3LBE #5
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The Impaling of Jenny Curtis

by Rich Logsdon

 

I.

The stench caused by the killings fills the air like hell smoke. The killings pollute this once peaceful town.

It’s the same with every killing: its work done, the beast impales the head on a pole placed in the victim’s front yard. Two nights ago, it was my friend Bob Nod, whose impaled head grinned ghoulishly at me and whose open eyes screamed at me as I drove by the Nod’s little cottage on my way to the college yesterday morning. I’ll miss Bob, a regular at church council meetings. As I drove past, I wondered when it would be my turn.

My door posts nightly smeared with the fresh blood of doves, I got used to the ritual. When the sun set last night and suffocating darkness fell, I stayed awake, pulse racing with apprehension and excitement, listening to dogs howl, waiting for the great flapping bat-beast to claim another victim, thinking for some reason about Bob Nod’s eyes. Generally, the beast kills three nights in a row, disappears for ten days, and returns for another three-night kill. The victims’ heads are impaled with their eyes open, hideous smiles plastered on their faces. We have all come to accept these facts as inevitable.

Last night, the darkness was thick as glue, a black mass tangible as soup. Sweat and humidity formed a sticky coat inches from my skin. This didn’t feel like an ordinary evening, and I wondered for a while if I had indigestion. Sick at heart, I spent an hour leaning against the second story window and recalling the past few months.

 

II.

The killings began with Big Buck Tomlinson, the 365-pound real estate salesman, bail bondsman and former high school bully. It was a little more than three months ago, and my wife Amy and my children had gone to bed following Jay Leno. I stayed awake, standing at the second story window, guzzling beer, looking over the village, wondering if I should mow my lawn tomorrow. My brain buzzed. That night, dread sat like lead in my muddied soul. Something wicked this way comes, I told myself.

Near midnight the wind howled, ominous. Lightening struck in the east and west, and I looked to the mountains in the distance for the Son of Man, an automatic response to some Biblical prophecy I had read long ago. I peered through the darkness, certain something was there. After fifteen or twenty minutes, I made out an object sailing in the sky towards Roseburg and, as it grew closer, I was reminded of a creature from my recurring nightmare: a winged serpent swimming through dark water. Closer still, it hovered over Buck’s house.

Buck had a shady one-story directly across the street and, I am sure, had been asleep in his big living room chair when the explosive roof-landing of the bat-thing woke him. I could feel the landing from across the street. From my window, I watched the huge, dark-winged beast land. Then, the sky lit by lightening, I watched the beast rip and dig with its claws through Buck’s shingles and drop like a feather through the roof and into the room below. Buck’s screams must have lasted an hour. I waited, wondering if I should run for my own life or call a Priest. The next morning, when I went outside to get the paper, I looked up at Buck’s house. There, in Buck’s front yard, impaled on a pole, was Buck’s severed head, eyes open; it was smiling obscenely. I could swear Buck’s eyes were screaming at me. Weird, I thought.

That morning, over coffee, bacon, and eggs, I told Amy what I had seen the night before and mentioned that Buck had probably been terrified when the thing came exploding through his ceiling, sending fragments of plaster flying everywhere. I had seen the whole thing in a dream, I asserted. That much was true. I didn’t tell her about the head.

• • •

“Huh. Some dream,” Amy muttered, sipping coffee and running her eyes over the obituaries in the news paper.

“Must have scared the shit outa big Buck,” I chortled, munching toast and gulping coffee. Amy knew I hated Buck.

“No doubt,” murmured Amy, who was never at her best in the morning. Her eyes burrowed into the obituary section.

“Chomp, chomp, chomp,” I said, thinking of the beast taking bites out of Buck but hoping to amuse Amy. “Buck musta been one tasty pie.”

“Jesus.” Chomp, chomp, chomp. “Jesus Christ, you’re hopeless,” she said, glancing up at me, then returning to her reading. I think she wished me dead.

