Memento Mori: Eight – Freak Show

Alone With the Dead:
Memento Mori
by Andrea Speed

Eight – Freak Show

Gryphon stared at the woman (Laurel; her name was Laurel Stanhope), pretending he didn’t know what she was talking about, but of course he knew. He didn’t want to know, but it was hard to deny. “He did this to you?”

“We were the first. He didn’t know what he was doing, but he knows now. He’s coming back. He’s ready this time.”

10.jpg“Ready? For what? To do what?”

“Gryphon? Clay said, and touched his shoulder.

For some reason, that did it. This fragile reality shattered; whatever the rapport between him and the angry dead were, it just ceased to exist when other people tried to barge into it, and he felt the backlash like a physical thing. It seemed to hit him square in the chest, an invisible fist, and he dropped to his knees on the grass, struggling to pull a breath through bruised lungs.

“Oh, shit. You okay dude?”

Gryphon put his forehead against the ground like he was praying to Mecca. “Damn it! Couldn’t you just leave me the fuck alone?!”

Clay stepped back, but he could feel his scorn coming off in waves. He didn’t need to look at him to confirm the disgust. “Me? What the hell were you doing?!”

“You made contact, didn’t you?” Shane asked, joining them.

Gryphon felt like he had ridden out the nausea, so he sat up, wondering why it always had to feel this bad. “Yes. Call the police. There’s bodies buried here, a woman and her four children.”

“What?” Clay sounded almost angry about it.

“Umm, I’m not sure the cops’ll believe us,” Shane replied hesitantly. “I believe you, but they’re not known for taking things on faith.”

He was right, of course, but it seemed like a shitty thing to say. He climbed to his feet and started stumbling through the backyard, which seemed too pretty and perfect to be real. Of course it wasn’t; it was some landscapers Sunset magazine ideal of a backyard, a place where no one ever lived, and nature didn’t dare defile anything with a weed or a speck of dirt out of place. It would probably look like this for an hour or two, then need a touch up. They probably spent enough money on this to house a homeless man for a year.

He dropped to his knees at the far end of the garden, a few feet from where the fence severed the grounds from the rest of the land. He ripped up patches of rolled up sod like carpet and threw them aside. He started digging through the dirt with his bare hands, the soft, rich layer of bought topsoil soon giving way to the harder, more rockier native dirt. Shane finally joined him with a shovel, and he sat back on his haunches and left him to it, as a shovel could move a lot more dirt than he could.

He was vaguely aware of Clay talking to some people, but he didn’t know who until he heard a woman ask, “What do you think you’re doing?”

She was a light skinned black woman, extremely attractive, although her black hair was pulled back so tightly it seemed to give her face too many angles. She was wearing an expensive, well tailored suit, a modest knee length skirt instead of pants, and had sensible flats on that Julie would have him know were still expensive. Gryphon instantly thought ‘lawyer’ looking at her, and didn’t know why.

Behind her, following her, was a white man in his early thirties, long and lean, looking a bit like Keanu Reeves’ smarter brother. He too was dressed in an expensive suit, gray with a white shirt and red power tie, and he too provoked the feeling “lawyer”. These were the property owners, the ones who hired Spirit Guides.

She looked down at his face, met his eyes, and froze. It wasn’t quite terror, but something uneasy played across her face. Gryphon wondered what she saw in him, and then decided he was probably better off not knowing. “You have ghosts,” he told her. “Five to be exact. And perhaps a cat. They’re buried here.”

The man came up beside her, paused, and something in his face told Gryph that it was he who made the call, not her. “What do you mean they’re buried here? Who could have buried them?”

“This place was an abandoned field before you bought it,” he told them, although Gryphon had no idea how he knew that. “They were buried here then. When they plowed the land, cleared it for you, they missed the bodies. Maybe not by much, but they did.”

The woman looked at the man, her husband, and whispered, “This is insanity. I don’t know how you can believe this shit. And now they’re tearing up our grass. They’ll probably charge us for it too.”

“Rachel, honey -” he began, in the placating tone of husbands everywhere. Did they take a class to learn that tone?

“He stabbed Laurel,” Gryphon said, gaining their horrified attention. “He also stabbed their oldest children, Chelsea and Jeremiah. He drowned Molly in the bathtub, and simply tied a cord around baby Skylar’s neck. I don’t know what he did to the cat.”

“He?” The man asked, the lawyer who hired him. His eyes were the color of water in a swimming pool. “Who’s he? Who are you talking about?”

