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Fiction: Renovatio by Brodie Lowe
Words by Brodie Lowe
Image by Gretchen Gales
November 16, 2014
Monday - 5:17 AM
Detectives Peak and Weston trudged through the overgrown front yard of John Aldo’s house, the lights from surrounding police vehicles highlighting their faces; they looked like sunken jack-o’-lanterns that had been forgotten and left on display a week longer than usual. A thin fog lingered annoyingly like a distant relative at a free meal.
“Aldo have a younger daughter?” Peak asked in a raised voice, the morning traffic noisily trickling down the road on which the house resided, as he stepped over a discarded hand-me-down doll whose eyes were practically gouged out (to assume that they were simply missing would be too forgiving).
Following Weston, Peak watched the detective flip through several pages of documentation on his clipboard, clicking his tongue as he skimmed for any Aldo relations. “Had one. Four-year-old. Sent to a foster home about a year ago,” Weston spoke.
“Let me guess: bruising from gymnastics after school?”
“Results of his ham-fisted disciplinary actions, apparently. Armed robbery five years ago. Violated parole, went back for ten months,” Weston said, his eyes scanning the pages. “This guy’s a real piece of work. Been out since August.”
“I.D. the tipper?”
Earlier that morning, around 4:00, the Austin Police Department received an e-mail from an unknown person who pithily provided photos of the body left in an ambiguously portrayed carpeted hallway along with the address to the house in which that specific hallway was located. This led to police arriving on scene, breaking down Aldo’s front door (since no one was home), and discovering the photographed body to be a reality. Detectives and forensics teams were notified soon after.
“Not a chance. At least not any time soon. E-mail was sent from the deep web,” Weston notified.
Nick, a heavyset crime analyst sporting a scraggly beard, jogged down the front porch steps, smeared eyeglasses swinging on a lanyard around his thick neck. “You guys are gonna love this,” he said.
“Show us,” Weston replied, careful not to spill his mug of coffee as he climbed the porch’s cracked steps.
“What’s there to love about a murder investigation?” Peak said, tossing a piece of gum in his mouth.
“This one’s special. Whoever did it put a lot of thought into it,” Nick said, wiping his eyeglasses with the tail-end of his shirt.
The three men entered Aldo’s house as Nick led them through the living room and into a hall. “This way, gentlemen.”
Inside the house, several forensic scientists encircled a woman’s naked corpse, dusting for fingerprints on nearby furniture, capturing any foreign fibers or rogue hairs with tweezers and bagging them. The three men came upon the victim.
“Body’s shaped like a…” Weston began, sipping his coffee.
“Fetus,” Peak finished.
The body was positioned in the form of a prenatal fetus inside the womb, placed on the carpet, equally distant from each of the hall’s walls. She was on her left side, back bowed, chin pointing tightly toward the sternum, elbows bent, forearms covering the face, knees tucked into the chest.
They took a step closer. Nick stood back, observed, and waited for the perfect moment to verbally interject his interpretation.
The above hall-light shone on her body; her contours and curves glistened, gifting her with a plastic exterior. It reminded Weston of the time he took his wife to Habernazer’s Candle Shop down at the mall when they dipped their lovingly joined hands in a bucket of... “Wax,” Weston said.
“Preservation purposes?” Peak asked.
“Why preserve when you never come back to collect?” Weston inquired.
Nick stepped closer, saying “Because he wants to show off.”
“Lesions around the wrists and ankles. Looks like she was bound before she was…” Weston said.
“…Turned into paper mache,” Nick finished.
“So the adhesive would settle in and make this…” started Peak.
“Statue,” Nick’s admiration spilled over. “Body of art. But check this out.”
Nick squatted near the woman’s head, snatched a pen from his shirt pocket and wedged the tip in between a sliver of flesh on her cheek. “There’s a reason why her head wasn’t sealed tight like the rest of her. It’s his signature.” He lifted the flap of skin, exposing the meat beneath, and lightly brushed the pen over four more thinly sliced flaps of skin that had been etched in the hollow of her cheek with extreme precision that would shame a world-class chef.
Weston bent down, snapping a surgical glove on his hand, just behind her head. He brushed her long hair away from the nape of her neck. “Peak, have a look,” he said as he revealed a tattoo.
