A short story
It was cold, even for autumn. I shivered and pulled down the sleeves of my beige cardigan. As I glanced up at the sun, I noticed its position in the sky was getting increasingly lower over the horizon. I turned around to see Malcolm hunched over the road map that was lain out over the hood of our new 1990 Mustang.
“Malcolm, you sure you know where we’re going? Because I swear I saw that same tree a half hour ago… are we going in circles? You can tell me you know.” Malcolm glanced up long enough to give me a slight eye roll then returned his attention to the crumpled map.
The tree I mentioned to him loomed above us. It was the only one in sight for miles. From what I could remember from the Botany class I took in college, this tree must be a weeping willow. I could tell by the way the branches drooped and the leaves hung low like they were dripping right off the tree. This particular willow looked half dead, probably from lack of rain water in the area. There was one lonesome crow sitting in the top branches. It let out a piercing caw that echoed across the flat landscape, before spreading its large black wings and flying away. I stared at it for a moment, lost in its eerie beauty. Malcolm’s voice brought me back to reality.
“I’m sure we’re not lost, Alice. You just got to trust me. I’ll get us there before it gets dark, I promise,” he replied with his gaze still locked on the map. A destination was circled on it in blue pen. We had stayed overnight in some small motel on the outskirts of West Allis, and then continued on the next morning. Our destination was good ol’ Milwaukee, Wisconsin.
Malcolm’s parents moved out there a few years after Malcolm and I got married. We had moved to British Columbia for Malcolm’s work as a civil engineer. I thought by the time he got out of school finding a job as an engineer would be the easy part. But that didn’t prove to be the case. I’m not complaining or anything though. B.C. proved to be a beautiful place to live; and hopefully one day, raise a family.
But we dropped everything and booked a flight to the US in order to see Malcolm’s dear old mother, Suzanne, whom we discovered only a week ago, was dying from an advanced case of Alzheimer’s. The likelihood of Su even recognizing us at this point was slim, but Malcolm understandably wanted to see her one last time, before…
I was pulled out of my dark thoughts when Malcolm suddenly closed the map and started for the driver side door.
“Come on Al! I know where we are now. It shouldn’t be too much longer,” he said as he climbed into the Mustang. Leaving me leaning against the droopy tree with my arms folded. I sighed and made my way back to the car, not too convinced he really knew where we were going.
Like I thought, Malcolm could not stay true to his promise to get us there before dark. The sun was starting to set below the distant trees, casting an eerie orange and purple glow on the stretch of land ahead of us. The sky behind us was already a deep ocean blue, and stars were starting to become visible.
I didn’t say anything as we continued to speed down the road. Malcolm was already going through a really tough time, and I didn’t want to make it any harder for him.
“I’m sure we’ll hit Milwaukee anytime now,” I told him as confidently as I could. He didn’t acknowledge me, as he continued to drive down the straight flat road. Nothing could be seen in the distance; not in front of us, or to the sides. I was really starting to get worried, but I tried not to show it. That is, until I heard an alarming noise coming from the car’s engine. It almost sounded like a small explosion, and then the car shut off and smoke started gushing out from under the hood.
“Dammit, dammit, dammit!” Malcolm cursed, hitting his hands against the steering wheel.
“Malcolm stop! We’ll figure this out, please just calm down!” I reached out for his arm and squeezed.
“I’m sorry, Alice,” he said putting his hand on my cheek. “I’ll take a look at the engine, you stay here,” he said before taking off his seat belt and getting out of the car to inspect under the hood. I stayed in my seat staring out the window at the few last rays of sunlight.
When the sky went completely dark, I was about to get out to suggest to Malcolm that we try calling someone, when a bright light shone from behind us. Instantly I could tell it was another car coming up from down the road. The headlights were so bright I had to assume the driver was using his high beams. I held my hand out to shield my eyes and tried waving him down. Malcolm snatched my wrist and pulled it back.
“What are you doing? We don’t need a stranger’s help, okay? I can get this fixed in a few minutes,” he grunted and went back to work on the engine. I sighed and was resigned to let the car drive past, but the car didn’t drive past; it pulled up a little ways ahead and stopped.
