The next installment of What God. [Chapter 3 found here]
Some things don’t bear explanation. Every cop there was wondering who could have managed to tear Kraden apart like that. I was wondering how his wife and daughter could have stood to listen to him scream. 50 people in this house combing it for evidence and only 1 paramedic taking care of the two women outside wrapped in heat blankets
I walked out of the garage, past a few buckets full of sick and a few more expensive cars. Ms. Kraden sat in the back of the ambulance with her daughter. The wife sat with a face of stone, her daughter was beside her shivering and breathing oxygen from a tank.
“Ms. Kraden, I’m detective Grant-“
She even sounded stone, “Someone already took my statement, detective.” I was glad that at least somebody had taken some time away from the bloodbath in the living room carpet. Messes like that tended to occupy the attention of men in my position. I had no wish to spend more time in there than I had to.
“I know. I’m going to ask you to go through it again.” It was the worst part of the job; asking someone to relive what they had gone through. But repeated tellings of the incident can often reveal more than good forensics. Every time you make someone retell a story they process what they saw and and heard, leaving out the unimportant bits and dwelling on the more important ones.
“He came in late. He often did. Because of work.” Ms. Kraden didn’t believe herself but I let her continue, “He came in. He cursed a bit, I thought he stubbed his toe. I was upstairs sleeping. He then started talking, like he was on the phone. Then he started yelling, something like ‘I didn’t have anything to do with that, I left the company, how should I know’ then the screaming started.” I was marking all of this down when she stopped. I let her breath, studying my notes.
“They said it must have been more than one” It was the daughter.
I looked to Ms. Kraden for permission, but she was staring off into space. “What do you mean?”
“When they were talking there was only two sets of footsteps. My dads and the other persons.” She went back to the oxygen. I couldn’t imagine what she was feeling.
“Did you hear him speak? Did he do anything else? the other man?” But I still had to ask. This was about more than Kraden.
“I only heard the footsteps. It could have been anyone.” She looked terrified, holding onto the oxygen mask like it was the only thing keeping her here.
I let them be, thanking them both. I told them I would keep in touch. It was a lie, but lies are comforting.
We have two scenarios. Either Kraden saw someone he knew well enough to know exactly why they were there, or the attacker delivered their message without speaking.
I went back to the living room and started looking around. A number of techs started trying to call for my attention but I waved them off. “Was there any paper recovered?” I asked the room. None of them answered. “It can be blank, a scrap, almost anything. Hell, I’ll take a whiteboard.” That seemed to help them along. A small tech walked up and passed me a blood-covered pad in an evidence bag. I gloved up, pulled it from the bag and grabbed a nearby pencil. The old tricks still worked. I shaded the top of the pad, the only part that wasn’t soaked in blood. In that I saw a relief of the last thing that had been written there. “Where is She” in bold, blocky print.
I got someone with a camera to document and had the pad sealed back up. I then went outside and threw up.
This is the second excerpt from “Devil’s House”, a Novella that will take you to hell and back. Excerpt One Found Here
Hell Is Other Waiting Rooms
I woke up in a warm room to the soft oompah of New Orlean’s Swing. I opened my eyes to look up at a managerial spackle cieling. I was in a waiting room on a rough nap carpet. I groaned and got to my feet. There were no doors. The walls had recreations of dutch skyscapes and impressionist lilies. There were a few low tables scattered around with pamphlets laid out on them.
I walked over and picked one up, “So You’re In Hell… What Now?”
I wasn’t really that surprised. I knew this day would come. I knew what I signed up for and I was ready for it so I settled down in a chair and started to find out what the rest of my damnation would look like. So I cracked open the paper when I heard a voice
“That doesn’t apply to you, actually” I hadn’t noticed when She arrived or what door through which she’d suddenly appeared- I waited for her to continue. “I’m sorry to be the one to tell you this, but-”
“I’m Dead?” It seemed like the likely explanation.
“Well… no” And apparently it wasn’t
“But I’m in Hell”
“But I’m not dead”
And now for the more difficult question: “So why am I in Hell?”
“Well” She started, “You’re an idiot.” You can say one thing about Hell: Its brutally honest.
“Was it because I stole from Satan?” I mean, it did seem like a good idea at the time.
She nodded, looking at me like I tried to push a door that said pull.
Something nagged at me, “So I’m not dead, but I am in Hell?”
“Why?” Because, you know, it seemed like a simple enough question
She sighed and turned her hand at an invisible door knob, opening a Matisse that stretched into a door. I felt a little like a drunk kitten in a gothic wonderland, innocent enough to just accept the impossible but not coherent enough to create a simile. I gathered myself, nabbed a pamphlet, and jogged to catch up.
“So,” Caught in the forbidding vortex of awkward silence, “Whats your name?”
