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Danny Thompson had always hated gym class, but more than anything he hated his gym teacher Mr. Kirby. All that Danny wanted to do was get home to his computer so that he could look at the live streaming video of the corpse he had found in the woods; instead, he was being forced to run the mile.
It was an unseasonably hot October day, the mercury stretching up over the eighties and into ninety, and Mr. Kirby had decided to finish his eleven o’clock class by having the boys run the mile. Now, at a quarter to twelve, all the others were finished, just milling around waiting for Danny.
Danny struggled around the track, his sneakers beating against the hot asphalt. His thighs burned, chaffed from the coarse texture of the gym shorts that were too big for him and always threatening to fall down. Sweat stung his eyes and lacquered his nose so that his glasses slid down his face. The air felt like fire in his lungs as he panted and fought for breath. Yet he smiled, for in his mind all he could see was that beautiful blonde girl lying there dead in the duff of the redwood forest--the curve of her hips and the tilt of her breasts, that black mound of hair in the triangular space where her legs met--pale, cerulean blue, and perfect in every way, besides her torn-out throat and missing arm.
“Hustle! Hustle! And hold your head up when you run!” Mr. Kirby shouted at Danny as he came loping around the bend, pushing his glasses back up his nose. “Put some hustle into it,” Mr. Kirby barked, clapping his baseball-mitt-sized hands together before lifting that awful whistle to his thick lips and giving three curt, shrill shrieks that never failed to make Danny shudder.
Mr. Kirby was a massive man, with arms like tree trunks and a giant head he kept shaved bald and gleaming. That huge head of his sat atop his shoulders like an unsteady boulder atop a mountain and he had the strange habit of snarling, his upper lip rising contemptuously up in an animal-like sneer, even when he was smiling, and he enunciated his speech with a fierce growl.
“Put a little effort into it, Thompson!”--always referring to Danny by his last name, as if this were the military and he was a drill sergeant--the words ringing out with the menace of a guard dog’s bark. Danny just glared silently back at him: to Danny Mr. Kirby was just another in a long line of bullies that had taunted him his whole life.
Danny had always been smaller than other boys his age, and myopic, having to endure the wearing of thick glasses--as well as the taunts that ensued from them: four eyes, bug eyes, bubbles, orb boy--from the third grade onward. To make matters worse, his fierce intelligence--I.Q. 165--had caused him to skip the seventh grade and go right into the eighth grade from sixth. So that now, in his sophomore year, he was not only much smaller than all the rest, he was also much slower and less coordinated, a trait his gym teacher Mr. Kirby never let him forget.
“Come on, come on. Move it, Thompson. At least finish for God’s sake.”
Danny finally stumbled over the marker, hunched and exhausted, pretending not to notice the way the other boys were looking at him, as if he was some kind of pathetic cripple or invalid to be pitied and secretly mocked.
“All right, all right, hit the showers, everybody,” Mr. Kirby bellowed out with that weird sneer that exposed the canines on the left side of his mouth, slapping his hands together loudly before placing them firmly and formidably on his hips with his elbows jutted out. The boys tooling about the track started hooting and hollering and making their way to the locker room. Danny followed, trailing behind them, head down, studying his feet as they shuffled him along down the hall to his locker. He sat sullenly on the concrete bench and silently slipped out of his gym clothes and into his black jeans and white button-up shirt, ignoring the other boys who sauntered to the showers with towels tied about their waists, laughing and wisecracking with each other. Danny never took a shower after gym class. The idea of being exposed there before the others--wet, naked and vulnerable--filled him with dread and anxiety.
Danny had moved down to California from Oregon a little over a year ago when his mother had left his father after a particularly loud and nasty fight. The neighbors had called the cops and Danny had watched as in the swirl of the red and blue spinning lights the police had led his father away in handcuffs. In the morning his mother had packed up the old Buick station wagon and taken Danny and his six year old sister down to California--to the little college town of Arcata for a new start--getting the hell out of Oregon before Danny’s father had the chance to make bail and talk her out of it. And it was a new start. Everything was new. Though not necessarily for the better in Danny’s opinion. His mother had become some kind of new age hippy. Now, instead of the jeans and sweatshirt she had worn daily up in Bend, blending in with all the other redneck moms, she wore long flowing dresses with floral prints, an anklet of bells, an amethyst necklace, and there were crystals and scented candles everywhere. She got a job at the big co-op health food store and started taking classes on herbalism. Worse yet, she had taken on a hefty lesbian lover named Gail who behaved exactly like her in every regard.
Then there was the new school: Arcata High. The kids here were hipsters, not like the rednecks Danny was used to. They listened to strange music he was unfamiliar with--dub step and crust punk--and he felt as alienated from them as he did from the hicks he had despised back in Bend for being ignorant backwoods morons. Most of the time Danny’s presence in his new school was an invisible one. He easily passed all his classes without even trying and any subject that interested him at all he was sure to receive an A in. But he could be moody and surly with his teachers, disdainful and arguing some obscure point with them--one that he was inevitably always right about--and more often than not he would irritate them to the point where they just barely passed him with a C. Most were content to just leave him alone to brood and stare off into space.
But gym class was different. It was the one place where he did not easily excel, the one place where he was called out again and again in front of his peers. When Mr. Kirby would harshly tell him to put some hustle into it or follow through with his swing, nodding, his plump eyeballs peering out from his big bald head in search of students who agreed, jocks who concurred, Danny would feel like some nocturnal insect exposed to the light of day, the rock that hid him suddenly lifted off so that he was left squirming in the bright sunlight: a writhing, ugly creature trying to scamper off into to the darkness and seclusion where he felt safe. The first time he had read Metamorphosis he had known exactly what Kafka was talking about--“When Gregor Samsa woke up one morning from unsettling dreams, he found himself changed into a monstrous vermin”--Danny was very familiar with the sensation.
It was silent study and Danny was in the library reading Philip Carlo’s The Night Stalker for the fourth time. A Street Car Named Desire was going to be the school play that year and a group of girls near him prattled on about the girl who had gotten the lead role of Stella.
“Can you believe Credence got the lead?” the one loudly chewing gum and twisting a lock of hair around her finger whispered conspiratorially. “She was, like, so ugly all her life. I mean, just a year ago she was the ugliest girl in school. A dog. An utter dog. A clown dog, no less. And now she gets the lead role?”