“So we look for the nearest tattoo parlor?” Nick said, not really expecting an answer.
“Looks like scales. Reptilian,” Peak observed. “Looks new.”
“Fishy,” Nick said.
“A mural of the aquatic denizen,” Weston punctuated.
“But why the fetal position?” Peak asked himself aloud.
“A position of rest. Gesture of gratitude for the gift of the canvas that is her body,” Nick said.
“Comfortable. Tucked away,” Peak said.
“There’s something else. These characteristics, animal in nature, aren’t complete. They’re not meant to be construed for the finished product. They’re representative. Mid-transformative process of changing into another creature. The fetal state notifies a precursor to…” Weston spoke, adding the ingredients in his head. “Wait a second.”
Weston walked to the end of the hall, pressed his back to the wall, and looked at the body. He cocked his head, noting something different from this angle. “It’s not just a fetus. It’s one ready for delivery.” He looked up, past Peak’s and Nick’s heads, into the living room. “She’s positioned as if this hall is the birth canal and the living room is the way out.”
“Into the land of the living,” Peak followed his logic.
“Passageway into the next life as…” Weston said.
“As what? A fish?” asked Nick.
“Reincarnation gets you to that point,” Peak pointed out.
“Delivery. Inevitable finality,” this from Weston.
“Birth or rebirth?” Nick asked.
“I’m siding with rebirth. A continuation of life as something else. She’s a full-grown adult, representing someone who’s already been born. He picked her specifically. Didn’t abduct a child for a reason.”
“You grow up, age out. Die. And are…reborn?” Peak said.
“Which is immortality,” said Weston.
“What makes you so sure the killer’s male? We’ve a woman here being reborn, mirroring the killer’s own existence, right?” asked Nick.
“But still. It’s a mockery of sorts. Not true to life. Misleading. A perversion,” Weston corrected Nick’s thoughts.
“Where the hell’s Aldo?” Peak asked.
“Haven’t seen him,” Nick said. “Don’t think he even knows there’s a body here.”
Officer Becca Torrance charged into the living room only to meet Weston’s eyes with a hurried, shocked countenance. “There’s a body in the crawlspace. Not like this one.”
Over the next several months and leading into the next year, the authorities were notified via anonymous e-mails of three more deceased persons, their post-mortem conditions in the same predicament as Ms. Culbert’s body in John Aldo’s house. Upon locating John Aldo’s whereabouts, and a subsequent arrest in which the local residents expressed their never-ending gratitude to police for his capture, Aldo held true to his claim that he had nothing to do with the “fetus shit” in his house. “I ain’t that sick,” he’d said all too convincingly. But the charred body – that of Texas A&M student Dustin Wilkinson who had been for just over five months prior to the discovery of his corpse – found under his house was indeed Aldo’s messy work.
The three additional victims, who had been discovered in similar prenatal contexts, were in residences of lifelong criminals who had been off the radar for years. In each case, the evidence of their continued criminal activity was there, prepared to be collected by authorities who were ready to put them behind bars. It was “as if this killer is turning in these guys,” Weston thought aloud one day. The reincarnation motifs (one body was found with synthetic cat whiskers sewn into the facial tissue) were “representative of the killer’s beliefs. And if he believes in reincarnation, then he believes that good deeds will give him a better life in the next. Which could only mean that the present one that he’s in isn’t a good one,” Weston had said. “Must be dying or damn near close to it.”
Journalists had dubbed the mysterious man with a penchant for the prenatal journey “The Birthday Killer” and it stuck with the public. To add insult to injury, each victim had indeed been murdered on his/her birthday. Memes which pictured a diapered baby crawling around with a knife in his hand just inches behind Sherlockian detectives who were searching with alarmingly large magnifying glasses to no avail were soon tweeted. This added an increasingly uncomfortable level of embarrassment to the entire department as they could not find a smidge of evidence to assist them in the investigation and, according to the community, were “dragging their feet on the issue.” The killer was just as elusive as he had always been and it wouldn’t change for quite some time.
