Deputy Alan Eichmann watches Mills die on the hardwood floor behind the front desk. Dial-tone humming from the phone dangling above the young man’s body. The snub-nose .38 still warm in Alan’s hand.
He lived and died at his post, such a good policeman, Alan thinks, turning his standard issue Model 27 on the two remaining officers. He wonders what the headlines will read in tomorrow’s paper:
March 10th, 1959. Four officers gunned-down in deadly shoot-out at Hampshead Police Station, rural Maryland.
He figures a story like this will explode, lining the newsstands in Baltimore, DC, perhaps even New York, but by then he’ll be long gone. Gone, and headed for the Windy City.
Over-stepping the officer’s body, Alan eyes the sheriff, who’s half-crouched behind a desk, holding pressure on the wound in Deputy Michael’s chest.
The sheriff looks up from the bleeding officer beneath him, and Michael’s eyes bounce between the ceiling and the two senior officers.
“He’s not gonna make it, Alan,” Sheriff John says, exasperated as the blood seeps out from beneath his fingers.
“I know,” Alan says, brow raised at the gun cabinet adjacent to him. Three of the standard four shotguns standing at attention, ready for orders. “I shot him, remember?”
“You bastard,” the sheriff says, tensed, shoulders rigid. Hands still on the bullet wounds in the dying deputy’s chest. The boy’s eyes shut, his groans long and inflamed, perspiring like some United States’ soldier dying on a beach overseas. Alan was too young to fight the Nazis sixteen or so years ago, but he’s positive the sheriff is reliving it all, as he fails to stop yet another of his men from bleeding out in a foreign place.
John looks up at Alan, his face covered in sweat. Deputy Michael’s soul tugging on the lids of the sheriff’s tear-filled eyes, prepping for its climb toward heaven.
“He’s got a wife, two kids-”
“Where’s Abram, Sheriff? Not skulking around here with one of those shotguns is he…? That would be bad for you…”
Alan clears his throat, and when he steps forward, the sheriff flinches.
“Michael, I know you can hear me,” Alan says, wiping Mills’ blood from where it sprayed his shaven jaw. “It wasn’t me who murdered you tonight. It was your sheriff, the man holding you now, running guilty hands over wounds he inflicted.”
Alan’s eyes shift to John, who whispers something to Michael. Last Rites, perhaps.
“You told me you’d be alone and yet I find you here, with everyone, save Abram, who I assume from the missing twelve-gauge is out on patrol. Did you think normalcy would save you? Them? That business as usual would make things, respectable? You knew to be alone, John. You murdered your men. Not me. You.”
The sheriff shakes his head as if Michael can see him through clenched eyes. The young officer’s breaths a tide receding, shallow and solemn as the moon pulls on its curtain of oxygen. John removes his hands from the boy, and examines the crimson coating them.
“Damn you, Alan,” the sheriff says, rising to his feet. “Whatever you’ve seen since we found the boy isn’t real. None of it’s real.”
Alan grips the Model 27 with both hands now. “Ah, ah, John. Lose the gun.”
John’s revolver falls to the floor with a clunk, resting between the boots of the newly deceased officer. Michael, fresh out of the academy in Baltimore, not in Hampshead two weeks and now this? This isn’t what they’d agreed on. Killing young men…
Alan looks past the trembling sheriff to the little girl in the corner. Still wearing the dress he’d buried her in two years ago. Her brown eyes staring up at him beneath a curtain of hair, black like her mother’s. Her lips move and the words ring in whispers in his head. Like the clawing of some starved animal trapped in a cellar.
“She says we should sit.”
John eyes the corner, vacant of anything save an empty coat rack.
He lifts a hand to it.
“There’s nothing there, friend. I swear no one’s there…”
“Your office,” Alan says, and pulls the cord of the front desk’s telephone from the wall, bits of debris crumbling to the wood below. He points to the coffee pot with his revolver, and John only understands when he does it a second time.
Alan brings the coffee to his lips, hand clasping the revolver on the surface between them. The barrel trained on the sheriff, whose eyes flick to the office door, closed, and severing them from what seems the world.
A framed black and white photograph rests between them, of a river near Absit Gorge, and Alan remembers the day well. How the cool of the water contradicted that scorching July heat. Where they’d spent hours on the river. Drinking, and fishing until the sun went down. All smiling in their checkered shirts. A beer in his hand, the other on John’s shoulder. Mills casting his line in the foreground. Officer Abram behind the camera. The world within the picture tilted, off-set do to Abram’s lack of tolerance to the lagers had that day.