“Her husband, Louis.”

There was a smell in the air, sickly sweet and rotted, corrupted, and it was worse than any other smell on Earth. Gryphon knew what he had uncovered even before Shane said, “Holy shit.”

He hardly needed to look to see what Shane had turned up. Inside the pit of dark soil, a single dirty piece of ivory was sticking up like a finger, but since fingers were made up of several small bones, he figured it was a rib. “Her name was Laurel,” he told them, still feeling like he was barely holding on to the face of the Earth. He hugged himself for warmth, but it didn‘t seem to help. “And she wants to stop him.”

****

He was right that they were lawyers – Rachel Davies and Kevin Holloway, each specializing in different fields. She was criminal law; he was property law. As soon as the rib was unearthed, Rachel was on her cell to someone, and in spite of the fact that they were smack dab in the middle of nowhere, the cops responded in five minutes, with a meat wagon in tow. They started cordoning off the scene almost instantly, and questioning them. Not the home owners, them. The rich – and perhaps the legally inclined – were different.

The cops were a stocky guy named Romano who had the build of a vending machine, and a younger, taller guy named Sweeny, who was apparently always good cop to Romano’s bad cop. The two enjoyed questioning him; they didn’t seem to believe he was a psychic, especially when Gryphon himself objected to that characterization. They didn’t seem to understand how he could know so much about the deceased without having somehow participated in it.

Although he wasn’t arrested, they were all taken down to the station to discuss it, and that included Davies and Holloway. But still, Gryphon had a feeling he was the only one waiting alone in “the box”, a small, cold room with a two way mirror, and a small video camera on a tripod in the far corner. The only light was fluorescent and buzzed overhead like angry bees, and while he sat shivering in the hard plastic chair, Ruby was getting increasingly annoyed.

She didn’t like cops as a general rule. But being in an actual stationhouse, even a clean, relatively empty one in rural Oregon, still brought back many bad memories. She was arrested several times, roughed up a couple of times, and some cops tried to bully her into blow jobs and other sexual favors more times than she bothered to count. She didn’t like cops. She especially didn’t like being in interrogation rooms. The light overhead, which had been flickering slightly when they came in, was now flashing like a disco light, and he could smell the slightest tinge of ozone, the scent of burning wires. He looked in the mirror, saw his haggard face and mussed hair, and told the cops surely on the other side, “You can’t film me. It doesn’t work. I warned you about electrical equipment, didn’t I?” He wondered if it was going to explode into flame.

We don’t need to stay, she insisted, for the hundredth time. We can just walk. Those fucking pigs can’t stop us, kid, and you know it.

He’s not in trouble, Mr. Aronofsky said. But he will be if you just storm out of here. So just be patient.

So says the person without a criminal record, Ray interjected.

Eventually a plainclothes detective he met earlier came in, a guy named Murphy, a rumpled looking middle aged guy who could have come from Central Casting after you requested a grizzled cop to come stand in the background of any Law and Order episode. He had thinning brown hair combed over his pale scalp unsuccessfully, and it went up on one side like it was attempting to flag down a cab. He sniffed, and said, “What’s that smell?”

“Your camera burning itself out. I told you not to put me in a closed room with electronics.”

He glanced at it as if searching for signs of arson, and then glanced up at the light curiously before taking a seat. He had files, which he rested his thick fingered hands on. “So, Gryphon, do you wanna tell me how you know all this, or are you just making it up? You know, you can admit it now; the Holloways never have to know.”

He sighed, and scrubbed a hand through his hair, getting tired of humoring these people. “I’m sure forensics will get back to you eventually, and tell you I’m not making this up. And I’ve already told you how I know all this, you just choose not to believe me. Which is fine, I don’t care.”

“Because you talk to dead people?” He opened the top folder and looked at the pages within.

“Oh god, I hate that stupid movie. Look, they come to me. I can’t control it; I wish I could.”

“So they told you how they died, and where they were buried in the Holloway’s back yard?”

The sarcasm just dripped from his voice. Ruby snarled Pig, and Gryphon glared at him from across the table. “Laurel Stanhope told me, yes. I know it sounds insane, but it’s true.”

The man nodded, in a way that suggested he wasn’t even listening to him. “The Stanhopes were reported missing ten years ago, by Laurel Stanhope’s mother. She hadn’t heard from her daughter for a while, and the trailer the family lived in had been moved. But the Stanhopes had affiliated themselves with an odd religious sect, and it was assumed they were following their leader. There wasn’t a lot of follow up.”

