I figured I would post this short story on here, as it has been awhile since the last time. I have compiled enough short stories for the collection I’m releasing, just continuing to work out all of the details.
What follows is my final paper for a Mystery Fiction Literature class I took this summer. I have been working on a mystery novel for quite some time and I specifically took the class to get a better grip on certain mystery concepts. This piece in particular–which focuses on the formerly successful mystery writer, Sean Ryan, and his disastrous drinking and partying habits that nearly ruin his career–is a shortened version of the novel I have been working on and the reason I took the class.
This short story version of it was to get a better gist of the overall players and concepts I’ll be using, as 100 pages into the novel and I already had quite a cast of characters and was worried I was getting ahead of myself. I wanted to see what meat I absolutely needed and what I could afford to lose. This leaves out huge sections of antics, side plots, a love interest and a great deal of other things but I think you get the gist. The idea behind the character of Sean Ryan is derived almost directly from some of my personal life (covering small town politics, drinking-probably too much, achieving some level, Z level, of notoriety and putting that behind you) as well as my love of Murder, She Wrote, though in this I tried to create an x-rated Jessica Fletcher on crack with homages to b-movie concepts.
I wrote this short story, Apotamkin’s Quorum, on a particularly coffee-fueled afternoon and I am not editing it past what I handed in. I hate writing in double-space and I the bloated look of the spacing’s 24 page length. I’m sure there are mistakes and unnecessary chunks, but they will remain. You will probably stumble on one of the clues used in the story, the matchbook, and how that issue is never really resolved, as well. It’s a little longer than some of the pieces I throw up here, but I hope you enjoy it!
Apotamkin’s Quorum: A Sean Ryan Tale
By: Joshua Lyford
The sun glinted off of Sean Ryan’s dashboard and into his eyes. The rays bouncing into his retinas were irritating and did little to improve his already grey mood as he tore down the Mass Pike in his green Jeep Grand Cherokee toward his temporary new home in Naquag, Massachusetts. While he was mentally soured and stiflingly annoyed, the tall pine and white birch trees that began to tower over either side of the highway as he got closer to his dead-center Massachusetts destination put a smile on his face.
It had been quite some time since Sean had seen the sights that so vividly defined his youth and, while he may not have admitted it to his high-society acquaintances back in New York City, he had yearned for the forest ever since he left several years ago. Of course, he hadn’t quite envisioned his return to be all but forced upon him, either. The thought simmered in the back of his head and he let out a subtle guffaw as he turned the Suicidal Tendencies tape in his tape deck a bit louder.
Sean Ryan was a talented and gifted writer who had had a recent misstep. He grew up in Naquag, the small rural community he now found himself returning to. In his youth, he couldn’t be dragged out of the forest or waylaid in any of his adventures. He began writing and reading often in those years. He would sit on a particularly welcoming stone wall that slept upon a slight incline in the heart of the wood and would write and read, read and write, and reflect on what made a boy a boy, a man a man, and further expounding on topics he hadn’t even begun to understand in a worldly sense. He maintained this thought process, the ability to sympathize–or rather emphasize–with nearly any concept, no matter how complicated, through his teens and twenties.
In those years he found the earliest fragments of his success and simultaneously nearly ruined that success for himself. Sean was a terrible student, not that he wasn’t intelligent, he was practically a genius, he just refused to study, or do homework. He excelled on assigned papers in English and History courses, but drove his teachers nearly to the edge of insanity with his refusal to adhere to their course-work. Still, he didn’t flunk out and he wouldn’t have cared if he had. After high-school Sean discovered the love of booze and drugs that was dormant in his bloodline as far back as he could remember and his taste for the two could not be satisfied. He loved nothing more than finding his favorite–now overgrown–spot in the forest he grew up in and downing some whiskey, smoking a spliff and writing for hours and hours, sometimes late into the night by torch light. When he wasn’t expounding on his ideas about the world, he was partying. Hard and Often. He was charming and charismatic and certainly not unhandsome and spent what were his peers’ college years drinking and fucking the nights away.
It was during one of these late night carnal free-for-alls that he set his life down a path he never knew he wanted or thought he could achieve. He had eaten some bad mushrooms and was coming off of a particularly rough trip when his mind cleared, just a bit, and he wrote the first 75 pages of what would become Fearless Night, Hallowed Day. He read and re-wrote while a woman whose name he never knew basked naked in the glow of his laptop, snoring peacefully. He continued to work on the novel in a drug fueled craze over the course of several days and by pure happenstance a childhood friend by the name of Rob O’Leary reached out to him. At the time, O’Leary had just started as a small-potatoes manager at a New York publishing firm. The two met up at a local bar and Sean described the mystery novel he had been working on, a novel that he believed would set a fire under the asses of the boring poo-bah of the writing socialites that they both detested. That night the pair shook hands, downed another glass and set out to change the world. O’Leary quickly realized he had a hot coal in his hands and the company he worked for vehemently refused to give him a percentage point of earnings for his work on the novel and couldn’t bring themselves to part with any significant cash for Sean. So, in typically youthful rebellion, the pair threw up middle-fingers to the institution. O’Leary began his own publishing company and Fearless Night, Hallowed Day was the first novel they would release.
