Shuddersome Shorts

Tales of Eerie Terror

#51



The ghoulish grey-cells of Jochem Vandersteen have cannily cooked up this devious diversion! Introducing one Harvey Banks, Ace paranormal reporter for that inestimable beacon of information and enlightenment, "The Inquirer". Harvey is a distant cousin of Kolchak: The Night Stalker, I'm guessing -- or the love child of Dana and Fox at the very least! He's not the nicest person you might hope to meet, but, as the saying goes, he keeps his head when those about him are losing theirs...literally. We'll have more stories featuring Harvey and his grisly goings-on, but for now please join him, won't you, as he investigates the mystery we call...

 
 

Locked Room Horror

 

By J. Vandersteen
About the author


THE SMELL OF STALE BEER and cigarettes filled my nose as I entered the bar. When I walked over to the bar I scanned the room. There were a lot of tough customers in this place. Bikers, truckers, skinheads. Lovely, just lovely. The only bright spot in the joint was a middle aged redhead with a skirt lifted up all the way to heaven. Probably the local hooker. But I didn't come here to make drinking buddies or to get laid. I was here for information. I was here for murder.

I happened to be in the neighborhood when I learned someone had been brutally murdered in this city, just a few days ago. This wasn't any ordinary murder though. This was a locked room murder mystery. The victim had been killed in a locked cell, at the sheriff's office. The door had been locked, no one had been seen entering the office at the estimated time of his death, there was no murder weapon, no clues left at the murder site, but his body had been torn apart anyway. Obviously this could be a story for the Inquirer. Yeah, that's me Harvey Banks, hotshot crime reporter and amateur detective -- look out Nancy Drew!

I ordered a beer from the bartender, a huge S.O.B. with a full beard, a gray streak running vertically through it belying his age.

"Listen, buddy, I've got a question. Did you hear about the guy who got whacked in his cell?"

"Do I look like the town newspaper, pal? I sell beer, not gossip."

"That's okay. Then I'll buy everyone in here a drink and you can give me the gossip as a free incentive."

The bartender laughed a booming laugh. "All right, pal! It's your money. Drinks for everyone from the stranger!"

A tattooed guy, who was even bigger than the bartender, walked over to me, a disapproving look in his eyes. "You a queer boy, giving us all drinks like that?"

"No, that's not the reason, buddy. ‘Cause from where I'm standing it looks I don't have to bribe you to suck my cock."

Of course, that wasn't the smartest thing to say. Some guys, especially guys like Tattoo Man take offense to stuff like that. He did. His fist connected with my nose before I could even think of getting out of the way. The guy was fast for an oversized gorilla. Blood spurted from my nose and I heard something crack. I hoped it was just my glasses.

Wiping the blood from my nose, I smiled. I had a plan, which included kicking the hell out of this shithead. I smashed my glass into his fat skull, showering him in beer. It didn't really seem to faze him much, but it did get him madder. A hell of a lot madder. He picked me up like a sack of potatoes and threw me over the bar, against the row of bottles, lined up against the wall. Shards of glass rained over me like hailstones. The floor was cold, wet and sticky from the liquid which the bottles had contained. My muscles ached as I strained to get up again. I couldn't, which was probably for the better because the guy would probably just knock me down again.

Then the Law arrived, just like I'd planned. The sheriff was six feet two of attitude. His boots, which I had a great view of from my viewpoint at that moment, were polished an incredible shiny degree of clean. His pants starched like a butler's, mirrored sunglasses on his clearly once broken nose, he filled the room with his overpowering presence.

"What is the problem here?" he asked, his voice just as commanding as his looks.

"This stranger here started a fight, Sheriff Kane. He called Tiny here a faggot, then smashed his glass in his face. You should take his ass to jail, Sheriff! Teach him a lesson," the bartender said.

The sheriff adjusted his sunglasses and strode over to me, steps slow and deliberate. "I reckon I'll do just that, Phil. Thanks."

