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"Mr. Hoover, can you please read the story you've written here in front?"
The old man who sat in the farthest right corner of the classroom hoisted up from his seat, carrying numerous sheets of stapled paper, and nearly tripped over one of the chair's slender, metal legs. His expression turned from gloom to discomfort, as if the rusty chair leg had fractured his already broken foot, but otherwise continued to walk. Limping and seemingly in pain, he plodded his way through the array of seats, on which his classmates—who were decades younger than him—sat. Everyone looked at him with eyes brimming of both fascination and worry; the old man saw through these glassy eyes and had knowledge of how they felt about him. The reason was obvious: the man had a permanently damaged leg, and he'd been through horrible nightmares in his youth. He'd told them that, but no one dared seek any further, out of respect.
Eppy Jackson, the English professor of the class which the old man belonged to, shot up from his prissy seat and quickly paced to the old man. Eppy slid beside the old man, careful not to bump his left leg, and went to his back. He placed his right left arm around the old man's neck and shifted all the weight onto his body.
"Need help, Mr. Hoover?" Eppy asked.
The old man glanced warily at Eppy and made a weakened smile. "I definitely do, Eps. I think something's wrong with my left leg again. Might need to get this goddamn thing fixed. Oh, how I hate the therapists."
A half-hearted chuckle was all Eppy could offer. The old man snickered at himself, making a dire attempt to lessen the flaming pain on his leg. It only got worse. The old man winced and opened his mouth, like he wanted to scream, but successfully held it back. Eppy shot a glare of concern, then looked away retreating.
As the two slowly reached the front, Eppy pulled his own chair—the one with the rust-eaten metal parts and vandals—to the center, just next to the wooden podium where most of his students had told their stories—either of success or misery—and motioned the old man to sit on it, which he gratefully did. A face of relief briefly flashed on the old man's face as he fell down to the chair, which seemed to cease all the mental fuss everyone in the room was having. His classmates looked concerned about the old man's faulty left leg, but those thoughts quickly vanished. Everyone stared intently at him, knowing what the old man was going to talk about, but still thrilled to learn what new wisdoms and intelligences the old man might share.
Sitting on the chair, the old man flipped through his yellow-colored papers and skimmed through it, his eyes darting from one side of the page to another and his lips slightly quivering like chanting a forbidden language. Small but numerous parts of the papers seemed to have faded and softened, the ink of the fountain pen he'd used smudged and distorted, like it had been wet and just dried off. No one paid attention to those, though. Everyone's eyes were at the old man's pallid face.
"Mr. Hoover, still not ready?" Eppy, who stood close to the door, asked. The old man didn't hear him, still deafened by his last-minute proofreading. He repeated the question again, raising his voice a little bit. "Mr. Hoover, are you still not ready? You can skip if you can't, although there'll be deductions to your final grade."
The old man veered his head and gawked at Eppy when he heard the word "deduction". "Uh… yes. I'm just checking if I missed something." Eppy nodded to his not-so-sound reasoning and took a good look at his watch. The short arm was closing into the four, and the long arm could only make thirty-three rotations before the bell would ring. The session was about to end—the old man would be the last one, Eppy predicted.
There was inkling silence for thirty seconds, then the old man cleared his throat—a horrid ripping sound—and suddenly everyone's attention was onto him. The old man, who had worn his glasses without anyone noticing, proceeded to read. Eppy suddenly interrupted him.
"Lend your ears to Mr. Hoover, people," Eppy announced, his voice echoing in the room. The weather was cold and gloomy- the trees and plants outside the building ruffling by the wind's gentle push, the gray skies displaying its plethora of seamless clouds, and the silence, so eerie and so haunting, which perfectly matched the old man's grave tone. He produced a good-hearted smile and began reading.
I am Lenard Hoover, 66-years old. The day that changed my life was the day my brother murdered my family.
I can still recall those good old days of November 1963. We have such a happy family, you know. We're not that kind of family that would argue every minute or two, nor the kind of family that would be silent as if they're faceless strangers to one another. We were not like that. Joyful and peaceful, and wonderful we were, I should add.
My mother, Margaret, was a woman everyone would look up to in awe because she was so kind and so loving and so beautiful. When I was young—I think I was five that time, but she broke tradition when I turned nine—she would tuck me in my bed, and so did to my siblings. Neighbors loved her too and still pay so much respect to her. A pretty woman, you might say, but I tell you, she was more than that. Her beauty was a sight to behold, a beauty that equaled Aphrodite's, and men of all ages would stare awestruck at her if she would walk outside the house—even those old men with crutches and dysfunctional prostates, like I am, would whistle maliciously at her. That she was scared of, of course. But disregarding all those, that's how beautiful she was. A model my mother was to everyone in our street.
There's my father, Henry. Like most men do back in the days, he smoked like a chimney. Every day you'd see a stick of Marlborough tucked between his lips, its smoke rising to the air then just fading away. And god, he was such a drunk. Not too much that he'd lose his mind, but still considerably drunker than the rest. When there was something to celebrate, like a birthday or payday or… everything he thought was worthy of a celebration, he would come to the nearest bar, which was only a few blocks from our street, and sit in for a few bottles of beer. Mostly he drank with his friends, but sometimes he sat alone on the corner, drinking himself to death until he was all tanked-up. That I knew before the murder. I didn't usually come with him. Generally, well, he was a good guy, a good person; people just don't find him the way we do, at least not always. Thank Jesus Christ because he didn't become a wife-beater or something more horrible. That'd be a curse.
Then there was eight-year-old Leila, my younger sister, and thirteen-year-old Leo, my older brother, who would soon commit the crime that would break the family apart. While Leila was a very shy lass—always hiding in our parents' bedroom when visitors, or strangers, would come to our house—she was a kid you'd love to love and love to have. Had high grades in school, a voice so sweet and so pleasant, and a face so lovely, like our mother's. She sang at church, and the priests and nuns said her voice was like an angel's, which we weren't actually surprised to know. I was very proud of her.