It was an immediate success. In fact, success doesn’t begin to describe what happened upon the book’s release. Quickly becoming a New York Times Bestseller and ripping through every chart and recommended reading list available, Sean had become a literary celebrity almost overnight. O’Leary practically forced him to move to the city in order to be closer to the action and Sean went ahead with it. The press loved him and the reason was two-fold; he was endearing in that he never changed the man behind the face-he was not a typical “celebrity” and, perhaps more importantly, Sean had no problem whatsoever giving the press glorious shots of him passed out next to dumpsters or getting hand jobs in the back alley of a seedy dive bar. Sean was who he was, no more and no less. He continued writing mystery novels, that were pure literature mixed with over-the-top drug addled action with both horror and thriller fringe. The books were one of a kind and people ate each one up, Sean become more rich than he could have ever imagined.
And then, one day, it all dried up. Sean was sick of writing mystery horror thrillers and didn’t give a good god-damn who knew it. When he brought a manuscript to O’Leary’s posh office for what would become his latest release, O’Leary practically killed him with an antique globe.
“I’m calling the cops you sick-fuck!” The cabby yelled as he careened away.
The killer laughed, hysterically now, he was woozy with bloodlust.He walked about ten paces to a small stone pillar next to a green-brown shrub. He clambered to the top of it, almost dizzy with a thirst for death and the carnage of the innocents he had destroyed. He looked up to the sky and into the bleak night, He shivered as he felt his erection grow to its peak. He loved blood-flow, wherever it was headed. He raised his hands to chest level, holding the knife point to the center of his ribcage with both hands firmly. He looked down at the ground and laughed.
“What’s your name mother-fucker?!” He screamed manically at the concrete beneath him.
He jumped as high as he could and swan dove, laying himself flat as if he were to belly flop into an olympic-sized swimming pool.
The weight of his body nearly forced the 7” blade through his entire trunk, but it stopped abruptly as it chipped a piece of his spine, blood poured down the street and into a drain at the corner of the empty intersection.
The man, clearly, did not give a fuck about anything.
“After our entire relationship, built on hard work and trust, this is what you give me?” O’Leary seethed, staring at Sean, who was sipping out of a steel flask.
“Well yeah Rob, the twist is that there never was a reason, this sick-freak doesn’t give a fuck about anything, get it?”
O’Leary was shaking. He began throwing pages of the manuscript around the room and couldn’t contain his rage. He lifted a fire poker from next to his office fireplace and hurled it like a Roman javelin through the far wall and then shrieked like a hyena. Sean began laughing hysterically, and then maniacally, and then devilishly. O’Leary was breathing heavily and leaned on his forearms over his great oak desk. He turned his head slowly while his chest heaved.
“This isn’t gonna cut it pal. This isn’t going to be worth two drops in a 100 gallon bucket. Not for you, not for me. I’m not sitting here and waiting while both of our careers go down in flames. No way. No way. No way. You need some rehabilitation my friend.” O’Leary’s voice softened as he thought back on their years of lucrative friendship. “Yeah, buddy, you need a quick fix-me-up.”
“How’s that?” Sean yawned.
O’Leary came over and put his hand on Sean’s shoulder. The anger was gone. “We gotta get you out of here. Get you back to Naquag. You know, my uncle’s pal is the Editor over at the Central Mass Sentinel. We could get you a gig covering the town. It’ll keep you busy, but not too busy, and keep you writing. Maybe you’ll learn something, stranger things have happened, ya know.”
And just like that, it was settled. Sean didn’t fight the decision, hell he loved the little town and missed it every single day he stayed in New York. Now he was driving down the Mass Pike toward his little cabin in the woods to relax, write about the town and work on a new novel–a novel a bit closer to his heart. Besides, he thought, as his green Grand Cherokee pulled off the highway and onto one of the Central Massachusetts exit, if you are going to have a fall from grace, you could certainly have a much harder landing.
He followed his phone’s GPS past fields and farms, deep forest and quaint houses. Damned if this place wasn’t heaven on earth, Sean thought. He was amazed at how quickly he had forgotten the different roads and business of the area. He finally arrived at his cabin around nightfall and did a brief inspection of the exterior, everything looked in order and after fumbling with the lock for a bit, he headed inside and poked around in the living room. It was furnished in advance of his arrival, just as he’d asked. It was perfect. A smiling ten-point buck head hung over the fireplace, a prop from the second Evil Dead film, a favorite of his. He cracked a beer, gulped it heartily and began smoking a joint. He fell asleep on the couch, smiling back at the deranged buck.
