excuse me?”
“We’re going to clean this city of its wretched filth. Sleep in here tonight.”
“While I may be pleased with what you did I am not blind to the fact that you did it after attempting to bed a whore. I don’t want to share a bed with you tonight. And hear me now, if you put your hands on another one of them unless it is to take a life, I will end yours.”
Read the rest of the story in the Book of Horrors II
The night air was wet and humid. It lay heavily on his body, as if a blanket had been dropped over his head. It was alive, and every time he took expanding his lungs, filling his body, giving him weight and strength while feeding his blood and his mind. His vision sharpened, and in the darkness, he could see the small figure writhing. A wide smile crept across his face and he stepped closer, moving without truly thinking about it. A spark of excitement jumped in his stomach, unleashing a frenzy of anxiousness. He had to get his hands around the thing. He had to feel its body twitching underneath his fingers.
“Now we’re going to have some fun,” said Eric. “Just you and me and the moon.”
He bent down, his eyes straining only slightly in the light of the night. His vision had enhanced to that of a predators’, and there was nothing that he missed. The mouse that he had trapped underneath a shoe box was struggling to escape. He could hear it gnawing the side of the cardboard, and he could hear its frantic squeaking. Eric lifted up the box and his hand shot forward to grab the rodent. Its fur was soft on his flesh, silky and smooth. But what he relished most was the rapid pace of its breathing. In the bone-white luster of the moon, he could the mouse’s eyelids plastered up as far as they could go, giving him a look of pure panic. He could only imagine the way it must feel to be so weightless in some stranger’s hands, far away from any comforting face and knowing that you were doomed. The mouse’s feeble legs twitched and kicked, clawing at his hand with all its might. But it only felt like a soft scratch to him.
He put his lips to the little pink ears on top of the mouse’s head. Its whiskers twitched.
“You don’t like being small, do you?” whispered Eric. He stroked it with his thumb. “I don’t like being small either. People like to tease me about it. All. The. Time.” He only realized he had tightened his fingers when he saw that the mouse’s eyes were bulging out of its small skull.
Eric wanted to lessen his grip. He really did. But his unstable mind began to veer off track. It turned to the bitter dark thoughts and memories that were far more potent than the pleasantries he had floating around inside his skull. He thought of everyone who had called him a name. Each person who had taken advantage of his deformed height. Everyone who had ever doubted him. Every person who gave him a look of sympathy or horror as he passed them on the street. Every time someone told him that he would never be normal.
He felt something hot slide down his cheek. It splattered onto the knuckle of his thumb. He followed it down. It was only then that he realized that the mouse was still.
He forced himself to look at it. He no longer felt the pressure of the mouse’s ribcage coming and going as it took frantic gasps of air. It’s once swiveling and frantic eyes were calm in their sockets. And already he missed the small innocent creature. Already the deep seated anger and regret began to make his throat burn as a hot ball of hate traveled up from his stomach and stuck in his windpipe.
He didn’t want to be this way.
“Eric! Come in please! It’s getting too dark.” His mother was calling him. Eric picked up the mouse and chucked it into the woods. He watched it land near the others who had lost their lives at his destructive hand. He could see it growing to a decent height now. It was almost five inches off the ground, and almost as long in length as he was.
He reset the trap, and then grabbed his crutches.
He hobbled out from behind the shed, careful to watch for any rocks or holes. Eric knew how unstable his balance was. He refused to let himself get careless. At school, he was used to people calling him names and knocking his crippled and deformed legs out from under him. But home, especially behind the shed, was a safe place. He didn’t want it to be tainted by the memory of falling face first into the mud.
He made his way slowly back to the front yard. She was waiting for him, standing in the door in her bathrobe.
“You want some ice cream before bed?” she asked.
“I don’t know,” said Eric. “I’m getting too old for it, I think.” His mother turned to look at him, a bemused smile on her face.
“What do you mean? You’re only eight.”
Eric said nothing, and instead flashed her a smile out of sympathy. He allowed himself to be led inside and seated at the front table. Eric couldn’t see the point in the creamy desert being put in front of him. It wouldn’t touch any part of his being or cause any delight. It didn’t matter how much chocolate syrup he loaded onto the quickly melting humps of cream or how much sprinkles he dotted its surface with. The ice cream would still turn bitter in his mouth.