Then on the other hand, there was Leo, a bastard whose life's very purpose was to insult my intelligence and integrity. Just like what brothers do. He would sometimes leave a note at night, saying "dumbass" or "stupid shit" or other similar obscenities, and tape it onto my forehead—without me feeling the adhesive sting my skin, somehow. I don't know he could do it so stealthily, but it was none of my concerns by the time: I found it fun and couldn't complain. Then I would wake up and read it the morning next day, probably in the mirror of my room. He was a—sorry for my choice of word—fucking cancer to humanity, one that would want to watch everyone burn down to a black sludge of what was once called humanity, but I loved him, and he loved me as much as I did. He told me that before he went to murder us all. Oh, how I wish he were alive.
I know what you're thinking. Nothing has happened yet. How could describing your family change you? Well… I'm very sorry for this long foreword. I really am. I think I was rambling. I don't know… I miss them a lot. I want to see them alive, or if reality will not intercept, I want to at least bid my farewells to them.
Anyway, so this is how things happened. At first, Leo acted as Leo. He wasn't having seizures or behaving like a madman who's high on illegal medications or "crack" if you prefer the colloquial term. Leo was Leo. He would still try to abuse me with his absurd, playful lewdness, and if thing's had grown too shabby, would apologize, if only indirectly. My mother too didn't seem to notice something strange about him either. Father, drunk or not, would treat him normally, the way he usually did to his children. Leila was eight, as I said beforehand when that happened, so she still had not a hint of knowledge of what tragedy was looming to happen.There wasn't anything peculiar about him. Those last few weeks, from Halloween to the third week of November, he did things what we consider are "normal" for him to do, like biking around the ‘hood or playing with the plastic gun at the backyard, and our lives passed by uninterrupted. Then Jack Kennedy's assassination took place. It's only partially related to my story, but I'll tell it anyway so I could relive those days, albeit painfully. Three bullets rang out the street; Jacqueline emerged unharmed, but her husband was dead, shot down his head. The Secret Service drove them out of Dealey Plaza very quickly before something else, something worse, could happen. The Secret Service figured out the bullet came from the Depository, so they broke in and searched for the perpetrator. They only found the rifle which the perp used; no one else was there. First, they suspected African-American Bonnie Ray, who happened to be sitting somewhere in the building, but he pointed out the perp, namely Lee Oswald, who went out and ran away. Eventually, they found him in a nearby theater, hiding among the spectators of the film. It was then when they found out he killed a cop too—Tippit was his name, I think. Lee Oswald was a madman, people told my parents, because he kept on speaking about the world being doomed to destruction and crazy prophecies and whatnot. They didn't believe his ramblings, though.
Let's get back to the topic, shall we? So, that's it. After the President's death, Leo suffered from nightmares. For three nights—23, 24 and 25—he would wake up screaming incoherencies at the top of his lungs, which would consequently wake everyone in the house, especially me—we shared the same room, and our beds were only a few steps away from one another. Leo never talked about them, and refused to if I brought up the topic, telling me to "just forget about it and move on with your life," but as the curious son-of-a-bitch who wanted to know things I wasn't supposed to, I asked my mother. She was initially hesitant, but I did everything I could do to force her. Eventually, I succeeded. What she told me… well, kind of scared me. I don't specifically regret it, but I wish I hadn't just heard.
The first dream. Leo told my mother that he himself saw Mr. Kennedy's assassination from Oswald's viewpoint as if he was the man himself. In the sixth floor of the Depository. He said he saw everything that had happened. It was a long story, so I'd like to make it brief, and I can't remember some of the details well because of my... you know, age. He said Oswald was standing next to the window, carrying his rifle, looking out the Elm Street where Jack was to be shot.
The second dream was like something straight out of a slasher film. Leo said he was in the shoes of a man who committed a murder. He wasn't sure about that, though, but that's what he said. He was in a dark bedroom. On the bed was a woman, who had her right arm and head cut completely off her body. The head rolled over the edge and tumbled to the floor. Her right arm dangled by the side of the bed, only a thin strip of flesh keeping it hanging, the red liquid spurting out of the open wound like a fountain. There was the red liquid on the sheets, and pools of the red liquid formed beside and beneath the bed. The murderer's hands were covered in the red liquid, and on the floor, when he looked down, was a machete, about the length of my arms, tainted with a sickly shade of dark red. He turned to his right, and there on the mirror attached to the cabinet he found himself—he couldn't describe what he saw. My mother said Leo was screaming "Therese! Therese!" repeatedly, and was like that until they managed to calm him down. As to what the nightmare meant—and who this Therese was—they still had no idea.I didn't know anything about the third dream. Mother told me she had to go and clean the mess she made in the kitchen. We had just done dinner and the kitchen was what I can call a "gourmet jungle". She sprang up from her seat and walked out of the living room. I asked her to stay a little longer and tell me the rest of the story, but she turned around and said, "I think it's none of our concerns, Lenard." She produced a rather ambiguous smile and turned back, heading to the kitchen. I didn't bother to do anything but sit at the couch and stare at the wooden cross above the television. The oaken cross was shiny and clean, as my mother had regularly cleaned it. I see the reason why. After those three nightmares had stopped troubling our nights, one evening, my mother, me and Leo went to a priest—I don't remember his name, but it did happen—and asked if Leo could be blessed with holy water.
I actually remember the priest—who was, I think, a close friend of mother—saying, "What's wrong? Did something happen, Marge?" Then mother began explaining the situation, with us standing helplessly next to her like bodyguards. The priest listened, nodding every time mother finished a sentence. When their one-minute conversation was done, we went inside the church and there we formed a circle and prayed quietly. After a few minutes of murmuring incomprehensible prayers, the priest fetched a bottle of holy water.
