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Jack Pettie
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bloodbride.jpg
Art by Mr. Byron © 2010

 

BLOOD ON THE BRIDE

 

 

JACK PETTIE

 

                                                                

 

On December 26, 2000, the second time a female college student went missing on Christmas day, the Denton Record Chronicle had plastered across its front-page “THE GHOST OF CHRISTMAS STRIKES AGAIN”. Since then, talking heads and local rags had kept the Dallas-Fort Worth Metroplex reminded of the horrible blemish on the small north Texas town. Five years and five girls later, it was the week before Christmas, and Denton had become a hive of buzzing reporters. Out front of City Hall, news vans sat surrounded by an army of folding lawn chairs, miles of black cables slinked about like giant killer worms, and transmission antennas were so high in the air, the International Space Station could’ve tuned in.

On the front steps, cursing cameramen banged into one another, microphones were being thrust like light sabers at anyone wearing a badge or a suit, and rag-runners waved notepads and Blackberries, as if they were at a Macy’s Thanksgiving Day parade. With such a ruckus being made, Lieutenant Yates reluctantly called a press conference at the old courthouse in the square. 

The noon chime from the four-sided clock atop the courthouse halted the crowd’s chorus of conversations. A multitude of this size hadn’t gathered on the square since the town’s namesake, John B. Denton, was reburied in the southeast corner of the courtyard in 1901. Only this time Dentonites weren’t gathering to celebrate, they were mad and scared and wanted answers. For a long time, whispering city officials stood in a circle on the top of the sandstone steps of the courthouse. Finally, the huddle broke and the team of suits took their wide-legged stances behind the lanky Lieutenant as he stepped up to the podium.

Adjusting his tan cowboy hat, he said, “I’ve received many calls wanting to know if our young women are safe.” His Big-Tex voice boomed from multiple speakers. “Well, I’m here to tell y’all they are.”

Skeptical mumbling swept through the crowd.

“First thing I want to do is thank the student volunteers from the two Universities for keeping fliers posted throughout the city. Second, is to thank the Denton Record Chronicle and the city’s media department for keeping the residents reminded of the possible danger. Lastly, we have uncovered a couple of leads concerning the fifth victim, Charlene Yates. I cannot go into them right now, but these leads have been very helpful. Now, at this time I’ll answer a few questions.”

          Raised hands and blurted questions erupted from the crowd of reporters. The Lieutenant pointed to the cute redheaded reporter down in the front. 

“I’m Ruby Clarkson with the TWU college newspaper. My question is, how can you be so confident that another female student won’t be abducted from our campus this year?”

The Lieutenant cleared his throat. “This year, we’ve put more surveillance teams around the UNT and TWU campuses than in years past, and we have twice as many patrol officers working overtime night and day to cruise our neighborhoods. And we have leads. Important leads.” He was lying – they had nothing – but he dared not let them suspect.

                 

                                              *  *  *

Across town, in the old business district, stood a dilapidated textile mill. Out of business for decades, it had once been one of Denton’s most thriving businesses. Then Joni Summers, the young owner’s fiancée, disappeared the week before their wedding on Christmas day. The young millionaire, distraught over her loss, had gone into seclusion. Within two years the business had gone under, and its owner had rarely been seen since.

The slight man tossed his lunch onto the cluttered desk then sat down. The office was dark except for the blue tint cast by the television. A blanket of dust, from twenty-three years without a janitor, covered everything. Heaps of old newspapers, glass Dr. Pepper bottles, empty potpie containers, and Snickers bar wrappers nearly hid the filthy seventies green shag carpet.

Emotionless, he watched the live coverage of the press conference at the old courthouse wind down to a close. While Joni—well, rather her mummified head—sat perched atop the TV staring at him with clouded eyes. “Those boys in blue,” he said to Joni, her face drawn tight with a permanent surprised expression. “You can always count on them, can’t you, my darling?”

