THERIOPHOBIA: FEAR THE BEAST Part Seven
ONE WEEK AGO: HALF MOON, WAXING
Hank Frye liked to keep to a routine.
He sometimes speculated that he had a touch of the obsessive-compulsive to him, in his desire for neatness and order. Though nowhere near a mania for him, Hank found that his day seemed to go better, and his stress level stayed lower, when he began each morning according to a pattern. A visit to the bathroom upon waking, shaving, brushing his teeth, ending with a shower. Relaxing in his robe and slippers while having breakfast, the morning newspaper spread on the table before him. And, at last, dressing for work. Hank liked his routine, even on his off days. But there were rare mornings when that pattern became disrupted.
Like this morning.
Hank’s doorbell had beaten his alarm clock by a good hour. He’d climbed from bed, wobbled on his feet to the front door still clad in his pajama pants and undershirt, flipping on light switches as he passed them. Now he sat in his living room, a steaming cup of coffee held with both hands, fingers intertwined around a hot ceramic FSU mug, and watched his guest. Lucas Vale sat fidgeting in Hank’s most comfortable recliner. The drawn blinds let in the first orange wash of sunrise, while the central air unit already hummed, pumping cool air into the house. A tall fireplace of unfinished river rock stood at attention behind the men, its services this morning no more than decorative.
“Okay, Lucas,” Hank said, blowing steam from his coffee cup. “Let’s go over this one more time. But this time, just tell me what you experienced, what you know for certain.”
Lucas Vale stared at the floor, the steam from his own coffee condensing on his glasses. The dark patches under his eyes broke the monotony of his ashen countenance. He sighed.
“What I know,” he began, “is that I have no memory of yesterday whatsoever.”
“Until you woke up last night,” Hank said. “And learned about the fire at your office.”
“And Felicia,” Lucas added.
“Right.” Hank took a sip. “Yet, from that, you’ve been able to conclude that you, for reasons unknown, must have both murdered your receptionist and set fire to your business. In all honesty, do you need me to tell you what a stretch that is, Lucas?”
Lucas Vale raised his head; his face looked ten years older at that moment. “But what about the ring?” he asked. “I didn’t just imagine that, Hank.”
“No, I doubt you imagined it,” Hank said. “Yet I also doubt, very much so, that this ring belonged to your friend.”
“But I saw it.”
Hank shifted positions, propping an elbow on the arm of the recliner. He hesitated. “In my opinion, most wedding rings are interchangeable. I doubt very much that you would be able to pick out that particular ring from a collection of similar ones, Lucas.
“And you are assuming it was a genuine piece to begin with. Stainless steel can look like silver to an untrained eye. There are lots of women walking around with cheap fakes on their fingers, and they have no idea. But you panicked and flushed it before we could examine it.”
“But I swallowed it, Hank.”
“Did you? Perhaps you did. People who sleepwalk sometimes do unusual things. But the ring might have been there to begin with–in the grass, I mean. And you noticed it when you were hosing off your front step.”
“But I–it looked just like…”
“Lucas.” Hank leaned forward, elbows on his knees. “Are you familiar with the dictum of Occam’s Razor?”
“I’m not sure,” Lucas said.
“Occam’s Razor tells us that the simplest explanation is most often the correct one.” Hank smiled. Now he felt in his element. “It’s the basic rule of all scientific thought.”
“Let me submit a couple scenarios for you,” Hank said. “First, a man, prone to sleep disorders and, by his own admission, sleep deprived, does something uncharacteristic. He oversleeps. Sleeps the day away, in fact. He wakes up to learn that, by coincidence, there was a robbery or some such at his place of business. A robbery gone bad. He learns that his employee was killed and his business burned. Upset, his tired mind begins to run off in all sorts of directions.
“Scenario number two. A man, who has never once in his entire life displayed even the slightest propensity towards violence, drives to his office–in his sleep–and murders his own employee, then sets fire to the place. Oh, and at some point, he bites off her finger and swallows her wedding band.
“I ask you, Lucas. Which of these two scenarios adheres to Occam’s Razor?”
Lucas looked as if he might cry. “So you don’t think…?” He swallowed. “I didn’t do it?”
“Lucas,” Hank said. “We’ve been friends since junior high. I know you as well as I know anyone. There is no way you could ever kill another person. It just isn’t in you.”
Lucas covered his eyes with a shaking hand. He tried to laugh. “Oh, God, Hank. Thank you. Just to hear you say it out loud.”
“Listen,” Hank said. “I’m going to speak now as your Doctor, not as your friend. You are to entertain no more of these outlandish fantasies. Grieve for your friend, handle your business affairs. Above all, get some rest. But no more fantasies.”
Lucas sank back into his chair. “God, I am so tired.”
“Go home, Lucas,” Hank said. “Go to bed.”
“I can’t,” Lucas said. “I have to stop by the police station and give a statement.”
“Alright, do so. Then go straight home and get some sleep. Doctor’s orders.”
Hank walked Lucas to the door. They shook hands, then Lucas reached an arm around Hank’s shoulder, embracing him.
“No sweat,” Hank replied.
“Send me your bill, okay?”
Hank snorted. “Yeah, I’ll do that.”
“I mean it,” Lucas said.
“So do I,” Hank said. “When I was going through the divorce, how many hours did you spend on the phone with me, listening to me rant?”
