Monthly Archives: April 2014

The Lost Boys of Erdeburg

Police in Erdeburg, Germany 1963 made a startling discovery when investigating a routine theft. Local farmer Helmut Walden complained about apples disappearing from his store, as well as several other petty thefts and noises in the night. Most alarmingly, the night before he’d called the officials, Walden found human footprints outside his 3-year-old daughter’s window. The footprints were much smaller than adult-sized, so Walden nicknamed them “kobolds.” The first investigation to the property found nothing.  Five days later Walden made another urgent call to the police. This time a sow was missing, as well as his grandfather’s gold pocket watch. Police investigated the barn and fields and again found nothing.  A day later Walden called them out to the farm a third time, sounding even more urgent than before. He had found a set of teeth-marks on his young daughter’s arm, and had trapped something in a corn crib.

What the deputy pulled from the crib was no unearthly creature, but a severely emaciated boy. Police reports state that the boy kicked and fought, spitting like a wild beast, refusing to communicate verbally. Officers searching the surrounding area were due for another surprise that day. This time, instead of stopping at the border of the farm, they delved into a nearby copse and found a makeshift camp as well as several boys, ranging from toddlerhood to mid-teens. What was clearly the eldest boy went after the lead officer with a handmade bone knife, which was easily twisted out of his weakened grasp. The boys had clearly been living as vagrants for some time, surviving mostly off what they could forage and steal from neighboring farms. The officers rounded the boys up and took them into custody.

The boys continued to behave strangely once secured in police headquarters. They refused water from cups and would only lap it straight from the bowl like a dog. They would not eat any food the officers laid before them but meat, picking and eating scabs from their own bodies. The boys were in much worse condition than initially feared, as a physician deduced that the “toddler” of the group was actually a seven-year-old, severely malnourished and developmentally delayed. The same applied in varying degrees to all the other boys. The eldest(whom the officers had estimated at fifteen) was probably in his mid-twenties and barely measured five feet. Their clothes were all handmade and therefore lacked any identifying tags. The boys were unable to speak or comprehend common German, instead they communicated in growls or a strange pidgin language the officers could not crack.

To the officer’s best guess, the boys were escapees or perhaps abandoned goods from a local cult that had gone underground around the beginning of World War I. The cult was an offshoot of evangelical Catholicism run by one Walther Neff, who had never been through a seminary. Instead, he claimed God had visited him after a head injury and showed him a path away from the sinfulness of the modern world. He preached a gospel that women were a lower race separate from men, disallowing any of his male followers from “polluting” themselves with carnal relations. Most if not all children on the cult’s land were estimated to be his.

The question of what was to be done about the boys still hung in the air. Though food and medicine was administered to them daily, the outcasts did not seem to thrive. The youngest especially had trouble, he could not feed himself and had taken to banging his head on any available surface until he drew blood. Cords, sashes, and anything that could be twisted into a rope had to be removed from their living quarters when it was found that the boys would routinely flagellate each other.  Language progression was slow. The twenty-year-old was deemed beyond hope of reform, but some of the younger boys showed familiarity with certain words.  “Wasser” they knew, and “dunkel.” Darkness, a shared fear. The boys refused to sleep without a small candle.

Long-term care had to be arranged for the boys. The eldest would be shipped off to an asylum, for there was nothing else that could be done at the time. The younger boys, though more willing to learn and socialize, were simply un-adoptable. They were half-feral even at the best of times and prone to violent fits.  Their exact ages and places of birth could never be determined, or their names.

Two last things of note happened before the boys were shipped off to their respective destinations and out of the eye of history. One was that the youngest died after nearly a year in captivity, a pre-adolescent the size of a two year old. An autopsy found his bones the result of many breakages and healings, which may have been partly responsible for his small stature.

The second happened when the visiting physician was concluding a monthly physical with one of the boys. His nurse stepped into the room to help gather samples into a bag and the boy clapped his hands and pointed at her, as he had during the word games the psychologists had played with him. He spoke his last recorded German words while gesturing happily to his mouth.

“Essen,” he said, “fleisch! Fleisch!”

Meat.

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Spadefoot Sam

Now, I know what you’re thinking. Most people ask that, right off the bat. They think it’s something to do with the town name. Shovel-spade, you get it. Or something how he looked. Fact is, the man had perfectly  normal feet, used to go ballroom dancing every January. The name… well it’s a bit hard to put to one sentence.