He washed down the last bite of half-frozen chicken potpie with the final swig of hot Dr. Pepper. Then he chunked the empty bottle over his shoulder into a pile of trash and swiped the aluminum bowl onto the floor before rising from the creaking swivel chair.

He walked over to stroke Joni’s thinning blonde hair. “Finding a new girlfriend may be a little difficult this year, but you know how I love a challenge.” In his twenties, he had been quite the catch, but Joni’s betrayal, her cruel decision to call off their wedding, had turned him off to women. Until one night five years ago when he met a young college student, the spitting image of Joni, walking back to her dorm. Although that courtship didn’t work out, he found that he liked being back out in the dating world. He picked up Joni’s head and kissed her cheek. “Well, there’s work to do, so have a pleasant night, my dearest.”

Joni didn’t answer.

 He went over and took out a pair of white painter’s coveralls hanging in the coat closet, slid his svelte body inside, zipped up, and slipped his feet into a pair of white patent-leather penny-loafers. He flipped the light switch by the door on and off three times to alert his guest that he was coming, and then left the office. 

          His footfalls echoed throughout the forgotten factory floor as he made his way past the thirty rows of long-silent sewing machines. He entered the service elevator at the far end of the room, lowered the wire door, hit the green button, and rode past five dark floors down to the warehouse. He exited the elevator and turned left, walking past pallets of molded fabric. Twenty yards further, he climbed onto a decrepit forklift.

He turned the ignition key and after some clicking, sputtering, and backfiring, the grumpy beast clambered to a smoking idle. He eased his foot off the clutch and the machine crept forward, exposing a steel door. He jumped down from the lift, flipped a light switch on the wall to his right, then bent down and unlocked the padlock. He raised the door, releasing the stench of rotting flesh and formaldehyde. He stepped lightly down the flight of wobbly stairs into the pump room. The dim bulb overhead illuminated seven blue plastic barrels against the wall behind him and a massive black 1932 Pinkerton Bank Master vault door to his front. He stepped to the door and turned the large dial right two times stopping on 12, then left to 25 and back right to 99 – the date Joni tried to cancel their wedding. Then he pushed down the handle and swung open the door.

With an empty barrel hoisted on his shoulder, the man walked quietly down the long dark hallway to another steel door. He set down the drum, then used the same combination on a smaller lock. Freezing air and bright light washed over him as he opened the screeching door.

As trained, the young woman chained to the floor of the pristine white dungeon stood at attention, with her back to the door. Her long brunette hair flowed to the waist of an ivory backless bridal gown.

She whimpered. “The room is spotless and I’ve cleansed myself as you commanded.”

“You’ve done well, my dear.” His words were soft and loving. “It’s been a year and, like I promised, today I set you free.”

Her shoulders shook with hysterical sobbing. “Oooooh, thank you. Thank you for showing me the meaning of commitment, for keeping me from straying, and most of all...” She gagged, swallowed hard. “...for becoming my husband. I’m so glad this day has arrived.”

“But first we must bond in holy matrimony. Then you may leave as my wife.”

“Oooooh, God, I do, I do, I do,” she wailed, trying to turn around.

“Wait, dear heart...” He stepped closer, grabbing her shoulders. “First I want to embrace your innocence one last time before we wed.” He rested his head on her pillow-soft hair. “You know how much I love to spoon.”

“I’m sorry. In all the excitement I forgot the order of things.” Her words trembled with hope, fear.

The man pressed himself snug against her quaking back. “It is alright, my love. Those long days of courting, of learning to know one another are over now.” He pulled aside her long hair and sniffed below her right earlobe.

“You smell like spring roses. I shall call you Rose rather than Charlene.”

She shivered as his left arm tightened around her mid-section. Then he pulled his right hand from the pocket and raised it to her slender neck.

She cringed and braced herself.

He tightened his hold around her waist and neck, and shoved himslf against her tiny quivering body. “Rose, my dearly beloved... do you promise to have and to hold me from this day forward?” he whispered in her ear.

Hot, foul smelling breath lapped her neck. “I do,” she whimpered.

