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“Farewell, happy fields, where Joy forever dwells! Hail, horrors, hail!”
—John Milton, Paradise Lost
Standing under the glow of a flickering streetlight, John Avery’s hands shook as he tried and failed to light the cigarette they held. With a mumbled curse the stubborn smoke finally caught and he inhaled deeply, the quick rush of nicotine helping steady nerves and hands alike while driving back the persistent urge to vomit that had, until a moment ago, been so pressing.
The flashing reds and blues of patrol cars, shattered by the light yet steady drops of falling rain, illuminated the yards of yellow tape that surrounded the building behind him.
The old factory, where once countless animals screamed their last before meeting the butcher’s knife, had long ago fallen into disuse. Until recently.
The man who walked into the station earlier that evening had carried an oddly shaped bag. The desk sergeant was on the phone else he would have sooner noticed the crimson spatters, some still wet, that covered the man’s face and clothes, the slow drip, drip, drip of fluid that leaked from the bag marking a trail behind him.
The sergeant’s attention was only captured when the man poured a fountain of gore upon the desk, assorted limbs and organs intermixed in a disgusting soup of blood and offal, long ropes of intestines curling and twisting around livers, hearts and, here and there, a sightless eye. The only one of the few people milling about the police lobby not moved by his unholy offering, the man had simply stepped back from the desk and lowered himself to his knees, hands interlaced above his head. He’d remained there, grotesque smile never leaving his face, until the pandemonium was sufficiently controlled and the officers on duty were able to make his arrest.
He’d talked then, briefly, handcuffed to a table in the interrogation room. His name was Spencer Darabont. The various body parts belonged to his wife Tracy and their three children, all girls between the ages of five and ten. He’d told the police where to find the rest of them.
John had worked homicide for the last twenty years but even now, rapidly approaching retirement, had never seen anything like this. That was saying something; the Wake was no stranger to odd, even fantastic, murders. Until a couple hours ago John would have said there was nothing that could shock him, nothing that could take him back to the short breath and heaving nausea he’d experienced the first time he’d seen a dead body, that two-bit prostitute gutted and dumped in a back alley. He would have been wrong.
The bodies, horrific as they might be, weren’t what caused John’s gorge to rise, for he’d seen many in far greater states of decay. Neither was it the obvious tools of torture haphazardly spread throughout the factory; here a welding kit, there a jar of industrial strength acid, over there various implements to flay, scoop and pierce. No, what had hit John hardest was the old television connected to an ancient VCR, the yellow paper stuck to its black screen reading “play me.” The scene that unfolded in the first thirty seconds of that video was enough to open John’s perspective to just how shallow his understanding of human perversion had been. That poor little girl. A rat-eaten cardboard box placed next to the television contained more video tapes, many more. John knew before the investigation was over he would have to painstakingly go through each of them for evidence, and the brief exposure he’d just experienced had him already concerned for his mental health. All cases left scars, some far deeper than others.
His phone vibrated and John flicked aside the half burned cigarette before fishing it out of his pocket. Checking the caller id, he sighed before flipping it open; the only reason Lisa would be calling this late was if Paul was stonewalling her again. Leave it to a cop's daughter to marry a cop.
“Dad, what's going on? Paul was supposed to be home two hours ago but said something came up and won’t tell me anything.”
“New case, sweetheart, nothing I can fill you in on. Chief’s got him keeping an eye on the perp until we give the scene an initial onceover and hopefully get ahead of the media shitstorm sure to follow. You want more details, you can get it from the talking heads, same as everybody else.”
Her voice got quiet at that.
“Is it really that bad?”
“Ok, just… tell him to be careful. And that I love him.”
“Will do. Try not to worry too much. Won’t be good for the baby.”
He could hear the smile in her voice.
“He’ll be fine. He comes from good stock.”
John smiled back.
“Mostly from your mother’s side. Becky still ok with the pregnancy?”
“Sweet as ever. Can’t wait to be a big sister.”
“That’s my girl. Ok, hun, gotta go. I’ll tell Paul to check in when he can.”
“Thanks, dad. Love you.”
“Love you too.”
Closing the phone, John returned it to his pocket. He shook his head to clear it, steeling himself, before turning and reentering the building. He crossed over to what they were considering the center of the crime scene. They’d stationed large portable lights around its perimeter to better illuminate the dingy confines of the area where a small group of people swarmed, placing numbered placards and snapping pictures.
“Tell me what you’ve got, Ramirez.”
