Thursday, April 25, 2013
Note to reader: This story was intended to be an homage to one of my favorite horror films, Angel Heart. The plot of the first draft was quite different, involved more characters, extra backstory, but it became very disjointed. It was all over the place. This is a shorter, revised version of the original. It’s not my best, but I figured I’d post it and let others be the judge.
Monday, January 26th, 1998… back when the average price of gasoline was less than two dollars a gallon. That’s hard to believe unless you were around to see it. With five-dollar gas prices and the unemployment rate at an all-time high, a lot of people are probably wishing it was 1998 right about now.
Donnie Reed could have been anywhere that day. He could’ve been in Los Angeles, covering the American Music Awards. Or he could’ve been at the president’s press conference, asking justifiably obscene questions.
Mr. President, what was it like getting a hummer in the Oval Office?
Did she spit, or swallow?
Whatever happened to the blue dress?
No such luck. Instead, Reed’s editor threw him some petty cash to cover his expenses and shuffled him off to Dorchester. His assignment was a follow-up on an unsolved murder case. Reed’s paper had run an article about the murder a month prior.
The victim’s name was Trevor Virden. Twenty-eight years old. Virden was stabbed in cold blood on the night of December 23rd. If that doesn’t sound bad enough, no knife was involved in the equation. His killer used a jagged icicle, rammed it through his left eye. Leave it to the media to dub the killer the Ice Man.
An elderly woman, Betty Loomis, had placed a call to Reed’s office a day earlier, claiming to have vital information about the murder. Information she was willing to share, for a price. And if there’s one thing Reed learned from his field of work, it’s that everyone has a price.
The truth can be bought just as easily as it can be molded, adjusted, or exploited to sell a few extra copies.
Reed’s paper was the Daily Buzz, their operations based in Manhattan. His editor was a pretentious little prick named Allen Menke.
Menke had an affinity for bowties, which he felt distracted from his plump head. He usually wore a fedora to cover his bald spot. Other days he sported a comb over. He still wasn’t fooling anybody.
Menke had sent Reed with a blank check, advising him to pay no more than two grand for any pertinent information. The old woman said she had a price; she just never bothered to list it. Reed debated whether her information would even be worth that much. He assumed this was another case of some poor old lady starving for attention.
The trip to Dorchester was actually a pleasant reprieve from the last article he was writing about a serial rapist targeting women on the subway. The most disturbing fact he unearthed during his research was the fact that a rape suspect, if found guilty, can serve as little as five years in prison. You can serve more time for armed robbery or the sale of narcotics.
Reed caught the eastbound train from Penn Station at ten and arrived in Babylon by noon. From there, his only option was the bus. He would have gladly settled for a taxi. But Menke was a frugal bastard and barely gave Reed enough cash to cover his expenses.
Reed waited for the bus with his one suitcase in hand. He chose to pack light. He didn’t know how long he’d be staying and he hoped it would be no more than a day.
He came fully prepared to face the harsh weather conditions. He was wearing a down jacket, wool cap, gloves, and snow boots. The snow had yet to fall, but was expected by late afternoon. Anywhere from two inches to two feet depending on the area. Dorchester was one of the towns expected to bear the brunt of the storm.
Reed sat in back of the bus, snatching the last seat available. The man sitting next to him was a homely fellow who smelled like he just snaked his way out of the sewer. Clumps of black grim and dirt were visibly embedded under his overgrown fingernails. At one point he offered Reed some skittles he was munching on. But his hands were sticky and Reed could almost see the germs clinging to them, multiplying in numbers. He retched and brushed him away with his hands as he rejected the man’s offer.
A simple “no thank you” would have sufficed. But Reed wasn’t paid to be nice, to consider the feelings of others. His job was to sniff out the stories that would sell copies. That’s all his editor cared about. To Allen Menke, the truth is like a rubber band. You can stretch it as far as you please.
“That’s a nice watch,” the man said, glancing at Reed’s timepiece. He was just being polite and trying to make conversation.