March 27, 2015
Sunday - 10:23 PM
The priest’s body – an immovable naked and unprotected ball of doughy flesh – was tucked securely into a fetal position. A metal chain, its hooked end embedded deep inside his pruned flesh, snaked its way from his navel to somewhere out of the top of the gigantic vat of dense, amber liquid in which he floated weightlessly. It was a shocking sight of human origami, as if the priest – a fully grown man – had been placed back inside the womb, locked in a fetal position, crafted by the careful hands of the one known as the Birthday Killer, better known as Mason to Father Dodson Kellerman.
From the corroded walkway above, the Birthday Killer stood, hunched over, his body rigid and stiff – the result of Fibrodysplasia Ossificans Progressiva – a disease in which most of his ligaments and muscle tissue had gradually and permanently been replaced with bone. Looking down into the vat, the first word that came to the killer’s mind was fascinating as he admired his work; he had spent countless nights illustrating the construct in which the priest was suspended, salivating as he did so. The fact that it was now a reality was one that sent the killer into a euphoric state of self-fulfillment and ecstasy. The irony of himself – a godlike being who was physically changing into something that stood out from and beyond the rest of mankind – looking down upon his creation in a perinatal dream state lifted his heart.
Beside the killer was a heavy duty fishing rod, mounted to the railing, which would normally be used during deep sea fishing for shark. “He’s a big one,” the serial killer muttered before taking up the rod, casting it into the vat and replacing it on the railing in a locked position. Thanks to gravity’s help, the hook slowly made its way through the thick liquid until it bumped into the priest’s head. “Bingo,” the killer spoke.
A few involuntary muscle spasms, along with the unwelcomed knock on the head by the nasty chunk of metal, woke Dodson. Disoriented, he opened his eyes only to have them flushed with a gooey liquid. He closed them immediately.
“Come on, Father. Break from it,” the man on the walkway hissed.
Dodson, now somewhat coherent, gasped for air – the same oxygen that he had been inhaling through an oxygen mask for the past hour or so. He knew that he was breathing because, although his eyes remained shut, he could feel his soft stomach expanding against his portly thighs. Upon his awakening, and his consequentially increased heartrate, there was hardly any room for deeper breathing. So he tried to remain calm and figure out just what he had gotten himself into.
An insanely mundane thought crossed his mind as he recalled his wife harping on him to lose some extra weight. “Diabetes ain’t no joke,” she’d say after showing him ghastly pictures of rotted toes and feet that had fallen victim to the disease. Now, he cursed himself for not running with her in the mornings. There had hardly been any time between the never-ending office work at the church, obligatory hospital visits to sick members of the congregation, and preparing engaging (and effectively less boring) sermons filled with PowerPoint slides of every kind for a culture which, as he once put it in a bitter rant after having just received a particularly upsetting sludge of comment forms under his office door, “reeked of attention deficit disorders.” Most, if not all, of the forms had complaints about the monotony of his sermons and the lackluster messages which “were constructed with a few straws of hay and painted with a matte finish which took all shine away from any potential spiritual growth” (one form had pointed out all too willingly). “Like they’re ever going to pay attention with their eyes glued to those phones,” he said before storming out of his house’s front door. “They want entertainment! I’ll get ‘em a fuckin’ rock band one Sunday!”
But he knew the real reason behind his poisonous emotional concoction of anger and resentment toward such situations: the loss of his daughter, the raped and murdered victim of a man who had been put behind bars fifteen years ago and long-forgotten by the rest of the community. And yet, deep down, Dodson knew that it was another excuse. Just something else to make yourself feel more sane and more like “the real self” you feel that you ought to be. Excuses – the tears that roll down faces of murderers when they declare with perfect conviction to the courtroom and jury “that’s not who I am. I’m not like that.” Excuses. Shit, let’s get to work, he thought.
A simple oxygen mask suctioned itself securely over his mouth, but something felt different. Normally, he wouldn’t feel much of the plastic over his skin. Normally, he’d have a thick beard which ran deep and dense across his face. Said facial forest had been shaved away, making his mug resemble that of a baby’s. The oxygen tube ran from the mask, which seemed to have been sealed tightly with a concrete-like substance, through the liquid surrounding him and out of the vat. The clear tube slammed into a regulator machine which sat heavy on the cold concrete floor.