Shovel, population 357. Seems we’ve always been near that number, one way or the other. Our story starts back in frontier days, where a buncha folks missing in short order meant an injun raid. Or outlaws. Only thing was, they had what you’d call a similar M.O. They found partly eaten pieces, even in place they knew wild animals couldn’t get to. They finally caught the guy who done it, ugly sucker, and hanged him by the neck. We don’t stand much for ceremony here, so all he got after that was a pine box and a shallow grave. Only kind there is round here, come to think of it. Ever try to dig deep in sand?

Anyway, it picks back up round fifty years later. Shovel, Arizona has expanded from two shacks and a main street to five shacks and a board sidewalk. There’s a song-and-dance man in town, and he’s got himself an idiot’s lantern. Also had some portrait getup which turned out to come in handy later.

First o’ the poor saps  is some saloon girl called Tilly. Birth certificate said Muriel. She was from back East, had no folks to demand an investigation. Saloon owner was mighty miffed, girls drifted out here less frequent than rain. The schoolmarm was harder to ignore, pretty little thing, she was all set to get hitched to some storekeeper up in Keesaw. Her schoolkids missed her, put together a collection for her headstone. Can see it from my office, as a matter of fact.

Then the widow, and the tin stars couldn’t lay down anymore and still call themselves lawmen. Antoinette had been sent-away for by old man Gilchrist, it’s a wonder a man too cheap to buy himself a first-hand set of fake teeth would spend good money on a girl young enough to be his daughter and kick it a year later, but that’s how it was. They found her in the sewing room. Coroner’s report says she died from asphyxiation, missing little chunks of meat the size of a human mouth. On a hunch, some deputy goes over the crime scene with other folks, gets to matching up stories, and the haypenny drops. Shovel wasn’t even hooked up for electricity, but we had our first serial killer.

They didn’t call it that in them days, though, and there weren’t exactly what you’d call a manhunt for the culprit. Back then, closest thing you had to your CSI was to look around and see which tribe was unlucky enough to be nearby. They found him, though, on top of Esther Muldoon. Some shanty farmer’s wife. They just managed to bust in the house as Esther was breathing her last. The fella who did it was ugly as sin, some itinerant worker from up North, or so he said. Went by the moniker of Samuel Lord. They caught him red-handed, but the feller didn’t even defend himself, kept silent throughout the trial and hanging and everything with that little smirk on his face. How do I know? Well, right about then my predecessor’s decided to put that song-and-dance man’s camera to good use, took what you’d call a post-mortem picture or his body. Then they tossed him into a hole in the ground and that was that.

Around five months ago, I get called up to the Muldoon ranch. There’s a ranch hand missing a daughter, pretty mestiza gal last seen at the one bar in Shovel.  There’s been drifters too, people on the move who went missing between Newark and Los Angeles, poor folks who got written off as MIA.  All this would’ve been tread under, but after we cased the ranch one of the deputies went to take statements from the local barflies and gets wind of a big, ugly sucker just rolled into town. Called himself Sammy Patris and liked the ladies just a little too much. Things turn a bit ugly and before we know it, ugly’s busted on a concealed weapon charge. While we’ve got him rotting in a cell, I go back and personally confirm he’s the last man the local peanut gallery saw the girl with. Bim-bam-boom, you’ve got your investigation.

Well, I think I’ve got it pretty sown up, even though the smuggy bastard keeps smiling at me from his cell. Never saw the like. Just sitting on his bed frame (didn’t unroll the mattress) smirkin’ away like we were on opposite ends of the bars. So, to wipe that smirk off of his face, I tell him he’s going away for a long time, so I hope he gets used to prison chow. That wipes the smirk off, alright.

“You ain’t doing it here?” He sounds genuinely surprised.

“Hell no,” I says, “this ain’t Hazzard county and I ain’t Boss Hog. Your ass is gonna sit on death row for about twenty-odd years while a jury decides if you’re enough of a fruit loop to get a book out of.”

It takes a minute for it to sink in, and he goes what they’d call apoplectic in old-timey days. He launches himself at the bars, tearassing around the cell, hollering like a bull. I’m alone in the station, and I ain’t enough of an idiot to go for the keys, so I let him have at it, figure he’ll tire himself out soon enough.

He does more than that. Drops stone cold dead in the middle of the cell.

I know how that sounds. Us hick sheriffs get a bad rep in the media, but I swear to my mother I didn’t lay a hand on the boy. Plus the security camera will back me up.

Hey, we’re a hick town, we ain’t luddites.

Around this time Deputy Thrush was doing his own little investigation. Seems the folks at the bar noticed little odd things here and there about our perp. He called soda “fizz” and didn’t seem to get how payphones worked. Also, his clothes didn’t fit him too well, which we found out when we examined the body and saw the name of the local librarian on the tag of his denim jacket. Odd fella. Busts into town, no prints on file, steals Cady Dugan’s Canadian tuxedo. Not what you’d call a prelude to a murder.