He woke up with a bit of a hangover, though it was nothing the man couldn’t shake off and he certainly didn’t care to try. He was a bit annoyed with himself for over sleeping–it was now 3pm–but, the sun was shining and life was good. Sean was in his element here. He brewed up some coffee and hopped in the shower. He was laughing while windmilling his man-bits in front of his window when he looked at the clock. SHIT! It was 5pm and he had to cover his first Naquag Board of Selectmen’s meeting. He threw his clothes on, grabbed a pad of paper and a pen and jumped in his Jeep.
On the ride to the Town Hall Annex, which he recalled from his parents voting-days, he cracked an American beer that had been simmering behind his seat and tore through the small, over-stated, downtown area. He finished his beer and entered the Annex, which was practically empty. Sean stifled a burp and tried to smooth the front of his shirt.
“Well hello there, friend,” said a bald fat man who sat in the middle of two other bald fat men. “Thank you for coming to our little meeting here. Are you a resident?”
“I’m the new correspondent for the Sentinel. My name’s Sean Ryan.”
“A pure, pure pleasure, my friend. A pleasure. We always appreciate the press,” he moved his hand from left to right, over the heads of the other bald fat men, as if to present them like cattle. “I am Ron Bellamy, I am the Chairman of this little group here. To my right is Phil Stevenson and to my left is Edward O’Brien.”
All of the men nodded and Sean did his absolute best impression of a person who gave an ounce of a damn about any of them.
“Um, and I, am Amin Amor,” squeaked a man sitting at the edge of the table. “I am the Town Administrator, if you ever, um, need anything, just shoot me an email.”
“Yeah,” Sean said abruptly, he meant for it to be a bit more casual, but he was already growing too angry at his publisher and so-called friend for making him come here. With that, the Chairman banged his gavel and called the meeting to order. Everyone in the room stood up and said the pledge of allegiance. Sean noticed his hands were a bit shaky. The board members perused the latest meeting minutes and signed off on them. Sean doodled a drawing of Satan wearing a beret and wielding a pitchfork made up of male genitalia.
As the meeting dragged on, it occurred to Sean how difficult this job could actually be. He was a writer through and through and even when black-out, fall-down drunk, he could write pure gold. However, nothing he heard at the meeting was newsworthy and he wasn’t sure if he could force it.
“…and at long last we have pulled out of this little recession we’ve been in, thank the good lord,” the Chairman said, wriggling his head back and forth for emphasis. “As you all know, town folk and representatives of the press, the last few years have been hard for us here. The job market and economy hit us hard and it seemed like there was nothing any of us could do, but finally, at long last, we have arrived at a point where we can safely say our precious little economy is on an uptick!”
He said the last bit a little like an Alabama preacher, but not quite enough like an Alabama preacher to warrant praise for his speaking ability, just enough to be positive that it was a sham.
The other two selectmen nodded approval and spoke little-nothings for the benefit of a decent quote and a job well done and Town Administrator Amin Amor rattled off numbers relating to the specifics of tax payments, gross income and capital gains and as quickly as Sean’s interest was piqued, it was lost again. Sean had no interest in numbers. He did however have a story on his hands in reference to the town’s economic upturn, which made him happy. As the meeting wound down, Sean got up and stepped toward the door to leave. Amin Amor sprinted his slim brown body toward him.
“Mr. Ryan! Wait!” Sean turned and forced a smile, although he was sure it was more similar to a grimace.
“This Saturday, we are, um, throwing a town-wide bonfire, you have to come, I insist!”
“Tell me about it, will there be booze?” Sean asked.
“Oh yes, although it is not provided by the town–by-laws and that nonsense–but, um, you can bring your own and it will be a great opportunity to meet all of the players in town and see what the board is all about!” Sean thought about this for a moment.
“You’re on pal, I’ll see you there.”
The week slipped through his fingers like water, he spent it tinkering about in the cabin and writing sporadic short stories. The Sentinel Editor, Nicholas Revezzi, liked the look of the 300 word brief he had provided. His nights were spent indulging in alcohol, dabbling in marijuana and perusing some of the books that were scattered on bookshelves around the cabin. He had asked his publisher to make sure that the furnishing company filled it with books, preferably old ones, found in the area. There were some great pieces including one that had to be from the early 1900s–leather with a Native American face–entitled, Savage Rituals of the Northeast, that he flipped through. He would read it at some point, but for now the creepy looking illustrations scattered throughout were enough to occupy his time. When Saturday came, the writer found himself oddly excited. It would be nice to sit around a fire and the benefit of meeting some of these players was apparent, even to him. He put on his nicest red flannel and made his way downtown.
When he arrived, the parking lot was already nearly at capacity. Families were meandering about like hordes of locusts and there were ice cream and hot dog carts scattered about. He could see the dim reddish glow of fire-light far away in the dusk air off in a field, shadowy fingers shimmied to and fro around it. He parked his Jeep as far away as he could and picked up his cooler filled with American beer, making his way toward the focal point of the event.