Dodson tried to elongate his body any way he could, or at least separate his extremities from the mass of his body, in an effort to allow more room for oxygen. He used his back muscles to pull his arms apart, heard a stifled rip as some of his flesh tore from his forearms, and began freeing himself. It hurt like hell and he screamed at the top of his lungs. A few bubbles lazily seeped out of the sides of the mask and slowly worked their way to the top of the liquid in the vat.
March 25, 2015
Friday – 2:50 PM
Father Dodson Kellerman sifted through two days’ worth of mail, the present day’s envelopes still damp from the downpour outside of Holy Compassion Cathedral. Just after tossing several pieces of junk mail in the bin next to his desk, his eyes came across an envelope as white as untouched snow, the sender’s handwriting all too familiar. INMATE 16-5288 was written in ink, the letters traced over multiple times as if marked by an elementary student who was worried it wouldn’t be legible, in the upper-left hand corner. Dodson’s own name was written in the middle-center, the writing violating him, and past generations that carried the same last name, in his innermost being. A chill ran up his spine. Without opening the envelope, he ripped it in half and threw it away.
Dodson tossed the rest of the mail on his desk in an array of news and mostly offers of one kind or another, next to the bulletins, that the church would address in the following week’s meeting concerning budgets, and walked casually down the hall, offering the daily pleasantries and “howdy doody’s” of the day to any passerby that crossed his line of sight. Sipping on freshly brewed coffee in his mug, the words “RED SOX” riding along its expansive curvature, he made his way into the fairly empty sanctuary and awkwardly climbed into the church’s confessional booth like a troll entering a hobbit’s dwelling. If I gained any more weight, I’d have to crawl through, he thought.
It was an extraordinarily slow day in the booth, or as Dodson’s mentor at the St. Thomas Aquinas College said, “A good time to take out some reading material.” So that’s what he did, his eyes hungrily reading the pages of “Phantom of the Opera,” a book he had postponed reading for years.
Shuffling feet, scraping the floor like hesitant jagged nails on a chalkboard, shambled up to the booth about twenty minutes later. Initially, Dodson thought the hobbling to be that of an elderly lady, but when he heard the deepened grunts that accompanied the limping footfalls, he knew it to be a man. Dodson placed a bookmark in the paperback and slid it in between his right outer thigh and the booth’s wall, preparing for the second confessional in the past hour. The curtain on the side of the confessor raised a little as the man stepped through then fell back into place as if heavier than before.
The visitor sat down.
“I prefer to speak to you like a friend. So let’s skip the bullshit and get to know each other. My name’s Mason,” Dodson’s new acquaintance said.
“That’s usually not how this kind of thing works,” the priest responded. “Usually…”
“If I had a gun pointed at you from the other side of that grating, you might act differently,” the man interrupted. “What do you think?”
“You want to prove this?”
A gun’s hammer cocked on the other side. “It’s loaded. Just want to pick your brain a little. Then you can finish wackin’ off over there.” The voice came from a mouth whose lips sounded sewn shut, and whose teeth probably weighed half a pound each. The words came out strained, contaminated even.
Dodson remained silent for several seconds, contemplating a way out. Should’ve built a trapdoor below my feet for situations like these, he thought. The opera ghost in Leroux’s book had seeped too far into his subconscious. He pushed away the rib-tickling idea in an effort to address the subject in a more practical way and so the wheels of his brain turned.
The confessor slid his tongue over his bottom lip and, as if his tongue was the source of a sixth sense which smelled fear, said “Your silence isn’t a result of plotting, pondering or pontificating. Forgive me, I do enjoy alliteration. Instead, the stillness is out of fear. Perhaps the whole reason behind phrases such as ‘silent night’ are because there was a type of fear. A type of hesitancy from above that things just weren’t going to work out.”
“Get to the point,” Dodson said, putting on a front.
“What do you fear, Father?”
“You talking to me or the one upstairs?” he asked, stalling.
“Enough of answering questions with questions. Here’s where I’m at, Father. I want to feel good about what I do. I want to feel better about myself when I make them reborn. When I give them new life.”
“Is your definition of ‘lost’ the same as what you’d suppose mine to be?”