“Mills’ first day,” John says, and Alan’s gaze shifts from the black and white photograph. “Four years now. The two of you went on patrol the next night. Remember that?”
Alan sets his coffee on the desk, a brown drop descending the lip of the porcelain.
“She says you have something of hers.”
“Don’t refer to it, as her. You know damn well what it isn’t.”
Alan sighs, takes the photograph from the place between them.
“She says you talk too much.”
John leans in.
“Alan, listen to me-”
“No,” Alan says, replacing the photograph. “You listen. Ever since we kicked in that door and found Mrs. Grace’s son, I’ve been seeing Isabelle, as she was…I can’t explain it, but I’ve come to need it, and she says she’s going away unless I get something from you. Something you took from that basement. I’m not sure why you took it, and I don’t care, but I need my daughter back, John.”
The sheriff leans over the desk, and Alan’s grip on the pistol tightens.
“You know damn well that’s not your daughter.”
John rises an inch, and Alan lifts the pistol. Stone expression on his face.
“I’ll tell you why I took it…” the sheriff says, lowering himself. “When we were taping everything off, my pa, dead ten years, told me to. In my head he said, take it, son, as if he were right there with us. He stood at the foot of my bed every night that week. Staring down at me in the suit we buried him in, smiling.”
Alan sighs, smiles.
“Never told me this before…”
John leans in.
“And be sent off writhing in a straitjacket? I’ve always said we need to get out of Hampshead. I told you every way I could without sounding deranged. This town is tainted, Alan…that night was unnatural…I think we interrupted something.”
John sips his coffee, and Alan allows it.
“We could both use a new start. I’m thinking a beach somewhere. Warm water, gulls…why not look up, Maria…? Try and make things right.”
Alan’s chair creaks beneath him, and with a sip of coffee he’s in the driver’s seat of his grey Chevrolet 3100. Arm draped over the passenger’s seat, polished leather baking in the morning sun. Smile lining his face, Maria waving from the steps of their one-story American Dream.
In the sheriff’s office, Alan sips his coffee, hand tightening on the grip of the pistol.
The rear-view mirror aflame with sun’s stare, a smelting supernova in the glass. Alan squints as his foot finds the pedal. The engine grumbles.
He looks at himself from his driveway.
Sees it all again.
The hump, jerk, stop of the near 3,300lbs pickup truck as the wheel finds the asphalt again.
The growing despair rising in his bowels as he exits the truck, the version of himself along the drive already in tears. He grabs his head in his hands, closes his eyes, waits for Maria’s banshee of a scream. The one which jolts him from sleep most nights, gasping for air. Signaling that the dream is over. That happiness had come and stayed awhile but had to be off now. Leaving the young twenty-somethings in the drive, the knowledge of how to breathe lost on them both, weeping over the crushed body of their six-year-old girl.
Alan straightens in his chair, and Isabelle smiles from the rightmost wall, mouthing words he remembers well, but forever too late.
The cats, Daddy. They like it under here. Next to the wheel…
“No…” Alan says, leaning back in his chair. Eyes on Isabelle and the silence she speaks. “Even before the…accident, with all my drinking, Maria said the only way she could bear to look at me was with Isabelle. A heart-to-heart over dinner can’t fix things between her and I, but you can help, John. Isabelle can be whole. I can be with her…”
“Your daughter is dead, Alan…and that thing that’s been talking to you spoke to me too. Heaven knows I’m not a religious man, but ever since this started I’ve been in church, and y’know what? I haven’t heard Pa’s voice anymore. He hasn’t visited one time since. We stopped something, but just barely…and I think that thing that was talking to me, that’s talking to you, is stuck here…not quite where it was or where it wants to be. It’s trapped like a cricket in sap and we’re not gonna let it out. We are gonna let it rot, starve, you hear me? For god-sake, Alan-”
John freezes, mouth hanging like a puppet whose master is distracted. His hands grip the sides of his chair, knuckles white, his eyes wide as he stammers.
“It’s, it’s got its claws in you, Alan…d-deep down in you, son…”
Alan’s eyes flick to Isabelle, who leans over the desk, chin in her hands, giggling at John. Her fingers tapping her face in off-kilter rhythm.
“You’ve seen her. She’s real as you or I. Now hand it over, Sheriff.”
John reaches into his pocket, tears streaming down his cheeks, and places a black stone on the desk between them.
“It burns,” John says, tears in his eyes. “Reminding us of where we’ll meet again one day…”
“She says to kill you now.”
John jerks with the flash of the revolver. The strings tying him to the world snipped.
