Recently I interviewed author Erik Burnham, who wrote the Transformers Ghostbusters comic book crossover, which I’ve previously reviewed here.

How did the crossover originate? I know there was a special toy made recently of the Ecto-1 that was a Transformer. Did it start with that?/Who proposed the crossover? 

It was pretty much that simple. Both Ghostbusters and Transformers celebrated their 35th anniversary in 2019, so a couple years before that, they decided to do the toy. Since IDW had both comic licenses, it felt like a fun thing to do. My Ghostbusters editor asked me to come up with a story, I saw the  design of the toy (even before he had a name!) And we built it out from there.  

The main character Eco-tron was a very interesting new Autobot. How did you come to develop him as a character?

He was trickier, since unlike every other character in the book he’s brand new and didn’t already have a voice in peoples’ heads. I had an idea of the type of character he would be and started to write him that way; kind of particular and nerdy. Dan Schoening said his dialog sounded to him like David Hyde Pierce, and when Dan said that, it came together for me. The voice started to have more of a particular rhythm, and that voice in my head informed the character and how he’d interact. 

Without spoiling anything, the opening scene of the crossover makes a pretty major and immediate shift in the status quo of Transformers. How did that idea come about? Was their resistance from Hasbro on this, or anything else in the story? 

There was no resistance. There are two ways to do these kinds of crossovers of characters from “different worlds.” I’ll use Marvel and DC as an example. In Green Lantern/Silver Surfer, the characters came from two different universes. The was a story element that allowed one character to bridge over to the other. In Spider-Man/Batman, meanwhile, for the purposes of the story, they had ALWAYS existed in the same world and knew of each other. Spider-Man made a joke about Superman, and so on. Either one would have worked, and given past Ghostbusters crossovers, people were expecting it to be a multidimensional story. I decided to turn that on its head by putting (a version) of the Transformers we know and love into the Ghostbusters’ universe and running from there. 

Speaking of status quo, there seemed to be an adjustment to the timeline of the Transformers franchise. Was there any special reason for this? 

Partly that was me misremembering — we did catch it! — but then decided, since we were changing the history of Cybertron a bit, we might as well change a few more things. 

The art style for the Transformers was straight from the G1 cartoons. The Ghostbusters characters however, were drawn in the style for the more recent comics. Is there any reason you are aware of that the art style from the 80’s cartoon could not be used? 

The Real Ghostbusters (the 1980s cartoon) is a distinct and different entity. The comic book designs (because of likeness rights of the actors) are the “movie” versions. The ones folks saw in 1984, and whose anniversary it is, just filtered through Dan’s comic book design. (He can draw the likenesses of the actors perfectly, but that adds more time to the schedule if, say, someone didn’t like how their eye looked in one panel. It would have to be redrawn until approved, and that easts up time.) 

RGB showed up in 1986 or so. They’re similar but slightly different in characterization (as made sense for an animated adaptation.) So that’s why Blonde Egon and his colorful crew weren’t there. 

One of the villains was a pretty deep cut into Transformers lore. How did that particular character come to be included?

Actually, Hasbro suggested we might throw him in, for fun. We made some changes to make him a little more Ghostbustery (while also using the version TF fans were familiar with.) They let me get away with so much, I took the input happily. 

There’s a blink if you miss it Quintessons  easter egg in the story. Care to elaborate on that? 

The short version is: Dan Schoening loves easter eggs. Things that are fun for him to draw and can be discovered over multiple reads. I’ve asked him on occasion to draw things in – so has our ace colorist Luis Antonio Delgado – but about 80% of those background gags are Dan. He basically thought it would be a hoot to throw in. (Sometimes it’s just that simple!) 

The story ends with another new status quo for the Transformers. Were there any talks/were there any plans for a sequel? 

We talked some possible ideas for it, high concept type stuff. There’s a starting point if they decide they want to do it. 

Transformers Ghostbusters: Ghosts of Cybertron is currently available from IDW comics.

1986’s Transformers the Movie killed off much of the original cast of the popular television cartoon, including fan favorite Decepticon Starscream. The movie, taking place in the then future year of 2005, also set the stage for season three of the Transformers cartoon series in the fall of 86. The ninth episode of season three featured Starscream returning as a ghost, a ghost who would reappear in subsequent episodes. This is possibly the first time robot ghosts have appeared in fiction, and provides a premise for a 2020 crossover with another popular 80’s franchise, the Ghostbusters.

Transformers Ghostbusters: Ghosts of Cybertron establishes a brand new reality for the Transformers. Opening in Cybertron’s past, the Autobots have fled Cybertron, but, in a deviation with traditional Transformers lore, the Decipticons did not follow. Remaining on Cybertron, the Decpticons encounter a robot form of the Traveller, complete with two robotic hounds. The Traveller is a herald of Gozer, the villain from the first Ghostbusters film. After a sequence reminiscent of the Stay Puft Marshmallow Man scene of the first Ghostbusters, Cybertron is legitimately destroyed and the Decipticons are dead.

The main character of this crossover is a new Autobot created just for this story. Ectronymous Diamatron is an Autobot scientist, who objects to his fellow Autobots calling him Eck for short. A thousand years later (Not four million years later as in the original cartoon), the Autobots are still travelling the universe via their spaceship the Ark. Ectronymous finds a Cybertonian signal on planet Earth, and is soon sent by Optimus Prime to investigate. 

Coming to Earth, specifically New York City,  he encounters the Ghostbusters, whose car has been totaled while trapping a ghost. The Autobot scientist uses his transformation abilities to turn himself into the Ghostbusters car, and soon becomes known as Eco-tron. Optimus Prime soon joins him, and after getting graphittied by 80’s cartoon punks he gets a new white paint job to match Ecto-trons look. Both get Autobot sized proton packs from their new allies, who all encounter the ghost of Starscream. The Decepticon has teamed up with a villain who is a deep cut into the original 80’s Transformers Cartoon

The art style reflects the original Transformers A.K.A. Generation One cartoon, but the Ghostbusters are drawn in the style of the more current comics. I’m curious why they weren’t drawn in the style of their own 80’s cartoon, perhaps there was some rights issue.

Ghostbusters mythos isn’t as deep as TF but there are a few callbacks to Ghostbusters 2. The painting of Vigo appears, and the mood slime actually plays a small part of the story. Fan favorite slimer briefly appears as well. A few Autobots talk about not being afraid of ghosts, and when encountering Megatron, Prime’s hand turns to the yellow axe to match Megatron’s ball and chain, which is something they did early in the old cartoon. The Quintessons appear in statue form during the opening sequence. Another amusing easter egg is Winston making a joke about G.I. Joe.

The crossover ends with a new status quo, with Optimus Prime actually hoping to reform the ways of the Decepticons, and Eco-tron hoping to find other spirits of dead Cybertonians. With a new status quo, new reality, and a new Autobot character, the Transformers Ghostbusters crossover works surprisingly well, and I would look forward to more stories in this 80’s crossover reality.

If you enjoyed this crossover review, click here for an interview with Erik Burnham.

Part Seventeen: These are the Days

August 5th, 1998 Wisconsin

“Boy they sure murder you on this popcorn!’ Bernice said as she put her change back in her purse. Her grandson carried a large tray towards her great grandkids; Tommy and Lindsey, along with their friends. The teenagers eagerly snatched the bags of popcorn and paper cups filled with soda. Bernice remembered when she could see movies for a whole year on the amount of money she’d just spent, and these were matinee prices!

No matter though, these were her golden years, her platinum years even, in which she not only enjoyed grandchildren, but great-grandchildren, both of whom she spoiled rotten. She’d long sold her hardware store, and she and Robert, her second husband of over 30 years, now enjoyed all of their free time. 

The screen lit up the darkened theater as the previews began. Bernice smiled as the trailer began with a familiar tune. She figured the kids wouldn’t recognize the song Mr. Sandman by the Chordettes, but to her it brought back fond memories. Then the mood of the trailer shifted as that familiar 90’s preview voice spoke. “It’s 1998, in a California beach side town.” It then cut to a group of kids boasting about having a Halloween party. 

Bernice blushed as the characters joked about having a roaming orgy. “What the hell is this?” her husband Ronald complained, probably not wishing to explain the word “orgy” to the youngins. Bernice just laughed, figuring the kids heard much worse than this, given the kinds of things they put on TV these days.

On screen characters also took issue with the teen’s behavior. An attractive teacher says “No booze, no drugs, no kidding.” Bernice thought she recognized this actress; it was a Jamie something. She’d soon forgotten this as the trailer cut to the action. In the nature of trailers these days which gave away half the movie, the kids in the theater laughed and cheered as one by one the horny movie teens were dispatched by a mysterious shape.

That familiar trailer voice returned saying “The face of evil, will meet the face of good.” Some in the audience laughed, and others groaned, as a familiar, but long forgotten face appeared on the cue of “the face of good.” Ronald smiled as he recognized the face of Sylvester Stallone, whose career had fallen far from the heights of the 1980s. Ronald remembered when a few years back the actor even tried a few comedies. Hopefully, Ronald thought, a horror movie would be his ticket back over to the top of the movie business.

 “This time,” the voice over said, while images of what looked to be a sea creature floated across the screen, “it’s going to be a fight to the finish.”  

It looked like the eighties all over again as Stallone faced the screen, his wet muscles bulging as his hands gripped a shotgun. In his trademark deep voice he said “Hey yo,” then pumping the shotgun, ‘this monster’s gotta go!”  Like the action films of old, bullets were flying and boats exploded on the water, while Stallone spouted out lines like, “I shot it six times!” and “You don’t know what death is!” 

The trailer’s narrator concluded with, “At this beach, terror won’t be taking a vacation.”

The words “Halloween: H20” then appeared onscreen.  

“Cool.” One of Tommy’s friends blurted out. “I hope it’s better than Halloween: Resurrection of the Vampire!” 

“Be quite Franklin!” Tommy said, shushing his friend. Ronald was also annoyed but Bernice just smiled. She presumed the kids would want to see this once it came out in a couple months.

Finally, the feature presentation started. Bernice liked it already, it had the credits upfront the way movies used to, with a shrieking violin orchestrating the soundtrack. One credit got Ronald’s attention “Based on the novel by Robert Bloch.” 

“He was a local author,” he whispered to his wife. Ronald knew Bloch wasn’t from Plainfield of course, but he did graduate high school in Milwaukee. As the movie Psycho properly began, Ronald remembered hearing about the book. It was the author’s last work before he died about four years back. He said nothing as another familiar credit lit the screen. “Directed by George Kohler. He remembered the Kohler family from his home up the road in Amherst.

Not long into the movie the teens hooted and hollered at the sight of a beautiful blonde woman taking off her clothes and getting in the shower. “Yeah let’s see some titties!” Franklin yelled, but much to his disappointment, there were no naked female breasts to be seen.