He picked me up like I weighed nothing (which isn't the case, I don't exactly work out) and lined me up against the bar. Forcefully, he twisted my arms on my back and snapped his cold, steel cuffs on. He turned me around to face him and looked straight in my eyes. Well, I guess he did, because his eyes were hidden by his sunglasses. I could see my own reflection in them, though. I looked like shit, but at least I could see my nose was just bloody and not broken.

"I'm gonna haul your ass to jail, boy. For your own safety. You don't cooperate, I'll let Tiny have his way with you. You won't want that, son. You believe me." Then he pushed me forward, to the exit. He paused a moment, turning to Tattoo Man Tiny. "You keep your nose clean, you hear now, Tiny? Gonna be a time you pick on a guy with a gun, who's gonna blast your damn guts out."

"Yessir, sheriff – sir." Tiny sounded like a schoolboy. This Kane guy had to be one tough son of a bitch to demand that kind of respect from a guy like Tiny.

"Watch the head," Kane warned me as he seated me in the back of his car. I half expected him to smash my head into the roof deliberately, but he didn't. Maybe he wasn't the walking cliché I figured him to be.

As we drove away from the bar, Kane glanced over his shoulder. "Listen, son, I know you probably didn't start this mess, but I can't have strangers making trouble in my town. Now, I'm gonna lock you up for a night then I'll kick your ass outta town. You do the smart thing and get as far away from here as possible. Tiny'll rip your guts out if he gets his hands on you."

"Like happened to that guy in your cell a couple of days ago?" I asked, realizing those were the first words I'd said to the sheriff since I met him. Not smart, since he probably wouldn't be too happy with them.

"Where did you hear about that, son?"

"A diner, couple of miles from here."

"Dammit, can't hold a thing quiet in this hellhole. Yeah, some guy got whacked in his cell. Yeah, I feel like shit about it, but I can't do nothing about it, okay. Hell, I don't even understand how the fuck it happened. I swear to god, I didn't see anyone enter my office; the cell was still closed when I found the body," then he paused; "why am I talking to you about this anyway? You just shut the fuck up or I'll drag you to jail tied to the back of my car. Teach you not to ask stupid questions."

Obviously the incident bothered him, so I listened to him before he knocked my teeth out with his nightstick. Chances are it would probably bother me too when one of my guests got ripped apart in my apartment too. Still, I wondered what bothered him the most -- the fact that somebody died in his cell, or the fact that he couldn't understand how it had happened.

***

The sheriff's office was everything you'd expect from a sheriff's office. It was sparsely furnished with a desk, two chairs and a filing cabinet. A couple of diplomas and certificates were hanging on the wall. I noticed one of them read "Best sharpshooter 1997". There also was a gun cabinet with several rifles and shotguns and a mounted prairie wolf. I'd dared to bet Kane had shot it himself.

He guided me towards a thick wooden door, through which we arrived in the room where the cell was located. The door of the cell itself was made up of iron bars, there was an uncomfortable looking bench/wooden bed fastened to the wall and a small window with bars. I felt like I'd landed in an episode of Gunsmoke. Kane unlocked it and pushed me inside. "You behave, and you'll be out tomorrow morning. If you don't, I'll mount you just like I did that prairie wolf you saw back in my office." With those words he locked the door.

I leaned back on the bench. It was as uncomfortable as it looked. I hoped I didn't get any splinters in my ass. Lacking a harmonica, I lit a cigarette to pass the time. I inhaled deeply. It made me cough like crazy. That asshole Tiny had hurt me more than I'd figured. Slowly I began to scan the room. There still was some blood left on the floor, I noticed. That's bloodstains for you, hell to get out of your stuff. The wall was richly covered in graffitti. There were the usual four letter words and various other dirty stuff, but there also was an incredibly detailed picture of a monster, rendered in charcoal, that resembled a werewolf. It was so lifelike it sent a chill down my spine. On a second glance I noted how the drawing was encircled with strange signs, almost like runes.

