When Melissa was fourteen years old, her father sold her to a crank cook named Possum for two pounds of crystal meth and a broken-down Trans Am. Possum kept her chained to a rusty woodstove during the day with a mason jar of water and a box of Cheerios, while he worked in the lab back behind the trailer, breaking Sudafed and Ephedrine tablets down into glass-like shards of amphetamine. In the evening, Possum would swing open the door, the cat-piss stench of burning chemicals wafting into the tiny trailer, and unchain her so she could make him meals, wash dishes and mop. At night, as the bullfrogs began to bark and the crickets chirped, she would press her fist into her mouth, trying to stifle her cries of pain as he lay upon her, his rank smell of sweat and chemicals overwhelming her.
Two months later a couple of Boy Scouts found her naked corpse in a drainage ditch in a patch of woods outside of Eureka, California: a pale tangle of limbs sticking out of the trash and sewage of the dirty culvert. Though the case officially went to Homicide Detective MacClenny, Detective Standler had been at the crime scene assisting. Standler had helped take her by the arms and pull her remains from the rank sewer water and debris. As her body rose up from the muck, her head had lolled to the side and her wide, staring eyes had looked straight at him. For a moment, Standler thought he saw a flicker of life register in them, though her gray, bloated face clearly revealed she was long, long dead.
Standler settled deeper into the seat of his car and flipped open the battered copy of Hamlet, scrolled down the long list of names he had scrawled on the last page. What a fucking week, suspended and out on bail, looking at manslaughter charges. He was parked in front of the police chief’s suburban home, waiting for the fat fuck to arrive home from work. He eyed the long list and sipped from a pint of Wild Turkey, washed it down with a warm Budweiser, and thought to himself, someone who could do something like that to a fourteen year old girl, how can you let someone like that live? Who would possibly miss them? Who could possibly care?
And no one had. Nobody missed that piece of shit Possum. Two weeks paid administrative leave was all Standler had received after he emptied his service revolver into the sick degenerate’s face.
It had been a big bust: the lab, kilos of meth, and an arsenal of weapons. Everyone in the department was happy, and all he had gotten was two weeks paid leave and a wild party at The Alibi, thrown by the other detectives and a gaggle of uniformed officers.
When the inquest asked him why he had gone out there, outside his jurisdiction, to that backwoods no-man’s land, he had simply replied he was following up on a lead from an informant.
What was he going to say? That a ghost had told him where to look? That the little dead girl had come back from the grave and told him? That in the dark, predawn hours, that twilight time between sick drunk and excruciatingly hung-over, he would awake, lacquered in sweat, his wife snoring loudly beside him, the room spinning, his heart threatening to break free from his chest, and there she would be: a frail, little girl, at the foot of his bed, her stick figure limbs draped in a white nightie, its hemline stained in dark, crimson streaks?
The first time he had seen her he had screamed, horrified, the raspy noise of his own startled voice burning his dry mouth and throat. His wife awoke and shot straight up in bed.
“What is it? What is it?”
Standler blinked his alcohol swollen eyes. Only darkness. The girl was gone. There was nothing.
“Nothing, honey. It was nothing. Just go back to sleep. I just had a nightmare.”
“Kay, honey.” His wife had rolled back over and immediately began snoring again. He lay there till the room grew pale in the morning light, his flesh tingling, wondering what he had seen, if he was going insane.
The next time the little girl had appeared he was calmer.
He blinked twice quickly, expecting her ghostly form to disappear like last time. But she didn’t disappear. She remained there, looking down at him with her cold eyes, sunken deep in their dark sockets. He stared in disbelief. Was it real? Could this pale figure possibly be real? That’s when she had stepped up to him, quickly, and her blue lips parted and she began to speak, to tell him things in a whisper. He thought he could smell the grave on her breath as she murmured in his ear about the night her father had sold her to Possum.