We stepped away, leaving Leo in his place; I could recall his confused face very clearly when he sprinkled the holy water over him.
But unfortunately, the priest was curious too, just like me. He asked for the full story, and so my mother told him in private. We were left alone, sitting on the bench just next to the church's door.
"Leo," I said in an attempt to spark a conversation.
"What is it?" Leo looked rather perplexed, but straightened his body and pushed on.
"About the… the dreams." I bowed my head, feigning shame. "What is it?"
"The dreams? Forget about it, Lenny." Leo shifted uncomfortably in his seat. I didn't like him calling me Lenny, but I instinctively ignored it.
"Come on, Leo." I tried to sound ridiculed. "Tell me, what did you see? I promise I won't tell anyone."
"I can't, Lenard–"
"I told you I can't—"
Then I stopped him with a...
Leo stared wearily at me, like a stare of an exhausted workman. He let out a sigh of defeat and told me everything about the third dream.
He said it all started inside a house, in a living room lit by a single lamp. Once again he was in a viewpoint of another man named Malcolm, and in front of him was a woman with long black hair and an odd prominent scar under her left eye. She spoke tauntingly to him, raising her eyebrows and staring at him with cold gray eyes, which were as sharp as a hawk's talons as he described it. Leo even remembered what the woman said with particular clarity—it must have left a remarkable wound on his head—and had it voiced out—rather poorly, but understandably:
"You're not a man, Malcolm. You're not… uh. I've seen the two of you together… Behind… that church, hiding behind the tall bushes… uh… fucking and making out like gorillas… I've seen it all—all of it—from the time the two of you met at Aunt Gloria's Café to the moment two of you were… uh… lying on the grass half-naked…"
Then he said that was when it all happened. The murder. The events passed by in a flash said he, but Leo swore he could remember it in great detail…
Seconds later they were on the floor, his hand hounded around her thin neck, the nerves on his arms bulging out and the woman's face contorting in pain. Then seconds later a small yellow-headed boy—about Leila's height and build, he said—jumped out of nowhere and bit his arm with a set of fill-in-the-blanks teeth, although he didn't feel anything, not even pain, which he found unnerving. Then the rest was a blur.
The scene went clear again, and now he was sitting on the floor with his back against the front door, holding a machete similar to the one in the second dream, which was still covered in the red liquid. He gazed intently at this red weapon, as if it had somehow significance to his life. He kept his slumped position for several minutes—according to what Leo thought—until he looked up to reveal the horrifying scene. Yet another murder, only a more massive one.
The black-headed woman he met earlier was sprawled across the couch, her left foreleg bent, her clothes soaked in red liquid, and a large cut on the right side of her neck. The body of the boy with the golden hair was thrown to the stairs, mangled, his neck almost completely chopped off and his head twisted into an impossible angle; it made the kid look like those twisted foretellers in Alighieri's Inferno.
The man looked down to the knife again and began laughing. The laughing wasn't of good nature; his laughter sounded malevolent, fiendish. It was as if he knew a secret no one other than himself knew. From that point onwards he just laughed and laughed, doing nothing but laughing and staring at the mangled corpses in front of him.
"He might just be mad," Leo told as he shifted uncomfortably on his seat.
It was then that the scene changed again. This time, there was literally nothing. Nothing but darkness, the deepest darkness he had ever seen, described Leo. Wherever he looked, there was only the pitch-black void that stretched to oblivion. It's like… Hell, only this was far more sinister and far more terrifying than the kind with fires and sea of flames and whatsoever.
Emerging from the darkness was a ghostly white figure. He thought it was human, but realized it was only the shape that was. The figure, whatever it was, wasn't made of flesh and bones. It didn't have any clothes or hair. The figure was… I know this will sound crazy, but the figure was made of mist. Just mist, nothing else.
Leo then found himself unable to move, like his limbs were dead frozen. The darkness somehow had become lighter and was now holding a pale shade of crimson. And with this, something twisted previously hidden behind the cloak of ever-growing darkness was revealed. Within the "dark red void" was something like… Hell, Hell again. It was Hell, and he had no doubts or suspicions. He knew it was, and that was what I believed.
Hundreds or perhaps thousands of human-like beings with black skin and gray eyes struggled and writhed within the dark red void, screaming the roughest and shrillest screams he'd ever heard in his life, their flesh burnt and connected to one another, making them look like those hideous things I saw when my son played a horror game. Their hands were stretched outward onto him while they spoke anguished incoherencies. Leo didn't need to be a genius to understand what they said.
"I wanted the thing to end," said Leo, playing with his fingers, "but it just wouldn't end. It kept on going."
Of those hundred beings caged in the dark red void, Leo—or the man he was into—knew two of them. Among the dark-skinned beings, struggling to get out of the writhing mass of flesh, were the black-headed woman and the yellow-headed kid. Their skins were burnt to a crisp and their eyes were, quite strangely, a lighter shade of gray, but they still had hair and still wore clothes, which were the first things he recognized.
"That was too much, but I couldn't do anything," Leo said and laughed, sounding hysterical.
The figure, hovering over Leo, started to descend to the ground—if there was ever a ground; below him was the same dark red void and the same black human-like beings, reaching up to him like drowning people. There was a low humming sound as the figure lowered itself, along with the morbid cries of those things in the dark red void and clanking of chains and other nasty sounds I'd rather not describe. The figure landed with a loud thump, which silenced everything else. There was silence for a moment until the figure spoke.
Before Leo could begin, our mother came out from the church with the priest. They were bidding their farewells; mother even promised the priest she would notify him whenever strange things happened. Leo then shut himself, never finishing the third dream, and didn't talk again.
