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In the end, we dragged the dead into Luke’s tent and then burned them along with the pine forest. If we were fortunate, fire would cleanse the bodies and the crime scene. The lazy local police would write it up as a tragic accident: two druggies passed out, and their untended campfire burned them and the woods to ash. Case closed.
Klaus, Turtle, and I made a pact that night, one sealed with the blood of our friend. We resolved to never talk about it to anyone, even each other. It started as a dream, a nightmare to be honest, and it would end that way. We lived in the waking world after all and things like that didn’t happen here. Denial became our creed, our code.
For a time, it worked. As the years passed, we drifted apart. And like all college friends, we went our separate ways after leaving school.
I finished before both of them and got a job with a private archaeology firm putting my degree and my experience with shovels to use every day. I faced my dark times and moved past them; I enjoyed the woods around me, especially the grainy feel of the wooden handle in my calloused hands. For me, my work experience was cathartic.
Klaus finished his double majors and took a position with a rigidly structured, family-owned corporation that didn’t mesh well with his selfish satanic views and rock ‘n roll lifestyle. After his short-lived, volatile career in the private sector, he retreated from public life too. Instead of partying with friends or playing heavy metal music at local bars, he hid away from the world at his grandmother’s expansive farm in the southern part of the county. The last I’d heard he was delivering pizza to make ends meet.
Turtle, surprisingly enough, went into law enforcement. Or at least as close as they’d let him with bad eyes, bum knees, and a pronounced beer belly. He worked as a radio dispatcher for the county sheriff’s office and would always let me know if someone we knew got robbed, arrested, or even pulled over for that matter. Turtle provided better gossip than my grandmother, beloved family snoop and infamous community busybody.
Since he monitored other people’s communications as part of his job, Turtle avoided relaying anything to me through digital channels such as phones and Facebook. So I’d gotten used to the occasional handwritten letter from him stuffed into the tiny mailbox at the apartment building near my home office. But the overstuffed manila envelope from him took me by surprise. I found its grisly contents even more shocking.
Turtle enclosed a long, rambling letter along with newspaper clippings and what appeared to be photocopies of police files and crime scene photos. The clippings detailed the accidental discovery of human remains. As they are wont to do when replacing or installing a new water line, county workers had dug a trench across a county road that had been paved several years before. Only on this occasion, they had trenched across the femur bones of a local woman who’d gone missing shortly before the road was redone.
The newspaper articles were short on details, but the letter informed me that the police had withheld information until a proper forensic analysis of the body could be conducted. According to the photos and reports, they’d learned that she’d been a victim of a heinous but familiar crime. Her ribs had been cracked open and her heart removed. The county medical examiner called the killing ritualistic, perhaps the work of a Satanist. In his letter, Turtle appealed to me for answers. Did I think it was Luke’s handiwork? Could Klaus have been possessed by it when he killed Luke? Should he talk to the cops?
My blood ran cold as my breathing hitched, almost causing me to toss my lunch. I fought down the growing sense of alarm and the feeling of betrayal. I checked the postmark. It was dated almost a week ago, the newspaper clippings two weeks earlier.
I called Turtle’s cell phone several times but received no answer. Alarm turned to panic and paranoia. Perhaps he was at work. Perhaps he was at work telling his buddies in blue all about a similar murder he’d witnessed once upon a time. Or maybe he was dead already. After all, if this killing had come to light, so could the others. A smart killer threatened with possible exposure wouldn’t leave loose ends. And there were only three living souls who knew the truth about heartless victims in the rolling hills of Bama.
One call to Turtle’s mother confirmed my suspicions. Through the sound of tears and a snot-filled nose, she told me how her baby boy had eaten a big meal, drank most of a bottle of the wine I’d sent him from a winery in Tennessee, and then gone to bed for the last time. She’d found him the next morning. He’d been dead for hours. The paramedics had taken one look at the bloated body surrounded by crumpled pizza boxes, fast food wrappers, and empty beer and wine bottles and called it a cardiac event. The doctors at the for-profit regional medical center had confirmed it without so much as an autopsy. By the time my conversation ended with Turtle’s mom, I’d agreed to be a pallbearer. After all, I had to come home to deal with some unfinished business anyway.
I didn’t bother to unpack my work clothes or equipment as this trip was liable to involve some digging. I hung my black suit above my dress shoes in the backseat of the truck and headed for home. I dreaded going back there, even if only for a little while, so I took my sweet time. Alone with my thoughts, I hardened myself for the task to come.
Rain drizzled on the somber assembly around the grave of my friend. The Turtle’s law enforcement friends and co-workers had come out in force. Pardon the pun. But funerals always help me find the humor in life.
I stared across the thin blue line, an odd euphemism since most of the cops made Turtle look svelte by comparison. Klaus glared back at me. His cold black eyes seemed lifeless, his skin pale as a corpse, a stark contrast to his black-on-black wardrobe. As always, he punctuated his severe gothic punk look with his silvery pentagram pendant. In short, little about him had changed in those years since the bad old days.