He introduced himself to as few people as he could and was pleasantly surprised that no one in the town seemed to recognize the accomplished author. He doubted many of them could read at all. He got himself a hot dog and drank his way through most of his beverages a few paces back from the fire before a familiar brown-skinned man walked up to him.
“Mr. Ryan!” said the Administrator. “We are so, so glad you could make it. We hope that you, um, are quite enjoying yourself!”
“Oh yeah. I’m enjoying myself just fine. Want a smoke?” Sean pulled out a satchel of Bugler rolling tobacco and thrust it at Amin, while somehow simultaneously pulling a drag from his beer.
“Oh, no, no. No thank you Mr. Ryan. Surely you’d like to come meet with the Selectmen?”
Sean rolled himself a cigarette with one hand and tossed it into his lips, a trick he had learned during his late-night endeavors and he was glad of the effect it provided.
“Sure, Amin. Sure.”
The pair waltzed their way toward a dark group of figures. It was a bizarre dance, Amin Amor moving rapidly with purpose and Sean sauntering a bit back and forth as he navigated the tricky slopes of a booze-fueled mind. The group was chatting amiably to the residents that came up and spoke to them, bringing gifts of beer while waving sparklers back and forth, appealing to the small-town politicians as if they were ancient gods.
“Gentlemen, Mr. Ryan from the Sentinel is here!” Amin exclaimed.
The men looked straight at him, the two Sean recognized as Stevenson and O’Brien nodded.
“Mr. Sean Ryan! It is a pure pleasure to see you again, a pure pleasure! You hadn’t mentioned that you are an accomplished author, quite the feat. Quite the feat, surely! And in these days no less, I thought the kids stayed online. Did you know they don’t even teach cursive anymore? A travesty Mr. Ryan, a god-damned tragedy!”
“Yeah. Cursive, that shit is beautiful.” Sean said through a lungful of exhaled smoke. While he didn’t much care what anyone thought of him, he was less than thrilled with his response. Sean was an excellent writer, but could be a terrible speaker.
“Well put Mr. Ryan!” Bellamy responded. “That shit is quite beautiful.” There was a stress put on shit as if the man had stolen the word like a relic from an ancient tomb and only took it out to present to special guests. “Would you care for a fine Cuban cigar? I know that as citizen leaders, we should never stray beyond the letter of the law, but a man must give in to his baser instincts now and again, eh?”
“Don’t mind if I do!” Sean spit his cigarette out into the field and clapped his hands, he was pleased that at least one of these gentlemen had a personality buried inside of them.
The Chairman cut then passed cigars out to his compatriots, even Mr. Amor took one. They puffed heartily and the evening continued with a fairly pleasant atmosphere. Sean was pleased again to find that the board members were having drinks as well. The herd of residents thinned slowly as the night wore on, mostly those with children, though many had stayed behind. Sean decided it was time to kick things up a notch.
“Do you guys like whiskey?” He asked.
“Of course Mr. Ryan!” Bellamy responded, Sean thought it odd that the other selectmen seldom spoke unless addressed.
“I’ve got a fine bottle of Bushmill’s single malt in my truck if you’d like.”
“Oh, I would. Very much so!” said the Chairman jubilantly.
The group made their slow way to the parking lot, many of the residents would stop the board and whisper in their ear or talk openly of the town’s progress. When they got to the Jeep, they stood in a semi-circle puffing on their cigars. Sean climbed in and grabbed the Bushmill’s, he was pleased it was still fairly cool. He enjoyed his booze room-temperature, but he was aware that not everyone did. They passed the bottle around and everyone remained silent, enjoying the night until Bellamy spoke up.
“You know Sean, may I call you Sean?” the man asked, without waiting for a response. “You did an excellent job with that article the other day, it really is quite pleasing to see the way this town has come back together. We understated it a bit, but–off the record–we were in a bad way there for a while. We were looking at huge budget cuts and the educational programs we offered were about to be cut wide open.”
Sean nodded, he wondered what the men had done to quell the flow of money, but thought better than to ask. More than likely the country’s progress had meant more federal funding into the town’s coffers and he had no desire to engage in that sort of conversation in his present state.
“Well, Sean, it is about time we make our way out of here. We still have business to attend to and I’d hate to be unable to complete it. Have a fantastic evening, fantastic!” Bellamy clapped Sean on the back and the group sauntered off into the night air. Sean didn’t notice, or care, where they were headed.
He sat on the rear bumper of the Jeep for awhile and smoked cigarettes and drank whiskey, he loved this vehicle almost as much as he loved the forest and the written word. He had always been given a hard time for not spending his impressive bank account on a nice new vehicle like his literary peers, but he saw no reason to trouble himself. This was just right for him and he felt it matched his personality.
After a few hours of drinking, Sean noticed that the parking lot was empty. He had finished half the bottle of Bushmill’s and was well aware that he was far too drunk to drive home. It wasn’t that he was scared of a DUI charge, he just felt as if he wouldn’t even be able to turn the key in the ignition. He climbed in through the trunk and laid the seats down, he used his flannel as a pillow and covered himself with a blanket he kept in the back. He either fell blissfully to sleep or passed out, but it didn’t much matter either way.