We drove back to the house. I asked Leo to finish the story, and with a pained but goodhearted smile on his face he said, "I'm not in the mood." There was sarcasm in his voice, and it told me everything was okay. I believed him. I had faith in him… The five of us ate dinner—prayed beforehand—not muttering a word, and then went straight to sleep. Leo had worn his favorite green shirt that night, the one with a black star stitched on its upper left chest. I wore my pajamas and a thin plain white shirt, which cooled me down. No nightmares that night, thankfully.
But I couldn't sleep. The third dream was all in my mind. I had a lot of questions, the answers to which were only left to my imagination. Who was Malcolm? Who was the woman? Who was the kid? Why did he kill them? Then the question which I believe will never be answered… What was that place? The place Leo described… it kept on coming back to my mind, even to this day. That sinister place full of darkness and madness... it seemed like the real Hell to me. Was that the place the Bible continually threatened God's followers with? The place where all damned souls go? The place where all the evil in the world roots from? The place where the Devil nests?
Something bothered me the most. Who was the figure? That misty, faceless figure, who might that be? What was its purpose? Its identity? Was it the Devil himself?
None I could answer. Whoever they were and whatever that place might be, it could not—and cannot—ever be answered.
I eventually fell asleep thinking about all these unholy things I'd heard. And I woke up. Then things took an unholy turn. That day everything changed; I believe I wasn't the same Lenard anymore.
Next morning I didn't find a note on my forehead, which really struck me as unusual. However bad Leo's mood was, he wouldn't forget to tape a note on my forehead. It was his nightly routine. He even had left me those last three days. But now there was none. I wondered what had happened, if he'd just forgotten completely about it after all the stress he'd underwent. Still having this unfading curiosity, I went to the bathroom, cleaned myself up, and headed outside. Then I noticed something that… shocked me.
On my way outside, I found Leila, who was wearing a white gown with flowers stitched on its laces, sitting on the living room floor, her back propped on the sofa. The look of terror on her face was evident. I went to her, asked her what happened, but she remained silent, like she was trying to hide something from me. I saw it on her eyes the moment they flashed on mine. Slightly irritated, I forced her to answer. She replied these four words, "Go outside. You'll see," then looked away. I looked back to her one last time; I noticed the wooden cross hanging on the wall, just above the television, was missing. I didn't mind; I knew mother had taken it upstairs to their room where she would dust it off and polish the wood.
And so I went. I regret that decision up to this day.
By the time I stepped out of the door I instantly thought there was something wrong, because all our neighbors' doors were opened and people were everywhere. I found this very odd, as this rarely occurred; last time it happened was like two years ago when an earthquake hit in the middle of the night. People were mostly at the other side of the street, cluttering around something I couldn't see—they looked down to it with obvious faces of disgust and fear and bewilderment, and they talked only in inconspicuous low whispers. Mouths gossiped, and they sounded shocked, just as I was.
Something, something horrible, had happened; I wanted to know what it was. I searched for my mother and Leo, and amidst the crowd I found them. Their backs were on me, but despite that I could see Leo crying; I heard it too. Those sobs and sudden bursts of tears. My mother had her arm around his neck, in vain attempts to calm him down.
I called to them, but my voice was drowned in all the noise. As I ran towards them, Mr. Dale, a middle-aged man with a silver-snow hair and a bad left eye, cropped up on my left and bumped against me. I tottered down to the warm asphalt, scratching my elbows in the process; Mr. Dale helped me stand up. He asked me if I were okay, and I said I was. He mustn't have seen the scratches because he produced an expression of relief—I was grateful for that.
Before the moment would pass away, I asked Mr. Dale as to what happened. He cringed and looked down, concealing whatever emotion he had at the moment—considerably poorly, because I already knew what it was without even looking at it: terror. When I heard no answer, I just ran away—without saying any goodbye or thank-you—and went after my mother and Leo.
I reached them. Standing behind them, I patted Leo on his shoulder, and when he turned around to face me, I instantly knew what the fuss was all about.
His green shirt was covered in the red liquid. His pale, thin arms, too.
My body froze in fear. I winced, revolted by the dreadful sight of red. I stared at him, and his eyes were bloodshot from crying; they told me something I would know soon. His face had turned so pale and so thin he might have been an albino that moment. His hair, what was once a neatly combed cowlick, turned into a bird's nest—and it was caked with layers of filth. When he saw, he burst into tears again, but this time, my mother didn't even bother to caress his head or do something that might ease this unstable Leo.
And after what I saw, I only heard my mother speak, "Get back to the house, Lenard."
I didn't move, still confused and still torn apart. I just stared at Leo, numerous questions I wanted to ask popping in my head again and again and again. It was nonstop, and it could have driven me mad if I wasn't in that situation. Not that I like to.
Then my mother slapped my elbow with a stiff palm and shouted, "I said get back to the house, you stupid shit!"
The pain in my elbows flamed up, but not enough to make me cry or even cringe. Her voice sounded beyond angry, and I'd never heard her curse that loud, not even in the house or anywhere else. Never. So that woke me up from my dream-like trance, and as a good son I was, I quickly obeyed, my thoughts jumbled and my head aching for an unknown reason. Whatever had happened, I didn't know. I had—and have—no intentions to know, either. I want to leave the past as is.
As I came back to the door, pearls of tears forming within my eyes, I understood what cryptic message those bloodshot eyes had wanted to tell me. I've broken the three-word code, and what it said chilled my bones:
I killed someone.