“I know. Right?”
Listening to them Danny came under the distinct impression that none of them had ever even read the Tennessee Williams play and he pushed his glasses up his nose, slammed his book shut with a little too much flourish, got up, and skulked off to a corner seat where he could read in quiet.
Danny loved the library: the comforting smell of old books, the quiet, the studious manner the place affected, the kindness the gentle old librarians would show when they saw that you truly loved books and were there to read, study and reflect. He settled happily into a corner seat, surrounded by the long vertical spines of familiar volumes that had become like old friends to him. He looked out at the other students splayed in the wooden chairs and spied a long haired kid in a faded, black Slayer shirt reading the Stephen King book It. What a fool, he thought: reading about an alien clown named Pennywise. That was scary? What Danny was reading was real. Richard Ramirez: the Night Stalker. Here was a real monster, someone who, under the cover of the night’s darkness, watched you through your window as you slept, then crept silently into your home while you were blissfully lost in some dream, utterly unaware of death’s presence sneaking up on you in the form of this madman Satanist. The lucky were executed quickly with a gunshot to the head; the unlucky were tortured, raped, their eyes ripped from their heads, their spilled blood used to write satanic messages and pentagrams on the walls. This was real: there was no rationalizing it, no denying or doubting it. It was fact.
Danny was obsessed with serial killers. He could tell you the exact number of bodies found in John Wayne Gacey’s crawlspace, the names of the girls Ted Bundy has squirreled away to secret locations for his nocturnal necrophilia, the names of the ones he left for dead where they were, heads smashed open. He could tell you what bones Ed Gein used to fashion into lamps, the various means of torture the hillside stranglers used on their victims, the date of Albert Fish’s birth and the date of his execution. He devoured true crime books, the more heinous and grisly the better; his room was littered with stacks of them. The best, like Ann Rule’s The Stranger Beside Me and Robert Graysmith’s Zodiac, he had read so many times he could quote passages from them verbatim.
It was his grandmother who had sparked his interest in true crime and her death that had fueled his compulsion, for he had inherited all of her books.
The death of his grandmother, his mother’s mother, was a terrible blow. He had been very close to her, to the point where she was almost a second mother to him. His mother would have a fight with his dad and dump him off on his grandmother or his mother would be making up with his dad and dump him off with his grandmother. Granny Galloway was the one who took him to the mall and bought him clothes to wear, games for his Wii, notebooks and pencils for school. She is the one who fostered his love of reading. It was her copy of In Cold Blood sitting forlornly and dust covered on her shelf that started his whole true crime obsession.
When Danny brought the hardcover book with its black, paper cover to his grandmother, who was slouched over an Agatha Christie book in her loveseat, her wizened face grew serious and she told him, “Ah, Truman Capote. Well this, Danny, this is an important piece. It is the first true crime book, but also a work of literature.” He nodded thoughtfully, pushed his glasses up his nose, sat down beside his grandmother, and began to read about the minds of ruthless killers. He hadn’t stopped since.
When his grandmother was laid out his sister was told she was too young to attend the wake, but Danny was deemed mature enough, and, dressed in a somber navy-blue suit that was too big for him and drooped over his shoulders, he was taken to the funeral home. His mother led him to a dimly lit back room that smelled of old wood and flowers with a faint whiff of Lysol. It was surreal. People were eating potato salad off of paper plates with plastic forks and laughing like it was a picnic. Older, gray-haired people he didn’t recognize kept coming up to him and hugging him and shaking his hand, telling him how much he had grown and how mature he looked, his suit hanging off of him so that he felt like a midget. His uncles, his mother’s two older brothers, were there, passing a flask back and forth and talking too loudly about old girlfriends and their raucous childhood. When they tried to pass the flask to Danny his mother scolded them, “Don’t you dare!” and pulled Danny away. And there, at the front of the hall, on what appeared to Danny to be some kind of tiny stage or altar, was his grandmother, lying serenely in a half closed coffin, her face and hands bared but her lower half covered in cold steel.
People wandered up to the casket and whispered to her as if she could hear them, and he was surprised by how they would touch and fondle her, squeezing her hand and kissing her cheek, caressing her face and tucking a lock of blue-gray hair behind her ear. His mother pushed him forward, towards the casket. “Go on,” she said, “Say goodbye. Say goodbye to Grandma.” Her face twisted in grief and she dabbed a handkerchief to her eyes. Danny stumbled forward, apprehensive and a little scared. He stepped up to the casket and stared down at his grandmother. She had on too much make-up and it was smeared and smudged from where mourners had pressed their lips against her and run their fingers over her face. Staring down at the lifeless corpse of this woman who had meant so much to him changed him in some undefinable way he couldn’t explain. It was his grandmother whom he had loved and adored, yet it was not her at all, just a shell. He had wanted to touch her as the others did but he was scared. Scared to touch this dead thing before him. He had wanted to cry, as he felt was expected of him, but he found he could do nothing but turn, push his glasses up his nose, and shuffle back to his seat with his head bent down.
And then that lonely summer when with no school and no friends he lounged about the house reading the trove of true crime books he had salvaged from his grandmother’s estate. It was during that hot, melancholy summer that he discovered the Charlie Manson Family and masturbation. He found that black book with the dripping-blood letters in a battered cardboard box his mother hadn’t gotten around to taking to the thrift store. Lying in bed that night with a flashlight and that musty, dog-eared copy of Helter Skelter that had once belonged to his grandmother, the covers pulled up over his head, he read about the Family’s acid fueled sex orgies. Flipping back and forth from photos of those lost hippy girls to descriptions of the fornication and violence, he found his right hand--as his left clasped the book in a death grip--slipping down between his legs to stroke himself.
In love there is no wrong, the Family preached.
The pale moonlight streaming through his bedroom window to coat his huddled, blanket covered form in silver, he gazed down at a small black-and-white photo of the beautiful Ruth Anne Moorehouse in overalls with an X carved into her forehead. Moaning quietly, he shuddered and came to climax for the first time. He shut his eyes and lay back against his pillow, vertiginous visions of wild-eyed and raven-haired Susan Atkins licking the blood off the knife she used to slaughter Sharon Tate circling round his head as his hot, wet seed grew cold and stiff against his belly.
That night he dreamed of hippy girls with X’s carved into their heads. They were fucking. Fucking and sucking and licking and grinning. Fucking each other. Fucking Charlie. And his grandmother was laid out there in her coffin, in the center of their massive orgy.
