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Torso

by Justin von Bosau about a month ago in slasher

A fishing trip with friends

The day had actually been a very nice one until we found the body. The sun had been shining; perfect day for fishing, Edison had commented, and Harker had joked that it was still up for debate--Edison might scare them away with his balding mug peeking over the edge of the boat. Edison had made a sour face, but finally acquiesced, laughing with us as we three headed down to the lakeside.

Harker's cabin was in a long-secluded path, so removed from the world at large that I could scarcely remember the shining buildings of the city when I shut my eyes. His family had kept it for years--centuries, really; a couple acres with access to a lake that were roped off and kept absolutely still. No lodgers, no plowing-down and building-up, just woods scaling halfway up a mountainside and a cabin half a mile from a small lake. You couldn't even hear the car horns blaring at rush hour from the highway.

We'd spent the weekend up until then drunk as skunks, unable to tell our heads from our asses and hurling good-natured insults at the fish who refused to bite. Nature had bitten us back for it, and soaked us to the bone last night with a rainstorm that we all thought would carry through until today. But when we got up, the sun was out, the sky shimmering cloudlessly and the drops of water gently falling out of the tree as if asking forgiveness. We headed out in the boat on the lakeside, sober and still able to enjoy life, until Harker had spotted it.

"The hell is that?"

Edison and I turned, seeing a shape out in the lake. It looked for a minute like nothing--like waves that were blackening in on themselves in an otherwise calm pool--but then we made out a curve, and the dark tangles of wet hair. Harker rowed us over, and stopped when the thing rolled limply over in the water, facing us.

It was a body. Its features were indistinguishable; its eyes were closed and its face was bland and forgettable. It was naked, and the chest was slashed to ribbons. The blood had dried in the water, adding to the ink our boat waded through. The shoulders looked almost broad, until Edison in his gently-calm voice said, "We have to bring it aboard; we have to take it back and report it," and Harker and I, too slack-jawed to say no, reached for it, only to find it had no arms.

The wounds were moist with water, and inked our hands. I felt my chin go soggy. I had reached for the armpits and grabbed the remnants of a protruding bone.

Harker did most of the heaving, and we brought it aboard. There were no legs either; just a torso and a head. If I didn't see how detailed the wounds were, I would've laughed that it was some elaborate punching dummy. Maybe, I hoped, it was just for a film shoot that had been set up illegally in the area, and maybe it was some discarded, lost prop.

But Edison was a doctor, and shook his head grimly at the two of us, telling us its reality. The noonday sun overhead felt chilly now, and Harker rowed us back to the cabin, where he had his phone. We sat in silence: Harker rowing, Edison checking the body--touching it with his ungloved hands, just feeling all over the clammy thing--and myself, trying to look away.

But everywhere I looked was terrible; the body, Harker's pained expression, the mountain and the trees that now harbored some dangerous secret.

We had to stop a moment when we got to shore; neither Harker nor myself wanted to touch it again. The torso was wet and cold. The skin was giving but the bones were rigid. I remember asking if we could just leave it in the boat for the police to see when they came, please, for the love of God, but Edison had gotten too absorbed in looking at the folds of skin lacerated across the chest. He insisted we bring it into Harker's cabin.

"Absolutely not!" Harker yelled, but Edison was adamant. The two started in at each other's throats until Edison cut him off with a hiss of words.

"We don't know who the hell is still out here!"

Harker's face paled, and wordlessly we hauled the torso back the half-mile to the cabin. It wasn't hard. It wasn't heavy.

Harker cleared a desk of the few business papers he'd brought along, and I came in, jostling the lantern next to the doorway and setting the thing down on the wood. The head thunked the table too hard, and I stuck a hand out to see if the torso was all right, then remembered it was dead. Edison brushed by me, pushing the glasses up his face. He was so intent on looking it over he didn't mind that he'd smeared his nose with decaying blood.

I looked back at Harker for help, and nobody said anything.

"It doesn't look like a bear," Edison finally murmured. Half an hour had passed. Harker and I had washed the blood off and were sitting with drinks unopened in-hand.

"What do you mean?" Harker asked.

"I mean just what I said," Edison straightened and took off his glasses, cleaning them on his shirt. Then he looked at us, his face of lines more drawn than normal. "It's not a bear. I saw that with the Wiskywitz kid, back in April. The cuts weren't from animals. Nor were the limbs ripped off by them."

"Then what?" I asked, already knowing what Edison would say.

"A person with a knife," Edison said.

Silence fell in the cabin again. Outside, the birds didn't care, and were chipper, inviting us into the uncivilized woods. Harker finally opened his beer and drank half of it.

"How--" I tried, then stopped. I took another attempt at it. "How old? Is the body; how-- recent?"

Edison looked at me, then sniffed and put his glasses back on. "I'm not sure. Couple days, maybe. Maybe a week. Probably sooner."

Harker drank the rest.

"We should call it in," I said faintly, wondering why we hadn't already. Life had just gone to a standstill.

"Yeah," Edison said, staring at Harker.

"The hell are you looking at me for?" Harker mumbled.

"You got a camping knife, don't you?" Edison said. Despite the calm voice, a shiver ran through his bones. "Long blade, partially serrated?"

"What the hell are you talking about, Edison?" Harker's voice was a terse whisper.

Edison didn't continue. The questions hung in the air. I looked between them, then stood up.