“We’ll get to that.” He paused, licked his pus-covered lips and said “Mala prohibita. What is it?”
“Behavior forbidden because society says so.”
“Right. And this one: Mala in se.”
Becoming a bit confused, Dodson said “Behavior inherently wrong.”
“There you go. Now we’re on the same page and understand each other.”
“You’re grazing upon subjects like intrinsic value, are you not?”
“Yes. And boy do I agree with you and the church when you say stuff like that. I think we do have that intrinsic shit inside of us because even Hitler would be upset if you took his seat on a train. That’s a marker. One that represents a particular humanistic measurement of an unquestionable rule which is held as a universal belief. Don’t steal someone’s seat, dammit! Am I right?!” The man quietly laughed at himself, but stopped when he didn’t hear an agreeable snicker. “A marker that our rule is a reflection of something more that lies beyond this plane. But what I want to know is this: Is free will an illusion?”
Dodson leaned forward, pulling back the curtain in front of him, to see if anyone was around.
“Sit back. Before I blow your brains out and you scar that old lady saying the rosary in Section F,” the trespasser said.
“What are your reasons?”
“See, I believe that everything’s determined already. If there were perfect free will in the world, and something contradictory to the unshakeable will of an all-powerful supreme being were to occur, it would negate that being’s definitive existence and render him the opposite of an all-knowing entity. How can a ruling and sovereign God give you free will? Isn’t that a contradictory suggestion?”
“Then you’re a hard determinist.” More of a declaration than a question.
“That absolutely every result in our lives and those to come is necessary because it is determined through causality beyond our control and, therefore, free will is non-existent?” The words rolled forward slowly like old gravel beneath a tire.
“And you believe that omniscience and free will are incompatible?”
“Do you agree that in order for a belief to be rational, that belief must be freely chosen?”
“But according to you, that would be impossible.” No quick, scholarly response came. “If you believe that your belief in determinism is rational, then haven’t you already freely chosen to believe that way? If determinism in its most complete form were true, why are you trying to convince me to believe in it if I don’t have the will to choose? Don’t I have to choose to believe in it or not?”
“It’s not that simple.”
“What are you really here for?” Dodson said, his face burning hot.
“I’m here to tell you that you’re the final venture.”
“The hell are you talkin’ about?”
Two men, dressed to the nines, each standing well over six feet, tipping the scales at a combined total of around 550, slowly and cordially cleared the sanctuary of the only four visitors who sat in pews with clasped hands. “Father Kellerman has a board meeting in the sanctuary today,” they offered up their most sincere, albeit poorly executed, excuse to clear the vicinity before saying “Other room’s taken.” Nevertheless, the small flock of loyal church members, three quarters of who were well into their 70’s, obliged, nodding to the gentlemen.
“I’ll be giving you a new life. It’s not me, Father. I tried telling you that. There’s something else inside me that draws me to this business of life-giving. Transcendence, baby. I’m giving them a better life, facilitating the process of their reincarnation. I’m doing the work of God. Yes, your God. The same one who gave you a yearning for giving others a chance to meet him. And my ache is upon me now more than ever…”
“Your babble’s worse than shit, fella,” Dodson said, his blood boiling.
Ignoring the attempt to get under his skin, Mason addressed the priest in a calm and almost doctoral manner, saying “You’ll be placed into a new life and will understand why when the time comes. Does 16-5288 mean anything to you?”
Dodson exited his side of the booth and flung his body in a motion of rage through the opposite curtain, into Mason’s side, as if the drawn-out length of time he had worked at the church was an oasis and Mason’s body was the water. His lips were intent on saying “Just who the hell do you think you are?” along with some questions as to how Mason knew the specific numbers that occupied his thoughts night and day. But Mason caught the scrambling priest in the face with a cupped hand, white cloth – drenched in chloroform – blossoming from his palm like a deadly flower.
The priest was overtaken.
The sanctuary was empty.
March 27, 2015
Sunday – 10:37 PM
Given that time was not something to waste in situations like these, the priest ran through the gambit of options that listed itself in his head (just two, really): stay and see what happens next on this free ride in carnival hell or escape. He unwisely chose the latter.