The day he found the dead girl laying by that copse of alder had started out as a bad day. The night before he had gotten into a wicked fight with his mother and in the morning she had told him there were going to be “severe repercussions.”
Danny didn’t know what that meant exactly, and he suspected (correctly) that she didn’t either. But he was worried she would take away some of his internet time. The “incident”--as Danny’s mother called it--had happened at dinner. His mother’s “partner” Gail was there, a big woman in what was basically a muumuu, baking tofu (Danny hated tofu), steaming kale (the only thing Danny hated worse than tofu was kale), and spouting off nonstop about positive-energy vibrations.
“Now this kale was grown on a biodynamic farm which means the seeds were planted on the new moon and it was harvested on the full moon, soaking up the natural vibrations and rhythms of Gaia, our earth mother,” she said as she laid dishes laden with steaming food before each of them.
His mother nodded along with everything Gail said, whispering, “Blessed be,” when Gail set her food down in front of her.
Danny looked down at his plate with disgust and just ignored her hippy dribble. But what he couldn’t ignore was his sister: how she was just eating this perfect new-age family bullshit up. Melissa was just so damn happy, like she didn’t realize how far from home they were, how alien this house and town were. As if she didn’t realize that they would barely ever see their father again. Or that their mother had turned into a hippy lesbian. She just sat there with a stupid grin and started talking to Gail about birthday parties, bouncing her head back and forth so that her pigtails jiggled up and down.
“So Allison is having an ice-cream cake and a sleep-over. Jenny’s mom says a sleep-over is too much, but she is going to have a clown and a magician! Of course I was invited to both parties, but Karen wasn’t. Jenny hates Karen.”
Danny sullenly pushed a hunk of tofu through a muddy puddle of Thai peanut sauce, running it up to the green lump of kale and back, his elbow resting on the table, his chin perched on his fist.
When Melissa finally stopped her diatribe on the various birthday parties in the neighborhood he turned to her, pushed his glasses up his nose, and said, “Well that’s very interesting. What with the ice-cream cake and all. However, I was wondering, just how do you and your friends deal with the fact that we are all going to die? Do you have your little parties to just try and ignore it? Some festive occasion to take the impending fate of the grave off your mind? Or has it actually never crossed your little pea-sized brain that one day you will be dead?”
“Danny!” his mother shouted, slamming her fork down. “Stop that.”
Gail blurted out a quick giggle and then covered her grin with a napkin.
“What?” Danny shouted. “It’s the truth! Grandma’s dead. And the odds are, mathematically, that you’re going to die next, mom.” He then turned his head to gaze at his sister, dramatically pushed his glasses up his nose, and squinting his eyes, murmured with a low, quiet voice, “and then you, Melissa.”
Melissa’s big eyes filled with tears and her lower lip began to quiver. “Mommy, you’re not going to die, are you?”
Gail calmly plopped a piece of tofu, dripping with sauce, into her mouth and while chewing it loudly, lips smacking, stated, “Well I see death as just another change and when the time comes I will welcome it as part of my soul’s journey.”
Melissa’s eyes grew wider and wider, tears brimming until they began to flow down her cheeks. She then let out a terrible wail and shouted, “I don’t want to die! I don’t want mommy to die!”
Danny’s mother threw down her napkin, pushed out her chair, and quickly strode over to the little girl, wrapping her arms around her and pressing her face—a knot of woe—against her belly, slowly rocking her and stroking her hair. “Shhh, mommy’s fine. Nothing is going to happen to mommy.” She shot an angry glance at Danny, hissing, “Look what you have done.”
“Like I care,” Danny shouted, leaping to his feet and knocking his chair to the ground, “You stupid fucking dike! You two are disgusting and you make me sick!”
“Danny! You apologize right now! This very instant! Where are you going?”
But Danny wasn’t listening. He was racing up the stairs to his bedroom and slamming the door. He threw himself onto his bed and buried his head in his pillow, weeping like he wished he had done when his grandmother died. Missing Oregon: the little house he had grown up in, the quiet street with all the Fir trees. Missing his father: that big, burly man with the beard and mop of orange hair who he had hated so very much back then. Whom he had feared so very much back then: awakening at night to hear him come home drunk, slamming the door, breaking things, screaming at his mother till invariably there would be that smack and the sound of his mother’s weeping.
The next day, at the end of English class, when the bell rang and everyone rose from their seats and started off for the hall, Danny shuffling behind them with his head down, the English teacher—Mr. Jones—called him sternly over to his desk.
“Danny, I need to talk with you for a moment.”
Danny sighed, pushed his glasses up his nose and walked laboriously slow up to Mr. Jones’s desk, literally dragging his feet along the linoleum.
Mr. Jones was a stuffy old man with a pot belly who favored sweater-jackets with elbow patches over blazers. He had an unkempt, salt-and-pepper mustache that he was often absentmindedly stroking, which was what he was doing then as he peered down at a bundle of papers on his desk, barely perceptively shaking his head back and forth with a worried and perplexed furrow to his brow. He looked up at Danny, lifting the sheaf of papers and pointing them accusingly at him.
“What is this?” he asked agitatedly.
Danny mumbled back, barely audible, “My English report.”
“The report was supposed to be on Jack London’s Call of the Wild. This is a report on the Marquis de Sade’s The 120 Days of Sodom. After I specifically told you that book was not even allowed in the school!”
Danny shrugged his shoulders. “I couldn’t read Call of the Wild. London is a hack. Everyone knows that.”
“You could have said as much in your report. If you backed it up with strong evidence it would have made a fine paper. Instead you went and did exactly what I told you not to do. Just look at this--‘The metamorphosis of the body through rape and mutilation represents Sade’s desire for catharsis and transformation; however, his fixation on anal rape represents the futility of his desire for change in that no seed will take in the anal cavity, unlike the vagina that represents the possibility of new life’--do you really think this is appropriate in school?”
“You didn’t like it?”
Mr. Jones sighed, used his thumb and forefinger to brush his mustache. “That’s not the point, Danny. Look, I’m worried about you. You’re so smart. Let’s face it, you’re a genius. But you have no discipline whatsoever, and you are so obsessed with the macabre. Do you ever even think about your future?”
“Yeah, I guess.”
