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A Morning Routine

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The neighbors complained about a gunshot in the early hours of the morning. They called the police and informed them they heard it come from the small farmhouse across the street. Usually they didn't mind--most folks in the area go around trapshooting to pass the time, keep their aim steady for the upcoming hunting season. However, after being stirred from their rest at the same time for nearly a week they finally decided to call it in. So the department sent over their only detective to ease the tension.

He turned off the highway onto Cox Springs road, passing farmhouses and machine-sheds, lower and middle class romps peppered with broken-in developments for future homes. He passed the railroad tracks down by Cottingham road and through the road with thickets of brush on either side, their branches nearly thatched at the tips. After another five minutes he pulled into a gravel driveway that led up to the small farmhouse. He walked up to the front door and knocked.

No answer.

He tried again, with an introduction,

-This is detective Riley with the Dubuque County Police Department, if you could please open the door, sir.

A moment passed, nothing stirred.

Once more he knocked, and after another minute backed away from the door and waited. Something closed within the house, a faint thud followed by silence. The detective paced from his car to the door again, and opened the front door.

-Excuse me sir, I don’t mean to barge in but we received a complaint stemming from your house earlier this morning.

He looked around. The blinds were drawn, coating the room in a thick darkness intruded only by a small light from over the stove in the kitchen. He reached out for the light-switch, flipped it. The lighting was still poor, but now he could make out the contents of the house. Bottles of whiskey lined the table and counter-top, most unopened. Newspapers and magazines stacked along the floor, bins of trash rotted and patrolled by swarms of flies. A birdcage abandoned against the wall.

He walked into the kitchen area, noted the dust-coated woodwork and grime-infused windowpanes. Some of the drawers were open with forks and spoons tossed aside. As he looked into the drawers he saw no knives whatsoever. The refrigerator droned, and as he walked closer his eyes winced from a smell coming from inside. He opened it, seeing shelves stocked with expired food, mold growing along the inside and curving beneath to reach the floor.

On the wall he saw a framed photograph. The man had lantern-jaws, hollow and long, sunken eyes but with a feeling of content. His nose ran snubbed, reminiscent of a large grape with holes drilled in. A mustache the color of an aged silver coin, and a small hook-shaped scar on the edge of his lower lip. He looked it over, committed it to memory, and moved on.

The detective made his way through the clutter in the living-room area, periodically calling out for the owner. No response came. Whenever he stopped to look around he could hear the blood rushing in his ears, a throbbing in his leg and his tongue flicking against his teeth. He could hear everything clearly. Utter silence made him realize the presence he had in here--he gave life to a house that had died long ago.

He walked down a narrow hallway and entered a room to his right. A bathroom, cramped with more newspapers filled in the bathtub. Scattered trash bags upon the floor, mostly empty save for a few wrappers. Water dripped from the faucet, the basin covered in a thin layer of mist. He left for the room on the left of the hallway, only a closet with coats strewn about.

The next room had heaps of clothes, various sizes, some in tatters and others looked recently purchased. In the upper-left corner of the room stood an old-fashioned washing machine where a few shirts and a pair of pants set in bleach. Next to it sat a trash bag filled with more clothes. He picked up a shirt--four slashes ran across the torso under the neck, copper-tinted stains flecked along the front and bag. He dug through the rest of the bag and say clothes with the same wears.

He reached the end of the hall, two more doors on either side. He went through the right door and entered a bedroom, surprisingly well-kept and bare. The only furnishing was a bedroom in the far left-corner. Atop the sheets feathers lined the fabric, dozens of grey and wheat colored feathers that spilled over to the floor. They were six inches long, looked worn and aged. Some of them looked burnt, like someone took a lighter to their tips.