At some point in the darkness, Sean awoke with a start, startled by some distant noise. He scratched his head and tried to figure out what it was, he sat up and opened the Jeep trunk. He yawned when his head snapped around as a scream echoed in the distance. He shot out of the back of the vehicle and looked around wildly. A final, terrible, shriek bounced through the trees and reached his ears, he couldn’t be sure, but he thought that he knew which direction the sound came from. He ran full blast across the parking lot and toward the trees, adrenaline cut through the booze and he was surprisingly agile. He kept running until he met the tree-line, where he attempted to navigate the brambles and shrubbery as quickly as he could. He took out his cell phone and used its dull blue glow to light his way, after what seemed like ages, he stumbled onto a small deer path deep in the woods. He followed it left, he was sure that this was the general direction he heard the screams coming from.
He kept his head down following the path until he came upon a clearing surrounded by slender white birch trees. Sean directed the light slowly from his direct left toward the center and then the right. Sean dropped his cell phone.
“No,” he gasped.
He picked the cell phone up, shaking uncontrollably. He nearly dropped the phone a second time as he directed the pale blue light to the six o’clock position.
“This can’t be, this can’t be real,” he thought, his lips quivering. He stopped the light at the bottom of a heavy oak beam and directed it upward.
Sean was staring at a young woman, maybe 25 years old, flayed and mounted on a makeshift oaken crucifix. Her hands and feet had been bound and her stomach had been torn into shreds, her intestines spilled down across her naked groin and blood ran down her thighs. Her eyes and mouth were locked in sheer terror, but deep gouge marks from forehead to chin rendered her nearly beyond recognition.
Sean couldn’t move. He was stuck in place. He had written dozens of mystery and horror novels, each more graphic and putrid than the last, but he was nowhere near able to comprehend what he was seeing. He fell backwards into the pine needles, the light never leaving the young woman’s entrails. His free hand fumbled in the pine needles and dirt and caught up on something, a matchbook. Without thinking he pocketed it.
He stayed that way for several moments, almost in tears, then nearly emptying his stomach, in full terror. It dawned on him that whoever did this could still be out here and that he himself could be in danger. The writer got up slowly and tried to push the light into the darkness around the scene, but it was to no avail, the night swallowed up the weak phone light with ease. He took one last look at the woman and then ran back the way he came.
He careened down the path with reckless abandon, he knew that if he hadn’t emptied his bladder only a few minutes earlier, he would have piss running down his pant legs. He thought for one desperate moment to call the police but when he looked at his phone, he had no service. He ran and ran, until he got back to the parking lot. He looked at his phone again, still nothing.
He got in his Jeep and tore towards home, about halfway there he had a single bar of service and called 911.
“Hello, 911.” The operator stated.
“I just saw a dead woman, her guts were everywhere, you need to send a unit out right now.”
“Calm down sir, can you give us the location? We’ll send a unit out right away.”
“Straight out of the municipal parking lot and left on the path, there is a clearing, the woman is there, dead. Please hurry!”
“Thank you sir.” The woman said and then hung up the phone.
Sean didn’t wonder why the woman hadn’t asked him to stay on the line or wait for the police to come, he just made his way as quickly as he could to his cabin. When he got there, he ran to his bed and passed out, miserable dreams pulled him in and out of consciousness.
When he woke up, he was sweating, vaguely aware of the events that transpired the night before. He was still in his clothes and smelled of fire. He put his hands in his pockets and brushed against the matchbook. He pulled it out and stared at it, The Old Oak Restaurant was emblazoned on the face. He didn’t know why he had grabbed it, but he flipped it open nonchalantly. On the inside was a crudely drawn face of a woman with crossed knives behind it. Yesterday’s date was scrawled beneath it.
Sean stared. He vaguely recognized the drawing, but he wasn’t quite sure from where. He put the matchbook back in his pocket and brewed up some coffee. He was staring into the middle distance from his back porch, enjoying a cigarette and coffee, when it hit him. He ran into the living room and combed the bookshelf, pulling out his aged copy of Savage Rituals of the Northeast, and pored through it. Three quarters of the way through he found what he was looking for. The crude scrawling matched the symbol on the page almost exactly. He read the entry.
Hundreds of years ago, the savages of Naquag took young women and sacrificed them in the surrounding forest. They would offer up their bodies to the forest to keep it content, for the strength of the community. The forest didn’t dare creep over the winding stone walls as long as it was fed the blood of the young women. If they weren’t sacrificed in this peculiar manner, it is said that the forest itself would take back every acre. Pine, oak, maple and birch alike would act as vicious wardens of the wood. The only thing more terrifying than the sacrifice of these youthful women, was the consequence for not giving them up.