Their cries woke me again last night. They beg, weep and plead for me to save them. Their desperate wails dig into my ear and gnaw at my brain. I cannot sleep. My head screams with their howls and my own frustrations. I made a promise I can’t deny any longer. I must keep it. I must save them.
The constant banging on the ceiling woke me again last night. I don’t know what he does up there. He also keeps the windows open all night despite the cold. It is freezing down here. I cannot sleep. I despise him.
I went to the prison last night to begin the work that had been planned months ago but I had forgotten about the gates. They terrify me. The dark demonic faces welded on the rusted, ancient gates stare directly into my soul. They tell me the woes of those on the other side, and warn me of my certain demise if I cross. My stomach aches with fear and my head pounds. I do not know how I’m ever going to be able to go back there.
While on my way upstairs today to talk to Wilson about the constant noise and of course the overall temperature of the house, I tripped over a muddy shovel that had been carelessly left in the stairwell. I landed on my head and split it wide open. I do wonder what he is doing with the shovel. Hopefully he is not messing with my garden again. I am going to sit down and have a serious talk with him once my head quits pounding.
I am too exhausted to write. I cannot get the gates to open. It was difficult to even go back there and I struggled with them all night long. It’s as if they are frozen shut. I do not know what I am going to do.
I made it upstairs to talk with him this evening only to realize he wasn’t there. The car is still in the driveway; I have no idea where he could have gone so late in the evening. The muddy shovel is gone as well. My head still throbs and I’m sure I’ll be left with a horrid scar as a reminder of his carelessness. He left his door open and I shut all the windows that were thoughtlessly left open again. Hopefully the house warms up some so I may get some restful sleep tonight.
I fear I will never open the gates. I still can’t get them to budge. My head pounds. I am terrified their voices will return to terrorize me if I am not successful and I simply cannot endure that torture again. I am attempting to dig a hole under the unmovable and ominous gates; and while the hole I’ve dug is quite impressive, I still have not gotten all the way under them. I swear they reach as far down as the center of Hell and they judge me as I dig.
Again he was gone when I went upstairs to speak with him this evening. The car is still here just like last night. I wonder where he is going and what he is doing. He left the shed open and my gardening tools spread about. I hate when he borrows my things. Even when he does ask he usually returns them broken and useless. I shut the windows again. If he wasn’t my brother I wouldn’t tolerate so much.
Hallelujah! Tonight the gates finally opened! Just when I thought I couldn’t dig anymore, that my back would certainly break, they opened as if waiting for me all along; testing me. I collapsed with joy. They will be free soon, and so will I.
Wilson woke me up at 5:00 this morning knocking on my door. He had a friend with him, Mr. Haven, whom he insisted stay with me in the basement until Wilson could rescue Mr. Haven’s friends and then they would be on their way. I was annoyed and could barely look at Mr. Haven. He is an old fellow with a careworn face and pathetic eyes. How could I say no to Wilson in front of this man? I couldn’t. So now I have one roommate, with the very real possibility of more.
The joy on Mr. Haven’s face was unmistakable tonight. It was quite a bit of work to free him but it was worth it. I have asked Alfred to let him stay downstairs with him for awhile until I can free the others. I’m sure he is put out by this, but I believe it will actually do him good to have some company for a change. I am tired now and will go back tomorrow night for as many of the others as I can free. My head hurts.
Over the course of the last week my roommates have accumulated to the surprising number of 6. As much I thought it would be horrible to share my living quarters with others, I have found the company to be quite stimulating and fun. However, they all are in dire need of a bath. I do not wish to offend them by pressing the issue but they certainly have begun to fill my apartment with a tremendous and almost unbearable stench.
The last of my friends have been rescued this evening and are quietly relaxing with Alfred and the others in the basement. I have never been so exhausted in all my life and have never had quite a headache as I do. I feel as if I could sleep for a week.
I have not seen Wilson for three days now. He locked the door to the basement the last time he was down here and now we have no way out. I know he is upstairs; I can hear him pounding on the floor again. I have tried to yell through the ceiling to him but receive no response. His friends are growing restless and are eager to leave. As much as I don’t want them to go, it has become rather cramped down here and the smell has certainly grown tenacious.