The last room is where he found him. His head was a mixing bowl of splintered bone fragments and shredded meat, a giant hole where the buckshot imploded his skull likely half an inch from his face. Bits of jaw dropped onto his plaid jacket, the colors run in a melange of bodily fluids and teeth. Blood pooled around the pieces of brain flecked across the floor, some on the walls and ceiling. It stained the wood paneling, and it appeared a few splatters chipped from the door-frame. So much gore for a shotgun blast, so much blood for one man. A book laid beside the body--leather-bound, the cover donned a triangle with four lines aligned in the center. Beneath the symbol were the letters A. P.It looked like a bibe--he let it alone. He stared at the body, eyes wide and wrists shaking. He left the room and tried to find a telephone, but in the mass of clutter and hoarded waste came up empty. All he could do was drive back to the station.

He left the room and ran down the narrow hallway, tripped over a stack of newspapers around the corner. As he pushed himself up he saw a pathway cleared of the junk collected in the living room area which lead to another door. He got to his feet and edged towards the door, looking back at the front door before descending down the stairs.

All the lights were on, and as he continued down the stairs he saw the stonewall structure of the cellar. When he reached the final step it snapped in half, the wooden tendons cutting through the air. He grabbed hold of the well and breathed, short, sporadic. After a moment he regained composure and looked around the cellar.

A large open area littered with hundreds of books, started from the foot of the stairs all the way to the book wall where another wooden door stood. He walked amongst the collection, placed his hands on a pile and flipped through the pages. He narrowed his eyes as he looked over the text, languages he didn't know, the symbols reminded him of Russian. Another pile of books with the same symbols, thousands upon thousands of pages that could lead him to learning more of the man upstairs and he couldn't read a word. On the opposite end of the room was a rusted folding chair next to a haphazardly built nightstand, a large book placed on top.

The detective maneuvered through the labyrinth of books over to the desk. He reached for the book, held it up to the light. The cover had the same design as the book he found upstairs, except in the middle of the triangle three lines aligned. It was bound in scarlet leather, and on etched in the spine, 18--. The last two numbers were worn on. He weighed it for a moment, took it in. Finally he opened the covers and as he prepared to look over the pages three feathers fell out from the book onto the floor. When he looked down he saw a trail of these feathers leading to the back of the cellar to the door.

As he reached the door he picked up one of the feathers, held it between his fingers. He rubbed his fingers together and flakes of ash fell from the feather. The smell of a past bonfire tinged the air, the feather half-disintegrated and rained more ash to the ground. He thought of stories from his childhood, tales told by mothers to ward their children from danger. Something clicked in his brain, became lost among the walls of books and the body upstairs. He opened the door.

It rolled out like a throw-rug, and he smelled chemicals in the air. Something like copper mixed with melted sugar. He looked at what fell before his feet and saw a stretched blanket. It looked like leather, still needed a few days to tan. He kicked it aside. It landed with its underside exposed, the color of petrified wood. Next to it was a large basin filled to the brim with a grey sludge, smelled thick with the chemicals inside the door. Through the clouded water he saw something rested on the bottom of the basin. Its structure, its shape appeared to be looking back at him. He thought he saw silver thistles lined along one of the large tears in the material. He thought he saw a hook-shaped scar.

And then heavy footsteps pounded from above.

He drew his firearm and bolted up the stairs, turned the corner and reached the narrow hallway. At the end of the hall he saw scattered bits of blood and gore leading into the room opposite where he found the body. He eased towards the door, shallow breath and scattered thoughts. Stories from his childhood, past bonfires, a community where crime is an urban legend. And as he reached the open door he stepped in, and in the time between looking back on his thoughts and stepping over the blood-flecked paneled floor he did not hear a shotgun cock, and as he drew up his gun the last thing he saw was a man covered head-to-toe in his own bone fragments and fluids, looking through a giant hole in his face and somehow his lower jaw was in-tact and as he smiled the detective noticed a hook-shaped scar at the edge of the man’s lower lip as he smiled and pulled the trigger.

The neighbors complained about a gunshot in the later hours of the morning. They called the police and informed them they heard it come from the small farmhouse across the street. Usually they didn't mind--most folks in the area go around trapshooting to pass the time, keep their aim steady for the upcoming hunting season. However, after being stirred from their rest yet again that morning they decided to place another call. The department said they would send an officer out to ease the tension. The neighbors informed them they said the same thing this morning and still no one turned up. The department told them not to worry--they were sure he would turn up soon.

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