I got up from my bench and walked over to the drawing, to study it better. I ran my hand over it, across the face of the monster, wiping away some of the charcoal. Shifting my attention to the runes, it occurred to me that the runes were drawn in a different color. They were red, instead of black. I ran my fingers across it as well. I checked my hands. This wasn't charcoal, or paint. The runes were written in blood.

Just as I realized this, I heard the clock in the sheriff's office strike twelve. It was soon overpowered by another sound, though. A sound that somewhat resembled the sound of a howling wolf.

The picture had come alive!

It stepped from its place in the wall, like it had just been hibernating there. It still had the same color, but it was undeniably alive and 3-D! Roaring, it opened its mouth, baring sharp fangs. There was a hole in his head, exactly where I'd wiped away the charcoal. It made the sight of the thing even scarier. It was obviously after me, probably pissed I'd destroyed its face.

I had nowhere to run. The creature seemed to understand that and just stood there for a while, sizing me up it almost seemed. Its muscles were coiled, its eyes full of attention, its shiny black nostrils flaring, hissing through its teeth like a cat. The cold steel of the cell door pressed into my back. I was unarmed, facing something I'd never faced before with nowhere to run or hide. So I did the obvious thing: I screamed for help as loud as my blackened lungs could.

That made the creature decide to move. Its paw slashed at my face, claws catching the light of the full moon that seeped in through the high cell window, seemingly wanting to pay me back in kind for destroying its own. I ducked just in time. I could hear its claws raking the cell, the sound almost like metal meeting metal, like in a swordfight. Sparks ricocheted off the steel bars, the creature snarled in frustration.

"What the hell is going on here?" Luckily, the sheriff had heard my screams for help. Reacting praiseworthily fast, he unlocked the cell door, allowing me to get the fuck out of that cage, locking it again when I had. The wolfman's snout bumped into the cell bars.

As Kane and me stepped back from the cell, its arms tried to reach for us, through the bars. Noticing it couldn't reach us, it started to get very savage and aggressive. It shook the bars, howling and roaring like he'd gotten rabies. I could hear the metal squeaking in protest.

"It's going to tear out the motherfucking door if we don't stop it goddamn fast!" I yelled at the sheriff.

He drew his revolver. "Relax. I'll take the overgrown prairie wolf down. Nothing different from the other one, it's just gonna take a couple more bullets. Calmly he aimed his gun, squeezing one eye shut, breathing in. Then he breathed out, pulling the trigger, the sound of gunfire echoing in the small room. The wolfman got hit right between its eyes. It got hurt, but not taken out. It howled in pain, taking a step back from the door, but just for a moment. Then it snarled and went for the door again. This time the door went down.

With a loud smash, the steel bars hit the concrete. The creature stepped over it, smelling our fear, determined to tear its tormentors to bits. So this had happened to my predecessor in that cell.

Kane showed his John Wayne bravery again, pushing me down, as he raised his gun just above my head. This time he didn't shoot just once. There was a staccato of gunfire, sounding like a madman on drums. When the shooting stopped, my ears were ringing, my throat itched from the gunpowder and my eyes watered from the muzzle flash. It was worth it though, because through my half closed eyelids I saw the monster explode in a cloud of charcoal.

A few minutes later Kane and me were sitting in his office, sharing a bottle of whiskey, recovering from the shock of what we'd just been through. For a long time we didn't say a thing. Then Kane broke the silence. "What the hell just happened?"

"Well, you ask me someone made a drawing of some monster thing and found a way to bring it to life. You see, there were these strange runes surrounding it. That sort of stuff happens all the time. Well, at least to me it seems to."

"Someone? Like who?"

"You tell me. Try to think back. Who was in that cell the night before the guy who got whacked?"

Kane frowned, rubbing his chin, lost in thought. "Joshua Hawk, but I don't… No wait, it all makes sense now. You see, the guy who got killed was Marcus Baxter. He owned half the ground here. Baxter was kind of a jerk, but a rich jerk. He was trying to buy Joshua's land, but Josh wouldn't sell it. He told Baxter it was holy ground and white man had no business on it. Then Baxter produced some papers that claimed the ground was legally his. The papers said it had been the property of his great grandfather, so by birthright it was his now. Joshua had no intention of leaving it though, and fought Baxter. Broke the rich jerk's nose, he did. That was why I locked him up for a couple of days. But I don't see how he could have known that Baxter would…"

"Just go on, sheriff. You got me on the edge of my seat here," I urged the lawman to continue.