Sean’s jaw was agape as he read. The sacrificial diagram matched what he had seen almost exactly. He recognized The Old Oak Restaurant as the one upscale dining establishment in town . His curiosity got the best of him and he called the local police dispatch.
“Hello, this is Sean Ryan, I am a correspondent for the Central Massachusetts Sentinel I reported a murder last night and I wanted to inquire as to what the police turned up.”
“We won’t tolerate pranks at this office sir,” a man’s voice bellowed from the other end of the line.
“Excuse me?” Sean asked.
“Sir, there was no police detail sent out last night, you are surely mistaken. If you don’t get off the phone, we will charge you with misuse of an official line.”
“Well, fuck you then,” Sean yelled into the receiver. He hung up the phone and slumped on the couch. He most certainly hadn’t imagined the event. He decided to call his editor at the Sentinel.
“Hello, Nicholas Revezzi?” The editor asked.
“Hi, Nick this is Sean. I had a question concerning a murder last night.”
“A murder? I haven’t heard anything about it, what are you talking about?”
“Last night, I heard a scream while I was in the municipal lot in town and ran to investigate, there was a woman torn to shreds Nick, to shreds. It was out of a horror movie or something.”
“That is terrible Sean, are you sure?”
“Yes, I am god damned sure of what I saw.”
“Well. tell you what, as our political correspondent, this is out of your jurisdiction, let me take over and I’ll see what turns up.”
“Whatever,” Sean spat.
Sean slumped back into the sofa and exhaled deeply. What the hell was going on around here? Why hadn’t the police been dispatched? Why did no one seem concerned about this? He called O’Leary back in New York City.
“O’Leary,” the man said.
“Rob, this is Sean. Look, this is going to sound crazy but last night I saw a murdered woman in the forest, I contacted the police and they never investigated. I’ve turned it over to the Sentinel and they said they’d look into it, but no one seems to give a shit.”
“Sean, that’s awful, are you ok?”
“Yes, I’m fine. I just want you to look into it for me. I’m going to scan a symbol I found on a matchbook at the scene to you, would you mind looking into it?”
“Of course Sean.”
Sean hung up the phone and cracked a beer, he quickly fell back asleep.
He woke up in the late afternoon and toiled around the house aimlessly for an hour and a half, he couldn’t get himself to write anything. He was essentially useless. He scanned the matchbook and sent it to his publisher. He put fresh clothes on and decided to pay a visit to The Old Oak Restaurant.
When he arrived, the place was bustling. There were no tables left so he pulled up a stool at the bar and ordered a double whiskey on the rocks. The woman behind the bar was beautiful and clearly acting flirtatious to the writer, but he was in no mood to deal with her advances. He was sipping his drink, or gulping may be more accurate, when he saw Bellamy, O’Brien and Stevenson enjoying a meal at the corner table. He made his way to join them.
“Hi Sean! How did you enjoy our little party last night?” The man asked enthusiastically.
“It was great, only, someone was murdered out there.”
The chairman spit out his drink.
“Impossible! In our little town? That doesn’t happen and I haven’t heard anything from the Police Chief!”
“It’s true, the police don’t seem concerned and the Sentinel assures me they are looking into it.”
“Sean, you are too used to the big city, no one gets killed around here. Impossible. Purely impossible.” Sean marveled at the man’s attitude, it was as if he was without a single nerve that would indicate something terrible could ever happen in Naquag.
“Well, I just thought you should know. Have a good dinner.” Sean said and turned on his heel.
“Be assured, Sean, you were mistaken, but I will have the Chief look into it!” The chairman yelled to his back.
Sean paid for his drink and left the dimly lit restaurant to get back into his Jeep. He sat there for a moment weighing his options. He rolled a cigarette and resolutely decided that, even though it made him physically ill, he had to return to the scene of the crime.
He arrived at the parking lot a short while later and got out of his vehicle. He made his way back through the forest and turned left at the deer path. He was amazed that he hadn’t fallen onto his face the night before, the path was not an easy one to follow. He stopped for a bit and caught his breath, he knew he was walking back into a terrible place. He reached the clearing and his jaw dropped.
The woman was gone, the blood, the gore, all gone. Nothing, not a single semblance of a crime remained. The pine needles resting in the clearing beneath the white birch trees looked neatly manicured as if they had been raked. He couldn’t believe his eyes. He marched to the exact spot he recalled as the location of the woman’s horribly mutilated body and squatted down. He saw something white under the needles. He reached down and picked up a thin sliver of what appeared to be bone. It had several small holes through it and Sean examined it before placing it back in his pocket. When he stood up to walk away, he noticed another path behind the location of the body. He followed it out and after two miles or so, it opened up to a cul-de-sac, surrounded by well-manicured homes. He looked at the mammoth houses and wondered how these people hand’t heard the screams too, but then he recalled the amount of prescription medication society indulges in these days and figured they were probably half way to a coma when it happened.