Dodson reached up and grabbed the chunk of metal that had proven to work efficiently better than his alarm clock – that loud rattling aluminum monster that winked sunlight into his eyes on many mornings. Not knowing that the object was attached to anything, he clasped the looped part of the hook, and pulled it to him. He would view it as a rock that could break the surrounding glass, oblivious that there was an open top to the gigantic vat. While tugging on the object, Dodson soon realized that it was indeed committed to a thin fiber-like string that almost felt like a fishing line. With his eyes closed, still burning from the surrounding thick liquid, he grabbed hold of the braided saltwater fishing line which led upwards, spelling his way out. He pulled on the fishing line, lifting his upper body, his shins still glued in a crisscrossing arrangement, his thighs adhered to his roomy belly.
“No, you’re never gonna get up that way,” Mason said, observing from up high.
Pruned hands slipping on the line, Dodson was unable to begin the hand-over-hand climb that his mind envisioned. Instinctually, he let his left hand slide down, over the eye, over the shank, finding its place around the bend. Moving to place his other hand next to his left, the soft meat on his right palm met the point of the hook, sending a searing pain through his arm. The barb settled into his flesh. He let out another muffled screamed.
“Now’s my turn,” Mason said under his breath. His hand already draped over the rod’s handle, began reeling in his catch, smiling as he did so.
The priest’s cleanly shaven head broke through the surface of the amber liquid, as he was lifted out of the vat, like the crescent of a sun over a shoreline, glistening in the luminous light that hung from the rafters. The hook dug deeper and the line collected around the spool ever so slowly.
“Oh, fisher of men. The literality of your metaphorical expressions is upon you now. How does it feel?” Mason said.
All Dodson could do was bellow a cry that reverberated off the walls of the surgical room (which Mason had imagined the abandoned warehouse to be in his mind’s eye) of the priest’s rebirthing process.
The spool stopped abruptly. The priest, his legs still crisscrossed and not paying gravity any mind, dangled from the hook, every swing embedding his hand deeper into the hook. “Now’s the time to make the climb up here to join me,” Mason said. “The man your heart is telling you to kill. Am I right?”
His body feeling cold on the outside of the vat (Mason’s intended womb), the priest opened his eyes, and ripped the oxygen mask from his face, feeling the burn of skin detaching from his cheeks like hot strands of spinach fresh off the skillet. He looked up at the Birthday Killer standing above him. “Why?”
“Come up and find out. Harsher out here isn’t it?” Mason asked.
“What do,” Dodson said between sharp breaths, “you want from me?”
“To remind you what it’s like to be born.”
The drive to wring Mason’s neck stood out on the horizon as a more interesting prospect than dying to Dodson, dulling the pain that racked his body. With more strength than he thought his body held, the priest reached out his left hand and grasped the ledge from where the killer stood. His right hand, numbed, followed suit, the hook digging deeper. Hanging from the ledge by both hands, he was reminded of getting out of the pool as a boy.
“Do you know why we don’t remember birth? I mean as a true fetus turned newborn, you know.” No response came, just shallow breathing. “Because it’s just that damn traumatic. We couldn’t remember if we wanted.”
Dodson lifted his chest up, just above the ledge, and plopped onto the cold metal that was his salvation.
“Careful not to slip lest you fall and are gutted. That biomechanoid rendition of an umbilical cord runs from your navel to this anchor up here beside me,” Mason said. “You slip, chain’s gonna reach its limit and your insides will be all over the ground down there.” Dodson’s eyes followed the metal chain that rain from his navel (he had nearly forgotten about that little contraption) to the dock cleat that Mason’s crooked finger pointed out. Naturally, Dodson hoisted the rest of his body. “Now stand and face me like a man, Father.”
On his knees, Dodson ripped the hook from his hand, the previously slow trickle of blood now a gushing geyser. He dropped the hook, knowing that the slow extension of his legs would prove to be a long bout of pain, he propped himself up by sitting on his butt and posting his palms behind his back like a kindergarten student ready to listen to the newest and greatest picture book being read.
Then he kicked.
And he kicked hard, ripping the skin from his stomach, thighs and shins. He nearly blacked out from the pain and the scream, accompanied by a low groan of horror upon looking at his legs, which poured from his throat sent chills up Mason’s curved spine.