I have no earthly idea how he made the connection, but Thrush’s next stop was the archives. And there he found our man.

We don’t stand on ceremony here, so we had that sucker in the ground smart quick. Had I known where Thrush was going, would I have waited? Nah. I like to think myself an open-minded man, but this is still a hard pill to swallow, even after all I’ve seen.

Thrush brings me those old-timey snaps and I damn near have a heart attack. He ain’t what you’d call handsome, but that sucker had some unique features. And his whatchacallit. M.O. that was the damn same.

Well, from there we had only one way to go: exhuming the body. ‘Course anyone who’s ever seen a bad horror movie knows it wasn’t there. Weird thing was, the grave was full of all this thick slime. I mean Deputy Cree put his hand in it and it took three people to pull him free.

Around the time we stopped being too excited about our discovery, we noticed tracks leading out of the freebie plots of the cemetery. Out into the desert.

Well, after that, there ain’t much to tell. We found the old records, but no sketches of any kin, so at most it’s an educated guess. We found the folks he carried off. He’d stack ’em like cordwood.

Y’know, right around the time we caught that bastard, I was reading my kid’s science report. There’s a toad that’s native to the desert. Kinda odd for such a wet creature, but it’s adapted to the heat. See, it buries itself all through the dry season, making itself a nice little snot bed to wait out the sun and wind, until the rains come around again. I only relate this little anecdote because you can call me crazy all you want, the fact of the matter is we found something weird we can’t quite explain.

I guess what I’m saying is this: if you’re reading this, ten-, twenty-, fifty-odd years from now, just…take this into consideration. We have the snaps right here, and the tape from that camera. You run across anyone looks like that? You bury him deep, or not at all.

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Jaybird

It was early afternoon and the sun was just burning off the cool of the morning. They were three: an older boy with hair cropped short except for a dark tail at the nape of his neck, a younger boy with a red cap covering his sandy curls, and a girl who walked backward, laughing at them. They were all laughing at some private joke, at or about the world. Their clothes were timeless shabby-chic, faded cotton knits in sun-bright colors. They walked casually, bumping shoulders like billiards. Every once in a while one of them would glance over a shoulder at the oncoming traffic.

At a place where the road thinned down to two lanes with a soft red clay shoulder, the taller boy broke into a jog, glancing jovially back at his companions. A pickup truck came barreling down the lane. The driver had his elbow up on the window. The boy whistled a quick, sharp note and dashed across the road. The driver slammed on the brakes and turned first one way to dodge the boy, and then the other, fishtailing so badly the truck nearly left the road. An expletive carried back to them on the draft. The boy and girl on the shoulder laughed, and the boy in the road jogged backwards in the opposite lane for a few paces before joining them again.

The next car was a VW bus. The three of them joined hands and skipped across the road. The van clipped the younger boy, knocking his hat off and flinging him to the asphalt. The other two ran on, still laughing, as the next car aimed blindly at the boy in the road.

The afternoon wore on. The sun was now beginning to burn on their shoulders. The girl’s white shorts drifted up over the swell of her flanks, her hair stuck to her bare shoulder in sticky fans. Circles of sweat formed at the boy’s pits and at his chest. They held hands and walked on either side of a series of fence posts, finally parting around a telephone pole.

There came a sudden school of cars down the way. Together they sprinted from one side to the other, finding and losing each other’s hands, still laughing, always laughing. They lasted through three onslaughts of honking and swerving until the boy tripped on a break in the pavement and sprawled out in the path of a beat-up sedan. The girl made it to the shoulder and clutched herself, laughing breathlessly. Her hips beat like a white pendulum through the afternoon heat, occasionally breaking out of the rhythm to dash over both lanes, dodging past bugs and semis and trucks while her hair flew like a flag behind her.

The sun was sinking red beneath the horizon as she paced beside the road. The air was still and hot, the pavement let off a sulfurous stink that was part tar and part oil. She looked over her shoulder and leaned one hip against a fence post. Her throat pulsed with breath, the only part of her that moved. One lone coup idled down the road, the only thing visible for a long way off. The girl’s body went taut like a bow and she dropped down to a crouch. The car grew closer. She could make out the license plate now. It had Minnesota plates. She blew out her breath in one excited gasp and ground the ball of her foot into the soil.

The car’s windshield flashed across her face. She pushed off with one leg, with her second step hitting the pavement. The car caught her hip and sent her spinning to the ground. She landed on her side, her ribcage taking the brunt of the force as her legs splayed out at awkward angles. The car did not stop.

