[Chapter 6, for those who want it]
In a city as large as this there are AA meetings every night of the week spread between the campuses and churches and community centers. Somehow I found myself at one of those, still holding onto Kraden’s death threats. It was close to dark and I had been driving around looking for a nice quiet bar to have a nice quiet scotch in while I waited for the first round of blood tests to come in. I don’t know why I walked in here but I took advantage of the coffee at the side of the room and sat as far from the stage as possible. I started flipping through the threats.
12 letters. 5 of them had long essays, innocuous little phrases like “Someone should kill you” or “one day you will get whats coming”. These would barely trip our radar, and were likely overactive retirees who were angry that Kraden had had no plan to open the factories back up. a few more were postcards with a picture of Kraden or his family and crosshairs painted over. These are more serious, but too vague to be actionable. I kept flipping through. One of these is not like the others: Long angry letters, implied threats, and one crumpled sheet of waterlogged notebook paper that said, “What happened to Icarus. I want to meet her” It didn’t sound like a death threat, but why was it treated like one by Kraden. I was just examining the return envelope when I realized it had gone quiet.
“Can you hear me back there? Would you like to come and introduce yourself?”
I didn’t look at who had spoken, I just mumbled some excuse and looked at my wrist like it had a watch on it then left quickly.
I sat in my car. The handwriting looked similar to the pad, but was smoother. The letter itself had been crumpled and smoothed flat many times, probably by Kraden. Most of the letters only showed the wear and tear of the postal service, but this one was special.
I started my drive back to the precinct, stopping in a liquor store to grab a bottle of whiskey. This much coffee in me and I’d need some sleep.
I got back, checked on the blood test and was thrown out of the lab by Julian. I then went and grabbed the pad from forensics. I came back up to the office, set my whiskey on the desk and sat down
Side by side the two looked similar. I would send them off to get analyzed anyways, but I was certain of the link. The pad was shakier, but that made sense. Whoever wrote it pulled someone apart limb from limb afterwards. They wouldn’t have been calm
I leaned back and the next thing I knew it was morning.
An excerpt from the journal of Ezekial
Summer, 1934, North Carolina.
“Well fuck a sheep thats a nice bit of stonework there.” She wiped her forehead with a gloved hand leaving a granite streak a mile wide, admiring her work. “You got a little something there on your forehead miss” I was trying to be helpful, something I should probably stop doing.
“You call me miss again and I’ll tear you a new anus with a steam-powered masonry drill- And what’s this I conveniently have at my side? What could that possibly be-“
“It’s a masonry drill, no need to belabor the point there.” She put her gloved hands on overalled hips and held her pointed chin high. Ah hell, its been too long and it looks like I’ve gotten rusty. “Sorry miss, I’ll leave you be-“
Every day I don’t spend Writing or developing a project feels like a waste.
Its been this way for a few years. Time that I have spent, for instance, writing out over 350 pages filling 3 notebooks, writing the better part of 2 plays a pilot and half of a novel. I used to write every single day, Now I’m lucky if I have time to sit and work on my days off.
Its been a theme of my last few months. A constant droning voice gnawing away at what I assume is my mind, telling me in some eldritch tongue that I need to write more to service the elder-gods, or some other nonsense.
Even so, I don’t like to refer to myself as a “Writer”.
The term has too much baggage. Whenever I say, “I Write”, there is an immediate look on someones face. There are always questions.
“Have you written anything I know?”
That would be code for, “Are you published?”. The answer is: Not Yet.
“What do you write?”
A question thats kind of like asking someone what neighborhood they live in when you don’t know the city. I appreciate the interest and will give you the logline, but most of the time its met with the blank look that reminds me how much of a rhetorical question “What I write” usually is.
Words. I write Words.
“But what do you do for a living?”
Starve, mostly. Or, more realistically, I have a job and write when I can.
“Oh that’s lovely”
You can often hear the condescension drip like… Well… Condensation. I hope the inadequacy of that simile illustrates how few fucks I give.
But always it comes down to one essential question that people seem to have: “Do you make a living writing?”
No. I don’t.
Not many people do.