“You guess? What about college? Have you thought of that? Where are you going to go to college? Who is going to take you if you don’t get your grades up?”
Danny shrugged again, picked at a spaghetti stain tarnishing the front of his shirt from lunch. “You going to fail me?”
“Honestly, I don’t know what I’m going to do with you. But I am going to have a conference with your mother. I’ve already had a discussion with Principal Steiner about it and contacted your mother. We’ve set a date for next week.”
“What did you just say to me?”
“Look, Danny, I’m just going to pretend I didn’t hear that. Okay? But I’m going to expect a change in your attitude.”
“Good, that’s more like it. Now, go on and get to class before the bell rings.”
Danny purposely missed the bus after school that day. Not wanting to have to go back home and deal with his mother he had decided instead to cut through the woods of Redwood Park and spend the rest of the afternoon making his way up over Fickle Hill so that he would come out of the woods on the far upper-end of his street and then leisurely stroll down to his house.
The trail twisted and turned through the towering redwoods like a tattered brown ribbon laid on the forest floor, dotted with ferns and patches of poison oak growing crimson from the chilly fall mornings. The caw of ravens echoed in the stillness of the forest. Spotting what looked like a meadow high up above an embankment to the north of him, Danny decided to veer off the trail and climb up to the spot. It appeared there was a vantage point up there where he could ascertain his place in the forest, maybe even see the cluster of houses that made up his neighborhood.
So he started up, through a thicket of huckleberry, clawing his way up the summit. When he finally reached the top, as he pulled himself over the lip of the ridge, he spied, laying on the edge of a small copse of alder, shimmering in a gleam of amber, autumn sunlight, a pallid and milky image: the creamy, naked body of a girl, lying perfectly poised, like a sleeping princess in a fairytale. He scrambled over the edge, up the incline, and to the top of the promontory, marveling and stunned at what lay before him. She was gorgeous, her waxen hue juxtaposed by the golden gleam of her blonde hair. Everything that had once been rosy and pink on her was now a sallow blue: her lips, her cheeks, the nipples of her perky breasts. She was stiff with rigor mortis but not rotten yet--she didn’t smell bad at all. She was fresh. A fresh kill.
Her neck was thrashed and ripped open so that he could see the blanched joints of her spine behind the ravaged muscle and tendons of her throat, but her face was immaculate. Her right arm was missing, leaving a gory stump. The way it had been torn off—savagely ripped and shredded, not with the surgical precision a scalpel or hacksaw blade would have left—led him at first to believe perhaps the corpse had been mauled by animals. But no. The way she was positioned, laying there flat on her back with her other arm neatly folded over her belly, legs perfectly straight: she had been placed like this and no animal had touched her.
He glanced around. There was no sign of a struggle here, no blood stains, and no trace of the girl’s missing clothing. This was not the scene of the murder. This was a dump site. And if he knew anything about serial killers he knew one thing: the killer would be back. You didn’t just take a beautiful corpse up here to this out of the way place, with an incredible view that allowed you to see anyone coming, pose the body just so, and not expect to come back. Oh, he would be back, of that Danny was sure. And Danny wanted one thing: to see it. To watch. To watch him come back and see what he did to this gorgeous corpse.
The guy working at the security store was a jerk.
Upon entering the store Danny had marveled at the plethora of interesting merchandise. All around him were gleaming glass cases filled with knives, bear mace, tazers, waterproof bags, and high-tech surveillance gear of all types. Danny wandered up to the counter where a bored looking salesman—early twenties, fluff of auburn hair and freckles—thumbed through a gamer magazine.
“What do you want, kid?” the salesman asked.
“Well I’m going to need a Raptor wi-fi network security system with a high gain yagi antenna and an OMNI mast antenna, but I was wondering, do I have to use the standard bullet camera with this system or could I substitute a Pylink covert or a Fujikam FI-361?”
The guy behind the counter just stared blankly at him and muttered, “Aren’t you supposed to be in school or something?”
Danny was supposed to be in school. He was skipping silent study and he hoped upon hope no one would notice. He didn’t have time to play these games. He pushed his glasses up his nose, placed his hands firmly on the counter and looked the guy in the eyes. “Are the Phylink or the Fujikam compatible with the Raptor wi-fi system or not?”
The salesman yawned, turned a page of his magazine, and asked, “What are you trying to do, capture big foot?”
“Something like that. Now are they compatible or not?”
“You got the money for this, kid?”
“Yes, I do.” He had been saving his money since he was six years old, every penny, and now he had all of it on him, nearly two thousand bucks.
The guy flipped his magazine shut, stood up, and said, “All right, kid, let’s get you a system.”
When it was all run through the cash register, totaled, and tax was applied, Danny was six dollars short.
“Come on,” he pleaded with the guy, “Credit me six dollars. I swear I will be back with it.”
The clerk just shook his head and opened his magazine back up. “No can do, amigo.”
“How about this watch then?” Danny offered. His dad had given him that watch, one of the only things he had ever given him. It was a cheap Casio with a calculator, not worth much more than six bucks used, but it meant the world to Danny.
“That watch ain’t even worth six bucks.”
“Is too! It’s got a calculator!”
Danny pulled it off his wrist and thrust it at the guy, who took it in his hands and gave it a curt onceover.
“Yeah, to tell you the truth I kinda need a calculator watch. I have to do a lot of calculations when I’m programming. Tell you what, give me the watch for the six bucks. You want it back give me twenty later. Deal?”
Danny beamed. “Deal.”
Setting up the high gain antenna, way up in a big Douglas fir tree on the periphery of the bower where the dead girl lay, Danny heard footsteps crunching in the leaves behind and below him. He froze, straddling the tree, his heart pounding in his chest. Was it the killer returned? A hiker who would discover the body with him here at the crime scene, setting up a surveillance system? He clung to the tree, terrified, too scared to move, to even look down. The footsteps came closer, slowly closer, till they were right below him, and then they stopped. Whoever it was was right below him. He waited for what seemed an eternity, willing them to go on—only silence. Finally he chanced a furtive glance downward to see an eight-point buck below him, chewing cud. He heaved a sigh of relief—a deer—it was just a deer. The deer then stepped forward, towards the dead girl, and sniffed the body curiously. As Danny scampered quickly down the tree it cast a quick glance up at him with its big, black eyes and darted off into the brush.
