By Mike Mulvihill
Mysterious murder mindfulness
not just any promotion, but to Secretary of Prisons
Services, a position I’d longed for these past
five years. The New Year ahead already looked promising. I floated through my
last work morning at my regular desk, and opted for a cheap lunch, as usual, at
the walking-distance Forest Den.
Inside the pub, though, I didn’t feel any warmth.
Snow threatened and was forecast for the entire month of December and on into
January. I placed my order with a girl at the counter and walked away, looking
for a seat.
What I met as I walked was colder yet—the familiar stare of
an aged regular. “This is death,” he said in a way which suggested the coal of
life within him was nearly extinguished. Before him sat a half drunk pint of
stout and a grease-laden plate of fish and chips. He’d never addressed me
before. Why now?
The oldster’s spectacles sat on a downcast face as
pale as his hair. His usual worn black jacket had obviously seen him through
all seasons, although never one of celebration. It complemented his dour
“What do you mean?” I asked.
“In winter death
rules,” he replied, attention on a crime tabloid, not explaining his
If he’d intended to sell profound wisdom, I wasn’t
buying. I attended to my own concerns, sure that his mind was a sanctuary
for clichéd concepts…or, at least, seasonal affective disorder. Seasonal doom
and gloom wasn’t a novel concept. Everyone knows winter brings death.
I spent the next hour reading fiction to relax my mind for
my eventual return to work. I checked my watch and noticed that the hour had
passed swiftly. The enjoyment of reading assured me that work had not become my
Returning to the familiar sights and sounds at work
reminded me what I had achieved. Proof that the news of my promotion had
circulated sat on my desk—a bottle of champagne and an envelope marked for my
The snow had been falling for forty minutes or so. We were
at the start of what promised to be an impressive snowstorm. The decision
to show a little festive spirit was taken by our department. But what could
have been my own opportunity to get home early was overruled by a white box
where work awaited completion. I addressed the issue of the white box as my
coworkers gradually vacated the five floors of the building. I finally opened
the last envelope resting there and, at the end of the staff letter, read,
“Check your drawer.”
When I opened my drawer I was delighted to find a packet of
Cuban cigars and a bottle of Jameson. How truly wonderful! There was no need to
finish my work, when I could just pour a glass, add ice from my fridge, light a
cigar, and watch the snow fall.
It was wonderful to be there alone, absorbing the peaceful
atmosphere. I sipped whiskey, played some jazz, smoked, and watched the snow,
amused by simply capturing the ambiance of a quiet building amid the
storm. I thought of where my career was going. It would certainly improve
my standard of living.
I didn’t have deep questions, just curiosity about
supervising my first project as P.S. Secretary. Why a maximum security? Where
is the site? Is it suitable? No…all that can
wait. Martial arts had taught me to center myself and not allow
anticipation get the better of me, so I truly enjoyed the moment. In the
white-painted ceiling Christmas lights reflected, a cheery reminder that a
festive time was just around the corner.
I switched off the radio and, without warning, my heart
ached. I felt a pang of sorrow over a long-ago holiday season when I had been
unemployed. I used work—achievement, rank, and power—to build up my self-esteem
and to forget. But, if a threshold is
passed, a career bar jumped over, my inner being can be satisfied.
I looked at the hands of the clock in the reception area
and recalled how the old man spoke of death in that jaded voice, with that
morbid expression. He is like the Ghost
of Lost Christmases. Even in youth he must have been depressed, gripped by the
drudgery of his life. Buried alive, had he dug his way out to reveal what it
was like to voyage to the other side?
I dozed off, and enjoyed: German beer, steaks with pepper
cream and potatoes, Cologne Christmas markets with their pilgrim hordes devouring sausages
by the cathedral, singing carols, and boating on the Rhine from Cologne to
Dusseldorf. These delights eased my soul into a deeper sleep, no doubt inspired
by the cold snow. I was gazing up at the gargoyles guarding the Cologne
Cathedral. I imagined those guardians ripping evil spirits apart. Believing
that good defeats malevolence relieved me.
When I awoke I saw my cigar stamped out in the
ashtray. The window showed me snow still falling and streets blanketed in
white. I was sure that everyone had vacated the building and I was the last
person there, so decided to stay the night and sleep, sip spirits, smoke, read,
and think. Reflection was one of my favorite activities…
Next, I was wide awake, aware, alert, and sober! I had a
sound view of what was happening around me. I whistled, then reproached
myself for doing so based on an old superstition that if one whistles indoors
their money vacates their pockets. I got a cigar from my new box, placed it in
my lapel pocket, took a lighter in my right hand, and walked toward the
stairs. I thought about kissing a girl I’d been besotted with for the last
I opened the door beside the lift, which showed freshly
cleaned, wooden floors. I hadn’t heard the janitor. To my far left I saw the
old man I’d met in the pub. He did not work here. He was trespassing! How
had he entered the building? The man whose name I did not know (though I saw
him every time I went to the Forest Den) was no threat. After all, he must have
been nearly eighty. I had no desire to startle him. I called him three times.