I smiled. I knew Amy was disgusted, but I couldn’t help myself. The thing would have seized Buck instantly, shattering his bones like a stack of twigs and biting off his head, geysers of blood spraying the walls. I wondered if Buck’s wife or his mother Billy Jo, who had lived with Buck for twenty years, had seen the spectacle and, if so, what they had thought of it. The police showed up two days later, after Buck had failed to phone in at the office. His wife and mother, seated on the couch in front of the TV, were dead, bodies drained of blood.

The very next evening after Buck’s death, Bradley Crane bit the eternal dust. An offensive man, Bradley had taught at the local college; we had even shared an office until Bradley had begun to spread the rumor that I was behaving inappropriately with my students. An obese, balding man whose tiny wire-rimmed spectacle made me think of a fat white rat, Bradley generally stayed up until two a.m. I remember the night of his demise, assured even then that I would remain untouched because I had smeared the areas above and to the side of the front door with blood of doves. I watched from my second story window, almost as if I sensed the thing coming, and suddenly heard the overhead whoosh: flying through a darkness as palpable as soup, the thing landed on Bradley’s roof and then used both iron-taloned fists to break away the tiles to get at its victim. It reminded me of a seagull cracking an oyster shell. Yum, yum, I thought.

I almost cheered for Bradley, as he came crashing through his front window and bolted toward my house, screaming, “Steele! Steele! For Christ’s sake, let me in, let me in, let me in,” all the way down the street. When he was just outside my front door, I yelled at him from the window, “Can’t do it, old man! Can’t fuckin' do it! We lock the doors at ten. Sorry.” I smiled to myself and watched as the huge bat-thing came exploding through the broken window down the block, caught up to its victim in seconds, grabbed head and neck in its talons in a wondrous burst of blood, tore my colleague limb from limb right in my front yard, and spent the next hour or so having Bradley for snacks.

To give him credit, Bradley put up a fight, at one point grabbing the thing around the neck; as he struggled. H was shouting “Oh, help me, someone! Oh, sweet Jesus, help me, help me, help me.” When I heard his pleas, it occurred to me that Bradley might be religious, and I considered praying for him. The next morning, as I drove past his house to work, I saw Bradley’s head impaled on a pole in his front yard, eyes open, grinning from ear to ear. The eyes were seemed to scream at me.

 

III.

These deaths, and the others that followed of course, get back to the crucifixion of Jenny Curtis, who attended one of my college classes a couple years ago. Jenny and her parents were powerful people, powerful in money. Jenny, of course, was something of a slut, but that did not make her bad. When I put my arm around her waist after one class session, patted her gently on the ass, and whispered to her to come with me and be my love, she pulled violently away from me. A week later, she dropped my class, my feelings hurt beyond repair.

But I get ahead of myself. Something needs saying about Jenny’s parents. When they moved to Roseburg from Boise, Jenny’s father Ted promptly landed a job with a top real estate group and her mother Gracie won a couple million from a lottery with such ease you'd think she did so every week. In a short time, Ted and Gracie were running Roseburg. Naturally, I resented them. I think we all did.

Four years after Ted and Gracie moved here, Jenny was born, and Pastor Ray — black/blind preacher of the eternal gospel of our Lord — proclaimed during her baptism on a day of impenetrable fog that he could see the Spirit of the Lord resting upon the child. I thought to myself, my hair literally standing on end: Jesus, this Sunday morning service is something right out of the fucking Gospels! The congregation became hushed as Ray immersed little Jenny in water and then held the child over is head for everyone in the church to see. “Anyone who brings harm to Jenny Curtis,” Pastor warned our congregation — many of whom had already committed abominable sins — “On him will the Lord take vengeance seven times.”

That day, fourteen years ago, when Ray uttered the curse in his booming Mt. Sinai voice, a shudder went through the congregation, some of whom years later agreed that Jenny should die for us all. I froze. My heart stopped beating for at least a minute. What many took as an expression of Pentecostal paranoia later revealed itself as gospel-inspired prophecy.

 

IV.

It was a year ago, the town’s economy sagging, dead people turning up in school cafeterias, ditches, and parking lots, that newly elected mayor Jake Mullins supposedly made the decision to sacrifice Jenny Curtis for the community. The dead were murder victims, all disemboweled. Many citizens feared that Roseburg had come under a curse. I assured everyone I met that this was the case.