Malcolm looked up from what he was doing to stare at the newcomer. He then turned to me and told me to wait in the car. I was a little nervous to leave him out here alone, but knowing Malcolm, he could take care of himself. So I grudgingly got back into the car and closed the door. The hood was still open, so I couldn’t see the exchange that went on between my husband and the stranger. All I know was that the five minutes that they talked felt like five hours waiting in here all alone. Finally, a face appeared next to my window. I jolted in my seat until I realized it was just Malcolm. I opened the door.
“You can come out now Al. This man is going to help us,” Malcolm said in a resigned way. I could only assume the stranger did a good job at convincing him that he couldn’t fix the car on his own. I got out of the dead car and stood facing the stranger.
He was tall and had thinning blonde hair. If I had to guess, I’d say he was in his early thirties. He was wearing a plaid shirt and overalls. Malcolm put an arm around my shoulders and led me to him. “Honey, this is Jeremy Palmer. He lives not far from where we’re headed apparently.”
“How do you do, sir?”
“I’m doin’ just fine Ma’am,” Palmer replied with a smile.
“What brings you all the way out here, Mr. Palmer?” I asked.
“I was headin’ back from my huntin’ trip,” he said. “I catch wild boar,” he added, puffing out his chest with pride.
“Oh I see. Well do you think you could help us out? We’re in a bit of a predicament,” I asked, gesturing to our smoking Mustang.
“It would be my pleasure to help you folks out,” Palmer replied.
“That would be amazing, thank you sir! Could you drive us to a specific address? We’re trying to get to Haylard Park. Do you know where that is?”
“Now that rings a bell. Not sure I’ve ever been in that particular area mind you.”
“Well, we’ve got a map with us. Although we can’t seem to make heads or tails of it…” Malcolm added.
“Right, well to tell you the truth I was never too good at readin’ maps myself. But I do own a GPS back at my place. That would be a lot quicker… and painless,” he said, flashing his yellow teeth in a toothy grin.
“Well alright, if it’s not too much trouble would you be willing to do that for us?” I asked, just desperate at this point to get off the road. Malcolm gave me a glance, then looked at Palmer for an answer. Palmer seemed to be considering for a few seconds, before smiling again and saying “it would be my pleasure. Why don’t you lot hop in?” gesturing to his grimy old hatchback. I took our belongings out of the trunk and went over to Palmer’s car. I tried opening his trunk but it proved to be locked.
“Mr. Palmer? Your trunk is locked, could you-” before I could finish, Palmer was at my side grabbing my luggage from me.
“Please, allow me Ma’am. This here’s a man’s job,” he said with another yellow smile. I shrugged and got in to the back seat, as Malcolm got in to the front. The trunk slammed close a few seconds later and Palmer was in the driver’s seat, starting up the car.
As we rode down the dark street, I felt my foot hit something hard to my left. Curious, I reached down and felt a plastic box by my feet. I opened it up and something shiny caught my attention. I leaned closer to it and then recognition hit. I screamed and dropped the lid closed. Malcolm turned around and was frantically asking me what was wrong. All I could sputter out was “eye…eyeball…blood…”
Then Palmer started to chuckle. I turned to him afraid and confused, but didn’t say a word.
“What the hell is she talking about?” Malcolm demanded.
“Relax kids, that’s just my killings from earlier in the day. I went huntin’, remember?” he chuckled again and turned his attention back on the road. Malcolm and I exchanged a glance, and I again reached out to open the box. Sure enough, it was a pig carcass that I saw. One of its eyeballs was pointed up at me, and blood covered the small pieces of ice that the body lay in. It must have been cut into smaller pieces to fit into a box this small. The smell too was putrid, and I had to cover my mouth from it. I closed the lid and lay back in my seat, wishing we were at my parents-in-laws’ house already.
A few minutes later, we turned onto a dim-lit dirt road that led towards a house on a slight slope. House might have been too generous a term. It looked more like a log cabin.