He made his way to the end of the road leading to the cul-de-sac and looked up at the street sign, Barnes Rd. He walked the long route back toward the municipal lot and drove home. He said to Hell with work, to Hell with writing and to Hell with the town altogether and decided he would deal with seeing this murder-scene the only way he knew how: drinking to an incredible excess. It had the desired effect and before long, he was belligerently drunk. He grabbed his copy of Savage Rituals of the Northeast, and opened his laptop. His story for the Sentinel was up on his screen and he read through it. He couldn’t help but notice the correlation between the savage murder he had seen and the passage in the book, and the town’s economic revival to that of the ancient belief that the sacrifice was necessary to the well-being of the community. He knew he was drunk, but Bellamy’s smug smile and Amor’s nervous speech impediment popped into his head. He opened the Sentinel’s database on his internet browser. He looked up the voting information from the previous year, when Amin Amor took the Town Administrator position. He scanned the document for the information he was looking for- Amin Amor, 29 Barnes Rd.
That was all the happenstance he could tolerate. He chugged whiskey and slammed his laptop down, he thought he heard the crunch of glass from impact. He got back in his Grand Cherokee and headed for Barnes Rd. He called his publisher to ask if he had figured anything out.
“Weird stuff Sean, the legend of the Naquag Indians is real creepy,” O’Leary said.
“It’s Native Americans Rob, and I know, I read that. Anything else?” The publisher took a moment before responding.
“Well, I have a contact at the FBI. I did some consulting work for them a few years ago since one of our authors wrote a book about criminal minds. He said they had gotten wind of some murders in the past, but the local police never turned anything up. As far as they are concerned, it is an open case. The Feds don’t like the look of this sort of shit.”
“Neither do I, I’m going to check out the administrator’s house. 29 Barnes Rd. if I go missing.”
“That is the stupidest thing I have ever heard Sean, don’t do it.”
“Too late, I’m on my way.”
“Be careful you jackass.”
Sean hung up the phone and parked down the street from Amor’s home. He crept up the streets as carefully as he could with as much booze as he had in his system. He Reached 29 Barnes Rd. and saw that the lights were off, he stepped past the manicured shrubs and peered into the windows. He looked into each one until he found a room in the back decorated with what looked like Native American artifacts. He took a deep breath, and as sure as he could be that no one was home, tried the window.
It was unlocked so he climbed in. He took out his cell phone and cast its pale blue light through the room. His eyes stopped when he saw an ornate silver dagger with feathers hanging from the bone handle. The handle was missing a slim piece and the fastenings were still intact. He took the piece of bone from his pocket and brought it up to the knife. It was a dead-ringer for the missing piece. He heard something stir behind him and spun around. He felt a sharp pain on his temple and blacked out, this time it wasn’t from the whiskey.
When he came to, he was on his back in what appeared to be a large basement. It was dimly lit by candlelight and he saw an antlered deer-skull above his head. He tried to move, but he was securely fastened to what felt like a table. He struggled briefly and four figures wearing cloaks and feathered headdresses came into view.
“Oh, Mr. Ryan. Poor, poor Mr. Ryan,” the voice of Ron Bellamy spoke. “We didn’t intend for this, we had the utmost respect for your work. We had hoped for a long-lasting working relationship with you.”
Sean spit into his face. “What the hell is going on around here?”
“Sean, may I call you Sean?” The man asked without waiting for an answer. “We love the town of Naquag. It is a beautiful community as you yourself know.” He paused for emphasis.
“Yeah, agreed now why am I strapped to this table?”
“In time Sean! In time! First, let me continue with my little monologue. Someone like you can appreciate a good monologue, yes? Now, anyway, we couldn’t bare to see our little community doing so poorly. With that economic downturn, things looked dire. Our working class were suffering and as the elected overseers, it was our duty to make sure that we do everything in our power to ensure that the town turned around.”
“And you couldn’t do that by cutting some road repair work or something?”
“These roads are god-damned beautiful Sean!” the man snapped. “Anyway, onward we go. So it is our responsibility to ensure that the town prospers. We were at our wits end. In walks Mr. Amor here, well, I’ll let him explain a bit.” The Town Administrator’s head appeared above Sean’s.
“Yes, um, yes, well,” the man stammered. “I am a bit of a Native American buff–I can see you appreciated my collection–and as I was perusing Naquag’s history, it came to my, um, attention that the native tribe here took certain steps to ensure the community’s prosperity.”
“You mean killing young women?”
“Yes, well, basically. We prefer the term sacrifice. It is all for the greater good you see. We have made several sacrifices and, um, as you can see, the town has really turned itself around.”
“Jesus Christ,” the author muttered.
“Apotamkin, to be more precise.” said the Chairman. “He enjoys the blood of youth. You, however, are not a young woman, but we feel like your blood should keep him happy for some time, anyway. Stay here Sean, though I imagine you don’t have many options.”
The three cloaked selectmen marched out of view and Amor came back into view wielding the sacrificial dagger.