But that doesn’t mean that I don’t write professionally.
I don’t know if I have enough experience or gravitas to speak eloquently on this matter. After all, it was only 3 years ago that I even began pursuing writing as a career. But it seems if I haven’t gotten paid for writing, there is an expectation that I should say that I am an “Aspiring Writer”.
But I’m not aspiring to anything, I’m working. Its my second and my third job. I am sure that a lot of other “Aspiring Writers” feel exactly the same way.
Why would we do such a disservice to the work we are doing by referring to our writing as anything other than professional?
After a brief employment-inspired pause, Here is Chapter 6! Here is Chapter 5 for those who want it
What I had to do before anything else was to figure out Kraden’s timeline for the night, something to do before the blood-work was in. After that I had to find out who the “She” was and what she had to do with Kraden’s old job as the CEO of Æthenmus.
Walking into Adam Kraden’s campaign headquarters made me wonder if they even knew he was dead. I expected to see at least an intern composing themselves, mopping tears with a tie or tissue. Paid or unpaid, it looked like everyone still had a job to do.
So I walked up to the nearest secretary, “I’m Detective Grant, here to investigate the murder of Adam Kraden”
He didn’t bat an eye, just stared at me for a second and, “Take a seat we’ll be right with you.”
Nothing makes a man feel more unimportant than the bureaucratic power of the waiting room.
I sat and waited for 10 minutes while catching snippets of the office buzz. It sounded mostly like volunteers assuring constituents; saying that his campaign was being taken over by his campaign manager, yes she is a good person, yes she has the same platform, sadly campaign donations are not refundable, the money has already been used.
Then I heard her. “Sir, you are welcome to withdraw your continued funding… yes I understand… But if you don’t feel I can do as good a job as…” She faltered, seemingly unable to say his name, “Yes, sorry… Yes I’ll be fine. Thank you sir. I’ll be fine.” She was a tall woman coming through the cubicles. When she ended the phone call her eyes hardened and her voice was immediately steady as she talked to the aides around her. “Gretchen Thomas, Detective Grant. Its good to meet you.” She didn’t seem to care that I knew the phone call was a performance.
“I hear you’re running for the seat?” She paused for a second, maybe betraying her humanity, maybe evaluating what I knew. I didn’t trust her.
“There is a lot of money in this campaign. It goes to waste or I run for the seat” The aides around her studied their phones. “My office?”
I followed. She led me to a small room off the side of the large office. Probably Kraden’s. “Haven’t moved yet?”
“I’m going to turn it into a lounge. Something for the volunteers” She sat down and straightened her desk, not looking at me. Everyone is guilty of something and I wasn’t here to be her friend.
“I need to know what Kraden was doing last night.”
“I have his schedule right here-“
“No, I need to know what he was doing last night”
A look of understanding dawned on her, “I don’t understand.”
“His schedule tells me what his schedule was last night, I want to know what he was doing.” Her face was tight. “I’m not press, this is a closed investigation. You can tell me right here or I can drive you to the precinct and do it there.” It was an old trick. But the old tricks worked.
After chewing the inside of her lip for a few seconds, “He had an interview at 7 for a late-night show. After that he came back and was signing letters until he left.” She was lying. She knew I knew she was lying. I’ll still have to do this the hard way.
“Has he been acting weird the last few days? Anything out of place? any calls or mail?”
“Not that I remember.”
“Where do you keep your death threats?”
This made her sputter, “They weren’t serious, there were only a few- we never bothered to report them. How did you know?”
“A leap of faith.” A progressive reform campaign mounted by an ex-CEO? Of course there were death threats. “I’d like to see them.”
She walked into Kraden’s office. It was neat and well organized. On her way in Gretchen passed the desk and straightened out one of the pencil holders offhandedly, like it was second nature. “He kept them in his desk. He liked to flip through them to remind him that he was doing the right thing”
It would have been funny. “Was he ever threatened in person?”
“No.” She was holding onto the death threats. I held out my hand and she reluctantly passed them to me. “There were always protestors, but-“
“What time did he leave last night?”
