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OPEN HOUSE 

Story Sample

 

Chapter 1

             

            The call came in at about 2 A.M. and it was our turn to go. Outside, the storm raged, its electrical surges tripping alarms all over town. Investigation was an act of futility. Mother Nature was the only intruder but we had to go, just in case, protect and serve and all that jazz.

My partner, Mike, drove us out there, laughing and talking about a girl he’d hooked up with night before. He was senior me and called the shots and that worked for me. He knew his stuff, the quintessential street cop but he was also a jovial guy who made the night shift bearable. Mike liked being a cop, all of it but the paperwork, which he assigned to me from day one. The first time I turned in a report, the Sergeant gave it a glance, snickered and said “Nice writing, Shakespeare.” The name just sort a stuck.

            In the few years we were thought we had been everywhere in our town but our destination that night was new. The Garrison house stood, alone, on over 100 acres of privately owned land. Mabel Garrison, the property owner, was fighting the long Alzheimer’s fight in a retirement home downstate, so the house sat empty and dark and, until that night, quiet.

            The drive there felt like forever. The storm dropped off and there was nothing to break up the lightless back roads except occasional flashes of remnant lightning. Just outside of town, our headlights outlined farmland and then gave way to fields, and then an endless forest. The trees were enormous and old, reaching their twisted branch hands across the road, clicking stick fingers across the roof of our patrol car.

The starless night left Mike and I isolated. He jawed on about his date, teeth flashing green in the dashboard light. We drove slow, keeping an eye out for deer. This far out they should have been everywhere, but we saw none.

The trees fell back at last to a clearing which framed a large, three story cobblestone house, which sat kitty corner to a barn. Mike parked between the two and killed the lights.

                            “We’ll take this bad boy first,” he said thumbing on his flashlight and striding toward the barn. I drew                                 my side arm.

                            “Try not to shoot me in the ass, OK Shakespeare?” Mike said chuckling.

            It was his standard line. He pushed open a sliding door and stepped inside, vanishing as neatly as if the barn had swallowed him. I followed.

            It was empty. No stalls, no grain bins, or hay lofts, just one auditorium-sized room with nothing in it. The air was cold and smelled stale. Mike panned his light from the ceiling rafters down to the wooden studs and on the floor finding nothing but a door on the other side of the barn. We crossed over and tested the knob. It turned easily, opening to a long and narrow room. The smell was different here, dank and earthy. One of the walls was covered with stainless steel  and crouching in front of it, an elongated tub angled downward on one side. It had two bays, one much larger than the other, separated by a heavy slab of wood that looked like an old cattle yoke.

                            “What kind of tub is that?” I asked.

                            “The slaughtering kind,” Mike said. “You herd the critter in facing that way,” he motioned to the smaller bay, “lock it down with that collar and slit the throat. The blood runs downhill into the drain.”

             He trained the flashlight on the sink a moment longer then raised the beam onto the stainless steel wall and ceiling. An ax hung there, gleaming dully in the artificial light. Keeping it company was a large mallet and several butchering knives. In the corner, a pale colored bone saw tipped awkwardly on its own shelf. Mike swung the light higher still, picking out three huge meat hooks that hung from the ceiling in an obscene gesture. He squatted by the sink and ran a finger down one side.

                             “Hello...?”

                             “What’s up?” I asked. Mike glanced back at me.

                             “It’s clean.”

            He climbed onto the tub, reached up and touched the ax head. “So is this.”

The hair on the back of my neck stood up. According to the property checklist, the house had been empty for years. There might be a caretaker or someone who looked in on the place now and again, but cleaning an unused butchering tub in an empty barn seemed an unlikely duty; and why, for that matter, were there any tools here at all?

                              “Let’s finish up,” I said. “This place gives me the creeps.”

                              “Keep your shirt on,” Mike said scanning the rest of the room from his vantage point on the tub. “It’s probably a neighboring farmer helping himself to the facilities. This room is definitely set up for ...” his voice trailed off as he leaned forward, looking at something.

            He jumped off the tub and walked to the far side of the room. In his flashlight beam I spotted the generator sitting on the floor. Mike touched the carburetor and sniffed his finger. He nodded.

“Gas - on the fresher side, I’d say. Come on; let’s see how the house is doing.”