My company has grown angry with me. They insist I know where Wilson is and that I am keeping them from him. I saw one of them with a gun yesterday and now fear for my life. I wish Wilson would come back. I am panicking.
I can’t believe I have been so careless. I trusted criminals. I brought them into my home and lived amongst them. I feared they would never let me sleep again until I freed them but now I fear to sleep at all. My skin crawls when I look around the room at the expressionless faces staring back at me. My stomach lurches from the stench. There is only one way out of this horrid situation. The angry faces of the gates still haunt me every time I close my eyes. I can’t sleep.
Local Man Kills Himself After Excavating More than 11 Graves from Local Cemetery and Keeping the Bodies in His Basement.
Ever time you read a story, every time you share it, like it, and comment, you actually help the authors on Deadman’s Tome. I don’t mean this figuratively. I mean this literally. Literally, the authors featured on this site earn based on view, like, and comments. Why? To encourage sharing, liking, and discussion of the content.
What does a zombie know about race? Uh, he knows that at the end of it all we all decay and bloat the same. Black, Asian, Jew, or Dragon-kin the afterlife is nothing but a rotting hell for our mortal bodies.
Of course, he would try to smile, to pass off the remarks as just another joke at his expense. But inside it hurt, it hurt bad…
Ernest watched as the rest of the world enjoyed another warm summer day without him. On this beautiful Sunday in the park, watching was what he did best, as during those wintry afternoons when, as a child with his nose pressed against the window of his room, he watched the neighborhood kids play in the snow. The younger Ernest would have joined them if he could, but the risk of humiliation was too great. Now at fifteen the boy swore one day he would just utter “fuck it” and take the shot. But today that gamble still wasn’t in Ernest Bratman’s repertoire. He knew the others would make fun, and if Patty Fine laughed too, that might just kill him.
That’s what the boys in school called her, and one look at the young teen queen told you why. Ernest knew the rules, that girls like Patty Fine were never meant for someone like him. And if Patty had known the truth about Ernest’s little ‘problem’… God, the truth was awful.
On so many nights Ernest still was peeing his bed, and despite his father’s lectures and occasional beatings, when morning came the sheets remained damp. The boy understood how difficult it must be for parents to love a kid who regularly pissed in his sleep. His mother never said anything, never even scolded him, but Ernest saw the constant disappointment (or was it disgust?) in her eyes. Who could blame parents for hating a kid who still regularly pissed his sheets? In the mornings he would clean himself, or at least try to, but it seemed the stink remained through the rest of the day no matter how much he scrubbed…down there. Did others at school smell it too?
Lately, Ernest thought a lot about the Fine girl who sat two seats in front of him in Math class, and sometimes, when no one was looking, she smiled at him. Pretty Patty was actually a lot more than pretty, although one front tooth was a little crooked. Somehow that small imperfection made her even prettier.
A day in the park was meant to be fun, but fun was an alien concept to Ernest. Unused to (and uncomfortable with) the company of others, true enjoyment of practically any experience proved elusive. Weeks earlier he had caught a fly near the ball field and, for no special reason, tore off the insect’s wings. He discovered a strange pleasure watching the fly’s futile attempt at wingless flight, and soon more flies met similar fates. Who would care? No one really liked flies anyway, and watching some shit eating insect die wouldn’t matter to anyone.
“Stupid bug,” Ernest often muttered while performing another insect amputation. These moments were among the few when the boy managed the smallest hint of a smile. This was not real happiness, of course, and not really fun either, not the kind that made you feel that life was wonderful. Ernest understood that much. Sharing his suffering with some insignificant insect provided simple satisfaction, maybe mild amusement at best, but it was enough.
…like watching Patty was enough. Ernest could do nothing more than watch her, keeping his distance, of course. Hoping for more was absurd. He never could attract the Patty Fines of the world, that much seemed certain. Probably the girl was nearby in the park, laughing and playing and having a good time with a hundred of her closest friends. Ernest decided to slip away from the picnic area to look for her.