At first, I had no idea what to make of it, and until now... I had no inkling knowledge of... that nightmare. Who did he kill? Why and how did such a hideous thing happen? And most of all, what happened to Leo? I sought for the answers, digging for that shiny needle in the haystack of what was my mind, but found none. That morning I just went up to our room and climbed onto my bed. I closed my eyes and tried to sleep away all this confusion, but my throbbing heart betrayed me. My racing mind too. Unable to sleep, I just laid there on my bed, unmoving and unblinking. I don't remember how many hours had passed since then. What roused me out of my blocked state were the knocks of the police officers.
I went down to the living room to see the bother. I found Leo sitting on the couch, his face lowered. They came before mom even prepared our afternoon meal. One cop was a tall, yellow-headed man with a nasty stitched wound on his chin, and the other cop was a foot shorter than his companion, and he had cold gray eyes that pierced my soul, like a sword fresh and sharp from honing. The man with the gray eyes specifically disheartened me. Obviously, one of the neighbors called out to these cops and reported the scene. What else could it be? Whoever that person was, I despise the actions he or she did. I don't appreciate it. It almost ruined our lives.
Well, it was to be ruined, anyway, wasn't it?
My mother, worried about our goddamn welfare—if we still actually had one—smiled to us and kindly sent us to our room. We did, walking up the stairs like prisoners on the way to the Chair, while my mother and father did the talking. I could hear their voices from our bedroom, if only in faint echoes. I heard things like "the front door was open" and "my son used the cross" and "the dog just disappeared" and "he carved a weird" and several blurry rumblings I can't recall. So much shit—sorry for the word—it's almost impossible to track and mark down. At the end we just tried to ignore it—hell, I could still hear those voices until now, every time I sleep.
We didn't talk, not even glance at each other. Strangers. Leo simply sat on the floor, his back against the base of his bed. I sat on the top of mine. He had already changed his shirt with a fresh one—it was sky-blue, I think—already had washed away all the red liquid on his body and combed his once dirty hair to a cowlick, but I still saw it… his terror. His fears. His disorders. His miseries! Eyes bloodshot from weeping. Face so pale and so lifeless and so ghostly. What was once a funny, slightly insolent brother was now an inert, deadened boy. This was not the Leo I knew. Not the Leo I was accustomed to. This boy wasn't my brother anymore.
It was someone else. Someone devastated by misery and suffering.
At the end, my parents managed to save Leo from juvenile imprisonment—something I could have been very grateful for my whole living life if Leo hadn't tried to murder all of us—and how? I don't remember, not that I care. My mother was a good talker, and father was a man who could persuade literally anyone into something, so I guess they did their magic together and made fantasies come to life.
The cops fixed up themselves, leaving a few vague remarks about "investigating the dog murder"—which still doesn't make any sense to me—I'm not sure about you—and left us alone and went away. That was the first and last time it ever happened.
Leo grew cold and stale from that morning onwards. He never went out of the house again; I'd never seen him leave our home, which now didn't feel anything like home—more like a morgue, so stale and so cold. Never rode bike with his friends or even tinkered with his plastic gun at the backyard. He never talked to me much, too, and our conversations were mostly quiet and unremarkable—they would soon falter away if one of us didn't reply. He never taped any notes of insult to my forehead again, which saddened me a lot. He'd also become silent towards our parents, and most of the time he'd only wanted to talk about important matters—he would just walk away with a sad face if it wasn't. It wasn't him anymore. I knew it.
Then odd things began happening around our neighborhood. Just in time.
There were the "Black Man" rumors. Alleged witnesses, who were my improperly chatty neighbors, reported seeing a tall man with "black skin" sauntering through the streets at night. Some even claimed this Black Man knocked on their front doors, or even looked up to their windows. I actually remember one of them saying, "I went to the window, and when I looked at the Black Man, the thing looked back to me, like it knew I was looking at it. And his eyes, oh my God…" A few even elaborated by saying they witnessed the Black Man kill stray animals and eat their flesh and "made their bodies disappear". The rumors lasted for quite some time, but my family never believed such trivial things.
Of course, just like the rest of my family, I had my doubts. I'm not a stupid and innocent boy. Not anymore. But curiosity hit me once again, and as helpless then as I am right now, I waited until nighttime fell.
December 2, 1963, eleven p.m.
When everyone fell asleep and the night stilled, I crept out of my bed, tiptoed quietly past the sleeping Leo, and went to the farthest window of our room. This window, although cracked and caked with dust, provided a good view of the street. From there I could see all houses from the distance, and even the dense forest that went behind those houses. I just had to wipe off all the dirt with my hands. The dust covered my hand, but I didn't bother to brush it off.
I peered out of the window and looked over the street, which was dark and quiet as usual, as all the lights were all turned off. It took a while for my eyes to adjust to the darkness, and when it did I got quite a good view of the street. Cars were parked by the side of the road, and the trees and plants swayed from the wind's gentle blow. I glanced at the sidewalk, and for a second I saw a large dark stain on the pavement; that was the same spot people circled around on the day Leo killed something. I still had no idea what died there, but I knew it wasn't a human that Leo killed, maybe something else that bleeds.
Then I saw it. The black man appeared out of nowhere. The black man was on the street, standing upon the dark stain, facing the front porch of the Dales house. I blinked my eyes many times, believing what I was seeing was only a product of my sleepy mind, and yet I almost fell down when I found it looking back at me, gazing into my soul. I gasped at the startling thing below me, and that time I felt like screaming.
Those sad gray eyes still haunt me every night.
I chose to keep myself silent about what I saw that night. I didn't think anyone would believe me if I did anyway.
I thought of telling Leo what about the Black Man, as this might concern his current situation. He was sitting on the stairs of the porch of our backyard when I mustered the courage to do so. He was once again playing with his gun, which had gone dirty and dusty after days of disuse—it wasn't playing at all; he was cleaning the gun with a piece of cloth that he might have cut off from one of my old baby clothes. I stood over him, and without even saying hello whatsoever, I sat beside him. He didn't say anything; he just kept on wiping the surface of his toy gun as if he didn't see me.
