The letter bag was nearly as heavy when filled with letters and swayed a bit as I walked through the streets. I passed multistory apartments above stores, and office buildings appeared as dark sleeping giants. The only light came from the lamps on the corners of the streets. I’d arrived at the crossing of Fifth and Main and stood in the yellow light. I checked my trail. Behind me was a trickle of blood, like a fine line of crimson syrup ran over shaved ice.
“You remember the fox, don’t let them catch you.”
“Throw them off.”
“Yes, of course.”
I couldn’t take Main north, the direct route home. I had to turn around or head in a different direction. I could head south, away from my home, toward the river. I could go there. I could dump the bag and the body into the river. It was an idea, but there were a few problems. The sun would rise around seven thirty, and I had to be at work by eight. I was two miles, maybe more, from home. If I went south, I wouldn’t be able to get to the river and turn back before the sun was on me. I’d be caught in dawn’s light, walking about with blood on my coat, on my shoes, on my hands, on my cheeks, it was all there. I could feel it. How it dried and pulled my skin tight. The other problem was the bag. If found by the river by chance, it would be easy for the authorities to track it to the postal office, leading to me eventually.
I had cut through several alleys, zigzagging my way back to leave a trail that could not be tracked. The extra mileage would ensure the blood ran out, or froze, leaving nothing behind, and if someone were to try to follow what trail was left, it wouldn’t lead directly home.
I stopped near a can of garbage, carefully lifted its lid, and found an old newspaper on top. I used it to wipe the bottom of the bag, then tossed the paper in the bag with the unnamed man’s remains.
The cold bit the skin. My hands felt frozen and stiff. My knuckles locked in position, one hand secured to the ax handle and the other on the strap over my shoulder. I hurried along, making sure I wasn’t seen, wasn’t followed.
I was finally at the end of my street before the road turned into a dirt path heading north, where the forest grew. I was trotting, picking up my pace, for the light of day was nearly on me.
I was getting closer to my house, and I’d placed one foot into my yard when I saw my neighbor Mr. Decker facing me, standing out on his front lawn, just ten feet or so from his porch. I lowered my head, hoping not to attract his attention, hoping he would look the other way, but he wasn’t. He was looking at me. I had to think quickly about what to do.
I was close to my porch when I heard his voice, but I didn’t stop. I ran up the steps, grabbed the doorknob, twisted and pushed, but the door wouldn’t open. It was locked.
Devil’s thumbs! My ears strained to hear if he was coming but struggled to hear anything besides my frantic heartbeat. I fumbled around my pockets, searching for my key. It’s not in my front pocket, it’s not in my jacket pocket, there it is in my inside pocket.
I froze. Was that the crunch of footsteps?
“Doesn’t matter, keep going.”
I changed hands, holding the key in my left, and in my right, I reached down into my bag, searching. I could feel the dead man’s cold flesh as my hand passed by, digging, and then I felt it. I wrapped my hands around the handle and brought the knife out. I waited for him to come.
Taking the key and inserting it into the keyhole, in one turn, I unlocked the door and rushed inside feeling that I certainly escaped the hand of Decker and the consequences for me having to face him. I shut the door hard, dropped both the key and knife and hurried to lock the door. The latch fell into place, and I stood there leaning against the door, one hand on the latch, the other pressed against the upper center, bracing my weight and the weight of my bag. I was breathing hard, my heart pounding against my chest, my blood pumping in my ear.
Knowing I was out of immediate danger, I pushed off the door, reached for the strap, and lifted it off my shoulder, bringing it around my head and lowering the bag to the floor. The gray light of dawn filtered into the room. I quickly walked to the sitting room, checking outside to see if Decker was lingering.
I pulled the curtains tight. I moved to the kitchen and ensured Decker wasn’t outside the small kitchen window and closed its curtain. Ambient light pierced around the edges of the window. Everything was fine. I had made it. Except I was running behind on time. I needed to get cleaned up, but first I needed to do something with my bag.
I could take it to the river after work.
That would be a good place for now.
I snatched the letter bag’s strap, crossed the foyer, passed the kitchen and eating area, and moved to the cellar door. I ran down the stairs, nearly losing my step, then dropped the bag at the bottom of the stairs. The cellar was coal black, as though all the world had been thrown into darkness. It was eerily silent. Something didn’t feel right—none of it felt right—but something else seemed wrong.
There’s nothing wrong. The voice in my head told me.
“I have a man’s remains in this bag.” I let out my breath. “There’s something wrong with that.”
Is that what you’re worried about? Don’t be.
I ran upstairs, picked up the lantern, and used a match to light it. I hurried back, stopping at the bottom of the stairs and looking at the hole in the wall.
Sitting on the bottom step, I gazed on the bag that held the unnamed man’s remains.
“You wanted me to follow you, didn’t you?”
A slight draft floated by, caressing my cheek.
I sat there in anticipation. Waiting.
I shivered as a small voice inside my head spoke, an answer?
Moments passed like a clock making its round to the next number.
I shook my head. “Of course not. You aren’t going to answer me. Even when I asked for your name, you wouldn’t answer.” I placed my finger on the bottom of my chin. “Since you didn’t give me your name and now you can’t I suppose, I should give you one. It’s not right to leave what remains of you here, walled up without a name.”
My eyelids felt heavy, my muscles ached, and my head pounded. I pushed it aside and focused on the ceremonial task.
“All men should have a name.” I bent forward, thinking while taking the strap in hand, and picked up the bag. But I didn’t have to think. Not really. I knew what name I would give him. I’ve known it since my second gruesome trip to the alley.
“Alarbus,” I said aloud.
I stepped through the rubble, raising my hand to allow the light to lead the way. Over the broken wall and onto the dirt path I proceeded with Alarbus.
I walked down the passage with the same feeling as if I just walked into a church in the middle of prayer, a mixture of reverence, shame, and regret. I hated that feeling.
“It’s a good name, isn’t it?” I said to the pieces, “Fitting too. At least I think it is. Shame though.”
I stopped and shined the light on the brick to my left and then on the natural stone formation to my right.
The path was smooth, shaved and worn over many years of use. I continued, my pace slowed, coming to the chamber on my left. I peered around the corner. Thick lumber shored up the space, reminding me of the silver mines in Bisbee.
Time was running out for me, and work would soon begin.
“What am I to do with you?” I said to Alarbus.
Alarbus was silent.
“I don’t have time to bury you.” I knew there was risk in keeping his body here, in this tunnel, especially with my neighbor who’d already been snooping around in my house. There was no time to wall up the cellar, nor did I have the supplies. If I stayed and buried him, then I would be late for work, and you don’t want to miss work on the day you killed somebody.
I’d be sure to lock the door to the house. I’d lock the cellar too, but I wasn’t sure where the key was.
I brought the bag to the far corner of the room and rested it on the ground like a Ming vase. I turned about and went out of the chamber and into the tunnel, cool air passing over me. It was the draft. I stopped, wet my finger, then held it above my shoulder. Why is it going the opposite direction? How’s that possible?
The tunnel didn’t end here at the chamber, and when I held the light up, I couldn’t get a sense of far it went. There’s no time to explore now. I had to get back to work. I turned back toward the cellar, the light out front, swaying shadows on the walls.
The broken wall came into focus, and it looked as if I’d stumbled across lost ruins.
I stepped over the wall.
I got to go to work. I have to be normal. How can I be normal? I felt my body tremble as if something were wrong. How’d I get here? What was I doing? My brow crinkled, my chest rose and fell rapidly. I felt weak in the legs, and I slowly slid to my knees.
“What have I done?”
“What have I done?”
“What…have I done?”
“…have I done?”