“It’s a genuine Rolex,” Reed said with contempt. “It’s worth more than your life.”
“Where are you heading?” the man asked, unscathed by his rude remark.
“Dorchester,” was all Reed replied.
“Me, I’m heading to Eden Harbor,” the man shared as if Reed cared enough to know. “They have a shelter out there. Warm meals, hot showers, clean beds. I feel like I hit the jackpot. Hey, you wouldn’t happen to have any spare change, would you?”
Reed sighed and yanked the cord dangling overhead to let the driver know he was getting off.
A five minute walk led Reed down Edgerton Street, right to the home of Betty Loomis.
It was a two-story house with yellow shutters and blue vinyl siding. The grass was waist-high and scorched brown by the sun. The mailbox by the front porch was overflowing with bills and letters.
An old bronze knocker hung from the center of the door. Reed banged several times before he heard the sound of a lock clicking. The door slid open halfway and two grey eyes peered out.
“Whatever you’re selling, I’m not interested,” the old lady said, her voice dry and raspy.
“No, ma'am, I’m not selling anything. My name is Donnie Reed, a reporter. I work for the Daily Buzz. You called our office recently about Trevor Virden.”
“Oh,” she said, her dementia subsiding for the moment. “Trevor Virden; that degenerate. Well, come in I guess.”
Reed entered and she locked the door behind him. “I’ll start some tea if you like. Make yourself at home in the living room.”
Loomis set the kettle on the stove. Reed was immediately turned off by the mustard yellow wallpaper. Worse was the furniture shrink-wrapped in plastic.
She left the kettle to join Donnie in the living room. She sat adjacent to him on the plastic covered sofa. Donnie was seated in an old red armchair covered in dust.
Betty Loomis claimed to be sixty. She was younger than she appeared. The years had clearly not been kind to her. Her figure was extremely gaunt, bones nearly exposed through thin layers of saggy skin.
She had a chalky complexion. A graveyard tan as Reed liked to call it. Before she sat, she extended her wrinkly hand to Reed, which he accepted. It felt like sandpaper grinding against his smooth palm.
“So, Mrs. Loomis,” Donne said, trying to avoid the hideous wart on the tip of her nose. He didn’t want to appear impolite by staring at it. Out of the corner of his eye, he could’ve sworn he saw it pulsing for a second. But he wrote it off as his eyes playing tricks on him. “You said you knew Trevor Virden?”
“What paper did you say you were from?”
“The Daily Buzz. You contacted our office recently, said you had some information you would share.”
“I’ve heard of it,” she said, lighting a cigarette and exhaling smoke in Donnie’s direction. She seemed to do it deliberately. “I can’t say I remember calling you though. Are you sure you have the right address?”
“If you’re name is Betty Loomis then I’m at the right place.”
She blew another puff of smoke in his face. “If I help you, what’s in it for me?”
“My editor sent me with a blank check. How’s five hundred sound?”
“Make it a grand and you got yourself a deal.”
Reed filled out the check and slid it across the coffee table that separated them.
The kettle started hissing, spewing steam from its spout. She stubbed her cigarette in the ceramic ashtray and excused herself.
Reed noted that the whole house reeked of stale smoke. The window shades were stained yellow from nicotine, the same color as Betty’s teeth. She returned with two cups of Earl Grey and honey on the side. Uninterested, Reed placed his cup on the table and pulled out his notepad.
“So how did you know Trevor Virden?” Reed inquired.
“Trevor used to mow the lawn and shovel the driveway when it snowed. One day he used my bathroom and stole a very expensive vase. I never pressed charges but I never hired him again.”
“How come you didn’t press charges?”
“Things have changed. Times have changed. The youth of America has fallen flat on their asses. They’re all dopers, sinners, fornicators. But sending them to jail won’t teach them a lesson. So I let it go. He never did return the vase either.”
“Is that it?” Reed sighed, disappointed.
“Yeah, that’s all.”
“I was led to believe you had information regarding Trevor’s murder.”