He didn’t answer me. Was he deaf? I continued to follow him up the stairs. I
would definitely be checking our building’s security system and asking how he’d
gotten in, who’d authorized him, and why?
I followed him, but, figuring he was hard of hearing, I
stopped calling out to him. He reached the fourth floor. I followed him out to
the balcony, lit my cigar, and placed my hands on the icy railing.
He looked at me. He breathed out cold air. I asked him what
he was doing trespassing on private property. He saw my lips move. He must have
discerned my question, but didn’t respond. I heard a whistle from the street
below. It was the same tune I was whistling before I reproached myself for having
I looked out at the street. I saw snow pouring into the
river and an old man identical to the one who stood beside me. This double
walked on the newly constructed bridge over the river below, wearing the exact
clothes, black shoes, and even the spectacles of the intruder. I looked at him
with grave suspicion. Was he playing some sick game with me? Out of courtesy to
my sanity I assumed that the gentleman had a twin.
The water in the river was deep. I felt nervous about
possibly witnessing a drowning. I knew that at least one of these men had
talked about death today. I had no idea where he was going, but, as he crossed
the bridge, I feared the worst for him. When he reached the end of the
bridge and stepped onto dry land, I felt a huge relief.
“It is time you went downstairs. Your brother needs to
collect you,” I said to our department’s guest.
“That is not my brother.”
“What?” I said.
He didn’t say another word, just walked inside. On the
journey downstairs he stayed quiet. As I reached the last floor I realized that
I heard only my footsteps on the
“The foxes must be out tonight. I hear barking. They come
down from the mountains to scavenge for food.”
“That sound isn’t
foxes,” the old man said.
“Then what is it?”
He didn’t answer me. I reached the last step of the stairs,
and said, “You’re right. It doesn’t sound like foxes. I hope your friend is
“He is not my friend,” the old man said.
We continued walking. He placed his right hand briefly on
my shoulder. It felt ice cold.
“Please stay in the reception area while I get your…er…the
He sat down in the reception area, but, as I walked outside
I didn’t see him there. I did not believe he disappeared, although it seemed so.
He was uncommonly quick for an oldster. Had he needed to use the
Then I heard an animal growl, which caused me to turn back.
But, I could not find my swipe card in my wallet or on my person!
I saw a trail of blood outside, and followed the tracks of
both human and animal footprints. I heard loud roars. I looked back, but the
lights in the reception area were off. Was the old man was still inside? He had to
be. He was probably standing
and silently watching what would happen next. Perhaps he was smart enough to
seek safety on the fourth floor or down in the basement, and hide until the
vicious roaring stopped.
The source of the roars stood at the edge of the river,
where I saw not one, but two lupine savages surround the old man. His right arm
was streaming blood. He did not look at me or call for help.
The wolf-men, however, stared at me and licked their lips,
showing their fangs. I sensed their hunger. Their preternatural character was
apparent. Their teeth looked like they could cut into my ribs and yank them
out. I heard a bone crack. Was it the old man? The sound was stomach churning.
I pictured the lupine teeth puncturing my body
and imagined the agony of my violent death—their
impossible, numbing strength as they pinned me—still alive—to the ground, the
whites of their small coal-dark eyes turned crimson. I imagined the futility of
turning my back. I looked at their super strong legs. I could picture them
bounding toward me with ease. Their ugly ferocity made my hair stand up, the
cold sweat trickle down my back.
Tearing my eyes away from the riverside, I glanced back,
then up. Standing on the balcony of my office was the old man, casually smoking
my cigar and sipping champagne, a calm spectator to horror. How could he act
this way with his double on the verge of being eaten alive?
I could barely imagine what was in store for us both.
On the chance that the old man
would open the door for me, I decided to run to my building. My cell phone was
in my locker. I would open the locker and call for help. As I started running
the two savages aggressively pawed the ground, gnashing their teeth. One of
them jumped at the old man’s stomach. He fell, their teeth disemboweling him. I
expected to be dead soon too, but couldn’t stop watching his body being
mutilated and gorged upon. I’ll never get
the sounds of this savagery out of my mind.