I decided on my course of action as the preacher hemmed and hawed about the glory of the Lord or some other such nonsense. Like most ministers in the South, he’d chosen the forum of a funeral to harangue people into attending church rather than celebrating the life and times of our fallen friend.
Typical, I thought. Turtle must be rolling in his coffin. His parents might have found Jesus in their later years, but their gifted gypsy boy had remained an outspoken pagan and amateur psychic as an adult. Of the three of us, I considered him the least likely to set foot in a church and that was saying quite a bit. Klaus adhered to LeVayan Satanism as opposed to theistic Luciferianism, but he was still an ardent anti-Christian. And I’d probably burst into flames by walking through the doors of any church.
After the rainy, gray funeral ended and the army of men in blue dispersed, Klaus approached me. As always, he looked grave and serious. He’d been born and would die a walking stereotype. Too bad the people around him tended to judge a book by its cover, including his friends and family. He looked dejected, lonely, and a shadow of himself.
“We have to talk,” he said, adjusting the waistband of his Victorian dress pants. As he did so, the handle of his pistol became visible. Carrying a concealed weapon at a funeral, I thought. He must be scared, stupid, or serious, deadly serious. I bet on all three.
“There’s nothing to talk about, remember?” I reminded Klaus and turned away.
He grabbed me by the arm, and I locked eyes with him. My gaze bore into his vacant eyes, and he withered like a sunflower deprived of sunshine under its intensity. Klaus let go and stepped away from me.
“For what it’s worth,” he said, “I’m sorry for everything that went wrong back in the day. I wanted to tell Turtle that too. I didn’t think…he was still so young. But I guess we’re not guaranteed any day beyond this one, right?”
“That’s a truer statement for some than it is for others.”
Klaus shivered in his oversized suit and pulled the long-tailed jacket tighter around him. Raising his dark eyes to my own, he tried to smile and failed. He averted his gaze and shuffled his feet. I couldn’t admit to being any more comfortable around him.
“Let’s talk about this indoors,” he said. “I’m freezing my balls off out here.”
“Can’t do it at the moment. I have to visit family while I’m here.”
“How about after I get off work tonight? I’ll be there till around 11 o’clock.”
“Are you still delivering pizzas?”
“Yeah,” he shuffled his feet in the wet grass around the open grave. “It’s hard to find a job around these parts with degrees in psychology and sociology.”
“Imagine that,” I chuckled. “The way I keep work is by staying on the road. Speaking of the road, I need to be hitting it soon. Thanks by the way.”
“Thanks for what? The apology?”
“That and the gift.”
Klaus looked confused. After a moment, he asked, “The gift of friendship?”
“You could say that,” I winked. “It’s something I wouldn’t have without you.”
“Uh, give me a call at work later.” He added, “If you want to, that is.”
I smiled and said, “Neither heaven nor hell could stop me.”
I left Klaus standing in the rain. By the time, I saw him that evening it had ceased. The temperature was hot and muggy as it tended to be in the Deep South. He stepped onto the ill lit porch of the rundown house. One of many foreclosures in the avenues on the eastside of town, I’d taken the real estate sign out of the yard and made it my own for the night. There was one thing left to do here in the Hellmouth and then I could go.
“Ever seen the back of a shovel?” I asked my prey as he stood framed in the pale moonlight. Though I wore the skin of his former friend, I considered him to be one thing, a loose end. He might have brought me into this world, but I was taking him out of it.
The answer I sought came a moment later when the shovel blade made contact with an all-too-familiar face. His eyes rolled back into the sunken sockets as he groaned in pain. Unwilling to give my enemy any quarter, I swung again…and again. The shovel rang like a badly forged bell.
KLANG! KLANG! KLANG!
My heart raced; my breathing grew ragged and shallow. I needed to lose weight.
KLANG! KLANG! KLANG!
I didn’t stop until the bloody mess that lay below the blade of the spade was no longer recognizable as the man I’d once called friend. Klaus twitched spastically and tried to reach for the pistol in his belt holster. So I hit him once more for good measure.
Turtle, the facilitator, had been easier, an accident had sufficed. He sent me letters on a regular basis; and I mailed him unique wines and liquors encountered in my travels. When my grandmother, a faster but less reliable source of gossip from the county grapevine, had told me about the body found in a stretch of highway, I knew I had to act. Enough pure nicotine injected through the cork of a wine bottle had done the trick. An overweight smoker having a heart attack seemed as natural to the corner as the majesty of the secluded hilltop where I now stood over the hole I’d dug for Klaus Kristiansen.
On another fateful morning near the Hellmouth, I buried my conduit, the final witness to my unwelcome, unceremonious birth into the world of humankind, deep in the Alabama clay.
But not before I ate his heart.
This story was written by Jeremy Hicks. It is his original content and cannot be used anywhere else without his expressed written consent. However, this blog may be shared, reblogged, etc. on social media for the purposes of promoting the author, his blog, and his other creative works.
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