Ronald didn’t like the outburst, but he did enjoy the sight of the woman in the shower. She reminded him of Janet Leigh, who was an actress he enjoyed back in the 1960’s. Thought’s of this starlet vanished once he felt his wife’s soft skin squeezing his hand as she whispered “I remember when I looked like that.”

The elderly couple had seen their share of horror movies, and sitting near the front of the dark theater, they were not frightened, but both were a little disturbed. Not at the murder scene on screen, as what looked like a female form pulled back the shower curtain and stabbed the young beauty to death, but that the kids laughed and cheered while it happened. Franklin particularly took delight at this scene, mimicking the stabbing motions while the violin music played. 

After the movie they all went to the skating rink in Hancock, Bernice and her husband sat down at a table with the teenagers. Pizza pies and soda were spread out ready to be consumed while the jukebox played a mix of current pop music and songs of the recently passed decade.

“How did you like the movie? Berncie asked her great grandson Tommy.

“It was great! Tommy said. “It was so scary, and that ending was crazy!”

“Did you like it grandma? Her great grand-daugther Lindsey asked.

“Yeah I liked it, it was a scary one.” 

Tommy agreed, “Yeah it was, and that ending was nuts!”

As Bernice thought about that ending, with a twist she was sure no one saw coming, she had a strange moment of reflection. “That Norman Bates sure was an odd fellow,” she said, “he kind of reminded me of old Eddie Gein.”

“Who’s Eddie Gein? Lyndsey asked.        

“He could have been your great grandfather!” Ronald teased.

“Oh stop it!” Bernice swatted him on the arm.

“Oh it’s true,” Ronald persisted, “he used to hit on Bernice all the time.” He then excitedly leaned toward the children, as if about to tell a secret. “He even asked her to come roller skating right here!” His old wrinkled finger pointed down to the ground as he spoke.

“Oh you!” Bernice’s cheeks were glowing red.

“What happened to him?” Tommy asked.

“Oh he died in a fire way way back.” Bernice thought hard about exactly when it was but couldn’t recall anymore. “Shame really, poor guy.”

“Well why did he remind you of Norman Bates?” Franklin inserted himself into the conversation.

“Well the poor man was dominated by his mother all his life, kind of like that Norman.” Bernice noted. “Wouldn’t let him have any friends, I don’t think he ever even had a girlfriend.”

“Did he kill anybody?” Franklin asked excitedly.

“Franklin you’re never gonna have a girlfriend either if you don’t stop talking about serial killers all the time.” Tommy objected.

Bernice laughed, “Oh goodness no, no no no, but he lived all alone in a spooky farmhouse, kind of like the house in the movie. All the kids in town thought it was haunted. Especially after he died, we would all tell stories about seeing his ghost at night and all such things haha. Most people remember him as a good man though. Always willing to help people out, he was harmless,” Bernice remembered, “if not a little odd.” 

“What kind of stories?” Franklin pressed, anxious to hear further details.

“Oh god, we got Franklin started on killers again.” One of the teens said in annoyance. 

“Come on let’s go play some Mortal Kombat.” Tommy said as he and his friends ran to the skating rink’s arcade section.

Franklin remained, still pushing to hear more. “What kind of stories, did you ever see any ghosts?”

“You go run along now.” Ronald said, waving his hand at Franklin in irritation. “Go play with your friends.” 

The kids then spent the rest of the afternoon playing video games and roller skating as the music continued to play. After a while, they all gathered back at the table to sing happy birthday to Tommy. Bernice Worden didn’t know the band Burn Victims, but their lyrics echoed through the skating rink. “These are the days to remember,” with the word “days” drawn out by the female singer. Bernice smiled as the song played. These were the days for her to remember, enjoying the love and the company of four generations of family and friends. As her great grandson blew out the candles on his Michael Jordan birthday cake, she thought about how next year she would be one hundred years old. Regardless of if she even made it that far, she sure felt lucky for what she had.

The End

Happy Halloween! Hope you all are safe and taking care of yourselves, and I hope you enjoyed this experiment in horror and alternate history. How many pop culture deviations did you find? What was the first one you noticed? Feel free to comment below. If you enjoyed this, stay tuned for No Gein Two: A Second Helping! 

Part Sixteen: Course Correction

August 5th, 1991. Plainfield Wisconsin

While Henry ordered two drinks at the local bar, George felt like he was in a daze, and couldn’t imagine what his father was feeling. After learning about what happened to his Aunt, his father’s sister, George thought aloud. “I don’t know what to say dad.”

Looking up at the TV, Henry replied “Let’s just talk about something else.” George nodded before his father then asked “So what do you want to do son?’

“What do you mean?” 

“You still got your whole life ahead of you.” Henry pointed out, still looking at the TV. “What do you want to do?”

“I don’t know.” was all George could say.

“I think you do.” The bartender then brought two bottles of beer. After taking a sip Henry asked “Ever read Joseph Cambell?”

“Isn’t he that philosopher that inspired Star Wars?”

“Yeah, Franki introduced me to some of his books. He says this thing about following your bliss. It’s like, you gotta do what makes you happy. So seriously son, what do you want to do more than anything else.”

George took a drink and then thought for what felt like a long time. Finally he answered. “I guess I still want to do movies.”

“Well alright then.” Henry raised his bottle to his son then realized out loud, “You know we never had a beer together.”

“You’re right, we never did.” George said with some surprise.

“Two shots!” The father immediately ordered.

Two shots were delivered. George watched his father take his shot without hesitation. He could then see Henry’s eyes on him as he raised the tiny glass to his mouth. George could feel his whole face grimace as he barely got the liquid down his throat. He then heard Henry burst into a much needed laugh.

“That your first shot son!” A local patron asked.

“First shot with me!” The proud papa proclaimed.

“Well let’s make it a second,” the man said. “Bartender, three more shots.”

“Oh god.” George’s eyes rolled while everyone at the bar laughed.

“Tonight son,” Henry announced while looking across the bar, “you’re gonna learn the true meaning of horror. I see they’ve got some vodka over there.”

Father and son proceeded to drink and mingle with the locals. Neither revealing much regarding the purpose of their visit. Over beer and pool they mentioned they were originally from a town up north, and were just passing through. George watched a side of his father he’d never seen before,  boisterous and social, and George found himself being rather reserved, not gaudy and demanding of attention. Perhaps, he thought, because he knew he wasn’t around people that would carry a conversation about splatter movies, video games, or Dungeons and Dragons. He was around regular people, the kind he’d usually look down on.

“He’s going to be a movie director!” His father announced to his new best friends. George looked on in confusion, not knowing how to respond. 

“Oh really!” an older woman said. “What do you think of that psycho in Milwaukee, you could make a movie about him?” His father looked at him with drunk eyes smiling while the woman waited for his response.

Looking back at his father, George soon blurted out, “Nah that guy was sick.”

As the night died down, father and son back at the bar. On the television the Brewers were tied with the Baltimore Orioles, that is until Milwuakee’s Robin Yount hit a double to bring Darryl Hamilton home to a 6-5 lead. Pointing to the boxed television set, Henry said “When you were first born I imagined taking you to a game in Milwaukee.” 

George turned to his father and said “We did see the Brewers, remember?”

“We did?”

“Yeah we went to a Phillies game when they played them. You were mad because I was cheering on Mike Schmidt.” George recalled, suddenly remembering his childhood when he actually had sports heroes.

“Well he was the best third baseman to ever play the game.” His father happily pointed out. “Damn, I forgot all about that.” The two then looked up at the TV to watch the rest of the game. Not too long after, the last Baltimore batter struck out, and Milwaukee won the night. Once it was wrapped up Henry said “Thanks for coming out here with me.”

“No problem.” Struggling to find what to say next, he said “I’m sorry dad, I’m sorry about, I don’t know,…” he looked back at the TV hoping to find some inspiration.

He felt his father’s hand on his back while hearing the words “It’s alright son. You were so little, you probably don’t remember her much.”

“I remember her a bit.” George recalled. “I remember when she stayed with us. We went to the store one day and I wanted a magazine.”

“You always were a reader.”

“Yeah, and mom didn’t want me to get this monster magazine but Sally got it for me.”

“Really? I don’t remember that.”

“You don’t?” George was surprised. “That’s what got me into horror movies.”

Henry’s eyes widened “Wow, really?” He shook his head, took a big gulp of his drink, then stared off into nothing.

“I remember when I was a kid,” Henry said after a while, “we had this teacher who brought in a guest speaker. Jewish guy. I’d never even known anyone Jewish before.”

“What did he talk about?” George asked, not realizing when this story would have taken place.

“He’d lived through all the shit.” Henry answered. “It was god awful. He was right there in Auschwitz.”

“Oh my god.”

“What he saw was unbelievable, stacks of bodies, and that awful smell. We were just kids though, we should have known better. We had to stay after school that day.”

“What happened?”

Henry looked almost too embarrassed to admit it, even decades later. He explained “Me and my friends, we were laughing at the guy. We were just dumb kids, but still, we should have known better.” Henry shook his head in disbelief  “I guess when it doesn’t happen to you, it’s almost like it’s not even real. With my sister, it was always real to me.”

Local news now came on the television. The Dhamer story was still hot, and the gory details of his crimes were once again the lead. George took another sip of his drink and thought out loud. “That son of a bitch.” Soon the bartender changed the channel and announced last call. Father and son closed the bar that night.

Waking up the next morning, Henry decided they should go to the cemetary to see Fred one more time. George felt odd attending the burial of someone neither he nor his father ever knew. However, it was likely no one noticed, as it seemed all of Plainfield was out. George and his father had to park their rental car down the road from the cemetery gate, as so many cars were already there. Walking on the dirt path, they passed an old couple, “That’s where I’ll be Ronald.” The elderly woman said, passing an empty plot amongst the tombstones. 

“Well don’t rush!” Her elderly companion said, squeezing her arm playfully.

The weather was pleasant that day at the Plainfield cemetery. The crowd gathered around as the priest read the words of Psalm 23, which was common for such occasions.

“The Lord is my shepard; I shall not want.

He makes me lie down in green pastures, he leads me beside the still waters.

He restores my soul, he leads me in the path of righteousness for his name’s sake.

Though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I fear no evil, for you are with me, your rod and your staff they comfort me.

You have prepared a table before me in the presence of my enemies, you have annointed my head with oil, my cup runs over. 

Surely goodness and mercy will follow me all of the days of my life,

and I shall dwell in the house of the Lord forever.”

After the service most of the crowd dispersed. George and Henry kept to themselves as Fred made small talk with a few of the locals. After a few minutes, Fred appeared surprised when he saw George and Henry. “Thanks for coming.” he said, to which the two nodded. “Come on over here.” Fred then motioned. George and Henry followed him across the cemetery to a series of graves. “These were his parents.” Fred whispered, pointing to two tombstones on the right which read Henry and Augusta respectively. “This was his brother Henry.” he said pointing to the left. Then, pointing to a smooth grey tombstone between Henry and Augusta, Fred said ‘“and here he is.” George and his father looked down, and there was the tombstone of one Ed Gein. Here lay the Ghoul of Plainfield, and no one ever knew.