“I heard about it on the news. But I don’t have anything useful to tell you. That boy was trouble. Anyone in this town could have killed him. Except me. I never leave the house.”
“I never would have guessed,” Reed quipped. “Well, thank you for your time.” Reed closed his notepad and placed it back in his jacket. From the corner of his eye, he saw the wart again. This was no mind trick. No hallucination. The wart was pulsing.
It burst suddenly, a dark puss oozing forth. Donnie’s hand found its way across his mouth, stifling his urge to vomit. What followed next made him squeal like a pig in an abattoir… maggots.
Hundreds of them poured out, spilling across the hardwood floor, crawling in every direction.
Betty’s eyes rolled back in her head, her lips parted. Her jaws stretched wider than humanly possible. She was like a human snake.
A horrible, prolonged screech rose from the back of her throat. Her wrinkly sandpaper hands reached out to accept the check Reed left on the table. In seconds, the check was torn to shreds and hurled through the air like confetti.
She spoke with a deep, growling pitch. “You’re trapped like a rat. No car. No money. No way out.”
“What are you?” he gasped.
“Like the soul, I am eternal. The body is weak. The flesh is weak. It dies, yes. But the soul lives on forever. And when you die, your soul will come crawling to me. Your suffering will be everlasting.”
Reed sat aghast, watched as her mouth closed and her eyes rolled back to their proper position. Her senses returned all at once, as if she was jolted back into reality.
He examined the hardwood floors, but the maggots had evaporated from his sight. And that hideous yellow wart was still hanging from her nose.
“What are you doing in my house?” Loomis asked, not seeming to recall a minute of her episode. “Get out now. I’ll call the police. GET OUT.”
She really didn’t need to ask twice. Reed bolted, running faster than he ever had before in his life. He ran ten straight blocks before finally stopping to catch his breath and process it all.
He wished drugs were a factor. If Reed had been a druggie, he could’ve written this whole episode off as nothing but a nightmarish hallucination. A bad trip revisited. But Reed lived a clean life, only drinking on occasion.
“What you saw wasn’t real,” he said aloud, if only to humor himself. He repeated it again and again. “It wasn’t real. Wasn’t real.”
No matter how many times he echoed those words, he couldn’t shake the image of her white, expressionless eyes. He had no explanation for the maggots that had vanished in the blink of an eye. No sane explanations at least.
Betty Loomis, or whatever it was that had taken hold of her, was right about one thing. Reed was trapped. It was two o’clock and he had just missed the last bus to Babylon. The train was not an option, as it only went as far as Babylon.
He spotted a payphone–a rare sight nowadays–on Ocean Avenue and used the change from his pocket to phone Menke. He tried several times, but each time he got a busy signal.
It was getting chilly. The snow had begun, thick flakes that stuck to every surface. It was expected to continue throughout the day and into the night. Reed wondered if the bus would even make it tomorrow.
Reed sought refuge in Smith’s Café. He wasn’t even hungry. Nothing on the menu dazzled him or warmed his taste buds. It was the same greasy, deep fried crap you’d find at any roadside diner.
The waitress looked as if she could be Betty’s long lost twin, sans the nose wart. Her nametag identified her as Blair.
He didn’t want any shit about taking up space and not ordering anything, so he just picked a BLT and a cup of coffee.
“You familiar with the area?”
“I lived here my whole life,” the old waitress sighed. “I couldn’t get out if I wanted.”
“Do you know Betty Loomis?"
“Know her? Darling, I’m her sister.”
“I was just at her house and I saw–”
“Her house? What were you doing there?"
“Well, I’m a reporter and she called our office to–”
“She never called,” Blair cut him off again. “She’s been dead for six years. Her house is still on the market.”
“But I… never mind. I’ll take some more coffee.”
The waitress eyed him carefully as she fetched the coffee. He couldn’t tell her his story. She would never believe him.
The fiberglass doors swung open and in walked a young woman, her heels clicking across the tiled floor. She was strikingly gorgeous and for a second, he was able to block out the haunting vision of Betty Loomis.