 

 CHAPTER 2

 

            We exited the barn and crossed the drive, circling the cobblestone through hip deep grass. The back door was boarded over, as were all three stories of windows; all but one window on the third floor which faced the driveway and the barn. Lightning flashed again and I saw a tattered, lacy curtain behind the window’s dingy glass.

            We came back around to the front entrance. It was a massive double door with a hasp lock, shutting out the world. A sign hung from the two handles. The words written there were drawn in crayon, freehand, the scribbling’s of a child.

NO TRESPASSING. There were small marks around the padlock keyhole where the metal had been scratched raw but the lock was in place and intact. I turned to leave.

                               “Where d’ya think you’re going?” Mike said,

                               “Back to the car,” I said. “The house is secure.”

                               “Secure?”

            Mike lunged forward, slamming one big shoulder into the door. The screws holding the clasp gave way with a brittle popping sound and the lock dropped to the ground. One door swung inward a few inches. Mike looked back at me.

                               “Front door’s open, partner. We better take a look.”

            I knew better than to say. Mike drew his weapon, placing the flashlight on top of his gun and then locking the two together in his mit-sized hands. I followed suit.

            Mike pushed the door all the way open. The interior was blackness and we hesitated, giving our eyes a chance to adjust to the deeper darkness inside the house. A hallway stretched out in front us, with two closed doors on the right side and an opening to a large room on the left. Mike went left and dropped low. I remained standing and moved to his right to cover him. Mike lit up the room and I heard his sharp intake of breath just as I caught my own.

 A naked man leaned against the wall. His eyes were closed and his face frozen in a grimace that was too stiff to be real.

                                 “Nice statue,” Mike muttered.

            The crucified Christ was life-sized, nailed to, what appeared to be, a real wooden cross. The pain on the statue’s face was unbelievably realistic.

                                 “Jesus,” I mumbled.

                                 “What gave it away?” Mike whispered back chuckling.

            He stood up and checked the rest of the room, pausing here and there to look behind pieces of furniture. I watched the hallway, my eyes trained on the closed doors. Mike came up behind me and tapped me on the shoulder.  

                                 “We’re good here. Next.”

            He moved past me into the hall, dropped again and eased open the first door. We found the remnants of a twin bed and a small dresser. On the dresser was a yellowed doily with some figurines lying across it. Mike checked under the bed and turned around.

                                  “Clear. Next room.”

                                  “Just a sec.” I took a closer look at the figurines; a Virgin Mary, another Jesus (much smaller than its cousin across the hall) and some of the Saints. A few of the figurines were painted, others colorless but all of them had one thing in common: they were headless.

                                  “You looking for souvenirs, Shakespeare?” Mike said from behind me.

                                  “I’ve read about this...”

                                  “So have I,” Mike said dryly. “The Penal Code calls it ‘vandalism’ Come on. Next room.”

            Another bedroom. No statues here, but a copy of The Lord’s Prayer lay in a broken picture frame; the lightly dusted glass fragments peppered the floor. Someone had written over parts of the prayer in thin, longhand.

Our Father who art in Hades hallowed be this ground. Thy kingdom come, thy will be done, on Earth as it is in Hades. Give us this day our daily feast and forgive us our trespasses as we offer those who trespass against us. Lead us to thy pure desecration. Selah.

                                    “Mike, take a look at this.”

            Keeping an eye on the door, Mike squatted down and read it quickly.

                                    “Creative. Selah? What does that mean?”

                                    “No idea,” I said, shaking my head, “but the satanic stuff is clear enough.”

                                     Mike grunted. “It’s some messed up kids getting their adrenaline going. Stop reading into things, Shakespeare. Let’s keep moving.”

            We continued through the first floor. Religious artifacts were everywhere, some of them altered. We cleared the last room and discovered a large staircase, following its crooked banister up to the second and third floors. I noticed the first of the red splotches on the third step. Mike scratched at it with his pocketknife.

                                     “Wax,” he said, quietly.

                                     “Looks like it keeps going” I said pointing the flashlight beam onto other spots higher up the                                           stairs. “Is it fresh?”

                                     “Hard to tell but let’s play it safe.” He climbed the first two steps and strobed the flashlight as far up the stairwell as his position allowed. “Go back to the car and grab the shotgun. It’s too damn dark in here for just a pistol. While you’re out there, check in with headquarters.”

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