When I reached the door I looked behind me. I didn’t see
any trail of blood, only my own footprints! I looked toward the river
where the wolf-men should be, but were not. Neither did I see any trace of a dead,
mutilated body. There was no way I could call the police and report something
that was not there.
I had been granted a job where I could secure a bigger
house and income enough to support a wife and children. I could move on from
casual one-nighters to something permanent. But my job with the correctional
services required that my health and mental faculties be fully operational.
I returned to the edge of the river: no animal spoor, no
human remains or footprints, and no blood anywhere on the snow. I went to the
edge of the water. Although I momentarily saw two lupine faces floating on
the surface of the water, they disappeared. I turned around and walked away
from the river’s edge. I looked up at the balcony. I saw the old man standing there,
and his exact reflection to his left!
I stared. They returned my stare. I walked from the river’s
edge to the front door of Prisons Services. I looked behind me and saw that I made
no footprints in the snow.
In my hand sat my key card! I opened
the front, glass door and closed and locked it. I walked away from the door,
but felt like I was being watched.
I turned. Two wolves stood outside. I met their glaring
stare. They slowly backed away. I went up to the fourth floor, but found nobody
there. I started to search the building. Floor by floor, stair by stair, each
fire exit, and the entire basement—twice I searched the premises and found
I logged onto my computer to research who had swiped
themselves in and out of the building between 8 and 12 pm. All I found was my
name. It was cold, so I made myself a warm pot of coffee. I knew I would need
it to get through the night. I sifted through endless hours of CCTV in the
camera room. I really thought I would see something. I found nothing.
I went downstairs at six am, exhausted. I debated whether
to take a taxi, a bus, or a train home. In the end, I decided to walk because I
needed to unwind. Throughout the walk my mind kept asking: Was somebody killed tonight? Why
did I see two old men? Were those wolves or wolf-men? They’d
looked like the spawn of hell.
I wanted to go home, but could not. It was not only the
weekend, but also a long weekend. I could not bring myself to the relaxed
conclusion that I could leave work and simply go home. My private life was
I walked around the river for two hours. The pub where he
ate was not going to open today till
nine. It was not unusual for me to find the owner of the pub, a grey-haired
lady in her fifties walking her small dog. On this occasion I found her seated
on a bench overlooking the river. Even though I considered her scatterbrained
and sorely in need of business direction—for her establishment was neither
clean nor popular—she must know something about this regular. If she
did not know him, no one did.
“Good morning,” I said, as she admired the blanket of snow.
“Good morning,” she shyly replied, nodding to show me she
“I don’t suppose I could bother you for your time?”
“Can you tell me something?”
“Yes, if I know.”
“What is the name of the old man who eats in your pub
daily? I often see you two talking.”
“I don’t know his name. He seems so lonely and isolated.”
“But you do talk
to him? He never says a word to me.”
“Just small talk.”
“And you really don’t
know his name, although you talk every day?”
“I don’t. He’s very private.”
I couldn’t ask her permission to see her CCTV, freeze his
image, print a photo, run him through our system, and identify his name and
address, since no crime had been committed.
“Why do you want to know?”
“I’d like to talk to him.”
“Come to the pub; he should be there today, as per usual.”
“He spoke to me the other day for the first time; he
usually only nods.”
“Yes, like I say, he’s very solitary.”
I walked with her to the pub, ordered breakfast, and read a
transcript of a victim impact statement while waiting for my food, and a
probationary report afterwards, both of which I needed to file at work. The old
man should come by nine thirty for his breakfast. I doubted he ever cooked for
“But what about weekends?” I asked her.
“You mean every day, even Saturday and Sunday?”
“Yes. You can talk to him very soon.”
I waited, watching the snow fall. Snow ploughs cleared the
roads, which I saw being salted and gritted. I imagined he would not come in. I
looked anxiously at the hands of the clock. At nine fifty I decided to return
to my office, finish some reports, and head home. I went to the second floor, used
the executive shower, and changed clothes.
I returned to my office and worked. The reports were
horrific. A father and son had been butchered by a jilted boyfriend whose
girlfriend’s family wouldn’t accept him. The reason he was never released from
jail was succinctly summarized in an interview, eight years post-crime,
recording his words after he had butchered these people: “They got what was
coming to them.” This man had done a jolly good job of impressing his
possible, future in-laws.
The reports I had to transcribe continued courting the
macabre. Actually, the macabre had long courted the morbid. A rapist had
drowned his wife and was caught leaving the state with his new girlfriend; his
repentance at his parole hearing involved a firm denial that he was ever
involved in these crimes.
I enjoyed the quietness of my office and so did my job
diligently and swiftly. I worked enough hours to take the entire week off.