Back on the trail, heading home, the shadows of the towering trees growing long and dark, the reality of the situation finally dawned on Danny, and he wondered, just what the fuck am I doing? This was absolutely crazy. He should call the cops. He would be a hero. But another part of him, the part of his brain that carried the blood that poured in and out of the erection that pulsed in his pants, said, no--this was good. That he deserved this. And in the end it was too late: he had done it and that was that. What was it Lady Macbeth had said? What’s done cannot be undone.
What followed over the next several days was like a feverish dream.
The corpse, just the thought of it, would send Danny into a delirium of mad ecstasy. He would go to his computer and view the paradisiacal image his security camera conjured. He would study the body with the eye of an art scholar. How she changed: growing plump in the belly as gas bloated her, the skin around her left eye beginning to wrinkle and shrivel, so that the eye stood out as a round orb and the white of her skull began to show at the edges. He would stare at those video images and stroke himself, impossibly hard.
Danny was high, endorphins exploding in his mind and bloodstream like fireworks. As high as any junky or speed freak ever was: mouth dry, skin sensitive and prickly, itchy, his eyes not focusing right, dilating independently as if he had a concussion. And he had grown a nasty nervous-tick that spread over his face making his whole right side contort and twitch and then grow numb and palsy. Images of death and necrophilia played through his head nonstop: sleeping, waking, eating, studying. He would read pages of a book and realize he hadn’t taken any notice at all to what the words were, lost in fantasies of dismemberment and carnage. He found himself giggling uncontrollably at odd and inappropriate times, hunched with a shuffling gait as if he suffered from some strange spinal-disorder. His little sister told him, “You look different. You’re not the same.” His old, surly self would have lashed out defensively, but the new him just laughed wickedly and nodded. There was no denying it.
But then he began to worry.
Days went by and not a thing. Was the killer coming back? Had he been wrong? It was only going to be so long before someone found her. A hiker. A troop of boy scouts—this had happened at a drainage ditch down in Eureka not that long ago. But then one day, like a revelation, as he stared at the live feed, he noticed a shadow on the periphery of the frame. It darted in and out, spectral. He squinted, pushing his glasses up his nose, making sure it wasn’t a breeze blowing the branches of the trees. No, it was definitely the silhouette of a man. Then a figure stepped furtively into the frame, nervously glancing its gargantuan head back and forth.
Danny gaped at the screen, his mouth hanging open in astonishment. No way—it was Mr. Kirby, the gym teacher. Danny began to giggle, and then to laugh, loud bellicose guffaws pouring out of him. Mr. Fucking Kirby was the psycho-killer! Holy shit!
Danny licked his lips and pushed his glasses up his nose. This was it. This was what he had been waiting for, what all the money and risk and preparation had been leading to. He could feel his pulse quicken and his heartbeat begin to pound. He studied the screen with eager anticipation. He watched as Mr. Kirby glanced about and seemed to ascertain that no one was around. He watched as Mr. Kirby knelt down to the ground beside the dead girl and tenderly lifted her head in his massive mitt of a hand, her long, blonde hair trailing down between his fingers. He watched as Mr. Kirby reached into the pocket of his sweatpants and retrieved something oblong and cylindrical, toying with it for a moment before bringing it to the dead girl’s lips. Danny focused intently on the screen--lipstick--it was lipstick. He was spreading lipstick on the girl’s lips. Placing the lid back on and secreting the lipstick back in his pocket, Mr. Kirby then tenderly cradled her by the back of the neck and brought her ashen, azure face up to his, her vacant eyes staring blankly out into the forest, mouth—gaping open--a lipstick-smeared, crimson slash. He began to kiss her tenderly about the face and mouth, one hand slipping down to cradle her breast.
Mr. Kirby then began to strip.
He took off his shoes. He pulled off his sweatshirt, then the t-shirt beneath it. He quickly and eagerly pushed his sweatpants down to his ankles and stepped out of them, his erection rising up from him like the thick branch of an oak stretching away from its trunk. He turned the pale body over and laid her on her belly. He took her hips in his hands, his thick, sausage-like fingers gripping her just below the waist, and hoisted her rear up so that her ass was in the air and pointing right at the camera. He spread her buttocks and peered into her anus. In the shadows there something wiggled, he took his forefinger and dug it into her anal-cavity, pulling out a finger full of little, white, writhing maggots. As he flicked the maggots aside and inserted his finger back into her ass, digging it in with a twisting motion and then pulling out another squirming mass of maggots, Danny felt sick. The room began to slowly rotate and his guts clenched; his eyes watered and his mouth filled with coppery tasting drool. Seeing this was much different than reading about it and he felt the urge to vomit. He watched with difficulty as Mr. Kirby fired a glob of spit onto the head of his dick and pressed the saliva dripping tip of his cock against the lips of the dead girl’s anus. He watched as Mr. Kirby tilted his head back, eyes clenched in ecstasy, his upper lip beginning to curl in that strange sneer, and thrust himself forward so that he sank deep into her, that weird snarl of his lips exposing sharp teeth. He watched as Mr. Kirby began to violently pump his hips against her so that her face was sent forward into the earth with spasmodic jerks, her chin and nose digging down into the duff, her mouth filling with dirt, wide-open eyes now caked in filth.
Danny’s stomach then heaved violently. He was definitely going to be sick. Pushing himself away from his desk he ran to the bathroom and wretched into the toilet, eyes dripping water, a cool sheen of sweat breaking out over him as his half-digested lunch spilled into the toilet-bowl. There, kneeling on the fluffy bathmat, forehead resting on the cool porcelain, struggling for breath, he wondered what the hell he had been thinking, what he had thought he would see. He had risked so much, spent his life’s savings, for this disgusting and awful sight that had only hurt his brain and turned his stomach. He wanted to cry. He wondered if he would ever be able to forget that awful sight—the girl’s thin white legs, her face pressed into the ground, Mr. Kirby’s bulky, naked body thrusting against her.
“Danny?” his mother called up to him from downstairs, “You all right up there, honey?”
Jesus, he thought, the computer was still on, his door wide open. He rose shakily to his feet, taking off his glasses. He wiped his eyes with his sleeve, flushed the toilet, and darted back to his room. He pushed his glasses onto his face and shut the door behind him, his mouth burning with the foul and acrid taste of vomit and bile. On the screen Mr. Kirby was still pumping away doggy-style at the dead girl. Danny grabbed the mouse to click the awful image off the screen and something funny happened.