“We will, um, flay you Mr. Ryan. It is quite painful but, I can tell you’ve had plenty to drink so I’m sure you’ll be, um, fine. Not like that terrible woman from last night, um, screaming and carrying on. The Police Chief said they had vetted a good one, she was an orphan you see, not many, um, friends, so no one would miss her.”
“You’re telling me the police department is in on this?” Sean couldn’t believe his ears.
“Why yes, exactly Mr. Ryan, your editor friend Mr., um, Revezzi, too!” Amor put his face even closer to the writer and place the sacrificial knife against his chest.
“We would prefer to sacrifice you in the forest, but we can’t risk our clearing for a while, um, thank you.”
Sean could feel whiskey burning in the back of his throat, unable to help it, he burped and puked onto the administrator.
“No, Mr. Ryan! God, this is awful!” The man squealed and half-fell over, stumbling toward the writer. It was just enough.
Sean head-butted the man and the Administrator toppled onto him, the knife an inch from the writer’s left hand. Sean grabbed it with two fingers and cut backwards into Amor. The man shrieked and fell to the floor. Sean could feel wet, warm, blood on his hand. He kept the knife and cut his bindings. He reached over and freed his other hand and then his legs. Fueled by booze he was on top of the administrator, stabbing him a dozen times before making for the door. He barged through it and saw the three selectmen mixing some sort of elixir.
“Shit! Get him!” O’Brien yelled.
Sean smashed through them and jumped out the window. He could hear the selectmen shouting and scrambling to catch up behind him. He could hear one of them getting into a car as he made his way back to his own vehicle. He climbed in and tore down the road. The car was in hot pursuit and was much faster than his own. He made it back on to the main road as two police squad cars pulled in behind him. They sped up and the chase continued on to the back roads.
“Shit!” Sean yelled and turned up the Suicidal Tendencies tape, almost giddy. Sean was, if nothing else, a bit reckless, and had never been in a car chase before after all.
The caravan of careening vehicles made it through the downtown area and on to a long stretch of open road, surrounded by forest. As he reached the bottom of a massive hill, hitting 90mph, he felt a nudge and looked over his shoulder. One of the cruisers had tapped his rear driver side wheel and set his Jeep into a tail-spin. The Jeep hit the guard rail and Sean smashed his head against the steering wheel.
He was rattled, but awake. His engine was off and smoke poured from under the hood. Four police officers had their guns drawn on him.
“GET OUT OF THE VEHICLE NOW!” One yelled. Sean stayed put until the officer smashed the window with the butt of his gun and put it to his head, dragging him forcibly from the Grand Cherokee.
“Ok boys, do your work. I won’t let this town fall back into economic hell on my watch,” the officer said calmly.
The Selectmen were breathing heavily and marched up to Sean, grabbing the sacrificial knife from his hands.
“Nice try Mr. Ryan, but, alas, now is the time you meet Apotamkin, I am afraid. Thanks for coming back to our little community.” Bellamy said with a filthy smile.
With four guns on him, the man pushed Sean onto the hood of his car and put the knife to his throat.
“Don’t worry Sean, I will skin you before you bleed out, it wouldn’t be right otherwise.”
Just then Sean heard a noise overhead and he was bathed in light. For a split second he thought perhaps he had died of fright and this was the white light from heaven you hear about in religious television shows. He waited, but had not died. He heard gunshots all around him. Bellamy exploded in gore and flew backwards. A vessel came into view before him and the tell-tale thum-thum-thum of a helicopter spilled into his ears. It landed in the street and gunshots erupted around him, a black painted FBI logo on the side of the helicopter was festooned with bullet holes. With a final gunshot, all of the police officers were dead around Sean.
Several heavily armed and armored men got out of the helicopter and grabbed the two surviving selectmen and the administrator. One of the men took off a combat mask and waltzed up to Sean, grabbed his hands and pulled him upright.
“Sean? My name is Agent MacCullum. Rob O’Leary told me you were getting into some sketchy business. We got out here as soon as possible. We’ve been trying to get to the bottom of these mysteriously quiet murders for quite some time.”
Sean couldn’t say anything, he just shivered and ambled slowly back to his Jeep. He pulled out his tobacco and a beer, rolled a cigarette and took a hearty gulp from the can. When the chaos subsided, he watched O’Brien and Stevenson get pushed into the helicopter, handcuffed. Sean decided it was time to make the long walk back to his cabin. Before taking off, he looked back at Agent MacCullum.
“Hey MacCullum,” he shouted.
“Yes, Mr. Ryan?”
“When you see him, tell O’Leary I think I have a story for him.”
“Will do Mr. Ryan, be prepared to answer some questions. We’re going to need to get some information from you.”
Sean gulped the rest of his beer and nodded through exhaled smoke.
“..And Mr. Ryan?”
“Thought I’d let you know, I’m a huge fan of Fearless Night, Hallowed Day.”
Sean laughed and stumbled his way back home.