 “For better or worse, for richer or poorer, in sickness and in health, to love and cherish me from this day forward, till death do us part?”

“I-I do,” she stammered as she felt his body go rigid.

“Do you take me to be your husband?”

 “I do!” she cried, tears streaming down her face.

Savoring the splendid seconds, he paused, then whispered, “By the power vested in me, I now pronounce you my wife.”

       With a sudden jerk, he forced her hard against him. The straight razor in his right glinted as it sank to the handle below her left ear. Scarlet droplets showered the wall in front of her, as the hungry blade sliced across her slender neck. She gasped for air, choked for life, and then went into convulsions. His heart raced as hers began to flutter. Ecstasy swelled inside him when her body finally went limp. The room echoed his exhausted sigh of release.

       Gently lowering her to the concrete floor, he knelt beside her. Then he reached into his pocket, took her lifeless hand in his, and slipped on a slim gold band. “I promise I’ll never leave you,” he whispered, kissing the back of her hand. He sighed, stood, and turned to fetch the blue barrel.

“Perhaps this time, I’ll meet that cute redheaded reporter.”

 

 

THE END

 

monster.jpg
Art by Kevin Duncan © 2010

 

How Monsters Are Made

Jack Pettie

 

 

Appointments were behind the usual fifty minutes. The waiting room was cramped and too warm. The air conditioner was on the blink, leaving two oscillating fans to keep nine people with mental issues from going over the edge. That was except for Victor Reynolds.

Victor sat marinating in sweat in his usual spot at the end of the leather sofa. He didn't seem to notice the stifling heat. He was, however, acutely mindful of the others waiting there. And all he could think about was which ones were the monsters and which were the prey.

It's all in the eyes, he thought. I have to get used to looking for the evil in their eyes.

Victor was still reeling over last night. He had actually followed through on one of his fantasy missions, had finally done what needed to be done. Yet it hadn't satisfied his craving. He felt like a vegan who'd rediscovered the sinful taste of a Big Mac. The reasoning side of his old brain knew what he now loved was an abomination. But the most primitive lizard part of his new monster brain had reacted out of instinct, and it felt great. But now he was confused. Was “doing right” really the way it had to be? After what he'd accomplished, how could villainy not have a loophole?

Victor took a drink from the bottle of water he carried. He hoped the good doctor could show him how to curb his new gluttony before it got out of hand. But before the doctor could help him, he'd have to tell her what he'd done last night. And for the doctor to begin to understand his actions, he'd have to tell what took place thirty-seven years ago. That was the one thing he'd never shared that with anyone.

 

 This would make the forty-second therapy session for the forty-seven-year-old handyman. After years of struggling with the memories of an abused childhood, Victor had decided a year ago that he'd see if a shrink could help with the nightmares. But most of all, he hoped to find some peace from the guilt over Claire.

So far, he'd opened up and shared every issue that Dr. Waters had brought up. Except for what happened to Claire. He just couldn't bring himself to share that. What he'd let happen had sentenced him to a life of torment...torment he felt had been rightly deserved. He had never told the story of what occurred that blistering summer afternoon and never intended to. The events of that day was sinister data he fought to keep locked away in the deepest crevice of his brain. Ah, but his prankster memory projector always seemed to find an excuse to betray him and switch itself on. Then, like a bad seventies horror flick, grainy images would begin flickering on his mind's silver screen. And the scene most haunting—a sobbing Claire lying across her bed, saying she never wanted to see him again. Victor didn't know if he'd ever be able to share this most painful thorn in his soul.

Just then, Dr. Waters called to her receptionist over the intercom. "Carol, you can send in Mr. Reynolds now."

"Yes ma'am," answered the receptionist. She then led Victor into the session room and he took a seat in an over-stuffed recliner.

A few minutes later, the fiery-haired Dr. Waters entered.

"Good afternoon, Victor," she said, taking her seat across from him.

"Afternoon, Doc."

"How are you doing today?"