“Lily” She didn’t even look over at me, and kept walking. The hallway was lined with doors whose glass windows were the transparent backs of canvasses. Each room was labeled 666. I chuckled, earning a straightforward glare from Lily. This was a long hallway.
“So whats in all these rooms? More people like me?”
“Yes” She had such eloquence
At long last an old elevator door came to view at the hallway’s end. She pressed the button and we waited. Again in silence. So I Asked: “You aren’t going to ask me my name?”
“No I am not”
“Do you already know it?”
“Nope” This was going wonderfully.
“You don’t even care.”
So I stood there and wondered why it was taking so long for the elevator to arrive. “Well… I’m Scratch.” I didn’t bother sticking out my hand
She grunted, a second later the elevator dinged and we stepped inside to badly played bluegrass. We both grimmaced.
“Why is the music-”
“Its Hell,” She snapped.
So after 15 minutes of, well, Hell, the elevator dinged again and she pulled aside the accordian doors and stepped through. I followed. The lobby beyond was massive and more hell-like than my quaintly beuarucratic waiting room. The marble and granite was a deep maroon with jet lines running through it. Decorative stalactites hung from the domed ceiling. All around us bussled the diverse and disheveled dead, led around by men and women in crisp suits. The Charons of Grand Central Styx.
At the far end of the lobby, flanked by large staircases leading down, is a foreboding set of double doors with a sign that read simple, “1”. Signs on the stairs said, in a too too cheery manner, “Levels 2-?”.
“Keep up!” I hadn’t realized I had stopped and had nearly forgotten Lily was standing there, I jogged again to keep up.
“Where” I paused for a moment before continuing. Some questions in the world you really don’t need the answers to, but even still you want them.
“Choose whichever level you want”
“Look, you were in a room, I brought you down here, you don’t have an assignment so you go where you want, I don’t care.” She scowled a little and turned heel and walked away.
I called after her, “What do I do?”
“That’s not my problem”
With that she was lost in the crowd. Then I did what any flesh-and-blood man with a pulse in Hell would do. I strode out into the first layer of hell and hoped to God I could find a bar.
I like to imagine that I kept to my principles in the end… I mean- I didn’t. But I like to imagine.
First thing to know: I haven’t been single in about 6 years. I have not been single for long. I haven’t tried to meet new people outside of school in a long time- which was why OKCupid and Tinder seemed like a good idea. I ended my last relationship on good (great) terms, and this might be part of the problem
Its great when you can end a relationship on good terms. Like the adults we know we are. But the human brain has a conditioned response to sudden loneliness- it wants to pitch and fit and throw a tantrum and not be lonely anymore. So when your brain wants to do this but you have no reason to, you start to look for an outlet.
It started with Tinder. I mean, it all seemed perfectly normal at first. I swipe right and I swipe left. It even comes with helpful labels. If you swipe right you see “Like” in friendly green, if you swipe left you see “Nope”.
This is when I should have known things could get bad.
If two people both swipe right on each other’s pictures, you get to “Chat”. Not being able to connect with people easily this seemed like a great idea! No need to go through that awkward period of finding out whether someone finds you annoying.
Its a trap.
Not in the beginning- No, Tinder makes you build your own prison. In the beginning you treat the system with respect, you only “Like” the people you’d actually like to talk to. You start to think that the system works. But it doesn’t. And you are why.
The swiping. Oh the Swiping. You start to no look at anything but the first picture, judging everything about a person on first glance. Duck Face? Swipe Left. Bikini Shot? Swipe Right. Every swipe brought me one step closer to hell- turning me into exactly the kind of person I hated. Soon I lost all sense of my principles, and after what seemed like weeks (it was only 2 days) without any matches I just started swiping right every time.
But it wasn’t enough. It wasn’t near enough.
Led on by this dark ghost of single life I joined OKCupid.
I could have sworn I heard a thunderclap
It had been almost a week of online dating. I get a few matches: One woman with a boyfriend who told me I looked like Peter Dinklage, another I scared off by asking bluntly what she was looking for.
Then on OKCupid I tried messaging people. Every awkward joke and question was another brick added to my cell in Hades.
What kind of person had I become, Silently judging the attractiveness of strangers. And I grid to be fair to those I didn’t- but only at first. Soon I fell even further. I judged harshly and swiftly.
If I was a super villain with an origin story, this is how I would have turned evil.
And this is where this tragedy takes a turn for the lighthearted. You see, I thought I was evil in the same way that Kite-Man thinks he is evil. Yes he robbed banks and stole money and jewels from museums- but then Kite-man saw The Joker beat Jason Todd to death with a crowbar, and realized that he was just an average man who stole things for a job.
I started to realize that the bar was set so low with men and online dating that I was somehow still considered a good person. I hadn’t sent any unsolicited dick-picks or told a girl how “Hawt” she is. I was middle-of-the-pack evil- Stealing candy from babies evil.