Going through file after file, I dealt with sexual deviants, murderers, tax
evaders, drug smugglers, and human and organ traffickers. I also did charts
presenting correlations of crime and rates of homicides and sexual attacks on a
After writing up a whole slew of statistics which showed
official reported crimes, I started reading a report about a middle-aged lady
with an excellent job in a multinational company who butchered her husband in a
most grisly fashion. A file photo showed him tied up with an open shirt, chest and
neck stab wounds, and the knife used jutting from his mouth. No motive was
indicated in the report.
At six pm I nodded off. Mine was the dead sleep of
utter tiredness and heart-shaking exhaustion. At midnight I woke up, decided a
chair at work was nowhere to sleep, and rang for a cab. None were available
till maybe 2 am. I could not stay there another night!
I collected my belongings and papers, deciding I would
finish at home during the week. My feet crunching the ground under the midnight
moonlight, I left. I halted under a flickering streetlight at a bus stop where
a posted sign promised a last bus at 12:30 am. The cold wind buffeted my face.
I tightened my jacket, placed my scarf doubly around my neck and mouth, and
kept warm by pacing back and forth.
I felt as still as a Bouncing Derek. A bus came. It was
empty. I hardly looked at the driver, paid my fare, went to the rear seats, and
rested. Weirdly, I could feel but not see another presence beside me. I looked
at houses as the bus drove. I saw people having parties, drinking, singing,
enjoying life, their homes were full of holiday cheer.
I rang the bus bell for my stop. I said nothing to the
driver, who seemed grouchy, left the bus, and walked on snow. I admired the
blanket of snow in front of an ancient church, shivered, and blessed myself.
Crossing the road in cold darkness, I thought of the dark
night of the soul. There were no stars in the sky. I noticed a streetlight
flicker in time with my breath. The skin on my face prickled from the bitter
breeze. As I turned the street corner I slipped on hidden ice, banged my elbows
on the ground, and knew it could have been worse.
I looked at the quilt of snow on the ground before me and
decided to walk slower. I looked at the area where I lived and took in the
quietness of home. I approached the dark entry and flipped the light switch. It
stayed dark. I played around with my cell phone and found a torch app, switched
it on, walked upstairs, put the key in my door, and entered my sanctuary. I
filled the kettle, pressed “on,” stuck in the immersion, set the radiator on
“high,” and stripped. I put on warm, comfortable clothes, wrapped myself in a
red blanket, and tuned the radio dial to Al Jazeera. Filling a cup with boiling
water, I added coffee, sat down, and put my feet up on the sofa to watch the
I was mesmerized at how snow stuck to rooftops, how water
that would flow out of pipes froze, how roads and footpaths under a blanket of fresh
snow showed no footprints, no tire tracks, nothing, and how quickly trees were
covered with its pure beauty too.
I should have slept, but couldn’t. I heard a knock. I had
not seen anyone pass through my front gate from my window, so decided the knock
must have been the radiator. A half hour passed. I showered, put on pajamas,
lay down in bed, and went into a deep slumber, until, as I turned to my right
side, I was woken by my cellphone. The screen had private number written on it.
I ignored the call. I needed sleep...
I woke up when the phone rang again. The screen read private
number. I checked my missed call
log. I found no record of the times of these calls. When the phone rang
again, I answered it. They hung up. I nodded off.
I slept till ten in the morning. Refreshed, I opened my
eyes. I dressed, walked to my front door, and stepped out to admire the blanket
of snow. Everything from now on was going to be beautiful!
There, on the footpath outside my door, lay an animal’s mutilated
body. My own body shook with disgust. I did not want to pick up that carcass. Instead,
I picked up my newspaper from the front step and took it inside. I set the
paper down, fetched a black plastic bag and a shovel, and approached the
animal. The sight and smell disgusted me. The poor beast! I put the carcass in
the bag and the bag in my refuse bin.
I went inside, my stomach roiling. I opened the paper,
sure that everything would be normal for the rest of the day, promising a
restful holiday. I looked down at the newspaper on my kitchen table and
saw the picture of the old man from the pub. He had been gruesomely
murdered. My heart raced. When was he murdered? My eyes could not read the article fast
The old man’s body had been cut into pieces, his torso left
beside the canal. What a sight this must have been for homicide. Although the
killers were described as “wild animals” (my heart jumped), vengeance was
considered to be the motive, since the man’s son was heavily involved in
I rang a close detective friend, and discovered that their
minds were already made up as to who and why.
Shocked, I asked, “When did he die?”
“Not the night before?”
“No wild animal did this?”
“This butchery was not the work of a wild animal. It’s a
message from his son’s rival gang.”