“The Sheriff ‘found the body’ Fred spoke using air quotes “the next day. We couldn’t bring ourselves to go to the funeral. My wife went; said a lot of people came out. Everyone saw him as this odd guy, but they all remembered him working hard. Kids liked it when he babysat them. In the winter he would have snowball fights with them, in the summer he would buy them ice cream. We figured it was better no one knew.” 

Then he teared up. “I’m sorry.” he took out a handkerchief and blew his nose. “I’m sorry, he was my friend. We just had no idea.”

“It’s ok.” Henry said. “There was no way you could have known. It’s a good thing you came along that night when you did.” 

Putting his handkerchief away Fred revealed, “Except for your friend Robert I never told a soul. I mean my wife knew a little I guess, but me and Arthur, we never told anyone.” Looking at Henry he continued. “I don’t blame you for being mad about what we did, but I’m glad you know. You deserved to know. To tell you the truth it feels good to tell someone, as awful as it is.”

Henry gratefully put his hand on the man’s shoulder and said “Thank you for helping my sister, and, and for everything.”

The two embraced, then Fred pulled away and shook George’s hand before saying “You two take care now.” and left the father and son to themselves. Henry turned to his son and fell into his arms. George held his sobbing father while looking down at the grave. 

There was a time when George would have revelled in the story of Ed Gein. At one time, had he the opportunity, he would have ripped this tombstone right out of the ground and sold it for notoriety and fame, but here it lay, perfectly intact. It’s smooth stone reflecting the sunlight. Only a few people in the whole world ever knew of what the corpse that lay beneath had done in life.

There will be one more chapter of this tale of horrific alternate history tomorrow, just in time for Halloween. In the meantime, be safe.

Part Fifteen: Point of Divergence

Reader advisory, this chapter is graphic.

8/5/1991 Wisconsin

Henry and George were not about to drive all the way to Wisconsin. Flying out of the Lehigh Valley airport, after a short layover they landed in Green Bay. It was late when they landed, and they didn’t talk much as they spent the night at a hotel. The next day they rented a car and headed west. George had forgotten how flat it was out there, its pink soiled fields stretched for miles. Later, looking at the road map, George noticed Henry turned on 76 North at the town of Shiocton. He was expecting them to still follow 54 west.

“Why are we going north?” George asked.

Henry’s eyes still kept on the road. “We’re going home,” he answered. “we’re going to see my sister.”

Not long after they rolled into their old home of Amherst and found themselves at the gates of the Greenwood Cemetery. George followed as Henry slowly walked through the graveyard. He still remembered right where Sally was. He knelt down and touched his sister’s tombstone with his hand. George stayed a few feet behind, and after a few quiet minutes Henry rose back up. Together they looked down at Sally’s final resting place. Henry remembered how all those years when nobody believed her. Well, that wasn’t true, he believed her. Somehow he knew she was telling the truth, and he always stood by her. Whatever really did happen, he wished it wouldn’t have. He wished she was there with him now. “She would have liked you.” he said to his son.

“You think?” George asked quietly.

 “Yeah,” Henry nodded, still looking at the stone. “She was, well, she always did her own thing, like she really didn’t know how to do any different.” Finally, he looked away from the stone and said  “Well, let’s go find what this shit’s all about.”

Now heading south to Plainfield, Henry was surprised at what good time they were making. He didn’t remember the roads being this good when he was a kid. George kept looking out over the plains, still amazed how you could see so far off into the horizon. “I wouldn’t have been able to grow up here.” he observed.

“It’s where I grew up.” Henry said matter of factly, still looking at the empty road ahead.

“Why did you leave?”

“Hmm, once Sally was gone,” Henry reflected, “well, people were teasing Helen in school about it, and your mom always wanted to get out of Wisconsin.” He laughed and looked at George to say “I guess you can see why.” Looking back at the open sky he said “Bethlehem Steel was always hiring, so off we went.”

George looked back at Henry and added “I think mom wanted out of everything.”

Remembering how she ran around as soon as they settled into their new home, Henry replied “Yeah I think you’re right George, I think you’re right.”

Later that afternoon they pulled into a motel in Plainfield. George’s eyes scanned the small main street of another identical Wisconsin town and asked. “Did you ever come out here before?” 

“No never.” Henry said looking around.

They checked into the room. Henry previously informed Fred, a local resident, how Bloch got a hold of him and the former Sheriff. Henry had told the man he would call him once he got to town. In the hotel room he got Fred on the phone. “Get me a paper and pen.” he instructed George, who handed him the stationary. “Ok, empty lot on Archer and Second, about 6 miles out of town. You can see me in about an hour? Ok great, thank you.”

About an hour later Henry and George pulled into an empty lot on the outskirts of Plainfield. Before making this trip, George asked why they didn’t just call these people on the phone. Whatever the truth was, Henry wanted to find out face to face. 

A blue pickup truck waited for them on the side of the road. The sun was beginning to set when Henry and George arrived, They saw an old man get out of the pickup. Henry was expecting to meet two people. This sole figure had a long grey beard and denim overalls. He was probably a farmer, as Henry’s father had been. Henry pondered how, had George grown up here, they both would have ended up looking like this guy. George probably wouldn’t have liked that. As the man approached, Henry couldn’t help but think he looked familiar, but he couldn’t imagine where he could have seen him before. The man gave him a glance of recognition as well, before pointing at the two of them saying “Henry and George Kohler?” 

“That’s correct sir.” Henry said. 

“Fred.” the man stuck his hand out. “Pleasure to meet you.” He shook hands with both of them. Looking around at the near empty land, Henry could see a house off in the distance. “So is this where you live?”

“Down the road a bit.” Fred then pointed to the ground to explain, “This was Eddie Gein’s property.”

Henry asked “Who’s Eddie Gein?”

The night was slowly creeping in while the trio walked down the road by the empty field. Then the man began his tale. “It would have been around this spot where I found the car.” The father and son followed behind as they heard Fred say “I was driving home that night when I saw it,” turning back to look at Henry he said “what would have been your sister’s car, pulled over on the side of the road. Figured it was outta gas or something. Got out to take a look, that’s when I heard the gunshots. Wasn’t hunting season yet.” Pointing to a pile of rubble he said “I knew this property was right down the road. I figured someone was pulling a prank on poor Ed.”

“A prank?” Henry asked.

“People took advantage of Ed.” Fred explained. “He was a simple fellow, people borrowed money from him and didn’t pay him back, borrowed shit from him and kept it. One time somebody put a smoke bomb under the hood of his truck.” He shook his head, taking no pleasure in recounting this story. “Boy he was mad at that one. He was so mad he could have, could’ve….”

“Could have killed somebody?” George finished the sentence.

“Yeah.” Fred shook his head before speaking again. “Anyway, I head on down the road, next thing I know this girl is jumping up and down waving her arms around right in front of me. Almost ran her over honestly, but I just barely managed to spin the truck around without getting into a damn wreck. She hopped in the cab and screamed ‘Go go go!” Fred motioned with his arm. “I heard another gunshot and hit the gas. Couldn’t see anybody else out here, but I could have sworn I heard some squealing sound, like a hog got loose or something. You know,” he stopped and shook his head, “I never thought much of that sound until just now. Too much going on at the time for me to think of it, but Ed hadn’t had livestock for years.”

“So the girl you picked up,” Henry asked, “this was my sister?” 

“That would be her,” Fred answered, “she was hysterical. Got her back to my place, the wife made her some tea and tried to get her to calm down. She was babbling all this stuff about bodies and what not.” He looked at Henry to say “I’m sorry to say this sir, but I thought she was whacked out on dope.”

“It’s ok.” Henry assured him.

“Anyway,” Fred continued, “hearing those gunshots I was worried someone was harassing Eddie. So I called the Sheriff and told him to meet me at the Gein property.”

Now walking off the road onto the former Gein property, he pointed to the ground and noted that Eddie had a woodshed right around this spot. “I pulled my truck up and looked around. It was all dark, but that was to be expected, Ed didn’t have no electricity. I called out to him a few times but there was no answer. I couldn’t make heads or tales out of most of what your sister was saying, but she insisted there was a body in the woodshed. I was half afraid somebody killed Ed and put his body in there! So I went in.” Fred was now getting visibly upset. He lit a cigarette, took a puff, then looked at George and Henry and asked, “Do you hunt?” 

George nodded no but his father said “Sure I do.” 

“So you’ve gutted a deer?” 

Henry nodded and George asked, “So there was a deer inside?”

“No it was a person!” Fred nearly shouted as both George and Henry gasped. “She was hanging upside down off a crossbar, it was shoved right through her ankles, naked as the day she was born.” Fred sniffled as he took a drag of his cigarette. “Gutted like a damn animal, big gashing hole in her, her…”

“Jesus.” Henry said. He now understood how his sister suffered for what she had seen, and he knew this man also lived through his life with this memory.

“I ran out the shed and puked right then and there, probably right where he’s standing.” Fred pointed to George, who calmly took a step back. “The Sheriff, Arthur his name was, he arrived by that point,” Fred managed a smirk while he took time to wipe his eyes. “Bastard was laughing at me for puking, but his laughing scared the shit out of me. He comes up behind me and puts his hands on my shoulder asking if I was OK.” Now laughing himself he recalled “I almost shot him. He wasn’t laughing then, but he must have noticed the shed door open, so he went in and took a look. Next thing I know he comes running out and now he’s puking right next to me.”

“Jesus, I’m so sorry.” Henry said, astonished. 

“Who was in the shed?” George asked.

“You know,” Fred remembered, “I don’t think I even noticed her head was taken off, but he told me her head was laying in the shed. Told me later it was someone we knew, someone who had just died. Arthur and I were both at her funeral just the week before.”

“Wait, so her grave was robbed?” George said in disgust.

Fred nodded before continuing. “The Sheriff stormed to the porch. I don’t think even then I realized what Ed had done. I think in that moment, I was still thinking somebody else did it. But the Sheriff was pounding on the door, he was hot. ‘Eddie! Eddie!” Fred mimicked knocking on an invisible door. “Get your ass out here now!’ He didn’t wait for an answer and just kicked his damn door in. I followed behind. I was still worried about Ed. I remember yelling ‘Ed it’s Fredrick, are you ok?”

Pointing to an area in the now empty field, Fred continued, “It would have been right around here where we went in. The first thing we noticed was the smell. It was awful. There was no electricity in the house but we both had our flashlights. Apparently Ed lit his house with kerosene lamps, so a few of those were around. Eddie’s mom died years before, he was really close to her. I think once she died he just fell apart. His place was a wreck. We could see coffee cans stuffed with chewing gum, cracked yellow dentures laying around. There was a washtub filled with sand, piles of these old mystery magazines. It was a mess, and we didn’t even see the worst of it yet.”

“So was Ed in the house then?” Henry wondered aloud.