Word of Jake’s supposed decision spread like a cancer in this small town, but no one took it seriously at first. They knew Jake, a muddle-head from birth. He had spent the afternoon of the announcement getting sloshed at Stoney’s Tavern, located just behind the K-Mart on Fourth Street and right next to the fire station. Rumor had it that the proclamation issued from Jake’s table located in the back of the tavern and next to the women’s restroom, that Jake claimed being visited the night before by a dark spirit who had demanded the head and soul of Jenny Curtis. Of course, Jake issued no such proclamation. It was I who had put the notion of the demonic visitation in Jake’s generally pickled brain.

“A dark spirit, sir?” I asked, looking the red-faced Mullins in the eyes. Jake’s head was slowly nodding as it does after he’s had too many.

“That’s right, Steele,” the dunce of Roseburg slurred. “A dark spirit. Maybe a dark angel. Maybe The Devil. That’s what you said, isn’t it?” More powerful and respected than me, Jake had nonetheless always been dumb as a bag of rocks. A drunk bag of rocks.

“That’s wonderful,” I said. “And, truth be known, sir,” I added, “I have seen more than one dark spirit in my time.”

“You, Steele? You? And what'd you do?”

“Sir, as the saying goes, ‘don’t piss off the spirits.’ I did whatever they told me.”

“Yeah?”

“Yeah. And if the thing tells you to disembowel and impale little Jenny Curtis, then I, sir, would not hesitate to do it.” Jenny’s father was heading a drive to get me fired at the college for indecent behavior.

“But Jenny…” the Mayor droned, “is such a pretty girl.”

“All the better.” Jake had narrowly defeated Jenny’s father for his position. I thought that making an example of little Jenny would only solidify Jake’s power base and make my position in the community more secure. Besides, it would make me feel better.

“But we’ve known the Curtis family since they moved here from Boise. Nice folks,” Jake whined.

Oh, for fuck’s sakes, I thought to myself, calling silently upon the darker powers to persuade this man.

“Ted and Gracie, sir?” I asked. “Boise, Idaho? Those left-wing liberals? They’re straight outa Berkeley. Fuckin' liberal atheists. They wanna destroy Preacher Ray. Not people you can rely on.” After his parents had died years ago, Jake had been raised by Preacher Ray.

“Huh. Huh. Huh. Damned atheists,” slurred the Mayor. “Didn’t know that.”

“Satanists, sir,” I added, heaping on coals of condemnation. Jake looked at me with his sad puppy-dog eyes. Roll over, Mush, I said to myself. In private, I called Jake “Mush.”

“Besides, sir, Curtis'd take your job and fry your ass in a minute,” I asserted. “he’s tryin' to take my job, isn’t he?”

“Maybe you’re right,” mumbled Jake.

“Of course I'm right. And Jenny works topless in a bar just outa town, sir. She’s a disgrace. I hear she’s a witch.”

“A witch that strips?” Jake mumbled, his eyes suddenly fixed on me. I'd hit a nerve. I knew that Jake loved two things in life: the Bible and strippers. Strippers could be Baptist or Pentecostal, but they couldn’t be devil-worshipers.

“Worst kind of witch, sir.”

Jake paused, grumbled, stared into his glass of beer.

“And sir,” I added, “Let me remind you of the gloriously restored law of retribution.” In a radical move last session, our state had not only brought back the death-penalty, but had done so with a popular vengeance: criminals could be executed in public. I knew I had Jake.

I made sure that word quickly spread: the Mayor wanted Jenny’s head. Of course, as I said, at first no one took seriously the rumor that Jenny Curtis was going to die for the community. No one, that is, except for black/blind preacher Ray. A monument to the town’s once steadfast faith, Ray seemed ageless and had been pounding the pulpit of Precious Blood Pentecostal Church for longer than I or anyone else in the community could remember. When word of the Mayor’s proclamation reached him, Ray took note. Predictably, the next few Sundays, Preacher Ray reviled Jake from the pulpit, branding him a puppet and then turning on me, to whom he referred as “evil” and “demonic.”