Dark, shoulder-length hair. Long, smooth legs. A slim, athletic figure. She was wearing a red satin dress that ended above her knees. She approached Reed like she was on a mission.
“Are you Donnie Reed?” she asked, leaning across the table, her ample cleavage in his line of sight.
“That’s me,” he said, a little choked up. “And who might you be besides beautiful?”
She blushed, giggled teasingly. “Lucille Ferr. But everyone calls me Lucy. You can too.” She said that last part with a smile that could only be described as seductive.
“Well, Lucy, what can I do for you?”
“I heard you were in town. Word travels fast around these parts. I can only assume you’re here working on a story about the Ice Man. I have some information about Trevor Virden.”
“I appreciate your offer, but the information is pointless. I have no money to offer you in return. And at this point, I think the story is off.”
“I’m not interested in money. I’m more about justice. And Trevor deserves more than this. I went to the police several times, but they’re not interested in hearing my side of the story.”
“So tell me. I’m all ears.”
She sat down; crossing her legs that Reed couldn’t help but gaze at. “Trevor Virden and I had a contract of sorts. A business relationship. Personal business that I can’t divulge. Warren Devlin wanted a piece of the action, but we turned him down. When we did, he threatened us. I never thought a thing about it until they found Trevor’s body.”
“You know where I can find this Warren Devlin?” This was Reed’s macho side coming out of him. If Lucille had been a man, there wouldn’t even have been a conversation.
“I hear he’s crashing at the Starlight Motel.”
“Lucky me,” Reed quipped. “That’s where my editor made reservations for me.”
“Do yourself a favor; watch your back. Who knows, you might wind up with a story to share after all.”
“Why are you being so helpful?”
“Like I said, I’m all for justice. Warren Devlin, or whoever the killer may be, deserves to pay. If you can put the pieces together, solve this, I’ll give you a handsome reward. Anything you desire.” That last line was all the motivation Reed needed.
“On a scale of one to ten, how sure are you that Devlin is the Ice Man?”
“At least an eight.”
“Do you happen to know what room he’s staying in?”
“I can’t help you there.” She yanked a napkin from the dispenser and jotted down her phone number with a pen from her purse. “This is a way to contact me if you find anything. Don’t be shy.”
When Lucille departed, Reed paid his check and bailed. He tried one last time to phone his editor from the café. The line was still busy.
Donnie’s home for the night was room 14 of the Starlight Motel. It didn’t astonish Reed that this was the cheapest place of lodging in all of Dorchester.
The room had a musty odor. Bland floral patterned carpets and cheap purple drapes. The smoke alarm in the ceiling had been disconnected long ago. That explained the glass ashtray atop the nightstand.
In the top dresser drawer, he found a copy of the Gideon bible along with a notecard listing all of the televisions programming, including the adult channels. Religion and porn side by side… only in America.
His window overlooked the hotel courtyard, which was blanketed by thick layer of ice and snow. It had already accumulated to a foot and a half.
The heater was busted, the thermostat stuck below ten degrees. The blizzard showed no signs up letting up and the temperature was expected to drop every hour.
Reed had questioned the desk clerk about Warren Devlin, but was given the usual shtick. I’m sorry but we’re not at liberty to share information about our guests. The parking lot was vacant though. Reed was convinced he might actually be the only one there.
He tried the TV, but reception was terrible due to the blizzard. He turned it off and decided to take a rest.
He drifted off without realizing, sleeping for six straight hours. He awoke in the dead of night. A faint scent wafted through the air, growing more potent as Reed regained his senses. The smell was gasoline. It grew so strong his sinuses burned.
The sudden wakeup threw him off his balance. He couldn’t see straight. But he felt an ominous presence. Something was in the room with him. He couldn’t see it, but he could sense it.
As the fog cleared from his head and his sight came into focus, he saw it standing at the foot of the bed. The stench of decay was overpowering, causing Reed to gag like a punch to the throat.