Fred nodded slowly. “We heard that sound, that squealing sound, almost like an animal crying.  We went in the next room, which looked like a bedroom, that’s where the sound was coming from. There it was, sitting on the bed, it was rocking back and forth, cradling a rifle in its hands.”

“Was it Ed?” George asked.

By now it was dark, the only light they had was from the moon, and the burning red glow of the cigarette. “I don’t know what made me say it.” Fred thought back to that horrible moment. “I didn’t think it could be Ed, I just didn’t think it could be. It had long grey hair like a woman’s, and its skin was old and wrinkled. I don’t know what made me say it, but I looked at this thing and said his name, ‘Ed?”

“Oh my god” Henry shuddered at the realization.

“It wasn’t Eddie’s face, but it was his eyes, Ed had this fleshy growth under his left eye, and I could see it. Those familiar eyes looked at me, but they had a hate in them I’d never known. It let out this horrible shriek and charged at me. Now Eddie was always a small man, but he was farmer strong, knocked me down and got right on top of me. His hands flailed at me. I reached up and pushed the face away, that face, it felt so strange, really oily and unnatural.” Pushing his hands in an upwards motion he said “the whole face pushed to the side, but his head stayed still like his skin was sliding on his skull. Then I saw his whole body get ripped off of me. Sheriff grabbed him by the collar and threw him hard into the wall. Then Arthur smashed the thing’s skull with the butt of his rifle. Now it just lay there, perfectly still on the ground. By then I knew what it was, but I didn’t want to admit it. Only when I got back to my feet, and the Sheriff pulled the mask off, did I face the fact that underneath was Ed Gein.”

George asked, “Wait, what was this mask he was wearing?” 

Fred took another long puff of his cigarette and said “It was the face of the woman we found in the shed.”

“Jesus christ are you fucking serious?” George exclaimed.

“So what happened to Ed then?” Henry asked. “He didn’t go to jail?

“Jail, huh, it was too late for that.” 

“Don’t tell me,” Henry said,  “don’t tell me you…”

Thinking back to his former friend laying face down in a pool of blood, remembering this accidental death, this awful homicide, Fred explained, “Sheriff checked his pulse, he was gone.” Fred stated. “He then asked me if I was alright. I sat down on the bed to catch my breath. I put my hand on the bedpost,” holding up his hand, palm down he said “I noticed it felt weird, then my hand jerked back, like it knew before I did. Jesus.” He took another puff of his cigarette.

“What was it?” Henry asked.

He then stated the horrible truth. “There were human skulls on his bed posts.”

“What?” George was astonished.

“Yeah. And while this was scaring the shit out of me the Sheriff examined the body. It wasn’t just the face he was wearing.”

Henry asked “What do you mean?”

“He was wearing a whole torso of human skin. It was a woman’s skin, the breasts were intact.” George and Henry listened in shock. “We didn’t even notice till later, but he was also wearing leggings made of human skin.”

“And you were his friend and you never knew!” Henry began to grow angry.

“Nobody knew!” Fred insisted. “Nobody was at his house for years, he didn’t even let people hunt on his property.” 

Then George asked “How many bodies do you think were in there?”

“We think ten.” 

“Why ten?” George asked.

“Because between the two rooms, there were eight other skin masks hanging from the walls, Some of them were preserved with oil and still looked lifelike. Some were stuffed with paper, some even had lipstick on them.” Fred wiped the tears from his eyes as he recalled “we could actually recognize some of the faces. Also pinned to the walls were nine obituaries from the newspaper. We think he dug graves of women that reminded him of his mother.”

“Why would he do that?” Henry asked.

“I’m not a shrink.” Fred answered. “I don’t know. Maybe he thought he could bring her back.”

“Wait, you said there were nine obituaries,” George observed, “but you think there were ten bodies?”

“In the kitchen, the Sheriff found a brown paper bag.” Fred explained. “I don’t know what made him reach in it, just instinct I guess, but he reached his hand in and grabbed a clump of hair. He pulled out another skin mask, and we both recognized the face.”

“Who was it?” George wondered.

“It was a woman named Mary, she ran a tavern up the road in Pine Grove, a middle aged woman. She disappeared a few years prior. Rumor had it she was mixed up with the mob, all we knew was she disappeared one day. A cartridge was found on the floor of her tavern along with a pool of blood. We always figured someone from her days in Chicago caught up with her, but there she was. The Sheriff put her face down in a bowl, then he realized that bowl was made of a human skull.”

George’s father broke down weeping, almost falling into his son’s arms. “My god my god!” he wailed, fully comprehending both the horror his poor sister suffered, and the madness she escaped. 

George was tearing up himself. “Ok we’ve heard enough” he held his hand up toward Fred.

“No, no,” Henry looked back up. “No tell us everything, we came all this way to hear this.” Wiping his eyes he insisted “Go on. I wanna know everything you saw.”

Having already begun his grotesque story, and knowing his audience fully accepted its insanity, Fred recounted the rest of the facts as if he were merely reading from an encyclopedia. “In the kitchen there were four chairs that were covered in human skin.” he recounted. “We also found human skin lampshades, bracelets, human skin covering a wastebasket, and on the sheath of a hunting knife. There was a belt made of nipples, and on the shade pull to the curtains was a pair of human lips.”

George fell to his knees, no longer able to contain the bile in his stomach, he leaned over and vomited on the ground, just as Fred and the Sheriff had all those years ago. His father wrapped his son in his arms and helped him back to his feet. Wiping his mouth with his son’s handkerchief George looked up and said “Go on.”

“We found a box with nine vulva’s inside,” Fred stated, still in a monotone voice, “one was dabbed with silver paint and trimmed with red ribbon, the one on top seemed the freshest. Art noticed they were covered in small crystals, then we realized they were sprinkled with salt. In another box were four noses, and in a cardboard Quaker Oates container were scraps of human innards.”

Having recounted the last of the gruesome details Fred apologized to Henry. ” I’m really sorry sir, but I have no doubt that whatever your sister said was absolutely true.”

George wondered. “What about the rest of the house?”

“The other rooms were boarded up,” Fred recalled. “so naturally we thought ‘Jesus Christ what are we gonna find next?’ I didn’t want to know, but we had to find out. I closed my eyes as Arthur kicked down a locked door to a room downstairs.” 

“What did you find? George asked in dreaded anticipation.

“It was nothing. Apparently he only used the kitchen and the adjacent bedroom, all the other rooms in the house were abandoned. There were five whole rooms upstairs that went completely unused. His mother’s upstairs bedroom was like a shrine to her. He had her Bible sitting on the nightstand, and this painting of Christ looking up at an angel was still hanging on the wall. The room was perfectly preserved, he didn’t even go in there to dust. It was downright creepy how untouched those rooms were. So that was it,” Fred concluded, “that was everything we found.”

Looking at the empty space where the house once stood, Henry asked, “So what happened to the house?”

“Arthur was pretty adamant, if word ever got out about this, every freak show in a thousand miles would come take a look.” George nodded in perfect understanding as Fred explained. “Carnies would be showing off his car and would have turned the home into a spook house.” Randomly pointing to a few spots around the land he revealed “We gathered up what remains we could and buried them in a few spots around the property. Not deep enough, as your buddy Robert found out last time, but we buried them. Gein’s house was lit by kerosene lamps, and luckily there was plenty of kerosene lying around. So we left Ed’s body in there and burned the place to the ground.” 

“And nobody ever found out? Henry said.

“Arthur made sure nothing turned up.” Fred then dropped his cigarette and stomped it out.

“How do you know he didn’t kill anyone else?” Henry asked angrily. “There could be someone else out there just like me with relation that ran across this maniac and maybe got killed and the family never knew!”

“You think I never wrestled with that?” Fred answered back. “Mary was the only suspected murder case in the area. I mean sometimes a hunter would go missing or something like that. I remember this teenage girl disappeared years before, but that was nowhere near here. The Sheriff insisted this be kept quiet, and I wasn’t gonna disobey him.” Raising his hands up he said “I’m not saying what we did was right, but we did what we did, it’s done. I’m really sorry about what happened to your sister.” 

Henry was still angered at what had just been revealed, but he kept quiet while George asked “So what did you tell Sally then?” 

“She was still pretty upset when we went back,” Fred answered. “but I think it was some relief to her once she saw us again. I told my wife to go upstairs while we talked to her in the kitchen. We assured her the man was dead, and told her about the fire.” He puffed his cigarette again. “I’m sorry to say it, but the Sheriff got a little hard on her. Made her swear she’d never tell anyone, told her to never come to this town again. He threatened to plant dope on her and throw her in jail. I didn’t like that he did that, but she promised. We let her sleep in our spare room that night. The Sheriff slept on my couch, though I don’t know if he did much sleeping. The next day we got her some gas and took her home. I actually drove her car back, and she rode with the Sheriff.” 

“I remember you now!” Henry recalled. “I remember the Sheriff bringing her home that day. I was wondering why someone else was driving my dad’s car.” Henry said, remembering his childhood innocence. 

“Shit that was your dad’s car!” Fred exclaimed almost laughing.

“My sister and him got into an argument that night and she took off with it.”

“Well god damn!” Fred exclaimed, shaking his head. “I guess you would have been just a little kid then huh?”

“Yeah” Henry said sternly, still upset about the secret he’d just learned.

George interjected, “You said the sheriff is still here?” Both George and Henry anticipated talking to him as well.

Fred looked down. “Well, he was. He just passed away actually. Funeral is tomorrow.” He thought for a minute, then said “You should come by the cemetery. I’d, I’d like to show you something.” 

“We’ll be out of here in the morning.” Henry quickly said. George put his hand on his father’s shoulder and interjected.

“We’ll see how we feel tomorrow.” George said.

Fred breathed a deep sigh and nodded his head. “Alright, you two take care now.” He then went back to his truck, and soon both vehicles drove away from the empty field. 

It was eerily quiet in the rental car as it rode by the empty fields. Henry didnt even turn the radio on. George stared blankly out the window, he didn’t dare touch the dial. As they approached what few lights shined in the town ahead he finally looked at his father and said “We ought to go to the cemetary tomorrow. His father remained silent. “Well don’t you want to know what he wanted to show us?” There was no answer as George turned and looked back out the window just in time to watch the sign for their hotel pass by. Continuing down the road, looked back at his father, who was eyeing a neon sign down the street. “Dad where are we going?”

Parking the rental car near a tavern he looked to George and said “Son, I think we both need a drink.”

Part Fourteen: A Bloch Letter

July 26th, 1991. Bethlehem Pennsylvania

George spent the afternoon at the comic store to blow off some steam. He’d just quit his sucky job, tired of working for such stupid people, but now he didn’t have to deal with them anymore. Now he drifted away into the Marvel Universe, picking up a new issue of the Ghost Rider series among other comics. The flame-skulled supernatural hero was fighting alongside the Punisher, who himself had a skull logo painted on his Kevlar vest. Ghost Rider and the Punisher together killing ninjas, what else was there in life?