The girl rose to her elbows, then heaved herself up from there. Her clothes weren’t even dirty.

“I win,” she whispered, “I win.”

She continued walking by the side of the road. After a time, the two boys joined her. They were three in the red of the setting sun. They were all laughing at the world, or some private joke.

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The Fletcher Postcards

postcard

Card 1: Initially appears to be a typical “cheesecake” portrait. The card is actually a photograph of a billboard, as evidenced by edge curling visible in-frame. The phase fragment “—derful life!” is visible. The model wears a two-piece bathing suit.

Hey Bonnie. They forbid me to call you but I guess snail-mail is still okay. Less chance of “temporal dissonance?” Dunno. I thought of you today. You looked great in that red two-piece, especially the last time I saw you in it. When was that, Long Beach? All those ruffles. Wish you could write back.

Card 2: Photograph of a dry lakebed. A tree, possibly one of the Salix genus, lies half-buried in the bank. A bird of prey perches on the highest branch. The species of the bird is unclear.

20 days. 20 days. I ran out of cigarettes already. The tinned beef’s low, but I’ve got plenty of lard. Hell. If there were lizards I could catch lizards. I’d even eat a bat. 20 days. Are you sleeping with someone else? Please don’t let it be Harvey. He dumped his last wife at a funeral. 20 days. You can have it.

Card 3: Wide-angle photograph of a single-pump gas station. The signs reads McNeal’s, with the neon tube for the N broken in several places. A model-T ford sits on cinderblocks beside the entrance.

I think I’m getting scurvy. Has my aunt called you yet? Whatever she says she’s a goddamn liar. She wants a chunk of that widow’s pension. I know I’m not dead, but I may as well be. You’re lucky, the earlier saps they sent in here were reported as AWOL. No honor, no money. Like I got honor. I miss Fred.

Card 4: Several large hay bales on the side of a barn. The barn is missing a wall.

I cheated on a geography test back in sixth grade. I don’t know why it came up today, but now I can’t put it down. Is Buster II okay? I know you can’t respond, but it helps to ask. Thinking of you.

Card 5: Photograph of a judicial building. The facade is clearly Bauhaus design. A high-relief fascia sharing scenes with Dante’s Purgatorio is visible beneath the eaves. The statue of Justice has three scales.

Fred must’ve hit this wall before me. He’s the only one who would write “Kilroy was here” in the middle of nowhere. I miss that bastard. I don’t think he’s alive anymore. I’ve got sand down my crack. I don’t think I’ve ever been this dry. The air tastes like metal. Last fire I set didn’t want to burn. Thin air. I wonder if there’s radiation down this way.

Card 6: What appears to be an advertisement for some kind of cola. The subject is a heavily bearded man with rouged cheeks. He smiles and tilts a bottle of cola towards the camera. All ad text is in Cyrillic characters, except for a date in roman numerals indicating a publishing date of the 1950’s. This is the only photograph in color.

Wanna know something funny? I think I found Chicago. This place is different, but not. I think I’m right outside your parent’s house, but you wouldn’t know it from Australia. Nothing lives here, at least nothing that shows its face.

Card 7: Reproduction of a Mondrian canvas. The composition does not match any known work of the artist.

Honey when you get this, could you try to send me some sign? Move some things around where you are, see if it makes a difference here. I know we’re like at opposite ends of a mirror, but could you just try? I think the Guggenheim shifted in my sleep. If I just knew things could change from there to here, that something could make a mark on this place, then maybe, maybe[card cuts off here]

Card 8: A lithograph depicting a series of biblical scenes. The representation of Satan carries a seven-tined hayfork. The bottom reads “Abyssus Abyssum Invocat”

I think I’m dying. I wanna call you. I’ve been sick for six days, out of food. I think I’m dying. They had no way to send me back. Widow’s pension. ha. I miss you, miss your voice. We’re not heroes, not like the astronats[sic] we don’t come back. What the hell is the point, anyway?

Card 9: A photograph of the Washington monument. There is a statue beside it that is 1/5th larger in scale. The young man it depicts is unknown. He carries an adze and scythe, a skull with the Iron Cross on its forehead is tucked beneath his arm.

Fred found me, gave me food. I’m alright now, sorry to worry you. Fred’s a swell guy. He’s even clean-shaven. Only guy who could get lather in this wasteland. My spirits are back up, ready to press onward. Fred said we shouldn’t have been sent in apart from the beginning. I agree. Love you.

Card 10 is badly mangled. Any picture has been obscured by damage. On the back, only four words are legible:

—fast. That wasn’t Fred.

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