Alan leans back in his chair, the wood groaning, and looks from the gem on the desk to the others in the room. Isabelle, and the tall shadow hunched in the corner. The one he can only ever see in his peripheral vision. He looks to the darkness, sees bare wall, and registers the entity adjacent to him in the confines of his periphery, now in the opposite corner.
Isabelle smiles, brown eyes beaming, and steps forward.
“Daddy,” she says, craning her head up at him. “You have to release me, so I can be with you.”
Alan remembers the basement of that house at the fringes of their jurisdiction. Deep within the forest near the Pennsylvania state line. He lifts himself from his chair, fellow officers’ blood staining his uniform and the badge pinned to his chest.
“Daddy, can we go to the house? To the basement? I want to be with you…”
His hand finds his daughter’s cheek, and she places hers atop his.
He takes the stone, holds it up in the light shed from the bulb above.
The whispers churn in his mind as he stares through the window into the trees. Where they all shared cigarettes and the morning news together a lifetime ago, but he’s not focused on the forest or its memories. He’s homed in on the thing at the edge of his vision. The one hunched behind the closet door of his bedroom when he and Isabelle have their 3am talks.
“Don’t think me naive…” Alan says, staring through the window, speaking to the sliver of an entity in the corner. Images of the basement trampling his mind, the whispers’ crescendo into audible scraping.
Alan pulls the stone close and black veins wriggle to the surface of his daughter’s skin, like earthworms in a Baltimorean rain. Her teeth decay as her brown eyes blacken. The culminating stench of rotted eggs permeating in the dead sheriff’s office. Alan rubs his eyes, and blinks away the burn of the now palpable sulfur. His throat and mouth scorched with it, his vision blurred through the fiery tears brought on from the pair’s putridness.
“No, no, that’s not how you laughed,” he says, voice raspy, lifting the stone to them both. “It was higher…drawn out. Like you were chugging the sun…”
The darkness coagulates, pooling to the edges of the office.
And he knows that in not seeing, he is staring directly at it.
“We’re not going back. Not yet,” he says, tightening the grip on the stone between his fingers. He presses it to the wooden surface, still staring into the abyss ahead of him. “Now, let me hear that laugh.”
The room lightens a shade and Isabelle looks up at him in a face not his daughter’s. Her teeth are elongated, her eyes black. Her breath an echo throughout the space as the snarls of the unseen one circle him. The drool of some void-borne snout pooling onto the collar of his uniform.
Alan pulls the hammer of his revolver back with a click and engulfs the gem with the mouth of the barrel, pressing down hard. He stares at what he knows isn’t Isabelle until the stone chips, the tip splintering from beneath the weight of the weapon.
The room brightens, and Isabelle smiles up at Alan, and laughs in the way he remembers.
A sound which enriches his soul.
The embers of a life lost rekindled.
“There she is,” Alan says, stooping to meet the eyes of his little girl. “It’s nice to see you, sweetie.”
Isabelle smiles, her porcelain teeth sawing one another from behind her lips. The grinding muffled but audible, as black veins recede beneath newly pale skin.
“Hi, Daddy,” she says, teeth clenched in a smile.
Alan rests his hand on his daughter’s head.
“There she is,” he says, as headlights scan the tree line through the office window in a slow crawl.
Alan rises, and extends his hand to Isabelle, who takes it in hers.
“How would you like to see your mother?”
She tilts her head and gazes into him, smile still sawing back and forth.
Alan smiles a smile he hasn’t in some time, thinks, My girl, my little girl.
From the lobby, a voice heightens.
“Mills? Oh God, MICHAEL?”
Something heavy topples from an unseen surface.
Frantic boots race atop the hardwood floor and halt just beyond the door.
Abram’s voice, breathless.
Alan grips Isabelle’s hand, lifts his revolver.
The door opens and he squeezes the trigger, a thought on his lips.
Isn’t is swell, something more than waiting for death?
Scott J Moses
Scott J Moses is an optician by day and a writer by nature. His work has appeared in The Cabinet of Heed, Coffin Bell, Boston Accent, and elsewhere. He currently resides in Baltimore, simultaneously loving and loathing humanity.
You can find and follow Scott at:
You can read more of Scott’s writing below:
“Waning Plumes of Frostbitten Air,” The Cabinet of Heed, May 2019 https://cabinetofheed.com/2019/04/30/waning-plumes-of-frostbitten-air-scott-moses/
“She Walks,” Tiny Flames Press, April 2019
“Nowhere, Louisiana,” Coffin Bell Journal, April 2019
Photo by PublicDomainPictures
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