He spotted her near the ball field, tossing around a Frizby with a group of guys (of course!), ripening tits to the wind and bare mid-drifted in cut off shorts. The girl displayed enough milky skin to send any teenaged boy rushing for the Kleenex. Concealed beneath the shade of an old oak, Ernest had a clear view of Patty’s shapely ass, and he would have been content to watch those twin cheeks jiggle long after the last Frizby in existence was tossed.
“Go deep, Patty Cakes!” some putz jock yelled to her. And Patty went deep, all right, making a miraculous catch to a chorus of male cheers. A group of girls watched from the sidelines, whispering among themselves. Ernest guessed the words they shared were tinted green. He would have liked to hear, but he didn’t dare reveal himself. He knew what would follow.
Hey, Ernest! Have you wet your pants lately?
What’s that smell? Why, it’s Ernest Bratman!! And piss!!
Dry off! Dry off!!
Ridiculous, Ernest told himself. Others couldn’t possibly know about his ‘problem.’ It was all in his head, his damp sheets a secret only he knew. Maybe hiding in the shade was stupid. Maybe if he stepped out, if he forced himself into the sunlight. Maybe…
Ernest wished a fly were around.
“Fuck it,” he whispered to no one, and moved closer to the Frizby throwers. He didn’t know what to do standing there alone, and remained fixed in place. No one seemed to realize (or care) that he stood there anyway, and wasn’t that the story of his life? As he watched the disk fly high above him, the yellow Frizby took a boomerang curve in mid-flight and landed at his feet. For a moment he just stared at the plastic saucer, his body frozen.
“Hey! Toss it over here!” one of the jockstraps yelled. Ernest hesitated, then tossed the Frizby, knowing what would follow. Sure enough, the disk didn’t travel very far, landing in the opposite direction from which he had intended. The laughter soon followed. They had outed him!
“Nice throw, Ernie!” someone shouted. “Next time try aiming for the trees!”
More laughter. His face crimson, Ernest forced a smile and braced himself.
“Why, look who it is!” from another gorilla. “That’s young Ernie Bratman, athlete extraordinaire! How ya doin’, Ernie? Anyone ever tell you, you throw like a girl?”
The laughter exploded as others joined in. Ernest’s weak smile faded like melted wax. He wanted to run, but his feet felt cemented to the ground. He noticed Patty Fine whispering something to the guy who had retrieved the Frizby, and for some reason he threw it back to Ernest. He reached for it, but the disk hit him square in the chest, then landed in the dirt. He didn’t pick it up.
“Try again, Ernie! I need a good laugh!”
The chorus began.
“Er-nie! Er-nie!! Er-nie!!!”
These taunts weren’t in his head. These were real, and they were awful. Ernest prepared to turn and run, fuck the humiliation and the tears he felt coming on. But then…
“Leave him alone! Damn you all, just back the hell off!”
Ernest told himself the girl’s words were only in his head, that Patty Fine couldn’t possibly be stepping forward to set things right. But there she was, hands on hips, demanding his antagonists to bug off.
“You guys are morons. I’m not playing anymore.”
Interest in the game ended the moment Patty left the field. One guy called out ,“See ya later, Patty Cakes!” as if the jeers had never happened. She didn’t turn around, didn’t even slow her pace; instead, she headed straight for where Ernest stood.
“Thanks,” Ernest managed to get out, his heart fluttering like a caged bird.
The girl smiled. “Frizby is stupid. I didn’t want to play anyway. Those boys can be mean, but they’re harmless. You okay?”
Ernest nodded like some bobble head doll, but now he did feel okay. And scared to death.
Incredibly, Patty reached for his hand. “Look, I know you’ve been watching me. I’ve seen you in school, and just now I saw you staring. You have been, haven’t you?” Like a man caught with his fly down, Ernest turned crimson. Patty’s smile broadened. “It’s okay. I mean, it’s kind of creepy, but it’s okay. It’s no fun feeling so alone, is it? Come with me. I want to show you something, Ernie.”
He frowned. “Not Ernie. I hate that name. Makes me sound like that gay Sesame Street puppet. Ernest, okay?”
“Like that macho writer Hemingway who killed himself, right?”