Something appeared to go wrong with the screen.
The focus was going all weird: Mr. Kirby’s arms and back were going blurry. Danny squinted, looked closer at the screen, and saw that it wasn’t the focus but what appeared to be hair curling and spreading up and over his shoulders and down his massive arms. Then something very dramatic happened and Danny was frozen as still as a statue. Mr. Kirby thrust his head back so far it appeared his neck had snapped. He opened his mouth impossibly wide, a black chasm growing in his face, and the structure of his head completely changed. His eyes went yellow, the pupils as vertical as a cat’s, and his nose blackened and shriveled into a snout. A riot of needle-like teeth sprouted from the darkness of his gaping mouth. The writhing hair, now a maelstrom of growth, spread faster and faster and grew thicker and thicker till he was completely enveloped in a grey and black pelt. He thrashed his head side to side, snarled in that weird way—but now it wasn’t the head of a man at all--and took her shoulder in his mouth, filleting it, shaking his head furiously back and forth as shaggy, pointy ears unfurled from the top of his head. He wrenched his head back again, chomping on the flesh torn from her shoulder and gulping it down in quick, jerky swallows.
Mr. Kirby retained no trace of his human form. He was now a huge, wolf-like beast easily as big as a pony or small horse, still thrashing and humping her body, until he spasmodically shuddered in what Danny assumed was an orgasm. He went still a moment, panting, then rose up on all fours, pulled himself free of her, and began to circle the body, sniffing it. Opening his massive snout, all those fangs gleaming, he grasped the dead girl by the remains of her throat and darted out of frame, dragging the corpse along with him.
Danny trembled as if from cold, his teeth chattering. What had he just seen? What had just happened? He wasn’t sure, but he was scared. Very scared. Scenarios raced through his mind. What should he do? Who could he tell? Should he go to the cops? Could he go to the cops? He had the video, but if he showed it to anyone his dark secret would be exposed. Maybe he could leak it onto the internet or give it to the cops anonymously. He would need to be careful so that it wouldn’t come back to him. He needed to think. An hour ticked by and Danny sat there staring numbly at his computer, the patch of woods on the screen beginning to grow dark with dusk, Mr. Kirby’s clothing lying there in the duff where he had abandoned them. Then an image appeared: Mr. Kirby, naked, covered in dirt. He retrieved his sweatpants, sweatshirt and shoes. He put them on hastily and scrambled away, disappearing from the screen.
This can’t be real, Danny thought to himself. It can’t be real. This has to be some kind of dream. Some kind of nightmare.
For two days Danny feigned illness and convinced his mother not to send him to school. He lay in bed, pondering what he was going to do, or sat before his computer, watching the video over and over and searching the internet for information on werewolves. He found lots of folklore. He learned that both the lycanthrope of the Ancient Greeks and the Wendigo of North American native tribes were the products of cannibalism. He read about the Cajun Rougarou of Louisiana, the Beast of Gevaudan incident in France in 1765. He studied the story of Peter Stumpp, the werewolf of Bedburg, Germany. For twenty-five years in the 1500's Stumpp, who claimed the devil had given him the power to turn into a wolf, committed countless acts of murder and cannibalism, including eating his own son’s brain. It seemed so relevant and important but Danny couldn’t find a context for it to help him with his own situation. There was nothing modern. Nothing that didn’t read as tongue in cheek or wasn’t cheesy and badly written. Only one interesting tidbit, that the Rostov Ripper—Andrei Chikatilo—was believed by many in Russia to have been a werewolf. But he could find nothing that pointed him in any direction to take. Nothing that could help him in any way.
Finally, on Halloween, his mother forced him to go back to school. He did not want to. He was scared. Very scared. Terrified. To make matters worse, the camera wasn’t working that morning. There was no way of knowing if it had malfunctioned or if it had been discovered and dismantled. The batteries were supposed to last months. Had someone found the camera? A hiker? The cops? Mr. Kirby? Could it be traced back to him? He didn’t know. He had paid cash for the system, run everything through a proxy so that nothing could be traced to his computer. He didn’t think so. He desperately hoped not.
At gym class that day Mr. Kirby had them inside playing basketball. It was a dark day, the sky black with storm clouds and rain falling so thick and hard its reverberations on the roof were a cacophony that echoed through the gymnasium. The massive windows above the bleachers were streaked and sloshed with water, letting in only a tiny bit of gray, abysmal light.
Danny was afraid to even look at Mr. Kirby. He just kept thinking of the way he had savagely thrown his head back so that it appeared his neck had snapped before that snout sprouted from his face, full of sharp, glistening teeth.
“Put some effort into it, Thompson,” Mr. Kirby shouted at Danny. Danny lowered his eyes and ducked behind another player, hiding. It was a reflexive action, he couldn’t help it and didn’t even really know what he was doing.
“Damn it, Thompson! What the hell are you doing? Get in my office, right now. Come on, I want to talk to you.”
Danny’s first reflex was simply to run. To hightail it right out the large swinging doors and run as fast as he could. To where? He didn’t know. Then a rational, inner part of him said, play it cool, play it cool, and he hesitantly went with Mr. Kirby to his office, a nagging voice in the back of his head asking, Does he know? Could he possibly know?
Mr. Kirby shut the door and turned to Danny. “What’s up with you, Thompson?” he asked and Danny could see his canines flashing in the dark recess of his mouth like flashbulbs. “You think you’re so fucking smart, don’t you?” Danny looked at his massive arms, speechless and terrified, remembering how the hair there had curled and swirled into a thick pelt. “Well, guess what, son? You can’t even run a mile. Can’t even walk it with your head up! You need to get in shape, boy! Now listen, I’m not saying this to be a dick, I know you’re a year younger than the rest of those assholes out there. I’m doing this because I like you. You’ve got a future. You’re different from all the rest of these jerks, and when you get out in the real world, you’re going to have to deal with tough guys like me. Tougher than me. Real sharks. CEO's, business executives. I just want you to be prepared. Okay?” His eyes softened and his lips spread into a genuine smile, like he really meant it, and he reached out a hand to jostle Danny’s hair. Reflexively Danny recoiled.
“Easy, Thompson. I don’t bite. Now go out there and put a little effort into it.”
Danny nodded, rose awkwardly, and ran back into the gymnasium.