Ray’s preaching went on for weeks, day and night, in the tradition of Old Testament prophets. Finally, one Saturday night, six months later, my distant cousin Troy Merchant and his two half-wit sons broke into Ray’s house, killed Ray, his wife, and his dog, and set the house afire. It was a glorious sight, a real crowd-pleaser, and everyone in the town turned out to watch the one hundred year-old Victorian mansion that Ray and his family inhabited consumed in merciless flame. I wondered what the preacher’s last thoughts were before he burned. He probably thought he was going to Hell.

Six months later, the state’s economy having bottomed out, and the community having reached a consensus that something needed to be done to restore our fortunes; Jenny Curtis was dragged naked and screaming from her house to the village square, while her parents stood by in mute horror. It was a Thursday night, Jenny and her parents sitting at home, watching TV or playing Monopoly or doing whatever Jenny and her parents did on the nights she wasn’t dancing naked. When the doorbell rang at seven and Jenny’s dad opened the door, the callers ran into the house. We forcibly seized Jenny, stripped the screaming girl bare, and carried her out and to the middle of the town.

Jenny’s parents were, no doubt, dumbfounded and helpless at our conviction. That neighbors with whom they had dined and slept and gone to movies would ever believe that the Sacrifice of the Innocent would bring health, wealth, and prosperity to Roseburg. The parents could only watch and follow, I am sure in sickened disbelief, as their beloved Jenny was hauled down Main Street, past K-mart, and tied to the great wooden block in the town square. Like visitors allowed into Hell’s inner circle, they howled like dogs when their screaming daughter was spread and bound by rope, and turned away in beaten silence when the village males mounted and entered her one by one, sometimes two at a time.

I was near the last, and when I climbed up on the block and looked down upon Jenny, ready to penetrate, into the eyes of a now frightened animal, I smiled and blew her an imaginary kiss.

“You’re mine now, you little tramp,” I uttered, getting ready to slip my socket between her legs.

But she was not screaming anymore. She looked down at me and snorted, then boldly into my face, and spat. “Take your best shot, little man,” she said slow and measured. My manhood shriveling, I had to zip up, climb down off the block, and simply watch.

Exhausted by the ordeal, Jenny lay on the block, panting heavy like a dying animal, but mouth closed like a sick one that hides its weakness. When they had finished, I looked into her open eyes, saw the smoldering defiance. I slowly backed away.

She did not take her accursed eyes away from mine. Not when we unbound her. Or when Buck Tomlinson and I ran the pole into her. Or when the crowd built into a frothing, frenzied chant of death. Or when she tensed her muscles to make the task almost impossible for us. Neither did she grant us another scream, even as Bradley Crane and I lifted the pole. And I only looked away when her struggles quit and her body crept down with gravity, because her eyes were still on mine.

The only unwilling participant, Jake stood back and watched. He had, in his lifetime, seen only one impaling and had hoped never to repeat the experience. “Oh, Lord, Lord, Lord, have I too done this thing?” I remember he wailed loudly, arms outstretched, face gazing upward. Aware that sacrilege was being committed, wondering if the Creator would be angry, he dropped to his knees, looked to the starry night sky, wept deeply, prayed for forgiveness, cried out to the Son of Man as Jenny died on the pole.

Jenny’s body was left in the square for three days and then, at my direction, her head was severed from her body, which was subsequently tossed into the sea. Jenny’s head was displayed on a post in the Mayor’s front yard for all to see.

I remember the day we sent Jenny’s body to its rest in the sea. It was a warm day, in the low 80s. Children sang and played in the streets and parks. As soon as Jenny’s body was deposited in the ocean at mid-day, the sky grew black, the sun disappeared, and death descended like a dark cloak upon our community. Standing on a cliff overlooking the ocean, wrapped in darkness, I felt the chill and knew that I had transgressed. I felt the searing eternal separation from God that I had thought was only Biblical fiction.