It had been a dark night, deep in the backwoods of Southern Humboldt. Past the mountains of Alder Point and Blocksburgh, in a place that didn’t even have a name, near Zinnia, on the Trinity border, where it snowed in the winter and the cold mornings found the hills hardened in ice. The sky was black and it was pouring rain. Her father had been drunk and handled her roughly, pulling her by the arm through the muddy front yard. She was terrified, and devastated that her daddy’s big Danner logging boots were splashing mud up all over her dress. Her mother had been dead less than three weeks.
Her father had shoved her roughly through the front door of Possum's trailer.
“She’s all fucking yours,” her father had spat at the old, bearded man in greasy overalls.
Possum had shuffled forward and took her cheeks into his grizzled, calloused hand, squeezing her face tightly, moving her head back and forth for inspection.
“Oh, she’s a pretty one.”
“If you say so,” her father said. “She’s got that weird eye and those fucked-up teeth. But she can cook real good, and clean. She’s damn handy with a broom.”
“Oh, yes,” the old man chuckled, handing over the sealed bundles of meth-amphetamine. “She’ll do. She’ll do nicely.”
And two months later she was dead and abandoned like so much trash.
The sick fucks. How could he have let them live? And no one missed Possum. No one mourned him. They had thrown Standler a party. He had been a hero.
The second time was different. That one had gotten him suspended, most likely fired. No pension. No 401K. He might even see some time for that one.
Standler sipped his whiskey, reached down between his legs and lifted up the Beretta. An old pistol, his father had given it to him, long ago. He cradled the heavy, cold weight of the gun, waiting for his old boss, that fat fuck, to arrive back at his nice suburban home. Maybe his wife would find him dead on their well-manicured front lawn, maybe one of his teenage kids. Oh well, to have a sick fuck like that for a father: just desserts.
It was a warm night and he had the window down, the whine of passing trucks on 101 softly humming in his ears.
He thought of Hamlet.
He had taken a Shakespeare class back in college when he was studying criminal law, still entertaining the idea of going on to law school and becoming an attorney, before Charlotte got pregnant and he quit school and joined the force so he could start making money for his new family, only to have her give birth to a stillborn boy seven months later, never to conceive again.
Hamlet. That tale of the haunted Danish prince had always stuck with him. Standing atop the castle parapet, the ghost of his father crying out for him to avenge his savage murder. Ghost: My hour is almost come when I to sulph’rous and tormenting flames must render up myself.
Standler always wondered: was Hamlet insane? But no, that would mean they were all insane. Horatio, Marcellus, Barnardo, they had all seen it. They couldn’t all be insane. It had to be true. The ghost had to be real.
The second time the little girl told Standler to kill, things hadn’t worked out like they had with Possum.
My father, she had whispered. Kill him.
And how couldn’t he? Anyone who would do something as sick as sell their own daughter surely deserved to die. She described his car, where he would be, the pound of meth Standler would find in the trunk, the Glock he always kept under his seat.
Standler had waited at the Red Lion Hotel on Broadway, right where the little girl had told him to, and just like clockwork the car had rolled right into the parking lot. Standler had been amused at the look of surprise on the man’s face when he strolled up with his .38 leveled right at eye level, squeezing a round off before the jerk even had a chance to utter a word.
But there was no meth in the trunk, no gun under the seat, and it ended up it wasn’t her father at all. At least that’s what the investigators said. They claimed it was just some business man from Santa Rosa.
But when Melissa appeared before him the next night, shimmering and ghastly in the moonlight, she told him, no, it had been her father. They were lying. All of them. Lying liars, the little girl had whispered to him with her pale, blue lips and graveyard breath. They had tried to hide it. It was a conspiracy and they had fired him because the police chief was in on it.
That’s why the police chief was next. He had to go. That’s why Standler sat in his car outside his house, a pistol cradled in his hands. He had to kill his old boss. Off that meth dealing, slave keeping, degenerate son of a bitch.
And there were more.
There are many of them, the frail ghost had murmured.
His wife was one of them. She had made the list. She was a cheating meth-whore, fucking the whole department for crank. The little girl had told him all about it, late at night, moments before the morning, when the earth swelled silent and cold and his heart beat so it threatened to leave his chest.
Yes, there were many of them. A whole list. And it was a long list.
Written by HumboldtLycanthrope