Her face fell a bit. Not an act like the phone call, but something like guilt or empathy. “I don’t remember”
“Call me if you do. We’ll be in touch Ms. Thomas.”
She showed me out of Kraden’s office and went back to hers. I walked out to the main floor of the office and everyone there was working furiously. They had been listening. I smiled and turned to the room.
“Hello everyone!” I wasn’t shouting, but I didn’t need to. They all stopped, “Hello! My name is Michael Grant, I’m a detective. We need to construct a timeline for Mr. Kraden’s last few days.” I reached into my coat and pulled out a silver case, I pulled a small stack of business cards out of them, “If any of you have seen anything out of place or weird or even worth knowing, please contact us.” I held the cards up high and walked over to the large chrome coffee maker. I made myself up a cup and put the business cards on top.
As I left a few people in the office decided it was time that their mugs needed refilling. This might have been worth the drive.
Another Chapter! Chapter 4 Here
I knew that crime scene. I’d seen it before, spread over a loading dock in an alley in midtown. A scene I left chasing a man who was running from the scene. He was covered in blood. A man who I fired at and accidentally hit a lady further down the alley. She later apologized for getting in my way. The bullet is still in her collarbone, and she baked me a cake to say sorry.
The worst part was that the body disappeared when I got back to the loading dock.
So I took a squad car back to the precinct and I stopped on the highway to grab a bottle of water out of the trunk. I was getting lightheaded. I’d have to twist some balls to get the blood-work off of the scene by tonight. Its not that I didn’t appreciate what the techs did, I just wanted to have some real evidence to follow before I started chasing ghosts. Ghosts seemed to like long car rides anyways.
“I don’t want you to start looking into this” Misha was right, of course. My only stake in this investigation was supposed to be the murder of Adam Kraden.
“But there is too strong a chance that it could be linked.” She knew I wasn’t wrong.
“Michael, you have a pad of paper that doesn’t say anything and-“
“It doesn’t mean anything!” It didn’t mean much, but it meant something.
“Look at this thing, Misha.” The evidence bag and the pad was between us on her desk. “Kraden was holding this before he died.” I flipped it over, showing her the bloody fingerprints on the back.
“Then tell me what to do about it.”
“Nothing. Not yet.” Misha wasn’t happy. A dead politician and a commissioner who didn’t approve in her choice of detective was enough to make anyone jumpy. For Misha? She was pissed. I didn’t like waiting to drop the worse news on her, but I’d rather she kick me out than spend another hour yelling at me.
“Why,” She pinched the bridge of her nose and measured her words carefully, “The Hell. Are. You. Here.”
“I wanted to let you know that this might be more complicated than the murder,” I heard her mumble a small ‘fantastic’ before I continued, “And also that I am adding the midtown files to this case. The body I witnessed is concurrent with the way Kraden was killed.” I was scared for a second that she was going to lunge over the desk and kill me with a paperweight. She didn’t. I would later wish she did.
“This is my career on the line too. If you fuck up, I fucked up”
“Do you trust me?”
“No, but I believe you.” This wasn’t the response I expected.
Being witness to something like Midtown and then having no evidence to back it up and having no one believe you- It’s an awful thing. You start to become obsessed with proving it. The midtown file was nothing more than my report and some nearby security camera footage.
What I wanted to do was to dig back into it, to link it somehow to Kraden or to find any lead at all. I wanted to make it real. And the worst part about this was that just in the early dark hours of this morning I was driving around trying to make myself finally let go of it. I wanted so bad to let it go. But then I see the parts of Kraden laid around his living room. Now I can’t.
I was back at my desk sipping a cup of coffee for twenty minutes before I even realized I had gotten the file. It was open on my desk. I forced myself to close it.
Well I guess I’ve strayed into multimedia.
My friend and housemate Scott Key helped me out by throwing a little voice acting onto Devil’s House. I’m pretty damn pleased with the product, and this may be the mode of distribution from here on out.
The first two chapters are currently being hosted on SoundCloud. I encourage you to give a listen. They aren’t yet available for download- but they will be at a later date.
Please listen! Enjoy!
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.