There was one more stop to make before going home. At Blockbuster video he dropped off a VHS rental. He’d rented Silence of the Lambs. Great movie, about this serial killer who liked to dress up in the clothes of his victims. Pretty fucked up stuff. 

Finally coming home to his new apartment he thumbed through his mail. Usual shit, bills, catalogues, offers for cheap CD’s from Columbia House. Then there was a letter sent via priority mail. It was forwarded from his old apartment he’d just moved out of. He opened it up to find a letter addressed to him. “Cool Robert Bloch wrote to me again.” he thought to himself. He hadn’t heard from him in a while and he wondered what he had to say. Setting his comic books down he began to read the letter.

“Hello. It has been some time since we had correspondence. I hope this letter finds you well, and that you are still writing and pursuing your creative endeavors. Recently I recalled our prior conversation when we met at that horror convention. I confess that I did not put much stock in the tale of your relative. Please do not take offense to this, I never doubted you had heard the tale you related to me. It is just when you are in my profession, a myriad of people come out of the woodwork to tell you all manner of tales of haunted houses, grisly murders and other such maniacal ramblings. H.P. Lovecraft was a good friend to me, who I miss dearly, and to this day I am approached by those who speculate that Howard was in fact in contact with the Elder things or the Great Old ones, and that Cthulhu really does in fact sleep under the Pacific Ocean, and will one day rise up and take back the world he once ruled. But I suppose there are worse problems to face than the grievances of a successful author.

Anyway, I am digressing. I am digressing because even as I write these words I am afraid to finish them. Even as the ink hits these pages I speculate on whether I should continue,

but continue I must. This past summer I found myself back in Milwaukee at a high school reunion. From there I took a spontaneous road trip to the northern part of the state to look up an old friend. After my visit I saw a sign for the town of Plainfield. Remembering your tale, and having some time to kill, I spent a day there, taking a look into the local history. I read about an occasional fire or hunting accident, but at the time nothing particularly sensational stood out.

Rogbert E. Gard and L.G. Sorden wrote, “Wisconsin contains, if the yarns are an indication, more ghosts per square mile than any state in the nation.” If such a statement is true, then the town I stumbled into may be the most haunted place of all.

That evening, at a local tavern, the horrible news broke regarding the murderer in Milwaukee and the gruesome discoveries in his home. I cannot begin to imagine the pain being endured by the families of his victims. It is too much to think of. As an awful supplement to that terror, the bar patrons near me began spinning a yarn about their own local ghoul, an odd eccentric man from decades ago, who lived in a farmhouse near this community. As the tales were told, I sank away in a corner booth, becoming invisible as I jotted down a few points about their tales. Some locals defended this now deceased citizen, insisting he was harmless eccentric, others claimed things much more sinister.

After that night, I pursued my investigation, posing as a friend of your family. I can no longer stall the narrative, I must force myself to simply blurt out the truth. After talking to a first hand witness, and, after extreme hesitation, hearing the same story from another source, I have reached a terrible conclusion.

The stories of your Aunt were absolutely true.

Had she lived a very very long life, she could not have expected, nor could she have wished to see, as much of the mad and macabre as she saw that night. Enclosed is the contact information of the two eye-witnesses I spoke to, which they have permitted me to share. One, a retired local sheriff, the other, a longtime resident of Plainfield. I do not wish to retell this terrible thing I have heard. I shall if you insist, but I believe it will be better for you not to hear it second hand. I would encourage you to share this information with your father as well. 

No doubt you have heard of the recent awful crimes in Milwaukee. As I recall, you had a fascination with the outlaw members of our nation. While I confess an irresistible curiosity with these current crimes myself, my interest stems from how such a thing could occur. I would politely suggest to you that if you wish to learn about those who commit such horrible acts, you owe it to the victims to learn about them too.

It is my hope that this information may provide some peace to your family.

Sincerely yours, 

Robert Bloch”

Henry couldn’t remember the last time he played guitar, but after a few minutes of jamming with Franki it was like riding a bike. He loved the way she looked at him when he played, knowing full well he had a lot of catching up to do to match her talent, but she was nothing but encouraging as he strummed his old guitar. 

Helen liked her too, he was glad they’d gotten along so well. She was just a kid when he went through with his divorce. It was ugly, but Alice never stopped being good to Helen. Helen never liked it, especially after her mom died, when he started seeing other women, but she was older now and she could tell Franki was a good lady. 

His daughter also had someone in her life now. Ed was a teacher and she started going to church with him. Henry wasn’t read for that yet, Franki introduced him to the Course in Miracles which they started doing together, which was something about gaining awareness of the presence of love in your life. He didn’t know about all that either, but right now he knew that he was having a good time jamming on his porch with new and old people in his life. Helen accompanied he and Franki with a Tambourine, and Ed chimed in on his harmonica.

Their jam session was soon drowned out by the loud engine of a Chevy Impala and the metal that blasted out its windows. He didn’t recognize the massive car at first, but he noticed his daughter give a confused look as it miraculously managed to parallel park.

“He was still putting on weight.” Henry thought as his son got out of the car and crossed the street. Looking at the manilla envelope in his hand, he wondered what he wanted.

“Who is that?” Franki whispered to Helen.

Henry saw Franki’s eyes light up with joy as he calmly answered, “It’s my son.”

As George came up the steps Franki greeted him with arms wide open. “It’s so nice to meet you!” She hugged him tight. Pulling back she said “I’m Franki.”

“Nice to meet you!” George said in a chipper voice. Looking her over, he was impressed his dad landed such a nice lady.

“Hey George!” His sister greeted him with a small hug before introducing him to Ed.

“Hi,” George said surprised. “What brings you out here?”

“Well we were just jamming.” Ed answered.

“Cool beans.” George said as he looked over to his father.

Henry remained in his seat, still holding onto his guitar. Eyeing the envelope in his hand he asked “So what do you got there?”

Glancing nervously at dad’s lady friend, George said “Well I gotta talk to you about something.”

Henry knew Franki to be in tune with other people’s presence, their aura as she called it. He felt a pang of frustration as she said “Oh ok, well I’ll let you two catch up.” She took a step toward the porch steps but Henry wouldn’t have it.

“Whatever you have to say to me you can say to her.”

Franki thankfully remained still as George just blurted it out. “I’ve been talking with this author, you wouldn’t know him, but, anyway he’s from Wisconsin. I had him look into a few things for me, and well, he found out some things about my Aunt.”

Growing more irritated Henry said “You still trying to make a movie?”

“No dad, no dad I’m not making movies.” George said defensively, “I think what your sister said was true.”

“Yeah and…” This was no great revelation to Henry.

Holding up the envelope George explained “I got contact info on two people in this little town in Wisconsin. They can confirm her story.”

Henry shook his head. “That’s all in the past now,” he said dismissively. “What are you doing bringing all that up?”

Still holding the envelope in his hand, George looked confused as he looked around the porch. “Ok, well have a nice day then..” 

“Oh but won’t you stay a while.” Franki asked.

“Have a nice day.” George said, not looking at Franki or anyone else as he turned back towards his car. Henry’s daughter gave him a disappointed look as he watched his son walk off the porch and drive away.

“Fucking asshole!” George thought to himself as he slammed his apartment door shut and blasted Macabre’s album Grim Reality. He didn’t understand it. The demonic like vocals to Hot Rods to Hell growled as George vented to himself. Dad spent his whole life defending his sister when everyone thought she was nuts. George remembered his dad standing by Aunt Sally when she was in and out of rehab or the prison or the hospital or wherever the hell she was. Now here was proof that she wasn’t a total lunatic, and his dad didn’t care. Looking at the letter again with the contact information at the bottom, he thought about calling these people himself, but then he thought, “What’s the use?” and threw Bloch’s letter in the trash.

Now Natural Disaster, an instrumental track, shredded through his stereo speakers, but he turned it down when he realized someone was banging on his door. Probably a stupid neighbor about to complain about the noise. When he opened the door, his father was standing there. George said nothing, but his father just had one question. “Are you up for a road trip?”  

Part Thirteen: Mother

July 23rd, 1991. Plainfield Wisconsin

“Just a little odd.” Bloch pondered to himself how people probably thought that about him. He now sat down in his hotel room and looked over his notes. Every town has their own local weirdo, but something about this Eddie character drew him, as if they were meant to be inextricably linked. Shrunken heads, was it possible they were from the Philippines? Could the residents of Plainfield have had a ghoul in their midst that was never discovered? Quite a story it would make, a domineering religiously fanatical mother, a quiet, unassuming, isolated fellow who lived with a terrible secret. Quite a story indeed. 

The light stayed on as Robert lay in the hotel bed. He couldn’t get Gein out of his mind. He also wondered if anyone else was even staying in this hotel. Looking at the old flimsy door to the outer hallway, he was reminded of his long deceased friend H.P. Lovecraft, and his story Shadow of Innsmouth, in which the main character stumbled across a strange New England town, and, after staying in a cheap hotel, is almost kidnapped, before narrowly escaping and learning the town’s deadly secrets. The author wished for no parallels to his current experience.

In the morning he planned to drive out to what was the Gein property, just to take a look. In the library he made note of the fire that took Gein’s life back in 1957 and of its location. If anyone questioned him he could just say he got lost. That sheriff that saw him at the bar looked long retired, and he didn’t expect any trouble from the proper authorities. He would check it out in the morning, yeah in the morning. As his head rested on the pillow, he looked at the shower through the open door of the small dingy bathroom. Funny thing, the shower curtain was missing. He needed a good shower. As his eyes grew heavy he thought he would wash up then get a good night sleep, then in the morning go check out that property.

The walls were glowing white, and laying there in the hospital bed his mother’s skin looked a pale yellow, almost like she was already to… no, don’t even think it. She’s still there, he’s holding her weak hand in his own. He can’t believe how much smaller she looks, almost as if the cancer actually shrunk her. He’s crying again. He hates this part. She’s looking at him now, but only with her eyes as her face remains a deathlike in its motionless. He can only bring himself to say one word in that boyish voice he had so long ago. “Mother.” 

Robert hated that dream. He hadn’t had it in a long time, but tonight hit with extra potency. His whole body shook when he woke up. It’s never like in the movies where you sit straight up after a nightmare. He was still laying in his bed, but his chest heaved rapidly as he looked up at the light in his room. 

He couldn’t wait anymore. The shower remained dry as he rushed out the door. The clerk was fast asleep as he walked out to the vacant streets that were soon filled with the sound of the engine of his rental car. 

Robert guessed that back in Ed’s time this drive must have taken longer, but now in the 90’s even godforsaken places like this had paved roads. So it didn’t take him long to reach his destination, especially since he felt pulled by some synchronistic force, as if the whole universe conspired to have him drive down this particular road on this particular night.

The former Gein property looked to be an unassuming empty field. Still, as he turned the engine key but left the car light shining he felt an eerie sensation, as if he had found some long missing link in the chain of madness that was this soon to be ending century.