The lead CSI turned from where he was crouched in the process of bagging a piece of evidence. John’s stomach gurgled unhappily when he saw it appeared to be a child’s ear.
“Good news, depending how you look at it, boss. Won’t be able to confirm they belong to Darabont until we get back to the lab, but there’s crystal clear prints all over pretty much every knife, hatchet and assorted pointy object in here. We’ve got fibers, hair samples, the whole gamut. And Charley’s saying based on her initial screening of the remains she should be able to pull blood and semen from, uh… well, pretty much anywhere. Doesn’t look like our boy was particularly concerned about hiding what he was doing.”
John placed his fingers on the bridge of his nose as he felt the beginnings of a migraine start to kick in.
“Anything that might indicate some kind of motive? A journal, anything like that?”
“Not yet, boss. No telling what’s on those video tapes though.”
“Great. And what about…”
“The message?” Ramirez shook his head. As one, the two men turned to the far end of the crime scene. Amid a litany of other abuses, skin from the torsos of the four victims had been delicately removed and spread across one of the factory walls like horrific canvas. A word was painted in blood on each in turn:
Her Red Right Hand
“Not sure, boss. I took the liberty of googling it. Closest thing looks like a paraphrasing of something out of Milton’s Paradise Lost. My guess is the perp is referring to himself, although I have no idea who the ‘Her’ he’s referring to might be.”
“Neither do I.” John frowned, “Ok. You and your team finish up here. Make sure we process everything by the book; even though there seems to be plenty of evidence you never know what’s gonna be the thing to make it stick. This clown is a real sick puppy and I don’t think any of us would sleep particularly well if he manages to avoid a conviction based on a technicality. I’m gonna head back over to the office, have a sit down with him, see if he feels like taping a confession before he has more time to think about what he’s done.”
“Sounds good, boss. I’ll call you if we find anything especially pertinent, although,” his gaze swept over the scene, “at this point I’m not sure what would qualify.”
John shook his head in agreement and headed for the door. Just as he reached his car, he felt his phone vibrate again.
“Hey, Steve, tell me you boys have something over there.”
“Hey, John. Yeah, we’ve got a little bit for you, don’t know if it’ll shed any light though. Bob and I went over to the Darabont residence. The guy’s an MD, works in the ER at St. Vincent’s in town here. No record, nothing so much as a parking ticket. No sign of struggle at the house. His supervisor at the hospital said Darabont phoned in last week to call off a couple shifts, just saying they were taking an impromptu family vacation. He apparently told the kids’ school the same thing. His wife stayed at home with the youngest girl so there was no one that would have noticed her missing right away. We managed to track Darabont’s mom down. Lady’s in her seventies and got concerned when she hadn’t heard from him, guess he typically visits her on Sundays. She swung by the house and found a note saying the whole family was going to be out of town for a couple weeks.”
“Seems kind of odd.”
“She thought so too. It weirded her out since normally he would have called her, even more when she couldn’t get him on his cell, but the note was in Darabont’s handwriting. She wasn’t quite concerned enough to contact the department.”
“Probably wouldn’t have mattered even if she had. If everything else you’ve got is true, there’d be nothing to flag it, even if she’d reported him as a missing person. Any idea why he would have shown up here in the Wake?”
“Nothing we’ve found so far. Doesn’t seem to have any connection to the place in particular. Far as his mom knew he’s never even visited your part of the state.”
John sighed, the headache now coming on in full force. “All right, thanks, Steve, appreciate the help. Tell Chief McQuaid I said hey.”
“Will do, John. We’ll keep sniffing around over here, see if anybody at the hospital has anything more they can tell us, check if they noticed him acting out of character recently.”
“Sounds good. Although with all the evidence it’s looking like we’ve got, I think finding a motive will just be pure gravy. Talk to you later.”
With much to ponder, John got in his car and started back towards the station. It was past midnight when he parked in the lot, the shadows dark and thrown long by the lamps lining the way up the path to the administrative entrance. John pulled out his lanyard with his staff key and let himself in, handed his pistol and side-piece over to Spirelly who was on night guard as he passed through the metal detector, then reholstered his weapons before making his way towards the squad room, passing the ever overflowing board displaying the many missing children of the Wake. The bullpen was deserted. Small wonder; Arthur’s Wake wasn’t large enough to warrant much of a police force, so all available units were pretty much already at the scene or resting up to start their shift in the morning.