"Leo," called I. He shot a glance at me.
"What is it?" Leo said, his eyes fixed on his gun.
"I think I saw something." I shifted in my seat, making the floorboard creak in the process, and prepared to tell my story.
"Do you know the rumors? The Black Man?"
"Yeah." Leo laid down his gun between us and turned his head to me, still twirling the cleaning cloth around his index finger. "So what about it?"
"I think the neighbors are telling the truth," said I, swallowing my spit. "I think I… I…"
"Found it?" Leo threw the cloth behind him. "Okay?"
"Yeah," was the only thing I could say.
"Lenard," Leo looked down to his feet, "I know what you did. Mom told you, didn't she?"
I must have looked scared when I turned to face him.
"Don't worry." He produced a forced smile. "I ain't mad. Do you remember the bedroom dream?"
"Do you remember mom mentioning a mirror?"
"I know you won't believe me," Leo supposed, "but this Black Man… he did it. I know he did it. He killed the woman. Killed them all."
"How can you tell?" I knew he was telling the truth, but I needed to know more.
"It's just like how people described it. In the first dream I saw it when I was walking next to a window. In the second I clearly saw myself in the mirror. The third's the same thing. Maybe I was that Black Man all the time, although I didn't know at first, or maybe it was someone else. But I can't tell. Strange, isn't it?"
I didn't reply. My mind was clouded; all that I saw was the dark red void… full of those human-like beings with black skin and gray eyes.
Two days after the encounter with the Black Man, something odd happened. Something that would eventually kill my family.
December 5, 1963, ten p.m.
The night was cold and eerily quiet, but I couldn't sleep. I don't remember why; maybe because the chilly air invaded my skin and froze me like hell, or maybe because the menacing events that happened those last several days still daunted me… I don't remember, and I don't like to. I rested on my bed, my back onto Leo, when I heard a low scuffling sound, like someone writhing on the bed, and then feeble footsteps. Of course, I unknowingly ignored this—I knew, or believed, Leo was making those sounds. He'd been like that long before, and I was quite used to it.
I secretly peeked over my shoulder, careful not to get noticed, and that's when I realized that something was wrong. He walked slowly and awkwardly—no, he wasn't walking at all; he was dragging his feet across the floor, like plodding through knee-deep water. For a moment I thought he was sleepwalking—something I hadn't seen him do for a long time—but his eyes were open. Open wide. Awake and aware.
But his staggering movements didn't seem right to me. He never acted this strangely before, at least not that I had knowledge of. But… no. Just no. I had to act on this. This event was something worthy of my scrutiny.
Leo opened the door quietly, possibly trying to prevent the creaking sounds the door made, and trudged away like a zombie. When he moved out my line of sight, I quickly jumped out of my bed and trailed him, tiptoeing on the wooden floor so comically I must have looked like someone from a cartoon show. I peered over the left side of the door and found him descending the stairs. The bathroom was at the right section of the house, just next to our room. Now this was the point I sensed the looming danger, and I thought I had to act fast or else another tragedy would happen.
But I hesitated. A voice inside my head told me this was something bad, but my mind said it wasn't anything I suspected it was. I doubted my previous conclusion. What if he only wanted to take a small midnight snack? What if he only wanted to quench his thirst? What if he forgot something and was going to take it? This smart head of mine formed numerous conclusions—which I thought would perfectly fit in—but in reality none seemed to make any sense. Leo never took any midnight snacks. Leo never drank water at night, only at early mornings. And Leo had nothing he could ever forget about, at least not that I knew of. So I was forced to do something.
I followed him. My heart wracked and pounded inside my chest, as if it were trying to break my ribs and tear its way out of my body. I know it's too much description, but that's how I literally felt.
By the time I stopped questioning my actions, Leo was already at the foot of the stairs, limping his way across the darkened hallway. The faint moonlight, flowing from the living room windows, was the only source of light. I remained where I stood, kneeling and lowering my head; the hallway could still be seen even from the bedroom door, and vice-versa. If he happened to look back and my head happened to be visible from downstairs… well, I don't what would have happened, because I was wary not to let it, and it didn't.
Leo made a slow left turn and headed for the kitchen. I, wanting to move as discreetly as possible, tiptoed my way out of our room and into the kitchen. My faulty feet grassed me away when I took my first step on the stairs, but I eventually regained my balance without making any noise other than muffled thuds and a weak cry of pain. Nearly tripped and would have rolled down like a ball. That would have been terrible. I descended the stairs, feeling my heart throb inside my head and my pulse racing, and headed to the kitchen door. Of course I didn't blast in quickly—that would have raised an alarm. I simply hauled myself down to my knees and peered over the edge.
In the dark I barely saw anything, even with the moonlight providing its self-important guidance, but since Leo wore a distinct fire engine red shirt that time, he jutted out of the pitch black like blood in oil. Moonlight was a goner. He walked around the kitchen in the same zombie-like fashion, strangely not bumping against tables or chairs despite the nearly zero-percent visibility. I doubted if he was even himself that time, because he looked like he was being controlled by an all-knowing spirit, but I didn't know. Eventually he reached his destination. He was at the farthest corner of kitchen, in front of the oven, when I swiftly made my way into the kitchen and crept under the table, which was low enough for me to be not seen.
I watched him from underneath, curious once again as to what was happening. He turned around in my direction. My heart leaped out of my chest, and I thought he found me, but found out he didn't, fortunately. He got his back onto me and walked closer to the counters. Silently and slowly he started rummaging the table in search of something; I had no idea what by the time. When he realized the thing he was searching for wasn't there, he opened the drawers and began scavenging their metallic contents. Steel clanging against one another filled the silent place, which kind of troubled me internally. He did that for a few minutes, opening and closing drawers again and again like a madman in search for his stash. My interest threatened to dwindle away, and for some seconds I considered going back to our room and sleeping on my bed and forgetting about all this peculiarity, but my curiosity kept me invested. I wasn't going to let this pass through unnoticed.