“Now you know. Now you know what it feels like to fight your way into a world whose realities are unforgiving and cruel, whose realities don’t discriminate. And now, as an adult, you’ll remember the pain it took for you to reach life. Very polarizing than the readily available grace which you preach about. This time, you’ve worked for it, you little shit.”
“I’m going to kill you now,” Dodson said matter-of-factly. He rose from the heap of bleeding meat that he had been transformed into and stood, the flesh hanging from his body like caricatures of raw bacon strips. “Come one, come all! Get your jumbo bacon burgers right here, folks! Greasy and cheesy!” he could hear the snaggle-toothed carney saying at the last fair that he had taken his daughter, circus music blaring through the humidity. He looked as if he were wearing a ghillie suit; the leaves replaced by flappy skin. As if noticing that he was naked for the first time since he had come out of the giant container, his left hand quickly covered his groin and he walked over to the gruesome hook. He grabbed it, and made for Mason.
Standing, his right hand now around the shank in a more aggressive manner than before, he was stopped dead in his tracks as his eyes marveled over the grotesque figure of his captor whose nude body was now illuminated by the fluorescent lights above as if on display.
The killer was nothing more than a statue. The disease had crept into Mason’s muscle fibers like a shadow at dusk and literally frozen him in most parts. For him, however, the malady which had stricken his form at the age of nine had grown exponentially as it had been further cultivated by the annulment of the human heart. The continued negation of morality had relinquished its metaphysical roots in his soul and been made manifest in the physical, solidifying his body. He was a hardened fixture of rot like a wet piece of leather that had dried too fast in the desert sun.
And they both stared at themselves in horror.
The eyes of the killer lingered on the priest, reborn into another type of man, one who truly knew pain. And the priest surveyed the killer’s crooked head which lay to one side, against his right clavicle. The killer’s vision was tilted and skewed, but he knew what he saw: a desperate man. “Before you gouge my eyes out with that little thing that saved your life, let me ask you a question.” He interpreted the stunned silence as a nod and said “Who is 16-5288?”
“You know who he is. Has somethin’ to do with this.”
“I do. And he may or may not. Let’s not jump to conclusions. Patience is something I’ve learned and you haven’t,” Mason began as if he were sitting on the swing of a porch made for lecturing. “I was born with what they call FOP disease. Over time, I’ve become imprisoned by my own skeleton. And there’s the rub: the slow acceptance of a horrific finality which you’re fortunate to see before you. Your daughter was ripped from you without warning was she not?”
“You have a hand in it? You sick fuck! I’ll kill you!” Dodson’s entire body felt numb and his legs turned to rubber.
“I can’t claim that I conspired with him. But I want to know, damn you, who is this inmate? Who is he to you?”
“Rusty. Rusty Grimes.”
“And what was it that he did?”
“Dammit, I’m not goin’ through this with you.”
“Confession’s good for the soul. Now I’m controlling the situation. Shut up and answer the question. What was it that Rusty did?”
The memories came back to the priest, he averted his eyes downward to the scaffolding which held him up and said “Murdered my daughter.”
“And before that?”
His eye grew pregnant with water before a tear rolled down his cheek. “Raped her.”
About three years ago, with college graduation nearing, Dodson’s daughter, Abbey, had been found dead, her body floating in a river just off campus. Forensics determined the manner in which she had been murdered which had sent Dodson’s marriage into a hellacious tailspin, ending in divorce. Husband and wife were never the same and Dodson’s anger toward Abbey’s murderer was so far entrenched in his soul that he couldn’t remove it on his own if he tried.
“What do the letters say? The ones he sends you. What do they say?
“I…I don’t know.”
“And you think that’s the right move in a man of your position? Remember, I believe like you do…in some ways. In the unsymmetrical relationship between Nature and Reason. The fact that my rational thoughts lose all credentials if everything is the result of nonrational causes. If everything came into being without rational cause, how could I trust my own thoughts? But here’s where we differ: the fact that I’m controlled. My free will is non-existent.”
