A worried crowd gathered in the street on the northeast side assembling strength, and prayer. The hush voices and their disquieted demeanor brought with it an eerie calmness.
A disemboweled torso, charred, its limbs lopped off, and its head missing was discovered late last night. Several detectives viewed the body before it was taken to the morgue for further review and are questioning all witnesses and those in the local area.
Kelly made a statement: “This is the second such case of its kind since
September 13. We are searching for the person or persons responsible. We are
also searching for missing persons. Any information the public may have in
their possession are encouraged to come forward and report it to the police
The victim of this heinous crime has yet to be identified, but rest assure families are looking out for their loved ones a little closer tonight.
Disgusting I thought. “Who would do such a thing?”
I didn’t know I would find out the answer.
I was resting in my chair, reading the paper, and neglecting
to take my stores, the food I’d bought, into the cellar, for several hours mind
you. I took a small sip of bourbon and laid the paper on the table next to
I was distracted from my thoughts by a knock at the door.
I looked at my clock, it was ten.
Who was at my door this time of night?
In an effort, I rose with a gruff, straightened my legs, and stretched the muscles feeling their relief from hours of walking. Taking the lamp from the small table next to me I strode to the front door. I let out a sigh just as there was another knock, and in an agitated state flung the heavy door open, letting in the cool air of winter. I stood rigid, my chin up, and I forced my shoulders to relax.
“Mr. Decker,” I said.
“Call me Luc.”
He didn’t respond.
“And I’ll call you Horatio.” I gave him a short smile.
“So your name is Decker, Decker?”
He just looked at me.
There we stood, two difficult people, trying to be more difficult than the other. Myself in my flannel nightwear, a day’s growth on my chin, and bags drooping under my eyes. My neighbor in a dark coat, gray beard and hair, nearly my height of six feet and wearing a pair of spectacles. Bothering his neighbors was a habit of his – at least twice a month, coming over at night unannounced, and something I was not particularly fond of, but yet, here he was again.
I studied him, those scuffed brown shoes he wore, his dark overcoat, his spectacles gleaming in the lamp’s light.
“May I help you?”
He still didn’t respond.
Holding the lamp to see him better, I saw not one emotion pass over his features. My shoulders tensed. I nudged the door gently, back and forth, wondering when my neighbor was going to speak. He must have known that I was about to close the door because he broke his silence.
“Is everything well this evening?”
“Yes, everything is well. Thank you.”
I shut the door, concluding the brief visit, leaving him on my front porch.
I listened, wondering if he were going to knock again, but he had not. I heard footfalls moving away. I let out my breath. And now since I was up, and about I could get on with taking my stores into the cellar. It wouldn’t take long. I didn’t need to report for work at the post office until eight.
I’d bought five pounds of potatoes and six heads of cabbage from the local market. It was the last bunch for the year. I was lucky to find them—the cabbage was a little on the smaller side.
I needed to bury the potatoes in a bucket of sand and then watch for sprouting. If I found any, all I’d need to do is break the stems off.
The cabbages, I’d cut the heads and wrap those in outer leaves to keep them from wilting. I would need to also pack them in a barrel.
I could have bought my own meat and dried it, but I didn’t. It was the time that it took out of my day, mostly my nights since I worked all day. When I got home, I didn’t want to spend time doing more work. I was interested in exploring the nearby forest, and scouting out places for my next deer hunt. After I bagged a deer, I’d take it to a local butcher shop. That’s how I did it.
My mother could dry meats like no other in Virginia. She was great at it, but for me, it was a chore. I’d learned the steps—how to prepare, clean, salt, and cure the meat. I just didn’t want to do it, and I could still hear my mother getting after me about it.
That’s why I went out of my way to buy a few things to keep around the house. My mother, she would tell me that if I didn’t learn to take care of myself, I wouldn’t be able to take care of anyone else. And I would always tell her not to worry because I would marry a wonderful lady and I wouldn’t need to look after anyone. I got snapped a time or two with a wet towel in my mother’s kitchen over that remark.
In my attempt to keep the house in order, my mother’s tradition, I ambled down into the cellar carrying a small burlap bag stuffed with potatoes and prepared cabbages. I came down here often, but on this night when I’d gone to the bottom stair of the cellar and was standing there with the bag in my right hand, my untrustworthy lantern in my left, I felt a draft.
I felt a draft.
Cellars don’t have drafts.
I knew that everyone knew that, but I felt it all the same.
I stood in its direct path, and I could feel the air, how it moved from the cellar going up the stairwell.
That was how it felt.
I was in the path of air rising.
The question was, where was it coming from?
I could think of no reasonable explanation for flowing air to be coming from my cellar. It wasn’t possible. It shouldn’t be possible.
Maybe there was a crack, maybe the foundation was coming loose, which is a miner’s worst nightmare. No one wants to be trapped in a pile of rubble, but I knew the cellar wasn’t going to cave in. I’d been in that cellar enough times. The structure was sound, built with sturdy beams. The room had been excavated to the depth of eight by twelve feet. Off to my left were shelves dug out of the earth at the rear of the room. They were lined with brick and mortar, just as the walls, and shored with large oak timbers.
The room smelled dry and earthy. A good sign. It meant no moisture, not yet. You don’t want water in a cellar. It creates a musty smell, sour, then mold takes hold, and it spoils the food. The food goes to rot, and all that planning ahead would be for nothing.
I knew it wasn’t much food, but I didn’t want it to go to waste. Why would I want that? I needed to find that hole, or crack, or whatever it was causing that draft. If air was getting in, so could water.
I stepped down onto the dirt floor, then placed the burlap bag on the ground. I pivoted around searching for the draft but unable to find it. Then I thought of a quick way to find the draft. I could use my lantern. If I placed the flame near the location of the draft, it should cause the flame to react.
I situated my fingers, holding the base of the lantern and letting the handle slip down under. The brass prongs were hot, and I was careful to lift the soot-coated cover off, freeing the flame. I then gently placed the cover on the ground, away from the steps to my right to get it out of the way.
I kept my eyes on the flame. I went to the left, the flame bending against my motion. In the back-left corner, I stood perfectly still until the flame stabilized. Above me were meat hooks anchored into a large support beam that ran the length of twelve feet. When the flame was calm, I knew there was no draft in that corner.
I moved again, but this time to the center. The flame bent toward me, then danced and flicked side to side. It lasted a few moments, then stood straight, then bent again. It was there, behind the wall, but that wasn’t possible. There was nothing but solid earth behind that wall. I moved closer. The flame drifted side to side, the draft more noticeable. I sat the lamp on the ground, then placed my hands on the wall, feeling for an obvious crack and found one.
There was something behind the wall, then my lantern went dark.