As school was letting out the rain abated and the sky cleared. As afternoon gave way to evening the weather turned warm and the crickets even began to chirp with the last vestige of summer. That night Danny’s mother forced him to take his little sister trick-or-treating. She was surprised that he didn’t want to go.
“What do you mean you don’t want to go, Danny? I thought you loved Halloween. You’ve been working on your costume for weeks.”
His costume consisted simply of a black suit with the letter M written in chalk on the back left shoulder, a fedora, and a child sized doll, naked and covered in bits of gore and fake blood. He had been looking forward to being asked who he was and replying, “The Dusseldorf Vampire.” When he received the inevitable “Who?” he would state, “Peter Kurten, of course. The psychopathic child killer and necrophile who killed over seventy-nine people from 1913 to 1931 before he was finally caught and executed by having his head lobbed off in the guillotine.”
It had seemed a clever costume. Smart, witty. Depraved enough to be edgy and dark. Even funny in a disturbing way. But no longer. The costume held no allure to him now. He didn’t want to wear it, and he didn’t want to go out on the streets either.
“I don’t like my costume. I don’t want to wear it.”
His mother sighed. “Look, costume or no costume you are taking your sister out trick-or-treating. Have you forgotten that you are in big trouble? You need to step up and be a big brother. Take some responsibility.”
Just then Gail and his sister came down the steps. Gail was dressed as a witch, in a long black gown with a pointed hat, face painted an avocado shade of green. His sister was dressed like a cat, in a black leotard with clip-on ears, a little nose, and whiskers painted on her cheeks.
“Can’t Gail take her? Look how good they look together!”
“Meow!” Melissa said, swiping at the air.
“No, Danny,” his mother stated firmly, crossing her arms and tapping her foot, “Gail and I are staying home and giving out candy. Now do as you’re told.”
Trick-or-treating that night was a nightmare for Danny. All the things that had seemed so silly to him in years past, the strange masks, the tombstones and cobwebs, the scarecrows and skeletons, even the jack-a-lanterns, were now absolutely terrifying. He was scared to even go up the walk to the houses with his sister, and instead lingered back, watching her, jumping with fright when a gaggle of kids in zombie garb darted past him. As the sky grew darker and the shadows of the forest fell over the neighborhood he couldn’t take it anymore. It was too much. He felt danger in every lurking stranger, every dark recess between the houses or behind the shrubs that lined the suburban lawns.
He decided right then that he was going to come clean. First to his mom. He was going to tell her everything. About finding the corpse, his sick compulsion to put a camera up over it. Then the police. Just come clean and bare his soul. Let them look at the footage, watch Mr. Kirby turn into some kind of monster. Let them figure it out. He was done. Done with serial killers. Done with true crime. It just felt like a dirty and wretched weight on him and he desperately wanted out. He was scared. Petrified. And he just could not take it any longer. They would go home and he would tell his mother and Gail everything, right now.
“Come on,” he said to Melissa, “It’s getting late. Your bag is full and people are shutting up for the night.”
“Look how much candy I got,” she said, opening her bag wide for his inspection, her brown eyes saucer wide above her huge smile and painted whiskers. Danny choked up and felt more love and tenderness for his little sister than he’d ever felt before. A revelation hit him, that he had been jealous of her because she was the baby, that he had always looked down at her and seen her as a stupid brat when he should have been the one looking out for her, the one being strong and giving support. His eyes moistened and he struggled to speak.
“That’s great, Melissa. Just great. And I had a fun time with you tonight.”
“Me too!” and she wrapped her arms around his waist and pressed her cheek to his chest and he clenched his eyes shut and bit his lip so as not to break down crying right there on the street.
When they swung the door to the house open and stepped in Danny could immediately tell that something was wrong. Ordinarily every light in the house would be on and his mom and Gail would be lounging on the couch drinking wine, listening to NPR, and laughing boisterously; now there was silence and only one lamp lit in the far corner of the room.
“Mommy?” his little sister called out into the darkness. Danny flicked the light switch, illuminating the room, and something was definitely not right—there was a bottle of wine open on the coffee table with glasses, but one of the glasses was knocked over and dark, red wine had spilled down off the table and formed a puddle on the floor.
His sister stepped forward, the floor creaking beneath her. “Mommy?”
Danny could feel dread eat into his bones like a parasite—a fat tick gnawing into him—and he knew this was wrong, something was wrong and they had to get out of there. He reached out and grasped his sister’s elbow. “No. Don’t go in there. Come on, we’ve got to get out of here.”
The slam of the door behind him caught him off-guard and the air in his lungs turned to ice as he reflexively spun around towards the sound to see Mr. Kirby behind him, his round, fleshy face a grimace, his eyelids half shut over his globular eyes in a horrid leer. His upper lip was curled and the light glared off his bald dome.
“Gotcha!” he half whispered in a growl, and grabbed them both up easily in his thick arms.
Mr. Kirby had them all in the basement—Danny, his sister, his mother and Gail--lined up in a row on the big couch, arms and legs bound with industrial zip ties, duct tape wrapped around their mouths to gag them. He paced back and forth before them, talking with the sententious tone he gave the gym class when he pontificated on the virtues of effort, discipline and hustle, slapping a beefy hand into his open palm to make a point.
“What makes a man a monster? Hmm?” he turned and faced his captives, cue-ball eyes stretching out from his giant, bald head. “Are they born that way?”—meaty sound of hand slapping palm—“Do they learn it from their parents? Is it because they got hit in the head? Can you see it in a child who pees the bed? Plays with fire? Tortures animals?” He stepped forward and grabbed Danny by the hair and pulled his head up, at the same time lowering his so that their faces were mere centimeters from each other. “Do we see it in a child obsessed with murder and death that spies on people and sees things that are none of his business? Hmm, Thompson?”