Palmer pulled up in front of the small garage and got out.
“It’s gettin’ pretty chilly out here, why don’t you fine folk warm up inside while I search around the garage for that GPS, alright?” he said with an easy smile. Taking a moment to relax and warm up sounded like a great idea to me at this point. I was tired and it really was starting to get quite cold. Malcolm and I stepped out of the car and followed Palmer in through the front door. Palmer immediately went up to the old fireplace and started a small fire. I took that time to look around. The inside was not what I expected. There were paintings of landscaping on the walls and tasteful wooden furniture. But what really struck me was how clean the place was. There wasn’t a thing out of place. I absentmindedly ran my hand over his mantelpiece and my finger came up with no dust.
“You must be a little OCD, eh Mr. Palmer?” I teased.
“Oh yes, well I do appreciate a nice clean livin’ space,” Palmer admitted. “Please, have a seat Ma’am.”
I went for the couch, and Malcolm moved to join me.
“Actually sir, maybe you could help me look in the garage? That’s the one place in this whole house that ain’t so organized. It’d go double as fast if two men were lookin’, wouldn’t you say?” Palmer asked. Malcolm agreed and told me he’d be right back. I offered to go search with them, but Palmer was adamant that I have a rest, seeing as how tired I looked. I didn’t have the energy to argue, so I lay back on the couch as the two men stepped into the garage.
Not a moment later Palmer’s head popped out from behind the corner. “How so very rude of me! I almost forgot to ask. Would you like any refreshments Ma’am? I make a killer green tea,” Palmer said with another easy smile.
“A tea would be lovely actually. Thank you sir,” I replied. My bones were still stiff from the cold outside, and Palmer’s house didn’t seem to have a great heating system.
“Very good. I’ll be back in no time at all!” he said as he headed toward his tiny kitchen. I could hear Malcolm moving things around in the garage, and Palmer getting the kettle to a boil. I lay back in my seat and closed my eyes for a few moments. It had been a long week, and I was really looking forward to everything just going back to normal.
A few minutes later Palmer returned with a large mug full of steaming hot tea. I gratefully took it from him and thanked him again.
“It was my pleasure. Now you just relax right here and your man and I will be back faster than a speeding bullet,” he explained flashing his yellow teeth. I smiled slightly and sipped my tea. He bustled back into the garage and closed the door behind him.
I started thinking about poor Suzanne. This night would have gone very differently if she had let us visit sooner. But she and Joe kept evading our requests to see them. They kept putting it off; urging us to come next fall, then the next, then the next. Malcolm just couldn’t understand it. He was convinced his parents were disappointed in him somehow, and that they just didn’t want to see him. I couldn’t understand it either, until we got the call that Suzanne was dying and finally wished to see us. Apparently she didn’t want us to have to worry about her all those years that she quietly suffered from her illness. Malcolm was so distraught, he barely spoke for the next couple of days after hearing the news. And now we’re here, about to see her for what was probably the last time. I had no idea how that was going to turn out, but I was glad that mother and son would be reunited, at least one more time…
I woke up with a start, groggy and confused. “Malcolm? Where are you?” I shouted. I could no longer hear sounds coming from the garage. I sat up dizzily and looked around. I could tell the fireplace was still lit by the brightness of it and the heat that reached my face. But it was hard to distinguish anything else. It felt as if my head was full of cotton balls. I felt… fuzzy, yeah that’s it; fuzzy.
I slowly got off the couch and stood up, barely staying upright. I glanced at my watch and was able to make out the time after a few moments of concentration. I had been asleep for two hours! Where’s Malcolm? I thought over and over again.
I could tell there was a wall near to my right so I waddled over to it and leaned against it before I could fall over. Why am I so tired and uncoordinated? I wondered. I kept walking forward, desperate to find Malcolm and get out of here. I reached out for the first door I could distinguish and tried the knob. It was locked. Before I could knock on the door, Mr. Palmer emerged from it. I was so surprised that I took a step back and would have fallen over if Palmer hadn’t reached out and grabbed me.