Patty laughed. “Okay, Ernest-not-Ernie. Let’s take a walk.” She led him to a dirt path that twisted and disappeared into the woods, her touch sending an electric jolt inside the boy’s pants. Could she see what was happening down there? Ernest considered using his free hand to cover his engorged boyhood but decided that wasn’t a good idea. He didn’t know where Patty was taking him. He didn’t care.
She squeezed his hand. “You like to come to the park, don’t you, Ernest? I’m thinking you do, since you’re here so often, even though you don’t really talk to anyone, do you? I like the park too. Want to know why?”
There seemed only one answer. “The people? I mean, all your friends…”
Patty laughed. “I’m not really much of a people person. I know I seem like I am, but there’s another reason I come here — something I like to do when I’m here. We all have secrets, don’t we. I’d like to share mine with you, if that’s okay.”
Unable to hide his smile, Ernest nodded like a kid who had been asked if he wanted some ice cream. They walked in silence until he heard the rush of the creek near the waterfall. The running water spilling over stones sounded almost musical. Birdsong and butterflies made the area seem almost enchanted as if they were in some Disney movie.
Patty stood near the creek. Removing her sneakers, she wiggled her toes in the water. “I really love this place. It’s quiet and empty. There’s no one around, like it belongs just to me. Now I want to share it with you, and I want to share something else. If you listen closely, if you wait a moment, you can hear it.”
Ernest listened. “I don’t–” She put a finger to his lips.
Except for the rush of water, he heard only a lone bullfrog’s croaks, a deep and unpleasant burping sound. Patty touched Ernest’s cheek, a gesture he felt he had no right to experience and one he knew he would remember for a long time.
“People say girls are supposed to be afraid of frogs because they’re slimy and disgusting. But I’m not afraid, Ernest, not at all. Want to see?” She didn’t give him a chance to answer, just waded into the creek. Moving slowly but purposefully, reaching out quickly with both hands, she turned to Ernest and held up the huge squirming frog for him to see. The toad’s legs were kicking like mad, but Patty didn’t flinch as she waded back to the creek’s edge, her smile now showing teeth. “I’ve seen what you do to flies, Ernest. You didn’t know I was watching you near the ball field, but I saw. We share a little secret in common, you and me.”
Ernest felt his mouth go dry. “It was just a fly. It wasn’t as if I–I–”
Patty flashed her crooked toothed smile again, held the frog tighter as it squirmed. “You don’t have to apologize. Really, Ernest, we’re alike. Look, I just want you to watch for a minute while me and Kermit here get acquainted, okay?”
Grasping the frog in one hand and reaching into her jeans pocket with the other, she pulled out a small pen knife, snapping it open with her teeth. Ernest wondered if doing that enough times would have made her front tooth so crooked. The thought came and went with what the girl did next. Sitting on a large rock, Patty studied the squirming creature in her clenched fist. She kissed its mouth as if the frog might, in the next instant, morph itself into a prince.
“You can get warts doing that!” Ernest warned.
The girl paid no mind to him; instead, she started to sing, “Patty cake, Patty cake, baker’s man, Bake me a cake as fast as you—” She twisted the blade of the pen knife before the toad’s face.“…can!”
…and she sliced off both of the the wriggling frog’s legs. It gurgled like some old woman, making the same ugly burping sounds, but they were louder laced with the toad’s agony. The frog was still alive, squirming in Patty’s hand like some croaking balloon animal. Holding the bleeding creature for Ernest to inspect, Patty burst into laughter. Goo the color of dark snot dripped down her wrist.
“Beats hell out of tearing the wings off flies, wouldn’t you say, Ernest? Who likes frogs anyway?” She slammed both hands together, mashing what remained of the mutilated frog’s head and torso between her palms. “See, the trick is to picture this slimy thing as someone I hate. Like the other girls at school, Justin Bieber, or my father…”
“Jesus, Patty! What you did…That’s…That’s just sick!”
Patty only grinned. Tossing the frog’s remains into the creek, the girl watched the ruined creature float toward the waterfall. She picked up the two dismembered legs and held them close to Ernest’s face until he flinched, then she tossed them too. “You’re telling me what’s sick? Look at your shorts, Ernest. You just pissed your pants!”