“Religious sect? Like what, that Bhagwan guy?”

“No, some kind of fundamentalist Christian sect. It was assumed they were heading to Utah; their leader had a huge compound down there. Contact with outsiders was forbidden.” Murphy finally met his eyes, and his look was steady and strangely emotionless. “It’s assumed they’re still down there. The cult is some kind of “the Armageddon is coming” group, they won’t talk with anyone with government connections. But you’re telling us they’re all dead.”

“Not all of them. Louis is still out there.” And according to Laurel, coming back. For him? Was he the one? Why? Why would he be coming for him?

“Uh huh. Tell me, Mr. Ashmore, where were you living ten years ago?”

That made him laugh humorlessly, shaking his head. “I was still in junior high school in Bridgeport, Washington. I don’t think I’d even discovered jacking off as a hobby yet. You wanna pin the brutal murder of an entire family on me?”

“We only have your word right now that anyone was murdered. For all we know, the Holloway home was built on an old, illegal graveyard.”

There was a brief rap on the door, and then a female cop came in, a hard faced brunette who could have doubled as an overly stern librarian, and put a small portable tape recorder on the table. “The camera just isn’t working, so -”

The recorder shut itself off with an audible click, and both the cops looked down at it curiously. The female cop tried to start it again, but it immediately shut itself off once more, with a strange noise that suggested the tape was eating itself.

“What did I tell you about me and electronic devices?”

“Would you stop with the bullshit?” Murphy snapped, slapping his palm on the table. “You’re not a psychic; you don’t talk to dead people. You’re either a con artist, a material witness, or a killer, and I want to know which one, now.”

That was it. Gryphon was so tired he didn’t realize the furious Ruby was making her move until it was too late. She took him completely by surprise. One second he was there, in control, and then suddenly he was shoved into the back of his own mind, his weariness losing out to her rage, her will overpowering his. Ruby, no! he shouted, but she wasn’t listening to him.

“You cut the bullshit,” she growled at Murphy, standing up. There was a noise like ice cracking, and the mirror was showing a thousand spider web fractures, some still growing out from the center as he watched. “He’s told you the truth; it’s your fucking fault if it’s not what you want to hear.” One of the florescent tubes blew out, but didn’t explode … or at least not yet.

Both of the cops were looking at him – her – with wide eyed surprised, and he didn’t know if it was due to the fact that his eyes had changed, or his voice, or both. “Please sit down, Mr. Ashmore,” Murphy said, sticking to the script.

The female cop took a step back, and put a hand on her taser. “Think that’ll do you any good, bitch?” A huge spark jumped from the quiescent taser, making the cop jump, and the taser clattered to the floor as the lens of the burned out camera blew out in a tiny cloud of glass dust. “You can’t fight us with electricity, or haven’t you idiots figured it out yet?”

Murphy remained seated, but his left hand had disappeared from the table top. If he was going for a weapon, he was dead, so Gryphon sincerely hoped he wasn’t reaching for it. “Who are you?”

Ruby, stand down, Gryphon demanded, aware that it would do no good at all.

“I’m Ruby fucking Cavanaugh, pig. I was victim number four of the Mainline Killer in Detroit – you know, serial killer Jerry Wayne Dougherty? He killed a whole bunch of whores before anyone bothered to notice him, ‘cause we’re just disposable meat to all of you, ain’t we?”

Not this rant again, Hugh groaned.

“This kid is playin’ by your rules, and I have no fuckin’ idea why, but I ain’t gonna stand by and watch you try and railroad him ‘cause you fat asses didn’t bother to follow up on a case. So some white trash woman and her dumb ass kids got offed by her fruit loop husband – so fucking what, right? Happens every day. You solve the fucking case, or we’ll do it, but don’t think we’re gonna take your shit.”

“We? Who’s we?”

Ruby glared at Murphy, and the camera fell off the tripod, exploding into a dozen different fragments on the floor. The female cop was looking between it, him, and the now severely cracked mirror, waiting for a sign.

“The dead, fuckhole. Whether you believe it or not, we’re here, and we’re not gonna let you hurt this kid.” The door slammed open by itself, and the mirror finally shattered, cascading into hundreds of diamond slivers on the already detritus strewn floor. “So, does he walk, or do we walk right over you?”

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