He frowned at the chief’s darkened office. Lazy asshole. The man had been mentally checked out for years now, just biding time to a retirement looming even closer than John’s. If things had gone a little differently it could have been John wearing the pants in the department but… no. That was an old gripe, no sense rehashing it now, not with work to be done. He grabbed a pen, pad of paper, digital tape recorder and rights waiver before heading back to the interrogation room. He was met outside the door by Officer Paul Schuster who, aside from being a solid cop, was also his son-in-law.
“Hey, Paul. Chief Holbrook check out?”
“Yes, sir, a couple hours ago. Said he needed to get some sleep to be able to face the press in the morning.”
“Uh huh. And how’s our guest?”
“He’s still in the interrogation room, sir, right where you asked me to keep him.”
John looked at the perp through the one sided glass. The guy was fucking weird. “No, I mean how is he?”
“He’s… well, he’s odd, sir.”
“Jesus, how many times do I have to tell you it’s John, ‘less we’re in a formal setting. Christ. What do you mean, odd?”
“I mean, he’s just sitting there with that creepy smile on his face. Hasn’t asked for a phone call, a lawyer, cup of coffee, nothing.” Paul’s face curled. “Pretty sure he pissed himself, even though Spirelly and I have given him plenty of opportunities to hit the head.”
John frowned. “Huh. He say anything more?”
“No. Not since the initial intel where we could find the bodies. Sir… John, I mean. The scene? Did you find the wife and kids?”
“What was left of them.”
John chewed his lip thoughtfully. “All right. Let’s go try to talk to the sonuvabitch.”
Paul’s eyes widened. “Sir, do you think that’s such a good idea? The chief said…”
“Yeah, right the chief. Look, Paul, I’m gonna go in with some forms and a tape recorder, see if I can’t get this psycho to give me a confession before he changes his mind and lawyers up. If you aren’t comfortable skirting the chief’s orders a little, how about you go call my daughter so she stops worrying.”
Paul pondered this for a moment.
“Sorry, sir. You go in there, I’m coming with you.”
“The guy’s chained up. And your wife is worried why you haven’t called.”
Paul shook his head. “Can’t do it, sir. It’d be a breach of protocol to allow one officer in the room with a suspect. Besides, Lisa’d kill me if something happened to you.”
John couldn’t help but laugh. “All right, ya friggin boy scout. How you ever managed to bag my little girl with that clean cut attitude I’ll never know. Fine. Let’s go.”
Before Paul could protest further John opened the door to the room and stepped inside. The metal chair squeaked harshly on the floor as he pulled it out and took a seat, carefully arranging the materials he had brought with him to the side. He heard Paul take up position behind him, leaning against the wall.
At last, John turned his attention to the prisoner. The room was well lit to allow for easy observation, but some trick of the light seemed to drape the suspect in shadow. His hair was long and matted with blood, falling forward and hiding his face behind it. A big man, fat with the weight of middle age, his clothes were covered and stained with the many fluids of his victims. As John watched, Darabont looked up at him, his eyes almost seeming to glow with a red sheen through the curtain of his hair, crazed smile never leaving is lips. John repressed an involuntary shiver; ‘odd’ was not how he would have described the man. Terrifying, maybe.
John cleared his throat, forced a tight smile. “So, Dr. Darabont. Doc, is it ok to call you Spencer?”
The prisoner replied with an almost imperceptible nod.
“Great, glad we’re getting off on such a good foot. Now, Spencer, I’m Detective Avery. You, me, and my friend Officer Schuster here are going to have a nice little chat about what happened to your family, ok?”
Again, the slight nod.
“Fantastic. Now, I’m required to ask if you’d like to have a lawyer present.”
This time, a small head shake.
“All righty. Now, since there’s no lawyers present, do I have your permission to record this conversation?”
John frowned slightly when Darabont shook his head in the negative.
“Ok, then.” John slid the recorder from the table and passed it back to Paul, stealthily pressing the ‘record’ button as he did so. Paul slipped the recorder into his pocket where the red light would be concealed. John turned back to Darabont.
“Real quick before we get started, Dr. Darabont, I am gonna need you to sign this form saying you’ve agreed to talk to me and that you don’t want a lawyer.”
John slid the form over to the prisoner, feeling a slight moment of apprehension when Darabont took the pen in his large, meaty hand before scrawling an imperceptible signature on the indicated line and handing it back to him.
“Thank you so much.” He passed the form to Paul.