Patty Fine (Fine Patty!) laughed loudly, and now she was laughing at him! Ernest felt dizzy, and he was wet. He could smell it, and he knew Patty could too. The ground seemed to drop out beneath him, and he almost fell to his knees. Speech came hard.
“You shouldn’t laugh. Patty, what you did was terrible!”
“Tearing the wings off flies is terrible! Pissing in your pants is terrible! No wonder kids make fun of you!”
Dizzy. Really dizzy…
“Don’t laugh. Please, Patty, I don’t like it when you laugh at me.”
Patty’s lips curled and her crooked tooth showed. She seemed incapable of controlling her own hysteria.
“Do you want to cut off my wings too, Ernest? Like one of your flies? Maybe just a finger will do, huh?” She held out the pen knife. “Go ahead. Cut! Do it!”
Pretty Patty didn’t seem so pretty anymore. Ernest looked at the blade shining in the sunlight.
“Are you afraid? Like a little girl scared of a frog? Are you, Ernest. Or should I say ERNIE?”
“Please don’t call me that–”
“Ernie Ernie ERNIE!!”
“Take the knife, then. Show me you’ve got a pair!”
“This is crazy. I can’t–”
“It’s easy, simple as tearing the wings off a fly. Take the knife and cut me! That’s all there is to it! A finger, maybe a thumb. I don’t give a shit!”Patty shoved the pen knife into his hand, waved her fingers before Ernest’s face. “Go for the pinkie. It’s skinnier than that frog’s legs, not much bone there. My fingers are dainty, long and girlie, don’t you think? Easy to slice! Here, let me help…” She forced the blade in Ernest’s hand, guided it to her pinkie finger. The knife drew a thin stream of blood at the joint.
He pulled the blade away from the girl’s finger and tossed the knife into the creek. Patty watched it sink into the mud below and broke into more hysterical laughter. “See? I knew you couldn’t do it. There’s just so much ‘crazy’ even someone like you can take.”
It took a moment for the words to sink in.
“Someone like me?”
“Someone no one likes. Someone ugly and creepy, who stalks and watches girls when he knows he shouldn’t, who enjoys killing flies and pisses his pants when he’s scared. Is that someone you know, Ernie? Someone you know really well?”
She had set him up, Patty and her Frizby tossing pals. Now she was almost laughing herself sick, her taunts worse than anything her jockstrapped friends had called him, and Ernest knew that laughter would never stop. It would echo inside his head whenever he saw her, echo even in his dreams — dreams that were wet, but not in a good way. Patty Fine wasn’t fine at all, and for the first time he hated her snaggle toothed smile.
(Patty, don’t…please don’t…please…)
The world went purple. His hands acting apart from his brain, Ernest didn’t know what internal demon caused him to push the girl into the creek. It seemed someone else had done it, that he merely watched it happen. Patty tumbled backward into the rushing water, but the creek was shallow and she tried getting to her feet. Ernest found a small rock, hit the girl’s head once, twice. She staggered, but remained on her knees. The third bash struck her squarely in the forehead. Ernest heard her skull crack and Patty went down, a small pool of her own blood staining the clear creek water. She floated toward the waterfall like some discarded doll. Going over the edge, the girl with the crooked tooth disappeared.
Ernest dropped the dripping rock into the creek. He stood, watching the rushing water spill over the falls. Freckles of blood dotted his hand and wrist, and he let the cold water run over them to wash himself clean. His brain seemed emptied of thought. Or maybe it had short circuited having too many thoughts, having too much to comprehend. Unable to move or think, he stood knee deep in the water.
Another bullfrog croaked. This one seemed louder than the one earlier, and Ernest spotted it reposed on a rock not far from where he stood. The frog was a big mother, much bigger than the other one, and he waited before moving slowly toward it.
He grabbed it, the frog gurgling for breath in his grasp. Watching the toad’s wriggling legs, he wondered if maybe, in his bare hands, he might be able to…
(The trick is to picture this slimy thing as someone I hate…)
Feeling better, Ernest smiled. He held the frog close to his face, kissed its mouth. He could care less about warts, Pretty Patty, or anything else.
The frog’s legs did a mad dance. Grabbing a firm hold of them, Ernest’s grin spread.