Mason continued, saying “The human race lives in a constant state of contradiction. They say “blessed,” meaning that some higher power singled them out so that they could have something most others don’t, when they claim to not believe in any higher power. Definitions have been lost, brother. Half of ‘em don’t really know what they believe. The gravitas of certain words have been lost to the ambiguity and indifference of it all.”
“I’m not your damn brother.”
“But you are. And I’m not a contradiction. I’m a walking testament to the control that he has over our lives. Could I have controlled the genes that have caused this deformity you see before you? You see, I have no control. I’ve already been determined to be this way. You were meant to be here with me, face-to-face, on this night.”
“Get to the fuckin’ point.”
“Who your heart desires to kill is not me. It’s Grimes. And he’s downstairs.”
A revelatory expression cascaded down Dodson’s face like a waterfall. Then he shook off the hungry look in his eyes. “Liar.”
“He’s down below if you want him.”
“He’s in prison.”
“The same ‘help’ that cleared the sanctuary for your miraculous departure took care of those issues. But that’s not what matters. What matters is that your redemption is below your feet. Police will be notified of my whereabouts within five minutes. And they will be here in less than that.”
The priest appeared dumbfounded, studying the eternally at-rest poker face which stared back at him. “You’re turning yourself in,” he said, more of a declaration upon completed comprehension than a question.
“It’s meant to be. Your opportunity to seal Grimes’ fate. Take him. Take him now.”
“I don’t believe you.”
“Police will be here soon. Unclasp the hook on the anchor. Free yourself.” Mason was now more of a gargoyle than human – stone that stared back in a taunting manner.
Dodson slowly did as he was told and began descending the stairs, holding the long chain that was still connected to his navel like a heavy pile of dead snakes. The killer’s eyes followed Dodson’s every movement, violating his backside as the priest crept down the stairwell. Hunched over, a spinal distortion resembling the anatomical nature of Quasimodo, the priest shuffled by the tank of amber liquid, his footsteps and breathing sounding like those of the killer’s as if Dodson had taken on the disease himself.
Once on ground level, the tank loomed over Dodson on his left side. Blood had mixed with the liquid making it a murky mess. He made his way through the hangar to the area just below the walkway on which Mason stood.
A door, its wood chipped away, stood before him, the numbers 16-5288 painted in white over its face. He looked above him, through the grated scaffolding; Mason’s body hadn’t moved but his eyes looked down on Dodson, piercing him sharper than the barb had on the priest’s hand.
Dodson turned the knob.
March 27, 2015
Sunday – 11:15 PM
Officer Becca Torrance slammed the door to her police car and rumbled down the road like a bat out of hell. Two others followed her, their sirens oscillating, awakening the night with its screech. The vehicles sped down the empty street, isolating themselves from the skyscrapers, toward the outskirts of the city.
March 27, 2015
Sunday – 11:17 PM
Dodson opened the door only to see a reflection of himself in a full-size mirror. His body was ruined. His eyes were clear. His vision did not stray from the horrific sight of his anger made manifest in the reality that was the present. The anger and resentment for so many years had worn him down.
A note, taped from the top, fluttered from the corner of the mirror, reading YOUR REDEMPTION IS ON THE OTHER SIDE. A man’s guttural moans, muffled by something over his mouth, could be heard.
My daughter’s murderer.
His hands, feeling powerful, thirsted to wrap themselves around 16-5288’s neck. Then he sprinted through the glass, shattering it, the shards digging into his flesh.
Breaking through the partition and reflection of himself, he entered an area with one laptop on the floor, playing a video of Dodson, eyes closed, his skin in a much better condition, reciting a series of words. No sound could be heard. It was a four second video from one of his sermons that anyone, especially Mason, could’ve downloaded from the church’s website, playing on a loop. Dodson could read the lips of someone he hadn’t known for quite some time; he knew the words all too well as he began to make sense of them. The lips on the screen recited a muted “as we forgive those who trespass against us.”
The priest dropped to the floor in exhaustion, heavy with agony.
From somewhere in the dark of the warehouse, battling gunshots rang out in rapid succession like popcorn. It was quick. Then it was silent.
Soon, police officers came upon Dodson’s heap of a body as the priest remained stationary on his knees, chin buried into his chest, his body quaking in cold pain, weeping like a baby.
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