“No, it isn’t. That’s what friends do, Lucas. They don’t charge for it.”
Lucas nodded, staring at his shoes. He clapped a hand on Hank’s shoulder. “Thanks, buddy.”
“You’re welcome. Now get going.”
Hank watched his friend walk down the drive and climb into his car before closing the front door. Hank removed his glasses, rubbed his eyes. He chuckled.
Lucas Vale, a killer. Preposterous.
Yet there was a killer on the loose, out there, somewhere. Hank thought about the lecture he’d prepared for tomorrow’s classes. The continued examination of human evil. And now that evil had found its way to his hometown, the safest place on the planet. As a professional, Hank felt no surprise. He viewed the event with a clinical detachment. Such things happened. Now, by happenstance or probability, it had happened in Ironwood. The fact did not surprise Hank, did not shock him.
Yet, for some reason he couldn’t quite comprehend, Hank shuddered.
Leland Crosper peeled off his shirt and jeans, his undershirt and briefs, rolled them all into a tight bundle and stuffed them down the clothes hamper. He kicked aside his work boots, took a moment to examine his socks. His big toe protruded from one, the other scarce had a heel. He tugged them off and tossed them into a corner, making a mental note to throw them out with the trash on Wednesday. He paused for a moment in the cramped bathroom of his mobile home, staring at himself in the mirror. The contrast of his stained face and thinning hair, his hands and forearms with the fish-belly white of the rest of him might have been humorous to one of the proper disposition. It pissed Leland off.
I hate that goddamn mine.
He stepped into the bathtub, slid the shower curtain into place, and turned on the water. Steam rose around him as he watched the coal dust streaking down his chest and belly, turning the water at his feet a filthy black. He had to lather twice to get the dust off. Even then it seemed he could still smell it.
Leland made a token effort at toweling off, then raised the bathroom window to let the steam out, so that it wouldn’t cause the wallpaper to peel. Leland disliked the flowery pattern that had come with the home, but not enough to bother to replace it.
He went into the living room and plopped down in his easy chair after retrieving two beers from the humming Frigidaire. His damp, naked skin stuck to the upholstery. Leland popped open the first of the beers, grabbed the remote from the “coffee table”–a large wooden spool turned on its side, donated without their knowledge by the Ironwood Power Company–and clicked on the TV. One of the interchangeable morning shows came up on the screen.
Goddamn third shift.
Leland didn’t feel sleepy, yet he’d have to go to bed in a few hours if he expected to work the next night. At least the beer helped, provided he had enough of them. And Leland planned to have enough.
He thumbed a button on the remote control, killing the program in the middle of a feature on some new treatment for cancer. Pressing another, he activated the VCR. A third started the cassette inside rolling. Candy Paradise deep-throating some skinny twerp’s oversized pecker. Leland slurped his beer. He’d seen this one, just like all Candy’s flicks, a dozen times if he’d seen it once.
Leland picked up the newspaper from where he’d dropped it beside the chair. The headline stole his attention away from the video.
GRUESOME MURDER, ARSON STUNS TOWN
Now that was something you didn’t read every day, not in the Ironwood Gazzette, for sure. Leland read the caption beneath the grainy, black-and-white photograph. Some chiropractor’s office torched, a body found inside. Dismembered. Leland sat up a little. Dismembered. Now that was interesting. He read the entire page, flipped to page three and finished the article, then skimmed through it again.
On the TV, Candy was now on the receiving end of some tongue. She moaned and whimpered. Leland turned up the volume.
Dismembered. Leland wondered what the victim–the chiropractor’s secretary–had looked like. In his mind, she looked like Candy Paradise. Leland felt his penis swell and stiffen. He imagined himself as the killer, surprising the pretty receptionist at work. The office empty. Taking her into the back and doing her on the floor. Doing her hard.
Candy screamed her pleasure on TV and Leland wondered if it sounded the same when she screamed in pain. In his mind, the two became synonymous for her as he rammed into her, pulling out and then shoving it up her ass, yanking on her hair until it came away in pretty blonde handfuls. She screamed again and Leland exploded, spraying his semen across the makeshift coffee table. He gasped.
Leland sat back, wheezing, sweating. The newspaper lay over his lap, covering him. The video played on.
And Leland made up his mind then and there to do what he’d so long dreamed of doing.
Candy Paradise lived somewhere around these parts, if the stories were to be believed. He could find her. He would find her, now that he’d set his mind to it. He’d find her and bring her back home with him. Then he wouldn’t just be daydreaming anymore. Then he could take his time and do with her anything he wanted. Anything at all. Leland looked down at the newspaper, rereading the headline.
Better than rabbits. A lot better.
Leland drained the beer, popped the top on the second and drank deep.
He felt like celebrating.
He had a party to prepare for.
* * *
WAYNE MILLER is the owner and creative director of EVIL CHEEZ PRODUCTIONS (www.evilcheezproductions.blogspot.com, www.facebook.com/evilcheezproductions), specializing in theatrical performances and haunted attractions. He has written, produced and directed (and occasionally acted in) over a dozen plays, most of them in the Horror and Crime genres. His first novel, THE CONFESSIONS OF SAINT CHRISTOPHER: WEREWOLF, is available for purchase at https://www.smashwords.com/books/view/734763
MORTUI VELOCES SUNT!