Always an intelligent man, I was not at my wit’s end. Remembering the Bible from the childhood days I had sat in on Preacher Ray’s Sunday school classes, I spent the following weeks frantically roaming the woods around the village morning, noon, and night; killing doves, carefully smearing their blood over my door every Sunday evening; saying prayers with my wife and our two children three times a day; and simply waiting for the huge dark thing that, even before Jenny and Ray’s deaths, had hovered just outside the place separating the Living from the Dead. I had seen the thing in my dreams several times.

 

V.

The darkness was thick as glue yesterday evening. Sweat and humidity formed a sticky coat inches from me. I leaned against the second story window. One pane was open, permitting a breeze that neither cooled nor relaxed. Peering into the darkness, I heard the distant rustling of wings, then the whoosh whoosh whoosh, as the thing descended upon and passed over the village, over my house, whose front door frame I had smeared with dove’s blood. Thinking that once again my house had been passed over, I relaxed, took a long drink from my bottle of beer, and began to close the window pane when I heard it: an explosive thud on my roof. Like a small earthquake rocking my house. Listening, I heard first silence, then the hissing, then the scraping as the beast dragged itself over my tiled roof. It moved just above me. I heard another penetrating thud, this one shaking the house to the core, followed by more heavy impacts, and I knew that the beast was clawing and pounding its way through the roof. To me. The noise was a slow-motion jackhammer: bam bam bam bam.

The ceiling plaster falling in, the beast moments from its descent, I dropped to my knees, a last-ditch effort to save my hide. I tried to pray, bowed my head, closed my eyes tight, felt the horrible swirl of darkness, uttered the words of the Lord’s Prayer, asked forgiveness. I shook like a leaf; I could no longer feel. I had been consumed by darkness.

“Oh Sweet Jesu,” I thought another prayer, mimicking the language of medieval mystics, “What wouldst thou of me? What wouldst thou? Thy humble servant, acknowledging multitudinous sin, begs thee forgiveness. Let thy grace touch thy filthy wounded servant.” I paused, seeking God’s response, my eyes closed, my soul leaden as a church bell.

Kneeling, kneeling, kneeling, my eyes closed tightly, I awaited my execution. The smell of blood and grease permeated the air as I sensed the great dark beast circle me again and again and again, and yet I prayed that God spare my life and my soul. I became one with my prayer until finally I was too mentally exhausted to think.

 

VI.

Feeling terrible pain like a spear deep in my skull, I open my eyes, glance around, and realize that the beast has gone. I cannot turn my head, cannot speak, cannot blink. I can’t see anything but darkness. I crazily sense that my head is somehow anchored or fixed to a spot. I have no feeling in my body.

Curiously, I know a huge smile is plastered to my face. I can’t help the ghoulish, undoubtedly hideous grin. As my vision returns and I try to focus on the grass in front of me, upon the house across the street, at the red van sitting directly in front of my house, two things occur to me: I am in my front yard and I can move only my eyes. No other movement is possible. Flies buzz around my head, but I cannot bat them away. I cannot run.

Finally, I realize all at once what it is. I am my head, impaled on a post stuck into the grass of my front yard. I can move nothing but my eyes, so with my eyes, as Jake Mullins drives by, I scream for help. I scream and scream and scream inside my mind. Of course, Jake can’t hear me. He doesn’t even look. I wait, and when Jenny Curtis’ parents drive by in their Suburban, I again scream with my eyes, but they don’t hear me. Within the next hour or so, ten cars drive by my house, some drivers giving me a horrified look, others smiling, and I cry with my eyes to all of them. My eyes speak; they say, “Please help me.” But no one hears.

I glance to stony heaven, beg forgiveness with my eyes, seek God in the gray clouds overhead. Lightning flashes, temperatures fall, and the ocean pounds the rocks. Clearly, I have been given an eternity, or until my head rots off the pole, to think about what evil I have done. “I swear by all that is holy,” I think, “that I shall never commit another sin.”

This can’t last, I tell myself.

 

 

Rich Logsdon - A professor of English teaching in a college in Las Vegas, Rich Logsdon has published extensively on and off the net. He is editor-in-chief of the print magazine Red Rock Review and runs his college's mens’ soccer team.


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ISSUE #5

April 2000

FICTION

ART