So really, this is the story of how online dating turned me kind of evil.
An Excerpt from the Journal of Elijah.
Summer 1934, Nebraska
Rain-making had become a serious business in the last few years as the dust began to swallow farms and towns alike. It was mean stuff just as like to leave you coughing brown the next few days as to ruin an entire county’s livelihood. And when the rain-maker came, people gathered. No one counted on a rain-maker being bad news. I wouldn’t call them simple folk, but they were naïve.
This town had money, as few enough did at this time. The rain-maker knew this, and it was obvious to anyone who saw him walk into the town like a saint about to cure it from leprosy or blindness. You could’ve mistaken the townsfolk for such the way the rainmaker treated them all.
When the mayor bought him dinner and some cider, he sat, eating noisily and getting drunk. When he was more sober he made talk about how the next town over just harvested their first healthy crop in months, and how in another town he saved a thousand acres from falling to a dust-storm. Two counties over he cured their live-stock of a wasting sickness that had culled most of their herds. But as the drink began invading his speech, making it trip and tumble, he began to talk of the women he had, how all he had to do was get them drunk and they were his. He talked of his sin, and how little the care he had for his unburdened little soul.
Now I am a tolerant man and I have no problem disregarding the dry law of the land in order to get a rain-maker as drunk as he wants, but it stops when a man talks of violating another man’s daughter. Its a pity I wasn’t there to witness the ingress of the rainmaker to Trellby county, but at least I was able to come and clean up after the son-of-a-whore left.
Apparently, this rain-maker woke early the next day and took to the fields, sticking his finger in the roots of corn and eating wheat-grass like a bored farm boy. He then did something that should’ve tipped off anyone as long as they knew anything; He asked for privacy, a barn, and a white bull.
These were uneducated God-fearing folks which blinded them to the peculiarity of this request. Its not their fault. In Leviticus a white bull was considered a worthy sacrifice to God. Oddly enough, this is one of the only circumstances where such a sacrifice is so innocuous. Near cities, we tend to watch whoever buys stock like that because it’s usually a flag towards some upstart cultist who has ideas about having a flock and bestowing dark gifts upon himself.
I remember hiking out to the barn to see what he did, and then I remember deeply regretting my curiosity. Every part of the cow, save its skin, that could be dismantled had been, and it was all laid out in order, like the rain-maker had just taken apart an engine and was planning on putting it back together later. The smell was horrible, but the flies all stopped short of the meat, refusing to cross a circle of cow’s blood around the entire mess. It wasn’t like they couldn’t pass it, they just didn’t seem to want to, like the meat inside the circle was spoiled. They had a mark more wisdom than I.
I’ll not bother to recount the entirety of what the town suffered as a result of the rain-maker’s sacrifice, as I have put most of it into my report. There is, however, something worth saying, a reason why I am sitting here and writing instead of tracking down the rain-maker.
I guess there is not any other way to put it, so I’ll just say it outright. I found his face, or what I assume to be. It was lying in the mud outside of the barn. I had the local mortician look at the thing to check. It was probably an easy thing to miss in and among the fire, brimstone, and plagues the town had started to suffer as soon as the rain-maker had left. At this point I don’t know whether to call this rain-maker man or monster, I just knew something foul and wretched is coursing its way through nebraska.
I have since surmised that the skin of the cow was probably used to fashion a new mask for this rainmaker, though how he made the thing so lifelike truly confounds me. Even the mortician hesitated before saying it was some sort of leather thing, but of what nature he knew not.
I have the mask right here and it has cracked some in the sun and heat. It sure does look a lot like leather now. It would answer where the cow-skin went, but would raise a whole host of questions more Questions I don’t know if I can answer.
I know where my duty lies and I know what I have to do. The whole of my skin crawls and my bones have a chill like they’ve never felt. I’ll approach the night with bell book and candle if necessary. I’ll fight again if I am called to.
What scares me isn’t the night. What I face isn’t just the things that lurk in the dark places of the world. Last night was the first night in a week it stopped raining fire in Trellby County. Locusts still ravage the fields and a mass grave of firstborn are piled in pine crates on the lawn of the church.
What does God hate with such a passion that he would see a small town of his devoted flock leveled just to rid the earth of it.
It’s an answer that scares me.
The following is the second chapter of a work-in-progress novel. Please let me know what you think! First Chapter Here
“You’ve been going to meetings, right?” Misha Mala, chief of police. A beautiful woman, if that was your sort of thing.
“Went to my first last night” I was sitting down in the single chair that sat on the other side of her desk. She was standing. I wasn’t in a place of power.
“Is that why you were out in the middle of the sprawl at 7 in the morning?”