Throughout these preliminaries, John had slowly become aware that something was off about Darabont. He couldn’t put his finger on just what, but he’d interviewed enough murderers to know that this guy wasn’t right, even so far as crazed killers went. Whatever it was, that indefinable thing scared him, almost beyond reason; it spoke to some ancient reptilian part of John’s brain and told him to put as much distance between him and the thing sitting across the table as humanly possible. Shaking his head to clear it, John pressed on, hoping he projected more confidence than he felt, beginning to think that conducting this interview may have been a mistake.
“Now, Spencer, I’m an old fashioned sort of guy so I’m gonna be direct with you. I don’t really need you to confess, because I already have enough evidence to lock you away for a really, really long time. So, what I’m really curious about,” John peered at the killer across from him, “is why? Why did you kill your family?”
The silence pregnant with anticipation, John’s perception took on a kind of hypersensitivity. The taste of the burger he had for lunch caked the back of his throat and he could smell the faintly sweet aroma of Paul’s aftershave behind him accompanying the stench of the dark ichors staining the prisoner’s clothes to his front. He swallowed uneasily, despite himself.
At last, Darabont spoke, his voice almost a whisper but nevertheless carrying the sound of gravel poured over sheet metal.
His manic grin widened even farther, as the tiny hairs on the back of John’s neck stood up at full attention and he desperately fought the urge to wet himself.
“You were a family man once, detective, I can tell. Ever wonder how little girl tastes?” Darabont smiled lasciviously. “I know, in every way you could mean,” he chuckled lightly, “Didn’t bother to pack groceries for our family outing. Didn’t need to, just fried up little pieces off ‘em to feed each other. They refused at first, but I found ways to motivate them to choke it down.” He sighed as if remembering.
“Wife was the easiest. You wouldn’t believe the things I got her to do by promising to stop hurting her babies. Well, I guess you’ll know if you see the tapes,” he laughed evilly, “if you live so long. Of course, I lied to her. Saw the hope die a little more in the bitch’s eyes every time. Still didn’t keep her from agreeing the next time. Or the next. Or the next.” He licked his lips.
“That thrill right there, seeing her spirit chipped away bit by bit, was almost as good as the pleasure I got turning her spawn into such willing little whores,” he threw his voice higher, “Daddy, I’ll do anything, just please don’t cut off any more toes!” He chuckled.
“That factory. Got some good memories there. Old, new. Darkness is on the rise, detective, Shadow’s coming. The wolves howl, the serpents hiss. You’re gonna have to make a choice. You all will.”
John stared at the man. “And what choice is that?”
Darabont smiled. “Whether to be a good little meat sack who serves his masters willingly, or one who needs to be … broken. I like the ones who fight,” he ran his tongue across the front of his teeth, “makes the agony that much sweeter. Which will you choose, detective, when the sun goes dark and the moon falls silent, when the Song of Joy echoes across the land? Whichever will you choose?”
John felt frozen where he sat, the pounding of his heart a drum in his ears, Paul equally still behind him as Darabont fell quiet, grinning madly. Finally John managed to stutter out another question.
“What… who is Her Red Right Hand? Who is She?”
From within the dark recesses of his matted hair, John could see Darabont’s eyes glowed bloody scarlet, no question now, impossible as it was.
“Why I’m the Red Right Hand, detective, Her prophet, the one who prepares the path, spreading discord and despair where e’er I roam. And as for Her,” he laughed. It was crazy, but it seemed to John that Darabont’s teeth were lengthening, sharpening.
“She is the All-Mother, the First, the One who leads the way,” he grinned, “into Darkness.”
Abruptly, the lights in the station went out.
There was a brief moment of silence before John heard a sharp metallic snap that his mind dimly registered must be the sound of a handcuff chain being broken. Suddenly he was thrown backwards out of his chair to the ground as an enormous black thing, all glowing red eyes and flashing fangs, flipped the heavy metal table across the room and flew at him with a roar. He yelled and raised his hands defensively, but the attack never came. Instead, he heard a crash and the sound of a desperate struggle.
“Sir! Sir, shoot him I can’t hold him, I can’t AGH dammit!” Paul cried, “Jesus, dammit. No, NOOO!”
At that, the voice of his son-in-law screaming in pain, the crippling fear was driven out of John as sharply as if he’d been dunked in a bucket of ice water. Years of training took over and, regaining his feet, he fumbled briefly to release his pistol from its holster before pulling it free. He used Paul’s cries to orient himself, raising his gun towards the mound of inky blackness that seemed even darker than its surroundings. John pulled the trigger once, twice, each shot accompanied by a white flash and the sound of thunder, again and again until the chambers were empty and the gun only clicked hollowly. As the echo of the last shot faded away, the dark mass fell heavily to the ground at his feet.