He pulled another drawer open for the sixth time. He dug his hands into some more metallic objects, the sharp echoes of steel clashing against one another, shattering the silence, and I nearly gasped when he pulled out a long, thin and broad object from the drawer. I couldn't see it at first, since it was dark and there was scarcely any light source, but when he started swinging the metallic object in front of him, slashing x's in the wind, that's when I knew what it was. The metallic object was unmistakable.It was a knife. My worst fears were confirmed. Leo was going to commit the horrible crime again, and the weapon he would use to kill off his helpless victim would be this knife. There's just the five of us in the house; taking off Leo and myself, I deducted there could only be three victims: my mother, my father, or Leila… or all of them. I held my breath and made a dire attempt to calm myself, blindly chanting, "I can do it. I can do it." I was a brave kid back then—like a boy scout, I was always ready to take any risks whatever it might cost me—and getting a wound, however nasty it might be, didn't scare me off if it was to save the people that I love from harm's way. But I was just a kid, he was my brother, and I felt weak. I felt helpless.
Then stupidly, I called his name. "Leo," I said, probably unaware of what I was doing. Then I covered my mouth in urgency, realizing the unimaginable consequences of my rash actions, but when Leo turned to my direction, I realized my fate was sealed. I grasped at the last straws.
I scampered my way out of the scene, bumping my head against the wooden planks nailed by the side of the table, and ran away as fast as my feet could manage. The sharp aching in my scalp deepened as fractions of a second passed, and I felt the red, warm liquid dirty and thicken my hair as it gushed out of the wound, but I ignored it and kept on going. I looked over my shoulder when I reached the door. Leo had his eyes trained on me. I only had a short glimpse of it, but I had grown to memorize his expression. The pupils of his eyes didn't turn to black or white, nothing horrible or sinister—I believe it was a cold shade of gray. His eyes were colored sky-blue, but this one was gunmetal, like the dangerous thing he was holding. Those eyes weren't his. It couldn't be. And his face… it displayed not a hint of evil glee or malice, like what most murderers mask their faces with, but I only saw deep sadness and regret. It was as if the look wanted to apologize to humanity for every terrible things that happened to the world—the World Wars, the failure of the Apollo project—and that it wanted to be punished for all of it. I didn't understand it—in fact, I'm still trying to make sense of those eyes.
Then out of the blue he ran to me, his knife raised mid-air. Then I saw his lips tremble. I didn't hear what he said, for a reason I don't remember, but I didn't need to hear it. I already knew.
As I was lying on the floor, drenched in my own red liquid, the otherworldly Leo ascended the stairs. My mother, father and Leila rushed out of the room, awakened from their peaceful slumber by my pained cries, coming closer to death as seconds went by. My father brought his .38 revolver with him, his finger ready on the trigger, while my mother and Leila hid behind him like two helpless kittens. I was helpless too, but I was so exposed and so done. I couldn't do anything to save them. I laid on the wooden floor, breathing heavily, bleeding to death.
Their fates were sealed, and so was mine.
The otherworldly Leo found them, and he quickened his pace, his knife raised mid-air like a scorpion's stinger. All I did was close my eyes and pray to God this was nothing but a dream. It all seemed like a dream—everything seemed so surreal and supernatural—but I wasn't a stupid boy. I knew I wasn't dreaming. This was all real.
I kept my eyes shut when I heard two gunshots break the silence of the house. I kept my eyes shut when I heard my mother and Leila scream. I kept my eyes shut when I heard my father choke. I kept my eyes shut when I heard mother beg for their lives. I kept my eyes shut when I heard the otherworldly Leo shout his sorries. I kept my eyes shut as my mother's scream turned to rasped breaths. I kept my eyes shut when I heard little Leila run away. I kept my eyes shut when I heard the otherworldly Leo chase her. I kept my eyes shut when I heard Leila shriek the last time. I kept my eyes shut when I heard Leo throw Leila down to the floor. I kept my eyes shut when I heard the knife plunge into her body. I kept my eyes shut when I heard the otherworldly Leo weep. I kept my eyes shut when I heard Leo drop the knife. I kept my eyes shut when I heard Leo fall down the stairs. I kept my eyes shut when Leo's body landed on top of mine.
"I'm sorry," he muttered, breathing hoarsely. His body was cold and sweating.
I kept my eyes shut when I heard the silence take over the place.
I kept my eyes shut when I heard the neighbors rush into our house.
It was then when everything went black.
My family was dead.
My mother had been knifed on her throat, slicing off her air-pipe. My father's throat was cut open, the insides of his throat completely exposed. Leila was stabbed on her chest ten times and had her entire heart torn apart. Leo—the "real" Leo—was shot twice on the right side of his chest, mortally damaging his right lung.
What happened to me? I survived. I just hoped I hadn't.
About a minute after the massacre, our neighbors broke into our house and investigated the untimely commotion. I can imagine the expressions on their face when they discovered the mess. They took me to the nearest hospital, which was I think an agonizing eight-minute travel, laid my weakened body down on a gurney and carried me to the emergency room. Doctors and nurses, working in a fit of rush, treated my slashed shoulder blade and bandaged the injury on my scalp. I was on the bed, bleeding to death, my clothes covered in the red liquid, the bedsheets colored a deep shade of crimson.
Then I just passed out.
Four days had already passed since the murder occurred, and the police had already begun the investigation. Without my knowledge, obviously. A woman with ice blue eyes and a short silvering hair—I believe it was Mrs. Dale—informed me that I had been sleeping all the time while I was slumped on my hospital bed, incapacitated and still devastated. I asked her what happened. The woman told me to rest but I respectfully insisted to hear the story.