Stepping out of the car, the headlights revealed nothing special for him to see, but then he heard the sound. It was the sound or dirt flying through the air and hitting the earth. Had some ghoul still lurked in this place, was a spirit haunting these woods? At the edge of the light Bloch spotted a patch of fur, which was soon met with a pair of white fangs. Bloch bounced back at the sound of barking as two dogs were fighting in the darkness, their animalistic growling and grunting filled the night around him. As the two animals rolled into the light he noticed they were fighting over a bone. It was a long bone, long and white, still with specks of dirt on it that were now mixing with the dogs’ saliva. Robert couldn’t help but notice how long the bone was, in fact it looked long enough to be, no, it couldn’t be, could it?

“Get out of here!” Bloch shouted as he kicked a bit of dirt towards the dogs. He surprised himself at how loud he shouted. Off in the distance, he could scarcely make out the shape of another house. A second floor light was on, its white glow was almost like a star in the distance. He hoped he hadn’t awakened the occupant from a good night sleep, something he should be having now instead of spooking around on an abandoned property.

The dogs ran off into the trees, and Bloch’s noticed an exposed patch of earth that had been dug up by the dogs. In the dirt Bloch could see another shade of white. A set of teeth covered in dirt grinned back at him with a deathly smile. He couldn’t admit it, but he suspected as much when he saw the size of the bone the dogs were fighting over. Now, the evidence lay before him plain as day. Robert Bloch was looking at the remains of a human being.

Still, his mind couldn’t believe it, he had to feel it, to touch it with his hands. Without fear he ran to the shallow grave and scooped up the skull in his hand. Its eyes, black, as the Wisconsin night, stared back at him. What truth’s had it to reveal? Robert felt like Shakespeares’s Hamlet, speaking to the remains of Yorick. Perhaps these were the remains of Ed Gein himself. Alas poor Gein, a fellow of infinite strangeness, he carried this town on his back a million times, and is now abhorred in the townfolk’s imagination. Here in Bloch’s hand rests the final fate of all mankind, no matter what fables he writes or what athletics he might achieve, one day all will be bones in the ground such as these. 

Bloch turned to see a second pair of circular lights shining on him, but this set of lights were moving in the darkness. The truck’s engine kept running as the driver’s side door opened, then swiftly slammed shut. Robert heard the ratchet of the shotgun before seeing Fred from the bar angrily step forward.

“What the hell are you doing out here!”

Robert’s trembling hands dropped the skull, it hit the earth below in a low thud as the truck’s engine continued roaring. “Sir, uh, we need to tell the police, there’s..”

“You aint telling the police nothing!” Good God what horror had he stumbled into? Was Robert now looking at a murderer? Bloch glanced down at the small hole in the earth and knew full well this man could shoot him and bury him out here and no one would be the wiser. Country such as this could hide violence for years and never give up its secrets. The man then shot not bullets but words at the helpless author. “What are you doing on this property!”

Robert’s hands still trembled as he held them in the air. Sweat erupted on his face, both from fear and the humid July air. “Sir I’m very sorry to trespass on your property, I was just..”

“This aint my property, it’s not your property either!” Fred shouted. “Sheriff was all riled up when I took him home, said you were writing shit down! You one of those Goddamn reporters?”

“No, no, I promise you I’m not a reporter. I’m a, I’m, I’m a friend of the Kohler family, did you know Sally Kohler?”

Now it was the armed man who bore a look of trepidation. As the shotgun barrel drew away from him Robert spoke more confidently. “I’m a friend of her family, and they asked me to look into something.” The man’s jaw fell and the shotgun lowered to the ground. “You probably wouldn’t have known her, but she was out here a long time ago. I believe”, he looked down at the bones lying at his feet and said, “I believe she may have met Ed Gein.”

July 23rd, 1991. Plainfield Wisconsin

“Just a little odd.” Bloch pondered to himself how people probably thought that about him. He now sat down in his hotel room and looked over his notes. Every town has their own local weirdo, but something about this Eddie character drew him, as if they were meant to be inextricably linked. Shrunken heads, was it possible they were from the Philippines? Could the residents of Plainfield have had a ghoul in their midst that was never discovered? Quite a story it would make, a domineering religiously fanatical mother, a quiet, unassuming, isolated fellow who lived with a terrible secret. Quite a story indeed. 

The light stayed on as Robert lay in the hotel bed. He couldn’t get Gein out of his mind. He also wondered if anyone else was even staying in this hotel. Looking at the old flimsy door to the outer hallway, he was reminded of his long deceased friend H.P. Lovecraft, and his story Shadow of Innsmouth, in which the main character stumbled across a strange New England town, and, after staying in a cheap hotel, is almost kidnapped, before narrowly escaping and learning the town’s deadly secrets. The author wished for no parallels to his current experience.

In the morning he planned to drive out to what was the Gein property, just to take a look. In the library he made note of the fire that took Gein’s life back in 1957 and of its location. If anyone questioned him he could just say he got lost. That sheriff that saw him at the bar looked long retired, and he didn’t expect any trouble from the proper authorities. He would check it out in the morning, yeah in the morning. As his head rested on the pillow, he looked at the shower through the open door of the small dingy bathroom. Funny thing, the shower curtain was missing. He needed a good shower. As his eyes grew heavy he thought he would wash up then get a good night sleep, then in the morning go check out that property.

The walls were glowing white, and laying there in the hospital bed his mother’s skin looked a pale yellow, almost like she was already to… no, don’t even think it. She’s still there, he’s holding her weak hand in his own. He can’t believe how much smaller she looks, almost as if the cancer actually shrunk her. He’s crying again. He hates this part. She’s looking at him now, but only with her eyes as her face remains a deathlike in its motionless. He can only bring himself to say one word in that boyish voice he had so long ago. “Mother.” 

Robert hated that dream. He hadn’t had it in a long time, but tonight hit with extra potency. His whole body shook when he woke up. It’s never like in the movies where you sit straight up after a nightmare. He was still laying in his bed, but his chest heaved rapidly as he looked up at the light in his room. 

He couldn’t wait anymore. The shower remained dry as he rushed out the door. The clerk was fast asleep as he walked out to the vacant streets that were soon filled with the sound of the engine of his rental car. 

Robert guessed that back in Ed’s time this drive must have taken longer, but now in the 90’s even godforsaken places like this had paved roads. So it didn’t take him long to reach his destination, especially since he felt pulled by some synchronistic force, as if the whole universe conspired to have him drive down this particular road on this particular night.

The former Gein property looked to be an unassuming empty field. Still, as he turned the engine key but left the car light shining he felt an eerie sensation, as if he had found some long missing link in the chain of madness that was this soon to be ending century.

Stepping out of the car, the headlights revealed nothing special for him to see, but then he heard the sound. It was the sound or dirt flying through the air and hitting the earth. Had some ghoul still lurked in this place, was a spirit haunting these woods? At the edge of the light Bloch spotted a patch of fur, which was soon met with a pair of white fangs. Bloch bounced back at the sound of barking as two dogs were fighting in the darkness, their animalistic growling and grunting filled the night around him. As the two animals rolled into the light he noticed they were fighting over a bone. It was a long bone, long and white, still with specks of dirt on it that were now mixing with the dogs’ saliva. Robert couldn’t help but notice how long the bone was, in fact it looked long enough to be, no, it couldn’t be, could it?

“Get out of here!” Bloch shouted as he kicked a bit of dirt towards the dogs. He surprised himself at how loud he shouted. Off in the distance, he could scarcely make out the shape of another house. A second floor light was on, its white glow was almost like a star in the distance. He hoped he hadn’t awakened the occupant from a good night sleep, something he should be having now instead of spooking around on an abandoned property.

The dogs ran off into the trees, and Bloch’s noticed an exposed patch of earth that had been dug up by the dogs. In the dirt Bloch could see another shade of white. A set of teeth covered in dirt grinned back at him with a deathly smile. He couldn’t admit it, but he suspected as much when he saw the size of the bone the dogs were fighting over. Now, the evidence lay before him plain as day. Robert Bloch was looking at the remains of a human being.

Still, his mind couldn’t believe it, he had to feel it, to touch it with his hands. Without fear he ran to the shallow grave and scooped up the skull in his hand. Its eyes, black, as the Wisconsin night, stared back at him. What truth’s had it to reveal? Robert felt like Shakespeares’s Hamlet, speaking to the remains of Yorick. Perhaps these were the remains of Ed Gein himself. Alas poor Gein, a fellow of infinite strangeness, he carried this town on his back a million times, and is now abhorred in the townfolk’s imagination. Here in Bloch’s hand rests the final fate of all mankind, no matter what fables he writes or what athletics he might achieve, one day all will be bones in the ground such as these. 

Bloch turned to see a second pair of circular lights shining on him, but this set of lights were moving in the darkness. The truck’s engine kept running as the driver’s side door opened, then swiftly slammed shut. Robert heard the ratchet of the shotgun before seeing Fred from the bar angrily step forward.

“What the hell are you doing out here!”

Robert’s trembling hands dropped the skull, it hit the earth below in a low thud as the truck’s engine continued roaring. “Sir, uh, we need to tell the police, there’s..”

“You aint telling the police nothing!” Good God what horror had he stumbled into? Was Robert now looking at a murderer? Bloch glanced down at the small hole in the earth and knew full well this man could shoot him and bury him out here and no one would be the wiser. Country such as this could hide violence for years and never give up its secrets. The man then shot not bullets but words at the helpless author. “What are you doing on this property!”

Robert’s hands still trembled as he held them in the air. Sweat erupted on his face, both from fear and the humid July air. “Sir I’m very sorry to trespass on your property, I was just..”

“This aint my property, it’s not your property either!” Fred shouted. “Sheriff was all riled up when I took him home, said you were writing shit down! You one of those Goddamn reporters?”

“No, no, I promise you I’m not a reporter. I’m a, I’m, I’m a friend of the Kohler family, did you know Sally Kohler?”

Now it was the armed man who bore a look of trepidation. As the shotgun barrel drew away from him Robert spoke more confidently. “I’m a friend of her family, and they asked me to look into something.” The man’s jaw fell and the shotgun lowered to the ground. “You probably wouldn’t have known her, but she was out here a long time ago. I believe”, he looked down at the bones lying at his feet and said, “I believe she may have met Ed Gein.”

Part Twelve: The Ghoul of Plainfield

July 23rd, 1991. Plainfield Wisconsin

Robert Bloch sat at a bar in Plainfield Wisconsin as the local news delivered a shocking report on just discovered local serial killer Jeffrey Dahmer, who had been arrested after police found a man fleeing from his home. In Dahmer’s apartment, police found two entire human skeletons, seven human heads, and an assortment of other human anatomy. As the news report continued, the tavern remained eerily quiet. Then, finally, someone broke the silence. “Well you know who that sounded like?” said an old man at the bar.

