Posts Tagged ‘Jeffrey Dahmer’

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 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….”