John heard the sound of rapid footsteps and turned as the door was thrown open, the soft glow of emergency lights revealing the form of Officer Spirelly who pushed into the room, gun drawn.
“Detective Avery, what’s going on? I heard a crash and then gunshots, is everything all… oh.”
John turned back to the room’s interior. The light leaking in from the hallway provided just enough illumination so he could see Spencer Darabont, limp and lying face down where he’d fallen on top of Paul’s unmoving form. John lowered his gun to his side, a black hole rapidly expanding in his stomach. God. Oh, God. How was he going to tell Lisa?
He tensed when Darabont shifted.
“Fucking hell,” Paul groaned, “John, you think you could get this fat ass off of me?”
John sat at his desk, a cup of lukewarm coffee held in his hand, a lit cigarette between his fingers. Smoking inside was strictly against the chief’s policy, but fuck him. Darabont’s body was still cooling on the floor of the interrogation room where he’d died as John hadn’t quite yet worked up the motivation to call Ramirez to tell Charley to come grab the stiff. Spirelly was back at his guard station; John had practically had to force him back there, only after ensuring him that he and Paul were both fine.
He’d sent Paul home to Lisa. Miraculously, the kid was basically unharmed; a few bumps, bruises, and scratches but nothing too major. When John had asked him why he’d screamed, he said the freak had been trying to bite his neck of all things. John angrily stubbed out the cigarette in the bottom of an empty cup. Fucking psycho. He’d already decided he was going to leave Paul’s involvement out of his official report. John figured he’d be able to spin the whole thing so that there wouldn’t be too much trouble brought down on anyone, he knew Spirelly would back up whatever he said, but the kid didn’t deserve the heat. Neither did Lisa. John sighed. Probably did the world a favor by sanctioning Darabont the way he had. The guy was so nuts he’d even had John seeing things at the end there. Her red right hand; pssh right. Good luck preparing the way for the Darkness now, fucko.
The morning sun was just beginning to peek its face over the horizon when John at last headed to his car to go home. Darabont had been bagged and tagged, his initial report had been filed, and all pertinent parties had been notified. Chief Holbrook had been pissed, although John figured it was as much from being woken up at three in the morning as from learning John had shot their murder suspect. He’d been mollified when John informed him he’d managed to get a taped confession out of Darabont; no matter that he hadn’t agreed to taping, it had been easy enough to forge his signature on the appropriate form. At some point in the night he realized Paul must have ended up taking the tape recorder with him along with the rights waiver he'd handed him; small wonder he’d forgotten them with everything that had gone on. John would just have to swing by his and Lisa’s place and pick them up before going back to the station that afternoon. John took in the morning sun, almost surprised at the lightness in his heart. He’d never killed a man before last night but, maybe, this feeling was because he had served to remove a piece of true darkness from the world. His pocket vibrated and he fished his phone out.
A minute later John had slapped his magnetic flasher to the roof and was pushing the old Chevy to its breaking point as he roared across the Wake, siren wailing.
“Might have something for ya, John,” Steve had said, “just got done talking to an ER nurse that was on shift with Darabont at St. Vincent’s the last day he came to work before disappearing. Said he’d treated some crazy woman, a homeless drifter that had been shot trying to sneak into a residence. EMT’s had to strap the psycho down once they’d reestablished a heartbeat. The nurse said the patient had been raving on and on about ‘darkness’ and something about ‘her right hand’ or somesuch. Anyway, the loony ended up managing to give your perp a solid bite on the forearm before they sedated her and she calmed down, claimed she didn’t remember anything she’d been doing up to that point. The nurse figured Darabont took a few days off to recover from the injury. But I’m wondering if he didn’t catch some kind of virus or something from…”
John had hung up then.
He pulled into Lisa’s driveway and leapt out of the car without bothering to turn off the engine. Running up the walk, the house dark, he drew his pistol as he reached the front door. He paused for just a moment, considering whether it would be better to use his spare key to gain entry or simply kick the damn door down, when he noticed the white piece of paper taped to the inside of the screen.
John removed the note with trembling hands and read it twice before collapsing to his knees in complete and utter despair.
After all the excitement last night, I decided to take a few days off and figured I may as well take the whole family for a little vacation. Don’t worry, I’ll take extra good care of them, and I’ll make sure to take plenty of home movies so you won’t miss a thing. That daughter of yours sure has spirit. See you soon.
He recognized Paul’s handwriting, even though the note was unsigned.
Written by Shadowswimmer77
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