“Oh come on, don’t say it Lester.” a woman, Bloch presumed to be the man’s wife, replied.

“I’ll say it Irene, because you know we’re all thinking it.”  Lester insisted. “It sounds like old Eddie Gein.“ Lester said, half laughing.

Bloch then recognized the clerk at the store earlier, who was probably the youngest patron in this establishment. The young man asked, “Who?” 

“Was before your time,” Lester explained, “and you should be thankful for that. For years Ed Gein was kind of the village idiot around here.”

“Well why does he remind you of that guy?” The young man said pointing to the TV.

“I’ll tell you why.” Another older man interrupted. “When I was a kid me and a buddy was over his house one time.”

“Bullshit Bob!” Lester objected. “You were in his house?”

“Yeah,” Bob insisted. “God this must have been 40 years on now. But yeah, me and my buddy Jim used to go to movies and football games with him. One day we were over his house playing cards. Well, I wasn’t too into playing cards as a kid, so Ed gave me this tool to play around with that punched holes in paper. I’d run out of paper so I went in his room to get more. I go in there and, my hand to god, there’s two shrunken heads in the room!”

“Get the hell out!” Lester exclaimed.

“Swear to god!” Bob raised his hand in earnest. “He said he had a cousin that got them from the Philippines during the war.”

“Well he for damn sure didn’t have any family who fought in the Philippines! The only family he had was that religious nutjob of a mom.” Lester pointed to the screen as the local news story still continued, “Ten to one says that freak had mommy issues.” 

“Did you see anything else?” Irene asked Bob.

“No, but now that I think of it he didn’t let us over the house anymore after that.”

“Well, these heads you saw, did they look like Phillipino heads?” Lester asked. “Like were they dark skinned?”

His eyes widened as he thought about the answer. “Well no, now that I think of it, they weren’t.”  

“So what,” another older man said. He sat next to another gentlemen who remained quiet, but appeared visibly agitated at the conversation. “We brought all kinds of shit back from the war. Why I had a buddy who fought the Japs in Okinawa. I was over his place one time and he says ‘Hey look at this!’ He had a necklace made of human ears!”

“Did you take them home with you Fred?” Lester joked. Getting no reply Lester then said to the quiet man next to him. “What about you Sheriff, what was your take on Gein?”

At first the man only glared at Lester. Finally, he answered with a question of his own. “Well do you remember people coming up missing when I was on the force?”

“All right, just saying!” Lester threw up his hands in jest.

“So this Ed guy,” the younger patron asked, “did he ever kill anybody?” 

While the locals conversed about their local legend, Robert quietly placed an order of french fries, “I’m gonna sit in the booth over there.” he told the bartender, pointing to the back corner. Bloch was now like a fly on the wall. He took out his notebook and wrote down this name that he never heard before, Ed Gein. 

“People always suspected he killed his brother.” Another older woman spoke up. “My dad was on the fire department. When Ed was young he reported a fire on his property, and said he couldn’t find his brother, but my dad said when they got to the property Ed led everyone right to his brother’s body. Didn’t seem affected by the fire, but the body had bruises on its head.”

“Yeah, and there was Mary Hogan who ran that Crossroads Tavern up north in Pine Grove.” Another old man spoke up. “Ed was always after her, then she came up missing one day.” 

“Now cut the shit!” The former Sheriff protested angrily. 

Fred, sitting next to the ex-lawman, turned a watchful eye to his friend while he added, “Yeah come on, Elmo,” speaking to the man who brought up Mary Hogan. “Everyone knew she was mixed up with the mob. She left Chicago to hide out here, mob probably tracked her down and took care of her.”

“Ed was always in there though.” Elmo insisted. “I think she reminded him of his mother.”

“Bloody Mary reminded Ed of his holier than thou mother?” Lester objected. “I don’t think so!”

 “I’m telling you, I remember when she first went missing.” Elmo began his story. “Ed came down to help out at the sawmill one day, and we were all joking with him about Mary. I remember saying ‘Eddie if you had spent more time courting Mary she’d be cooking for you instead of being missing.’ He looked at us with that deadpan face of his and said “She’s not missing. She’s down the house now.’ He always joked like that, saying that he went and got her in his pickup truck and took her home.”

Lester then said “Yeah and when that teenage girl went missing you said she was at your house.”

“Well maybe she was! Elmo said, bursting into laughter.

“Wait so whatever happened to Ed?” The young man asked.

“He and his place went up in flames back in the 50s.” Bob said, then pointed to Fred and added “Just an empty property now out by where Fred lives. Look I’m not saying he was like that guy.” Bob tried to explain as he pointed to the TV, “but if he did crazy shit like that then he did it right under our noses.”

Irene heard enough “Look you stupid bastard,” she looked at Elmo but pointed to the former policemen “Arthur served this community for years! Are you saying he didn’t do his job?”

“Hey leave me out of this.” Arthur raised his hands in protest.

“I’m not saying he didn’t do his job. but you know where Ed lived?” Elmo reasoned. ‘He had that farmhouse out of town away from everybody. He could have been doing all kinds of massacres out there and nobody ever would have found out about it.”

“Now that’s enough of this bullshit!” The former sheriff now rose to his feet. 

“Come on man take it easy.” Fred stood up behind him trying to caution his friend.

Arthur practically charged at Elmo shouting “Mary Hogan was into all kinds of crooked shit and it finally caught up with her! Ed died in a fire because the stupid bastard didn’t have electricity and lit himself up with a kerosene lamp! Now that’s the last I wanna hear of this shit!”

Elmo raised his hands nervously, “Ok ok I wasn’t insulting you. I’m sorry, I was just saying.”

“Well stop saying!” Arthur got nose to nose with him. “I’m just saying, I’m saying shut your damn mouth!”

Fred came up behind his friend and patted him on the back. “It’s OK Art, it’s OK let’s just go.” He finally managed to get his friend away from the man.

“Make sure he gets home ok.” the barkeep requested as Fred escorted his friend to the door.

“I will.” Fred assured her.

As they walked out the door, Art turned back, Bloch froze as he realized he’d caught the eye of the retired cop. No one else in the bar noticed Robert taking notes. He could rip up the pages if need be, he could say he was making a note to call home, he was sure he could think of some cover if the former Sheriff approached. Fortunately, his scribbled notes were safe as Fred re-entered and said “Come on buddy I’ll get you home” and helped Art get out the door.

After this the conversation was minimal, but Bloch still kept his ears peeled. “I’m telling you, if you paid Ed a dollar you got a dollar and a half worth of work out of him.” Irene insisted. “He was a hard working man, just a little odd.”

Part Eleven: What If?

July 23rd, 1991. Wisconsin

Robert Bloch’s high school class always had reunions at odd years. In fact, the thirty-ninth reunion of the class of 1934 was the very first one they ever had. Back then the Cold War was in full swing, so maybe they didn’t want to chance waiting til forty. This summer was their fifty-seventh reunion. Bloch wondered if there was a special name for such an odd number, like how fifty years is the golden anniversary and sixty five is the sapphire.

Driving through the plains of Wisconsin, he laughed to himself as he thought back to the reunion a few nights ago. One of his classmates, who really shouldn’t still be wearing those low cut blouses, leaned over her dinner plate while eying his watch and asked “What have you been doing since you got out of school?” He delighted her with an impromptu story that he ran a garbage truck company. As a matter of fact, he was the top garbage service in three counties. “Trash, manure, medical waste, we haul it all!” he said with a jovial wave of his fist. She wasn’t eyeing up that nice watch of his anymore.

Later at the bar one of his friends looked that old classmate over and said “I don’t know about you Bloch. If you played your cards right you could have had her in the shower tonight screaming bloody murder!”

“I don’t think my wife would approve!” Robert laughed.

“Who knows?” His mischievous friend said. “Maybe she would have watched!” Robert missed the humor of his classmates, but he also missed his wife. Elly wasn’t up for another trip to the great state of Wisconsin. It was probably for the best though. He learned that night one of his friends who couldn’t make the reunion was living in one of those little towns in the northern part of the state. He managed to get a hold of him, and via a rental car went out to see him for a few days.

Now that visit was finished and he was heading back south. Eventually he would turn east and fly back home via Milwaukee. Speeding down the highway he noticed the road sign, ninety miles to Plainfield. Something about that name sounded familiar, Plainfield, but he couldn’t remember. Not long after, he saw another sign, now sixty miles away. About a mile later he finally remembered, that big guy back at that horror convention, and his story about the psycho house. As he drove by the empty fields he tried to remember the details. 

Less than an hour later Plainfield was ahead of him, and on a whim he decided to get off the highway. Coming into the one horse town, he stopped in at a general store to get a drink. He couldn’t resist a peek at the magazine rack. Long gone were the magazines like Weird Tales and Amazing Stories that writers like himself and old HPL got their breaks in. At least they still had a few comic books. A young man next to him was thumbing through a magazine about professional wrestling. Robert never knew they even printed such things. He didn’t understand what the appeal was, grown men in tights pretending to fight each other. As he looked over the shoulder of the young man, he spied a report about a wrestling event from Japan. A color photograph portrayed a grappler wearing a mask of a deformed face while holding a chainsaw over his head. The caption read this was a new wrestler named Saw-Man. Saw-Man? he thought to himself. Wasn’t that a character from a horror movie?

Either way, Robert grabbed some stationary and a soda and got in line to check out. In front of him were a much older couple who placed a few items on the counter, but the clerk charged them nothing. He’d heard of a senior citizen discount but this was ridiculous! As Robert paid for his own items he watched the happy couple walk out of the store. Maybe they used to be the owners or something. As he looked at them, he thought to himself that he hoped he and Elly made it that long.

Robert then walked outside and looked down the street. There was a hotel nearby, he didn’t imagine many people staying here.

“Elly it’s me.” Robert said as the phone picked up.

“Hi honey, how was your visit?” He heard his wife’s sweet voice over the phone.

“It was great, really fun. Listen I decided to stay out here a few extra days.”

“Oh ok, where are you now?”

“I’m in a little town called Plainfield.”

“Plainfield, never heard of it. Who do you know there?”

“Actually no one,” Robert answered, “which is the reason I called. I need you to get something for me.”

“Ok.”

He hated the thought of subjecting her to this madness, but he had no other recourse. “In my desk,” he went on to explain, “I think in one of the right hand drawers there’s a stack of papers from that convention I went to last Halloween, see if you can grab it for me.”

“Sure.”

“There should be a folder with just a few papers in it.” He explained. “There’s stuff written down in there about Painfield.”

After a few minutes her voice came back on the line. “Ok I got it.”

“Great, there’s just a few papers in there, I want you to read whatever it says, and I’m going to copy it down.“

“Ok,” he could hear the papers rustling. He took a deep breath as he remembered what she was about to discover. “Plainfield Wisconsin, October 1957, Sally Kohler,” Robert wrote it all down. “Oh my god,” she exclaimed as she continued reading. “Is this true?” 