“Careful there sweetheart, wouldn’t want you to hit your head,” he said cheerily.
“Where’s my husband?” I tried to say firmly but it came out as a mumble. Palmer chuckled and led me toward the kitchen.
“Have a seat and I’ll tell you,” he replied.
I couldn’t think at the time why I should protest, so I sat down at his kitchen table and looked up at him expectantly. But he did not join me at the table. Instead he told me to wait right there as he headed into another room, emerging a few seconds later with a large slab of meat wrapped in plastic. He started up his stove and set to work on it.
“I had a dog a few years ago, you know. His name was Alvie. Alvie was a boxer. Have you ever seen a boxer Alice? They’re large, energetic beasts, that drool a lot mind you,” he said with another one of his chuckles. I nodded along tiredly, confused as to why we were talking about dogs.
“Alvie was a good guard dog too. Anytime a stranger came up to the house he would growl and warn them not to try anything funny. Most people listened and went away. But one time this little boy had lost his own dog, and had come up to the house searching for him.”
I was only half listening to this irrelevant story. I didn’t even notice at the time that Palmer’s accent had changed, and he was starting to sound more intelligent.
“Anyway, the boy wasn’t afraid of dear old Alvie and so went up to pet him. That was where he made a terrible mistake. See, Alvie didn’t like people; not old or young. So he got the boy between his teeth and broke his neck with one jerk of his head. I had come out at this time to see what the noise was, and that’s when I noticed the boy…”
As Palmer spoke, he laid a dish of what looked like pork and rice in front of me, and sat down with his own plate. I ate mindlessly as I listened to his story, more interested now in what he was saying, but still quite groggy. He took a big bite and continued speaking as he chewed.
“Now, you’d think I would have been disgusted and horror-stricken by that brutal attack. But I wasn’t. I just looked at the scene in front of me for quite a while, deciding what to do about it. I could hear cars driving past on the distant road and that woke me out of my trance. I knew I couldn’t let anyone find the body because poor Alvie would get taken away from me. I would have never let that happen. So I dragged the body into my garage, where I went to work chopping it into pieces. I stopped when I reached his heart. It looked like a pig heart you’d buy at a butcher’s shop. I admit, I was curious as to what it might… taste like. So I cooked it up, and it was the most delicious thing I had ever tasted Alice. The most delicious thing!”
I was appalled. I stopped eating the minute he said he dragged that poor little boy into his garage. My fork was still raised in midair and my mouth was still open. I looked down at the piece of meat on my fork and slowly asked him what I was eating.
“Well, you asked where your husband was. He’s right here with us,” he said, gesturing to our plates.
I got up out of my seat as fast as I could, which unfortunately wasn’t very fast and screamed at the top of my lungs. Palmer looked as if he didn’t expect my reaction and so was slow to react. I took that opportunity to get the hell out of there. I scrambled to the door that was locked earlier, expecting it to be the garage. I tried the knob, desperately hoping he left it unlocked. He did.
I ran into the room and reached for the light switch. I immediately realized this wasn’t the garage. What I saw paralyzed me with horror. There were human torsos hanging from the ceiling by their legs. There were at least five bodies which I could see in the glimpse that I took. After that I closed my eyes and started crying hysterically. This was a nightmare. Just a horrible nightmare. I looked down at the ground and saw drops of blood hit the floor from multiple locations, no doubt coming from the stumps of the torsos where the heads and arms should have been. I couldn’t help but start retching right then and there. What I just ate came out half-digested onto the cold stone floor. I ran out of the room hoping to reach the front door, but ran into Palmer instead.
“Sorry you had to see that sweet Alice, a butcher’s freezer is no place for a lady” he said, grabbing my arm and leading me to another room in the house. I was too stricken with terror and still too dazed to protest. But I did manage to come to the realization that I had been drugged earlier.