“I don’t know what you are talking about” The rest of the office seemed to buzz a little bit more than usual, the copiers overactive, the typing more frantic, the coffee more pungent.
“I have a problem, Detective Grant,” Usually she called me Michael but today she said the words like my mother using my middle name. A warning; beware who enter here. “30 seconds and you’ve lied to me twice. First off, you said that you’ve been going to meetings for the last 3 weeks. Second, I have dispatch telling me you called in a fire far from the edge of our jurisdiction. So what do I believe, Michael? I gave you a-” I had shaken my mug to see if the coffee was working and after staring at it for a while I realized it hasn’t kicked in yet. She noticed.
“You were saying, Chief Mala?” I usually called her Misha.
“Are you drunk?” One could dream.
“I just spent the last 10 hours driving. I’m just tired”
“You lie to me about the meetings, about where you were last night, what in the hell should I believe, Michael?” My gamble seemed to have worked, she used my name. This is an improvement.
“I’m not an alcoholic, Misha you know that. Now, I’ll go to your meetings, but I don’t want to be accused of- Look, I don’t get drunk, its not economical. It takes 3 Manhattans to get me buzzed, Misha, I can’t keep that up on my salary. If you want to give me a raise to help me become an-“
“Just shut up.” There was a smile. She’d never admit it, but there was. “You’ve got to do this. After midtown, you have to play the game. You shot an innocent woman” It was a bit unfair putting it like that. She lived and barely has a scar. Just the wrong place and wrong time. It wasn’t exactly fair for Internal Affairs to call it assault, though, the lady just got into my line of fire. “Its bad enough you don’t seem to care at all, I don’t need-“
“I thought the bad part was the fact that I was under stress and… seeing things? As you put it?” I was firing at a figure running from a murder scene. The body at the scene was barely recognizable. No ID was ever made because no body was ever found.
“Why did you lie to me about the meetings?”
“Changing the subject I see.” I continued before she figured out that I was the one who changed it first, “I don’t want to go to a grown man’s pity fest.” A moment later and the regret hit me hard.
“I can kick you out of this department so quickly the door tears your ass off” Her father was an alcoholic. Years of going to meetings had saved his life. What she had only admitted to me once was that it had saved hers as well.
“I’m sorry.” I was. “Misha, I don’t have anything in common with those people. I know I have to play out this political crap, I just didn’t feel like wasting my time in a place I don’t need to be”
“So why drive all night?” Why indeed.
I didn’t know the answer to that question and I should have. I got out of the meeting chock full of caffeine and nicotine, a chemical intake that passes for sobriety in those circles. “I started driving. Couldn’t sleep”. It was true enough, or at least the best answer I had.
“Christ, Michael.” She stopped, considering something for a second, “Look, we’ve had a big case come in. Can you handle it? Do you want it?”
Want is such a weak word. “Please God, give me something to do.”
“I could get used to being called God. Can you drive?”
I started to answer, and almost got half a breath out before-
“Don’t answer that-” She called out into the pit, “Hey Sergeant! Give Grant a ride to the Kraden site, let him sleep some in the back.”
God is such a weak word for what she is.
The following is an excerpt of a work-in-progress novel. Please let me know what you think!
In the deep in the wasting corpse of industry an angel on a billboard burned. No one had touched this area of town in 15 years and this billboard was no different, a failed product line from a dying company. The top of it had already burned and coalesced into the smog, making the silhouette of this angel seem as though she was diving upwards into Hell. I listened to it burn in the wind-whistle silence of abandoned buildings. I sat and watched and listened.
I thought about checking the surrounding buildings for squatters to warn them of the possible danger. If I did I’d be shot. Even in plain clothes I look like a cop and there are days that looking like a civilian would be a blessing. I was born with a stern face and a conceal-carry permit. I’ve never been a civilian.
It was still early morning as I made my way through midtown. I hit the traffic, and people’s windows were open in the humid heat to play out their choice of early-morning talk-radio. I listened to the usual rhythm of dispatch at dawn; fender benders and last-call cleanup. After stopping to get some coffee at a drive-through I languished in the traffic, enjoying the rest after a hellish night.
Everyone out here was rushing to work or to wage, and when everyone else wanted to get there on time I was just happy just to have some. It was a rare moment in between paperwork and cases where the city was quiet only for me.
Reverie is rarely kept for long, though. A call from dispatch.
“Julia, My dear.” Was my answer, less formal than the precinct liked.
“Hey Mikey, Misha has a need for you” But I had known Julia since I was a PI.
“As quickly as you can” Figures.
“Let the Chief know I’m running lights from midtown”
“Be safe, Detective”
Its easy for a man to feel powerful when all he needs is some flashing lights for a sea of people in their own little worlds to part and give way. 40 minutes of traffic was made into 10 minutes of glorious speeding. Public Service has its perks.