 "I'm good," Victor answered.

"You seem like you're feeling well,” She said

"Oh, I'm okay.”

"So you're not depressed. Is that the case?" Dr. Waters said, picking up the note pad and pen off the end table and placing them in her lap.

"Haven't been for two days now.”

"Would you like to talk about it?" 

"Remember when you were a kid during summer break and it finally rained after being so hot? How you wanted to go outside and get soaked? Remember how great that felt? Well, that's how I'm feeling."

"Since you're in such a good mood, would you maybe like to talk about your childhood today?"

Victor looked at her with annoyed eyes. "Doc, I tell you something new every time I come in here. But you know how I feel about that part of my life." Nevertheless, he knew that she had to know what happened in order to take his therapy to the next level. She had told him several times that she believed whatever had occurred that day might've planted the seed in him that grew into the antisocial personality he was now. He knew she wouldn't give up and, after all he did want to get better.

"Victor, I know that I've been asking you to discuss what happened between you and your little girlfriend—"

"She wasn't my girlfriend. She was my best friend. There's a difference."

"I'm sorry, best friend. But the reason I keep pressing you, is I think that, if you talk about what happened, it would relieve you of the hostility and pent up rage that you've been carrying around all these years."

Victor said nothing, but his breath quickened as he glared down at the flickering red candle on the coffee table.

Dr. Waters leaned forward, resting elbows on her knees. "I know this is hard for you, having never talked about it before. But that's just it; whatever took place that day can't hurt you anymore. And talking about it in a safe place such as in this room with me, I promise, will bring relief to the heavy load you've been carrying."

But after last night, I feel like the world's weight has been lifted from my shoulders, Victor thought. He raised his eyes to meet hers. "So, you wanna know. You can't just let it lie, can you?"

Before she could respond, he added, "Well, this doctor-patient confidentiality you've been talking about for the last four months better be the truth."

She quickly jotted, Does this mean he hurt Claire in some way? "Victor, I promise. Whatever we discuss will never leave this room."

He was tired of holding it in, tired of the guilt. Maybe it was time. "Okay." He switched positions in the chair. "Claire and I were ten when it happened. She was six months older, so naturally she was the boss. But on this day, I begged her into doing something I wanted to do. Something I had to do..."

Dr. Waters noticed his eyes swell with tears.

Victor cleared his throat. "There was this old couple who lived on our street. The kids on the block called her Aunt Rose and him Uncle Kelly. He was retired, but she worked. They didn't have any children themselves, but Aunt Rose loved kids. She'd keep cookies baked up, candy and soda pop on stock, and they had some board games and toys, in case us kids came over. Looking back, I know she really loved having children around." He paused. "But Uncle Kelly loved them in another way."

"Victor, what do you mean by that?" Dr. Waters softly asked.

"He ... um, you know." Victor couldn't say it out loud.

"Did he touch you?"

"Yeah." Victor sighed. It was a relief to finally say it aloud. But now his anger was building again. "Tell me, Doc, why did I keep going back?"

"Quite often children return to their molesters because of the attention they receive. Some return, fearing reprisal if they don't. Maybe their abuser has threatened them in some way."

Dr. Waters scribbled angrily on the notepad: Uncle Kelly = monster. Jack = ? She hoped this wasn't what Victor had been keeping from her.

"What happened to Claire was my fault.”

"It's quite normal for a child to feel guilt. But that's all in the past."

"But why did I..." He covered his face with trembling hands and began sobbing. "...take Claire to his house."

"I'm sorry. Why did you what?"

"I led her into the freak's grasp."

A dry silence filled the hot room.

Dr. Waters was stunned, but now she realized why it was so difficult for Victor. All the years, he'd been blaming himself for something that had been out of his control. He had been a child under the control of a skilled, manipulative adult.

Victor finally said. "Remember back when kids were booted out the door after breakfast and not let back in the house until lunch?"

"Oh, yes, the days of drinking from garden hoses," she concurred with a smile.