There was nothing remotely human about it. Nothing but fragments of a living person behind its grotesque façade of charred flesh. White pulsing maggots festered inside the hollow sockets that once contained eyes. Its voice croaked as its lips parted, and a parade of maggots poured from its mouth.
“Don’t feel bad,” it croaked. “Daddy still loves you.”
Reed closed his eyes, shaking his head in disbelief. “Whatever you are, you’re not my father. My father died when I was twelve. You’re not him. You’re not real.”
He held them shut for what felt like a century. When he opened his eyes, this ghastly apparition had vanished. All that remained was a lingering stench of burned flesh and gasoline.
The room was frigid. He wrapped a blanket around himself and checked the thermostat. The temperature had fallen below zero. If the Ice Man didn’t kill him, the cold surely would.
He tried calling the front desk to complain about the heat. To his chagrin, the line was dead. Maybe it was his paranoia getting the best of him, but he decided to glance through the peephole before opening the door.
In the distance he could make out a hooded figure, snow buried up to their knees. The Ice Man was the first thought that jumped into his mind.
This figure remained stationary, standing like a statue. Their face was not visible, and they didn’t seem to move a muscle. Reed watched for ten minutes, scared to make his move.
He backed away from the door, tried the phone again. But the lines were still down.
Remember what Lucille told you, Reed thought. Warren Devlin is staying here. It could be him outside. But how would he know who I am? Did someone give me up? Is Lucille in cahoots with this guy? Did that bitch set me up?
Warren Devlin. Why did that name sound so familiar? He recalled an Allison Devlin. A name he was reminded of when Lucille first approached him.
Reed’s dad was sneaking around behind his moms back. He used to meet Allison Devlin once a week, at a place called the Gateway. As their affair intensified, the meetings grew more frequent.
Barry Reed felt no guilt, no remorse. His wife catching on didn’t stop him either. After a while he didn’t even bother to hide his car anymore when they would meet. It got to the point where it wasn’t a secret. It was just gossip.
This sickened Reed, who was young at the time, but still old enough to understand his father’s unfaithful acts. The kids at school thought it was a big joke. His father was an embarrassment and he was the one paying for his sins.
Warren Devlin… was Allison’s husband. He committed suicide when his wife announced she was leaving him for good. The same time Barry Reed announced he was filing for divorce.
Warren died of asphyxiation. He locked himself in his garage with his car running. Reed’s father still wanted to go through with the divorce.
Donnie returned to the door and glared through the peephole. The hooded figure was marching through the snow. Reed checked the locks on the door and searched for something, anything he could use to his defense.
The ice bucket was empty and wasn’t heavy enough to inflict damage. The television was too big to lift. The phone was screwed into the nightstand. He tried ripping off the shower rod, but succeeded only in tearing up the curtain.
He tiptoed to the door, his eye peering through the glass. They were standing so close to the door it was impossible to see a face.
The dark figure raised their hand to the door and in an instant, the locks snapped and the door flew open. They stepped into the light and the hood was pulled back.
“You’re the Ice Man?” Reed asked in a state of confusion.
“Ice Woman,” Lucille corrected him.
“You killed Trevor Virden. Why?”
“He was already dead. Trevor raped and strangled a little girl in Texas. Almost got away with it too. But I always come back to claim what’s mine. Their souls.”
“Lucy Ferr… Lucifer.”
“It took you long enough to figure it out.”
“You’re the devil?”
“In the flesh.”
“Why me? What did I ever do?”
“The answer is something you’ve been running away from since you were a child. Your fate was sealed the second you lit that match. The fire that consumed Barry Reed has also consumed your spirit, weakened your flesh. Your time was inevitable. All I did was speed up the clock.”
“You want my life? My soul? You’ll have to take it, bitch.”
With the snap of her fingers, a circle of flames rose from beneath, entrapping them both. The flames grew higher, burned hotter at every attempt to escape this deathtrap. There was no escape.
No way out. This was his fate. His soul doomed to an eternity of torture.
“Let the punishment fit the crime,” Lucille cackled as the flames devoured them.