“Here we are, this is your place Alice,” he said gesturing to a metal table with straps on it in the middle of the room. This room was freezing as well; we might as well have been in an actual freezer. As he started to drag me across the floor to the table, I attempted to drop to the floor to make myself too heavy to lift. But this didn’t seem to faze him one bit. He continued to drag me towards the table, and even manage to lift me onto it regardless of my struggling. As he grabbed the straps to tie my legs down I reached out and socked him in the face. My hand immediately started to burn with pain but I paid it no attention. The only thing I cared about was that Palmer was not expecting that and so released his grip on me. I was instantly up off the table and had pushed Palmer out of my way as I headed to the door.
I hadn’t noticed a phone in the house earlier, and wasn’t about to start looking for one with the precious few seconds I had in my head start. I already knew where I could find a phone. There was a cell phone in our luggage that … Malcolm… had brought in case of emergencies. I rushed to the front door and threw it open without a backwards glance. A few moments later I was at Palmer’s car, desperately trying to open the trunk.
I stopped after a few seconds and took a breath, trying to figure out what to do. That’s when I realized that the trunk wasn’t closed off from the backseat. All I had to do was break the back window. So I took off my shoe and banged the glass as hard as I could. The impact was jarring on my hand but I continued anyway. After an eternity of hitting it, the glass finally cracked, then shattered. I reached in and unlocked the door.
Our luggage was still in there. I unzipped Malcolm’s bag with shaky fingers and felt for the phone inside. Finally I found the flip phone and pulled it out, then almost dropped it when it started to ring. I picked it up frantically, hoping the person on the other end could tell the police where I was.
“Hello?! Please help me! I’m at house number 29 off of the East freeway. Can you send the police? There’s a man trying to kill me!”
“Who is this?” the woman on the other end replied. I got a sinking feeling when I recognized the voice.
“Suzanne? This is your daughter-in-law Alice. M-Malcolm’s wife! Do you remember?” I asked frantically, searching the front yard for Palmer, knowing it was only a matter of seconds before he found me.
“The elves are here, they want to take me away! It’s the elves! Someone help me…” Su shouted.
“Su! It’s Alice!” I cried.
“Who? Are you one of those evil elves?” Su responded. I didn’t bother to explain. I hung up the phone and tried to dial 911, but something caught my ankle and jerked me out of the car. I screamed and fell out, hitting my head on the side of the door. Slowly I turned onto my back and saw Palmer standing over me with what looked like a shotgun. I was too disoriented to react. He must have said something because his lips were moving, but I couldn’t process the words. That was the last thing I saw as he hit me in the head with the end of the gun.
I woke up freezing cold. I tried to move my arms and legs but couldn’t. That’s when I noticed that he had succeeded in strapping me to that metal table. I tried not to panic. I can still make it out of this. I took deep breaths, hoping to slow my heart rate and stop my adrenaline rush. Only when I succeeded in calming down did I start to feel the excruciating pain in my left leg. This pain was like no other I had ever felt before. My whole body started to sweat and convulse. I lifted my head as high as I could and looked down at my leg. It wasn’t there. I had no left leg. It wasn’t there! I fell back into my coma.
When I woke again, I was in a warmer room. My arms weren’t chained down anymore, but there was a very bright white light that blinded me momentarily. At first I thought maybe I was dead. But no, there was that pain again. That horrible pain in my leg. Although, it felt a bit dulled, like there was a thin curtain keeping the pain from reaching my brain. As my eyes adjusted I realized I was in a hospital bed.
And that’s it officer. That’s the whole story. The rest of it is just what you’ve told me. That you received an anonymous call and brought a squad car to the house to investigate and found me unconscious. The man I described wasn’t there you said, and neither was his car or my luggage.
“Well thank you ma’am for recalling your story for us. This will really help our investigation. And our sincerest apologies about your leg, and uh, your late husband,” the officer said for the first time since I started my story, taking his hat off as he did.
Once they left, I closed my eyes and lay down. I don’t think I will ever be able to recover from what I just went through. But mostly I thought about Malcolm, and how he was now a part of me. Oddly, that thought gave me a bit of comfort. And before I knew it I started to laugh hysterically. Wiping away my tears as my chuckling grew louder and louder, I slowly patted my stomach.