"Well, we lived on one of the oldest streets in Mesquite. It didn't get paved with asphalt until the summer of the bi-centennial. Out of twenty homes on the block, only half had central air and heat. Uncle Kelly and Aunt Rose owned one of them. This by itself was enough to make a heat-stricken kid want to go hang out at their place. But then you add a couple of cute dogs, snacks, toys, and board games, and you had the perfect summer break oasis."  He snorted at the evilness of it all. "Anyway, that's what Uncle Kelly told me to tell Claire. Because of what he was doing to me, I knew what he intended. So, for a month I kept making up excuses for why she couldn't come. Truth is, I never asked her. Then one day Uncle Kelly got angry with me and said if I didn't bring her to his house, he would kill my mom and dad. So I had to, right?"

"Victor, a child relies on his parents for everything. So yes, in your mind, you were doing what it took to keep them safe. Plus children are raised to obey adults. So I'll say again Victor, you weren't at fault."

"I kept reminding myself that Uncle Kelly said all he wanted to do was play board games with Claire and me. And at first that's how it went. Uncle Kelly asked if we wanted some milk and cookies. Of course, we said yes. Then he asked Claire what her favorite game was, and she said Yahtzee. And of course, he had it..."

Dr. Waters jotted down, Well-equipped. Well-rehearsed. How many other victims?

"We started having fun, he kept feeding us cookies, and my worries left. That was until my father called from next door, telling me to come home for lunch. Then the fear came back. I didn't want to leave Claire there by herself, but if I didn't go straight home my ol' man would've given me the belt. By now, Claire was high on sugar cookies and into the game, so my leaving didn't seem to bother her. And it didn't help that Uncle Kelly was acting all grandfatherly, by putting his arm around her shoulders, saying, 'Oh, we'll be here having fun till you get back.'"

Victor pounded the armrest with his fists. "If only I hadn't left. I should've taken the beating."

"Remember, Victor, you were only a child," Dr. Waters said.

"But I knew better than to leave her there alone with him."

"But your father called you. You had no choice."

"I was a coward," he growled at the candle flame. "I ran home and my parents were waiting in the driveway by the car. My mother told me they had to go the hospital and visit with a sick friend. Then she said for me to make sure I did the dishes before going back outside. I went in the house and the sink was heaping full, so I threw my lunch out to the dogs and cleaned the dishes as fast I could."

Victor paused, and Dr. Waters saw the candle flame dancing in his pupils. Wrinkles in his forehead appeared as his eyebrows dipped and crow’s-feet deepened. The shadows on his face got darker and he now peered through deep-set eyes, turning a pain-laden face into that of a beast.

"I was only gone twenty minutes," he said low. "I ran back to Uncle Kelly's and I didn't bother with knocking. I just barged through the door. I scrambled through the house and into the dining room, but Claire was gone. Uncle Kelly was sitting sideways at the dining table, facing me with a relaxed expression on his old wrinkled face. He was drinking coffee and smoking a cigarette. 'Where's Claire?' I demanded. 'Oh, she had to go home,' he answered with a grin. I looked around the room and saw the table was standing askew. Claire's glass was turned over and milk was dripping off the table. I followed the drops down and saw the dice-cup and dice scattered on the floor."

Dr. Waters watched Victor's chest swell with a deep breath, then exhale. His body shook with rage. She looked at the wall clock. They were ten minutes over. "Victor, would you like to take a break? We can pick it up here next week."

He didn't hear her. In Victor's mind, he was ten again and standing in that dimly lit dining room looking at his Dr. Frankenstein — the one who'd made him the monster he was today.

"I thought about the things Uncle Kelly had done to me, and I ran out of the house to Claire's home next door. I leaped onto the front porch, looked through the screen door, and saw Geneva, Claire's mother, in the kitchen. I yelled through the screen if I could come in. Then I entered and ran to Claire's bedroom. The door was closed, so I opened it slightly and peeked inside. She was lying on the bed with her back facing me, curled in a ball and crying. Hearing the door creak, she turned and saw me, and screamed at me to leave, that she never wanted to talk to me again."