He almost regretted calling her now “Well I don’t know honey, I’m going to try to find out.” Then, feeling the need to soldier on, he said “Just keep reading it please.”

She finished the last remaining notes before adding, “Honey please be careful.”

“I will Eleanor, thank you. I’ll be home in a few days, love you”

It wasn’t that late in the day. Robert managed to find the library, and the old lady helped him find the microfiche of the local newspapers. Given the Plainfield Sun only came out once a week, it didn’t take long for Robert to scan through years worth of papers. Not much going on of course. There was the occasional hunting accident or hunter disappearing. News about Evelyn Hartley made its way all the way out here. He remembered that case, poor young girl; disappeared while babysitting. It was the biggest manhunt in state history and it didn’t turn up a thing.

Locally there was not much else of note. Looked like two times back in the 50’s there was a fire at the same property, an old farmhouse on the edge of town. Also in the early 50’s there was a woman who ran a bar not far from here that came up missing. Blood and a bullet cartridge were found in the bar. This seemed to be the most serious occurrence in this area he could find. After decades of scant local news whizzed by he started to feel stupid. What did he think he would find? There was no rash of local disappearances, not even a little nugget that could inspire a good yarn.

Soon nightfall came, and Robert didn’t have many options in terms of entertainment. He imagined he’d write a letter to his young fan tonight, or at least started a new piece of fiction, but there was nothing to write home about. Maybe he should have known better. Lacking in options, he found himself at a local tavern that evening. A few people eyeballed him as he came in. He thought to himself he might have been the first out of town person to come into this tavern since, maybe ever. Looking around at the mostly older crowd, he would have bet the same people had probably been coming here for years. 

On the TV screen the Brewers had an away game with the Kansas City Royals. He couldn’t remember the last time he even watched a ball game. Way back in his youth, what felt like a thousand years ago now, there was a special father’s and son’s day exhibition game. Robert couldn’t remember who it was against, but he remembered it was hot. As he put down a few dollars for his beer at the bar he remembered the then outrageous price of a dime for a ballpark soda. That day, during the seventh inning stretch, big league player Hack Wilson tossed an autographed ball directly at him. The ball flew perfectly through the air. He reached his hand up to grab it, looking for his first moment of athletic glory, and the ball slipped through his fingers. He watched the white sphere stitched in red fall deep down into the abyss below the open bleacher seats. He never knew if he had disapointed his father. He did just get his first pair of glasses, so at least he had that for an excuse. But what if? 

Sitting at the bar with his drink in his hand, he couldn’t help ask himself this question, a question probably faced by all in their twilight years. What if? What if, by chance he was able to catch that ball? What if he then leapt into the more extroverted world of sports, and what if he never dove into that most introverted world of books? What if he hit home runs or scored touchdowns instead of spinning strange yarns of the Elder Gods and dead Whitechapel murderers? It was too late for such questions now, Robert did not regret his path in life. He did what he loved, but as he saw his reflection in the mirror at the back of the bar, he mulled over how his work never hit the nerve of the American consciousness. While he certainly had a successful career as a novelist, and even wrote a handful of screenplays and television episodes, he never had that one piece of work that captured the public’s imagination the way Stephen King had, or the way his old friend and mentor H. P. Lovecraft had, or, as he watched the ball player on TV hit a homerun to a cheering crowd, the way athletes had. Too bad it was hit by Todd Benzinger of the Royals.

Long lost in thought, he didn’t even notice later when the game ended, a game he’d stopped watching so long ago. The tavern was now filled with the tune of the local news station, whose Breaking News logo emblazoned the screen. The news caster then appeared, he seemed more serious than usual, his voice in fact was almost shaking.

“Ladies and gentlemen, we come to you tonight with extremely disturbing news from right here in our area.” The Wisconsin anchorman said. “We warn you, the following segment may be too disturbing for some viewers. Milwaukee police have arrested thirty-one year old Jeffrey Dhamer, after finding an adult male fleeing Dhamrer’s apartment with one wrist handcuffed. Police arrested Dhamer in his home, after which they found a scene of pure terror.” After taking a visibly deep breath, the anchor man continued. “Police found seventy four polaroid photos of corpses at various stages of dismemberment, which were all taken in his home. Dhamer’s apartment was filled with actual human remains, including two entire human skeletons, seven human skulls, a pair of human hands, an entire human torso, two human hearts, and a bag of other human organs.”

As the report went on, and footage from the killer’s home was shown, Bloch looked around to see all eyes were on the screen. At this moment, nobody ordered, nobody drank, solids and stripes remained still on the pool table, the bar-keep even turned the jukebox off. Bloch couldn’t put his finger on it, but somehow he knew this horrific news hit the people of this tiny town with an extra sting.

Finally, an old man at the bar broke the silence. “Well you know who that sounded like….” 

Part Ten: Deranged

George worked a lot of overtime to afford the VIP party after the convention closed. He was glad Robert Bloch spoke on the panel, because he might not have recognized him otherwise. With his usual gregariousness he approached the man he’d been corresponding with for the first time. “Robert Bloch!” he said. “I’m the one you’ve been writing too.” 

“Of course you are.” Robert said, raising his glass to him.

“So what did you think of my story?”

“It was terrible.” the acclaimed author said in an instant.

George froze solid as if he’d been dowesed in liquid nitrogen, for once in his life he was at a total loss for words.

Robert burst into laughter as someone patted him on the shoulder saying “You were always great at encouragement Bloch! Is that how Lovecraft talked to you?”

“What he said to me was even worse!” Bloch laughingly replied.

“Yeah I’ll bet!” The man laughed loud along with Robert before going to get himself a drink.

Seeing the young fan was still standing there, Robert said “Let’s try this again.” and reached his hand out to introduce himself. “I’m Robert Bloch, what can I do ya for?”

“George Kohler.” He gave the author a strong handshake. “Pleasure to meet you.”

“Ok, that name is ringing a bell.” Bloch now recalled as his hand was released from the exuberant fan’s mighty grip. “You sent me a story, what was it called?”

“Well I started it as a screenplay when I was in film school, but after I left film school I decided to write it out as a novel.”

Bloch’s eyes rolled as he asked “And the name of this soon to be classic of American literature?”

“My story I wrote was called Deranged.” George said proudly.

Bloch registered recognition as he recalled the gruesome tale. “Ah yes,” noticing the Zodiac Killer shirt Robert remarked “I should have known it was you when I saw that shirt.”

“Yeah, I forgot my Zodiac mask at home. Totally sucks.”

Bloch’s voice trailed off as he replied. “Hmm that’s such a shame.” 

“Yeah it blows donkey balls.” 

“Haha, I wouldn’t know, I’m more of a sheep man myself.”

George was loving the author’s humor. After letting out another good laugh he then asked, “Anyway what did you think of my story?”

“Well it was pretty gruesome, I’ll give you that.”

“Yeah, cool!” he nodded.

“Hmm, well let’s get a drink and sit down.”

As they sat down at a nearby table, George reached into his bag for what he wanted to give to the author. He’d forgotten he’d just purchased two of Bloch’s books. Pulling those out, he asked the author to sign them.

“I’d be happy to.” Opening up American Gothic and beginning his inscription, Robert said “That Holmes, he was a real evil man.”

“Yeah, that torture chamber was nuts!” Geroge smiled with pleasure.

Now signing the second book Robert began, “So your story, well it was quite gruesome in the details, I didn’t understand what the motivation was. What would drive a man so do such unspeakable things?”

“I don’t know, he’s just nuts.” George said matter of factly.

Handing the books back to his fan, Bloch then asked. “Ok, so let’s look at it this way, what inspired you to write your story?”

“Well when I was a kid, I had this Aunt who had this really crazy story.”

The author keyed in on George’s use of the past tense, “You ‘had’ and Aunt?”

“Yeah, she was in and out of mental institutions a lot, and eventually she killed herself.”

“I’m sorry to hear that.” Robert said in sympathy.

“Yeah, anyway when she was a kid one time she stole her dad’s car and ran off. Story goes she ran out of gas, and got stuck near this old farmhouse. My Aunt got out of the car and went into the house to get help. When my Aunt went inside she said there were bodies everywhere!” George grew very animated as he told this part of the story. “Heads were hanging on the wall and all this gruesome shit! That’s what I put in my story. Then she said something chased her out of the house with a gun.”

“Some THING?” The author stressed the word ‘thing.’

“That’s what my Aunt always said. It had long hair like a chic, but it squealed like an animal. It chased her right out of there. Later the cops found her and brought her home. That’s how the story goes at least.”

“That sounds awful. Did the police ever investigate?”

“Nah,” George said dismissively. “My Aunt was always messed up on drugs. She was like a beatnik, and was always going on about something. One time it would be UFO’s, another time it would be Atlantis, you know the type.”

Robert nodded. “I guess I do.”

“Yeah, but that one story she always stuck with though.” George stated. “She told that story a lot and it never changed. Would have made one hell of a movie!”

“Could have been worse than Chainsaw.” Robert quietly pondered.

“Yeah man.” George’s mind instantly lit up with the possibilities. “If they combined the hillbillies in chainsaw with the shit my Aunt saw. Jesus, that would be the most terrifying movie ever made!”

Robert was cautiously skeptical yet still disturbed. “I’d never heard a story like this before.” He then asked. “Did this supposedly happen around here?”

“No, I’m from Wisconsin originally. Ever hear of a town called Amherst?” 

“Oh I see.” Robert answered. “No, I can’t say that I have.”

“Well, that’s one of the reasons I wanted to talk to you.” Before putting the books away he pulled out a manilla folder from his bag. “I know you’re from Milwaukee.” he said as he slid the folder across the table. “This is the basic information about what happened. If you ever had a chance, I thought you could look into it.”

“Well I live in Los Angeles now.” Bloch said. “I’m sure you’re aware they don’t film much television or film in the great state of Wisconsin.”

“Oh right.” In a rare moment, George’s voice deflated with enthusiasm. Given he’d been sending letters to Bloch’s Los Angeles address, it didn’t occur to him that the author might not be spending much time in the plain states. 

“Well you took this time to put this together, let’s see what we have.” He opened the folder to look at a few sheets of paper with notes written on it.

“I don’t have much to go on.” George hesitantly cautioned.

“Plainfield Wisconsin,” Bloch looked at the pages. “Never heard of that place either. Fall of 1957,” he continued to read, there was a brief description of what his aunt reported, along with the description of George’s grandfather’s car and a few other notes, including Sally’s suicide and George’s home address.

“Well I do visit the old homestead on occasion.” Robert said, closing the folder. “Next time I do I can give it a look.”

“That would be awesome!” George said. They spent the short time they had remaining talking about writing and the business.

Thank you all for your support of this story thus far. There will be seven more chapters of ghoulish mayham and alternate history which will be spaced out from now till Halloween. On a less macabe note please remain safe and take care of yourselves. Just think, we’re almost done with this horrific year!