He released Danny’s hair and resumed his pacing. “Now, what is it that can lure a man into becoming a monster? That can unleash the animal, the beast within? For some it is greed, the selfish desire for more. For others it is power. The urge to dominate and control others. Now these deadly sins have always appealed to me, been part of my makeup and character.” He chuckled, spun around to pace back the other way. “But more than anything else, what has always made me tick and given me access to my inner demon has always been sex. Lust. The sirenic call of debauchment. Ever since I was a boy the eroticism of intense, violent sex, of rape and necrophilia, has brought out the monster within me.” His eyes gleamed and he smiled, casting a sly look and a lurid wink at Danny. “I know you know what I mean, Thompson! Well, I eventually learned to control it.” He chuckled again. “Somewhat. It can still get the best of me from time to time.” He slapped his hands together and rubbed them vigorously, licking his lips. “So, Danny, you wanted to know about monsters. Human monsters. I’ve seen you with your little books. So interested. Well, I hope this has been informative. And you wanted a show, huh? You wanted to watch? A little voyeur, you wanted to see a spectacle? Well I’ll put on a show for you.” He began to undress, sitting down to unlace his shoes, taking them off one by one and placing them carefully aside before standing and slipping his sweatshirt over his head. “Greatest goddamn show on earth.”
He strolled bare chested to Danny’s mother, gently caressed her face with his big hand, wrapped a lock of her hair around his finger. She squirmed and struggled against her binds, her eyes bulging and leaking a torrent of tears, snot pouring from her nose, trying desperately but feebly to scream through the duct-tape gag. “You know, Danny, your mother is not a bad looking woman. Not bad looking at all.” He pivoted that massive bald head toward Danny, and with that weird snarling curve of his upper lip he asked, “How would you like to watch me fuck her skull?”
Danny Thompson was not like the serial killers he was so obsessed with. Nothing like them at all. They were psychopaths. Sociopaths. There was something lacking in them, something wrong with their minds. They had no feelings for other human beings. No empathy, no sympathy, and no remorse. They couldn’t feel compassion, or love, or fear like a normal human being. And right then Danny felt many, many things. He felt love for his mother, a deep love for this woman who had struggled to raise his sister and him, took them from Oregon to try and give them a new life. He felt remorse that he had treated her so unkindly. He felt compassion for his little sister, a good girl, innocent and sweet, who deserved none of this. He felt empathy for Gail, a kind woman who had been nothing but nice to Danny and made his mother feel wanted and loved. But more than anything, Danny felt fear. A deep, all-encompassing fear that emanated from his bones and viscera to prickle his skin, that filled his mouth with a metallic, salty taste. That shook him to the core so that he twitched and trembled violently as he watched Mr. Kirby step out of his sweatpants, his massive erection bouncing, his eyes turning from blue to yellow and black as his gaping mouth filled with fangs and thick gray and brown hair began to sprout from his skin.
“Hustle, hustle, hustle,” Mr. Kirby shouted at his eleven o’clock class as they came jogging past him. It was November, but it was in the mid-sixties and not raining, so he had the kids out on the track. Running taught them endurance, strength, and discipline. When he saw the two men in suits and ties come strolling across the soccer field towards him he knew exactly who they were and why they were there. The death of the Thompson family was the talk of the town.
“Steven Kirby?” the taller one with the darker hair asked.
“That would be me.”
“I’m Detective MacClenny and this is Detective Standler. Can we speak with you for a minute?”
“Certainly, gentlemen.” He put his whistle to his lips and gave a long, protracted blast of shrill noise, accentuating it by clapping his massive hands together. “All right, all right, locker room. Locker room. Let’s go, everybody.”
The detectives grinned at each other and Standler leaned forward to whisper conspiratorially in MacClenny’s ear, “I always fucking hated gym class.”
MacClenny grinned and mumbled back, “Ditto,” as they followed Kirby back into the building and to his office.
“So, what can I help you guys with?” Mr. Kirby asked as he sat down at his desk. “I assume this is about the Thompson incident?”
The detectives gave each other a quick sideways glance before MacClenny asked, “So, you were Danny’s gym teacher?”
“Yeah, that’s right.”
“Well, you are aware of what happened, right?”
“Not the details. I know they were attacked by an animal or something on Halloween.”
“That’s right. The wounds are consistent with an animal attack. And the DNA from the hair, saliva, even, oddly enough, and we’ve never seen anything like this before with an animal attack, semen, were from some kind of canine. A wolf of sorts. Though there hasn’t been a wolf in California in over ninety years. And even then, this appears to be some kind of prehistoric wolf that is supposedly extinct.”
Kirby stared at them with a dumbfounded expression, mouth agape, eyes wide in stupefied wonder. “I don’t get it. I thought it was some kind of bear or mountain lion. There have been mountain lion attacks here before.”
“Yes, there has. Several, as a matter of fact. But never in a victim’s home.”
“Well, I’ve heard of bear attacks like that. Bear comes in to get the trash, mauls the dog and any human that gets in his way.”
The detectives glanced at each other. “Yes. That does happen here in Humboldt County. But this case is different for it seems a robbery took place as well.”
“What? I haven’t heard that.”
“Yes. The boy’s room was definitely rummaged through and it seems his computer was taken. Actually, every computer in the house was taken. We also were unable to uncover any cellphones or his mother’s iPad.”
“Huh. Well, that’s fucking crazy, guys. I don’t know what to say.”
“What we were wondering is what you had to say about this,” and Detective Standler placed his leather briefcase on the desk, clicking it open with his thumbs. He retrieved a thick plastic bag containing a spiral bound notebook. He looked at Kirby inquisitively as he pulled it from the bag, thumbed through it, and set it before him.
There on the page, written over and over, was the sentence Kirby is the wolf, Kirby is the wolf.
Mr. Kirby squinted at the page, shaking the big round dome of his bald head, then puckered his lips and gazed up sheepishly at the detectives.
“Honestly, I’m not surprised he’d say something like that about me. The kid hated me. I tried to push him. He was smaller than the rest, and slower. I just thought if I could motivate him it would help him in life. Toughen him up. Let’s face it, guys, it’s a tough world out there.” He sighed, blew air through his puckered lips and then looked back up at the detectives with his eyebrows arched and an earnest set to his eyes. “But in the end, in the end the kid just had no hustle.” He shook his head sadly.
The detectives peered at him for a moment--MacClenny with his hands on his hips, Standler adjusting his tie--and there was an uneasy quiet amongst them. Kirby stared straight back with a thoughtful and beatific expression before MacClenny finally broke the silence. “All right,” he replied, laying his business card on the desk, while Standler scooped up the notebook, placing it back in his briefcase. “You just call us if you think of anything. Anything at all.”
“Will do, gentlemen,” Kirby said, picking up the card and looking at it thoughtfully as the detectives turned from him and left the room. “Will do.”
Written by HumboldtLycanthrope