“Okay, I’ll let it rest; thanks for the information.”
I did spend the rest of the day relaxing. My heart had had
enough jolts. I resolved to give up smoking, and throw out the rest of the
cigars. At seven pm I jogged in the snow—good, cool, fresh air for my lungs.
When I returned from the run the garbage containing the dead animal’s body had
I went upstairs and googled where the old man was murdered.
I could see his face in my mind. What
kind of gangsters could do this to an old man? His name was George Taber.
He had no previous convictions. I looked up any further online news feeds about
his murder. Divorced from the boy’s mother when his son was just two, he had
little to do with his son growing up, and even less when his son got connected.
It was speculated that he was beginning the process of mending bridges with his
son, making up for lost time. Now time had run out.
I had read enough. I watched a movie, then two more. Late
in the night I fell asleep.
The next day I went to the pub.
“He isn’t coming here anymore.”
“No, he isn’t.”
She looked disturbed. “I can’t believe it!” she said. I nodded
to her. “I took the same order from him every day. I would pour a pint of beer
and tell the cook to prepare his meal.”
“Yes, and as his meal was prepared, I would listen to his harmless
“That was where he usually sat?” I pointed.
“Yes, he liked to watch the traffic.”
“He’ll be forgotten. I’m old enough to have lived through
things like this before.”
“On a Friday in 1973 car bombs went off throughout the
city. People were dying in the flames, or at least choking from the smoke. The
injuries from flying glass…killed maybe fifty people.”
“Doesn’t matter if it’s the Bader Meinhof or the IRA, terror’s
deadly wages are the same,” she said. “People hardly remember atrocities these
days. There are so many. Five years ago a young man was knifed to death right outside
“I don’t remember that.”
“Some of those dead souls still haunt the city.”
She walked to the counter. I sat and watched the sun
shining on snow. I pictured the old man sitting at the bar so recently,
completely absorbed by the tabloid he was reading. I pictured him that night
walking into my building, hardly saying a word to me. I pictured him standing
before me, his body all in one piece. I pictured the beasts that came to my
door. I pictured his double. The two beasts were also alike. I pictured what I
believed they had done to him, and how his blood reddened the snow as he was
butchered. What I thought occurred could
not have happened. Was that night a premonition of the next?
The publican returned with a complimentary coffee. I took
it with me. Somewhere, as I walked my snowy path home, people of the
underground were making weapons of destruction to slaughter innocents. Those predators
are the wolf-men I saw. Called murderers, gangsters, terrorists,
they all function in the same role, which is to ‘thin the herd’ by destroying
humanity. I know exactly what you were saying about winter now, George Taber.
I stood in the snow to watch the river flow—deep, vast, and
able to carry boatloads of souls. I stood on the very spot where I saw the old man
slaughtered, and still could not believe that what I had seen was mere illusion.
Looking at the river was like watching snow fall, hypnotic.
I decided I must embrace, not fear, but tranquility.
Michael Mulvihill, firstname.lastname@example.org, &email@example.com, of Dublin, Ireland, wrote
BP #77’s “Drop” and “Lupine Savagery” (+ BP #76’s “The Watchers”; BP #68’s“The
Toasters’ Tragedy” and “Ziggy’s Afterlife Analysis”; “Homeless” & “Why
Hell Siberia?” for BP #67; was featured author for BP #65’s
“Ethagorian Evidence, Parts 1 & 2” & “Uninsured Assurance”; VAMPIRE
HORDE, Ch.1… for BP #63; BP #61’s poems, A
Love Story Beautiful, Capitalism’s
Modern Architecture of Love, Red Brick, The Securocrats, and Toxic
Addiction; the poems, “Fatigued,” “O Mother,”
& “Spike-Inverted Hearts” for BP #58; “The Cleaner and the Collector” &
all 6 BP #56 poems; BP #50’s “The Soul Scrubber” and was featured vampire poet
Vampire’s Dilemma: Love, Becoming a
Vampire, Vampire Insomnia, and
Vampiric War in The Kodori Valley;
wrote BP #49’s poems—I, the Vampire, The Reluctant Vampire of Tbilisi, Vampire Observations, and Vampire Psychoanalysis). The 30ish author published a short story,
“Ethagoria Nebsonia,” in BP in ‘98 and had a poem, “The Bombing,” in The Kingdom
News about a domestic tragedy in
Ireland. He has two 2007 poetry books out with Exposure Publishing: Searching
for Love Central and The Genesis and Anatomy of Love, and has
written the horror novels, DIABOLIS OF DUBLIN & SIBERIAN HELLHOLE.