Victor began sobbing again. "I-I, didn't know what else to do, so I went home. I was lost without Claire. She was my only friend and I had betrayed her. I hated Uncle Kelly for what he was doing to me. But now he'd hurt Claire..."

"Victor, did you tell anyone?" Dr. Waters asked.

"No. I was too afraid he'd harm my parents."

"So what did you do?"

"Nothing. I did nothing. Claire moved away not long after that and everything was as it never happened. Except in my mind."

"What happened to Uncle Kelly?"

"A month after Claire moved, he died one night in his sleep. Can you believe that? No telling how many children he molested and God just let him pass away peaceful."

          "Well, I hope that there's a place for people like this Uncle Kelly. But you know--"

Victor interrupted. "I thought about it many times, what it would have been like to kill him. How I could do it, how painful I could make it for him. My favorite way was, was to drive a stake through his heart like a vampire. I mean, that's what pedophiles are...vampires. They suck the innocence from children..."

"Victor, it is quite normal for victims to fantasize about hurting their abusers.”

"What about when you're grown, and you still fantasize about killing?"

 "That too is normal." She paused. "But what you mean is killing Uncle Kelly, right?"

He slammed his hands down on the arms of the chair. "No. I mean every time I hear about some poor child being abused or abducted. It makes me so angry, I want to go find the monster who did it and ... and rip their vampire heads off their shoulders."

Stunned at the amount rage Victor was showing, Dr. Waters quickly said, "Adults tend to fantasize in a more graphic and extreme nature. It's because they've grown and have experienced more hardships, witnessed more acts of violence. But Victor, this is very unhealthy." 

"I killed someone last night." Victor's tone was as calm as if he were talking about going to the store.

Dr. Waters swallowed hard. "Did you say you killed someone?"

"Yes."

Their eyes met in long silence.

Dr. Waters sat frozen. She'd stopped writing and almost stopped breathing. Was he telling the truth, or was this just another one of his fantasies?

Finally, Victor said, "I guess now you're going to call the police?"

"Is that what you want me to do?" she asked, clearing her throat.

"Why, no. But don't you have to?"

"Do you have plans to harm anyone else?"

"No," he lied.

"Well, like I've told you before. Unless you tell me you plan to harm yourself, or you have a plan to harm someone and I have that person’s name, what you say in this room is confidential. If I go to the authorities I can lose my license." Then she pointed at him. "But if you get the urge to kill again, you have to promise to call me before you act."

"So, what now?"

"First, explain what took place."

Victor sat up straight in the chair. "You see, I've been looking up registered sex offenders online for a while now. You know, the ones in my area, just in case one moved into the apartments where I live. There're a lot of children living there." He paused. "Well, there's this guy that was just put into the system, and he was living in my zip code."

"What made him different from the others in your zip code?"

"He sexually assaulted a four-year-old girl. Isn't that enough?"

Dr. Waters didn't have a counter argument for that last statement. Instead, she asked, "What did you, I mean, how did you murder this man?"

Victor gave the doctor a grim look. "Doc, I don't think you want to know the details."

"Victor, I've been doing this for fifteen years, and I've talked with many people who have murdered. Nothing you can say—"

"I cut off his head, then reached down his throat and ripped out his monster heart."

The doctor was silent as she fought back the taste of vomit. "Victor, what did you do with the body?"

"I left it and the head in his home?"

"What did you do with..." She hesitated.

"The heart?" he said, picking up her thought. "That, I believe I'll keep to myself."

Dr. Walters half-closed her notebook, but scrawled her thought before withdrawing the pen from the page:  Consumed his trophy???

THE END

 

Jack Pettie is forty-nine and lives in Denton, a “small, country-fried college town just north of Dallas.”  He’s been writing full-time for three years and has had several short stories published. He’s just finished his first thriller and now he’s shopping for an agent.

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