"Well, Baxter wasn't the kind of guy who let you get away with breaking his nose. He figured a few days in jail weren't enough punishment for that. So he gathered a few of his boys and brought Joshua a little visit. They beat the shit outta him. That's how Baxter landed in jail."

"It makes sense," I said. "Joshua probably knew Baxter would want to get even with him. Knowing that, he figured it would be a good idea to plan his own little revenge well in advance. Using some Indian, or Native American, however you want to put it, shamanistic hoodoo he made a picture of some kind of mythical monster, a Wendigo probably, and made it come alive when Baxter was imprisoned. The perfect murder."

"I'm not sure I'm ready to believe all of that," Kane said.

"That's okay. But you saw that Thing with your own eyes. You saying you don't trust your own eyes, sheriff?"

"Watch your fucking mouth, boy!" Kane snarled, leaning over to me . His fist was ready to punch me in the nose. A few seconds later he regained his cool, leaning back. Good for me. "All right. There's no denying what we saw. And I guess that crazy story of yours is the only logical explanation to the illogical things that have been happening here. And I do know that Joshua was known for practicing some of that ritual magic stuff. So that means I have to arrest him." He was silent for a few seconds, obviously thinking again. Then he resolved the issue that had been on his mind. "I can't ask my deputy to come along with me and arrest Joshua. He'd never believe me. But I'm not facing that guy alone, either. Maybe he's got another one of those Wendigo things guarding his home." Then he gave me a long hard look. I didn't like that look.

"Oh no, don't even think about it. I solved your little mystery. That should be enough. I'm not putting my ass on the line to avenge some white-collar asshole," I protested.

"Look, pal, you ain't got much of a choice. You help me get our Picasso in jail or you won't get out of jail for the next few months."

"You can't do that, sheriff."

"You watch me." He smiled a dirty smile.

I sighed. "All right, then. It's not like it'll be the first time. You got a spare shotgun, sheriff?"

***

We got out of the sheriff's car. Joshua Hawk lived in a log cabin in the desert. There was no living soul in sight, except for a lizard, skittering across the sand. The sun burned in my eyes. I envied Kane; he was wearing sunglasses. A small breeze kicked up some dust as we headed towards the cabin. A shotgun casually carried in our right hands, a grim look in our eyes, we had to resemble Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid. I just hoped we wouldn't end up the same way they did.

Halfway to the cabin, I noticed something under the sand the wind had blown away. There was a big cloth hidden underneath it. Just as I did, we could hear chanting. On the cloth were wild drawings of undead Indians and bizarre monsters. The wind started to pick up, howling, nearly drowning out the chanting. Clouds gathered, hiding the sun as the sky grew darker.

"Watch out, sheriff! The shit's gonna hit the fan!" I shouted, chambering a round in the shotgun.

The pictures of the undead Indians came to life. They rose from their two dimensional prison, their eyes filled with hate. Shards of flesh hung from their rotting corpses. Feathers and wolf teeth adorned their bodies, while tomahawks and spears were being carried in their hands. As one they screamed their battle cry, as one they attacked us, intent on driving away the white men from their land. And all the way the chanting continued, the wind picking up more and more.

Our guns filled the air with smoke and the smell of gunpowder as we blasted them back to their manitou. Allowing no single one of them to get close enough to hurt us, we stood back to back, our guns blazing our path towards the cabin. Bones splintered, faces were torn. Every time another enemy was permanently killed he reverted to a splash of paint, seeping down on the desert floor, mixing with the yellow sand. It was the battle at Little Big Horn all over again.