"I'm not a kid anymore," said I in a distressed tone, too blind and too stubborn to recognize my real age. Eventually I persuaded her. And she began talking. I listened as attentively as I could despite my aching shoulders, and I was failing. My wound ached a bit and made me scowl, but I lowered my face so Mrs. Dale wouldn't see. It was not exactly the right time for an old woman to sympathize and call in a nurse or two.
I didn't understand the words she said at the time, as the innocent kid that I was. But one single word rang a bell. Murdered. That's what exactly the otherworldly Leo did, murdered. The horrible events that night of December 5, 1963 replayed inside my head. I remember it so clearly. I crept through the darkness, stalking my seemingly sleepwalking brother, unaware of what was happening. I, terrified and startled, watched as the otherworldly Leo played with his knife. I ran away in fear, my head cut open and bleeding out. I screamed as the knife struck my shoulder and took me down. I laid on the wooden floor, bathing on the red liquid, so warm and so sticky, as he attacked my family in cold blood. I, weak and dead quiet, watched as the otherworldly Leo tumbled down the stairs and landed beside me. I felt his warmth fade away as the neighbors rushed in.
I didn't see it coming, I tell you the truth, but then all of a sudden I burst into tears. I cried so hard and so long. I cried and cried and cried. I cried as Mrs. Dale tried to calm me down with her lenient whispers. "It's okay, Lenard, we're here for you," she whispered in my ears as she hugged my trembling body, and began patting my back. I hugged her back, feeling all so weak and all so vulnerable, like what I was on the night of the massacre. I cried on her shoulders. I cried until I grew frail. I cried when she laid down my body onto the bed, telling me to rest. I cried still, pouring salty tears to the pillow. I cried until my vision blurred. I cried until I fell asleep.
I stayed in the hospital for about a month before they discharged me. Medical bills weren't a problem I think, as Mr. and Mrs. Dale—the neighbors that I have mentioned earlier—paid it with the sixty-five percent of my family's remaining funds, which they had withdrawn from our bank account. They left the other thirty-five as savings, a small portion for future use and the rest for the funerals and burial of my family—it pained me. I didn't know how they did it, but it was none of my concerns by the time. They told me everything would be fine, that I had nothing else to worry about other than my studies and the wound on my shoulder, and I believed them. Of course, I was going to be their foster son soon. Why would they lie to such a young innocent kid like me?
They adopted me as you can see. I had no known relatives around and the social services couldn't find one that could look after a ruin of a child like me. My mother and father's closest friends firmly refused, reasoning they were "financially troubled" and "couldn't raise a kid from outside the family". That was fated to be a hopeless search; Mr. and Mrs. Dale knew it at the drop of the hat. So they decided to just… take me into the small family of theirs. A new mother, a new father and a son that they never once had. I was sad, as things would never be the way they used to be, but at the same I felt happy—they were people I and my family deeply trusted. My family would be happy if they could see me from up there.
Moving on, the funerals were held, just at the wide backyard of my new parents' house… it was unavoidable. There were four wooden coffins, painted a dirty shade of white, one small and three large, horizontally aligned; they didn't have the wide glass pane where people could look through, as it was too expensive for our tight budget—that was according to my new mother. It wasn't needed anyway. Completely pointless. People didn't need—or even want—to see the white, leathery faces of lifeless people. They were all over the backyard, seated on the red folding chairs we borrowed from a friend, praying and grieving the loss. I wasn't there during the funeral. I couldn't bring myself to even look at the crudely-made coffins, much more go to them, much even more give a eulogy. The sheer pain would tear me apart. On my bedroom, that was where I was, sitting in the farthest, darkest corner, crying and sobbing hard. My new parents had the good sense to let me be alone for a while, knowing it was the only moment I had to mourn the death of my family. I loved them for that. They were one of the very few people that understood me.
Thankfully, the funeral only lasted a few days. I could have been insane already if it lasted any longer. After that, we were at the cemetery, and the skies were dark and cloudy, thunders rumbling from the distance. I didn't mind and instead closed my eyes. I prayed. The local priest began the ceremony, blessed holy water to the coffins and we delivered our final prayers and wishes. The coffins were lowered one at the time, people throwing white roses—some fresh, some withered—onto the pit where my old family would eternally rest.
I couldn't do it. I held the white rose in my hands, pearls of tears rolling down my cheeks, but I couldn't let go of it. I just couldn't. I gripped the stem of the rose, and I felt its thorns dig into my pallid hand. There was pain. I opened my hands and the rose fell to the ground, staining its snow-white petals with dirt. The red liquid again was there again, flowing out from three tiny wounds. More tears poured out of my eyes, the memories of that night rushing and washing over me like a flood… we should be at the house right now, happy, complete and alive, if none of this happened… if I had stopped the otherworldly Leo from doing it.
And then the rain came, and everything went dark and desolate. God wept with me. The heavenly angels too. They felt my loss, and I felt their sympathy towards me. I was still crying, my sobs piercing through the sound of raindrops crashing against the roof of the shelter, but I couldn't help myself but smile. I smiled. Yes, I cried until the downpour stopped and the people scattered away and disappeared, but I kept my smile. Mr. and Mrs. Dale were with me, and they asked why I was smiling. I told them I just remembered… a good memory. They looked down to me and smiled too! It's what kept my family alive, if only in my reveries and daydreams. I need to smile, so I would remember all the good days I'd had with them.
Smile, Lenard, the voice of the real Leo resounded inside my head.
Smile, Lenard, the holy deities above said…
And I did. I knew things could only get better from this day onward.
Welcome to Hell, Malcolm, the place where sinners like you belong...
From a Man to a Murderer: coming soon...
Written by Charles R.