We felt so damn superior with our blazing guns, so damn superior we thought we were invincible. So superior we didn't think we would ever run out of ammo. But of course we did. The large piece of cloth, however, hadn't run out of undead Indians to attack us. Baring their teeth through their rotting flesh in a hideous smile they surrounded us, realizing they were about to get the upper hand. I glanced at Kane. He was out of ammo too, but not out of fighting spirit. Holding his shotgun like a baseball bat, Kane stood there, ready to smash in the face of every Indian who dared to come too close to him. His shades hid his eyes, but I was betting there was fire in them. I figured he had the right idea.

"Yeah. Batter up!" I snarled at the screaming horde that approached us. My first swing sent an Indian's head flying though the sky. Kane's shotgun shattered one of his attackers' legs at the knees with one mighty blow.

The wind blew grains of sand in our faces, battering them like small hail stones. We were starting to get tired. And just when I thought we couldn't hold out much longer, it got even worse.

From the cloth rose a new danger. It was a snake, but the biggest I'd ever seen. It towered above the Indians like a damn grizzly bear. Its forked tongue seemed to wave at us, as if it was daring us to come forward. I had no intention of doing so. I pushed the warriors out of my way and ran like hell.

Kane felt the need to be a big macho again and drew his revolver. The crazy son of a bitch even smiled when he did. "I was saving this for a situation like this." Then he started to fire the .357 rounds into the snake.

It hissed at him, obviously bothered by the bullets, but not stopped. It got so close to the sheriff, he must have been able to feel its breath. Finally taking a clue from my actions he started to run as well. Unfortunately the snake proved to be faster than him, swallowing him whole. I could see his shape go down the creature's throat. For a moment I stood nailed to the ground. That damned serpent had just eaten my comrade-in-arms alive -- in a few seconds! And now it was coming after me.

I picked up a spear one of the Undead had dropped. Good, I was armed. Now what the hell was I gonna do against that thing when even Magnum rounds weren't enough to stop it.

My back was almost against the door of the cabin. The chanting was clearer now, louder. I was close to the person chanting. I glanced over my shoulder, through the open door of the cabin. No one. I directed my gaze in front of me again. The snake was slithering towards me. Coming closer by the second. I looked behind me once again. Then, having pinpointed the direction of the chanting even better, I looked up. Bingo! There he was, on the roof. He was dressed only in a loincloth. His body was thin, but athletic. He was probably 30 years old, had long black hair that fell on his shoulders. He was covered from head to toe with tribalistic tattoos or paint. And he was chanting as loud as he could, probably encouraging the serpent to attack me. The faster he chanted, the faster the serpent slithered towards me.

I saw my way out. It was time to see if all that time hanging out in bars, playing darts was going to pay off. I arched my back, backwards, hefting the spear in my right hand. With my right hand I pointed at Hawk. That was my target. With every ounce of strength I had in me I threw the spear at him, groaning from exertion.

Like a missile it sought its target. All the while I could feel the breath of the snake in my face. I could hear it slithering through the dust. I didn't look at it though. I only had my eye on the flying spear. It only traveled the air for seconds, but at that moment it seemed like hours.

The triangular blade of the spear pierced Hawk's heart. The power of my throw made its tip come out of his back There was a scream, his last as he tumbled down from the roof. The warriors and the snake exploded in a shower of dust, showering me with charcoal. The sheriff, probably, somehow disintegrated with the snake. Hawk landed on the ground with a soft thud, kicking up dust.

Then there was silence. No chanting, no slithering snake, no wind, no gunfire. Just the sound of beating winds. The vultures had sensed the smell of death and came to feed.

I collapsed, exhausted. I sat there, in the sand for about fifteen minutes, then the vultures arrived. I should have been disgusted at the sight of those sharp, hungry beaks picking at Hawk's dead flesh, but I wasn't. All I could do was take a cigarette, put it between my lips and light it. I sat there like I was looking at ducks being fed old bread.

The End.


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Locked Room Horror is copyright 1999 by J. Vandersteen. It may not be copied or used for any commercial purpose except for short excerpts used for reviews. (Obviously, you can copy it or print it out if you want to read it!)