"Guys--"

"What?" Harker said louder. "You think I did this? Do you think I did this, Edison? You've known me for fifteen years; you think I--"

"Guys; let's--"

"Harker, you're the only one with a knife here--"

"Guys--"

"Why the hell are you accusing me?!" Harker stood up, his voice reaching an octave I'd never heard from him. His chair fell over, banging against the ground and staying there, as dead as the torso on his desk. "Just because I have a knife? We're in the woods; you know how many hippies and kids come out this way to the lakeside--"

"Harker, Goddammit--" Edison had backed up, bumping against the desk, rattling the torso--it's head flopped over, looking towards us with closed eyes-- "--whoever did this is still here! And we've been drunk enough and rowdy enough that they know damn well where we are! They know and they would've come already; they would've! And we ain't dead, so it's gotta be one of us!"

"The hell kind of logic is that--" Harker took a step forward. Edison leaned back half-over the desk. I stood motionless, not wanting to join the fray and not wanting the fray at all-- "Edison, if someone else was here and heard us they might've been scared off! I damn well didn't do it; I don't think you did; I don't think any of us did! Let's call--"

"Show us your knife," Edison said hoarsely.

"What?" Harker blinked.

"Show us your knife."

Harker stood, stunned, looking at Edison. The sight was horrible: the man's face was bulging, the veins sticking out from the forehead, the eyes darting in small kinetic motions. His lips were bone-white.

"Fifteen years," Harker finally said. His body had relaxed, and his face held the gravity of his words. "All right, Edison."

Harker turned, going to his room in the cabin. We waited. The torso's head remained turned to us. Harker rummaged, and returned, holding the sheathed knife. It was long enough, I found myself thinking; it was long enough, and sharp enough, and serrated to cut through flesh and bone easier. We hadn't seen him use it since we got here, but we'd seen him using it in previous years. He'd kept it on his hip every other year but this one. I felt my chest tighten, and I grabbed my beer bottle by the neck, ready to swing it if need-be.

I too doubted a friend of so many years. A good friend. He'd been at my wedding. He'd said a few words of well-wishes; I'd spent over a decade babysitting for him and Shirley.

My hand shook on the bottle-neck. I tightened my grip. The alcohol sloshed through it.

Harker held the knife out to Edison, saying nothing. Edison didn't take a step forward, and finally Harker threw the whole thing down at Edison's feet. Edison still didn't move, until Harker shook his head and stepped back, all the way back to the other wall of the cabin. Then Edison picked up the knife, and unsheathed it.

No one seemed more surprised than Harker that it was still red.

There was a moment's silence, then an explosion of words.

"What--"

"Harker--"

"Get down--"

Harker took a step forward, then another, yelling his innocence; I flattened against the wall between my friends, trying in vain to be heard; Edison started screaming something neither of us could interpret, the motions of his body jostling the torso into a jiggling fervor.

"Edison--!"

"I SAID GET DOWN!"

Edison jerked his arm out, slashing the knife forward, and even though Harker had been cautious it still cut along his palm. Blood splattered the ground, and Harker let out a gasping wheeze of pain I won't ever forget. Then Edison, his voice a strange falsetto quiver, was screaming.

"GET DOWN! GET DOWN AND STAY DOWN AND DON'T COME NEAR ME!"

Harker stumbled back a step, stunned and holding his hand, and Edison waved the knife out at him. Harker put his shaking hands up, sitting down on the floor.

"Edison," I tried, far too late, "Edison, the knife; put the knife down--"

The doctor turned to me, his hand shaking, holding the knife out.

"Easy, man," I said gently.

"Don't," Edison gasped, "Don't."

"Edison, for God's sake, think clearly," Harker said, blood running down his hand into his sleeve. "Think clearly. Do you think I would do something like this? Even if you do, do you think I'd take you both fishing? At the lake where I would've dumped a body? How silly is that?"

Edison, his whole arm shaking, turned back to Harker. I saw with a bleak wonder that his nose was twitching, trying to pull back and stretch along his teeth in some beastly snarl.

"It's smart," Edison whispered. "You'd look less guilty. Besides, a murderer always returns to the scene of the crime. You could point it out and we'd say 'why, it couldn't have been Harker; he pointed it out!' And how did you point it out, anyway? How did you see it? It was too far to see; neither of us saw it!"

I glanced back towards Harker, uncertain.

Harker looked at Edison, incredulous. "It was floating; I asked what it was? I didn't identify the damn thing; I asked what it was! I asked what it was; that's all!"

"Edison, you should put the knife down," I said, faltering.

"We should just call the police," Harker said. The slash along his palm was deep, I saw--deep, with folds of skin turned outwards like all those slashes along the torso-- "We should just call the police, and let them figure it out. And we can't do that if you're holding a knife, and agitated. We can just sit here, all of us, and wait for them. We'll vouch for you that your fingerprints on the knife are just from picking it up now--won't we?"

Harker glanced at me and I nodded as quickly as I could.

"So c'mon," Harker continued. "Just put the knife down, Edison. You're a doctor; you're reasonable."

"Reasonable?" Edison's mouth twitched in a smile, his eyes staring fixed on Harker's. "Of course I'm reasonable. In an operating room, that's when calm and reasonable is necessary. And I'm being logical, Goddammit: you've got a knife and nobody else was around for miles as best we could tell. How the hell is that unreasonable?"

"We should call the police," I ventured again.

Edison's eyes darted my way.

"Call them."

Harker started to move, and Edison redoubled his attention on our friend, hissing at him to stay put. Harker held his gushing palm high again, wincing, and looked at me. I stood a moment, caught between them and catching the torso once more in a glimpse, then rushed to the wall behind Harker where the landline phone hung.

I picked it up.

Listened.

There was no buzz.

I frowned, tapping a few of the buttons on the wall panel to see if they would input, trying to reconnect, putting it back, picking it up.

The line was dead.

I looked back, confused, at Harker and Edison. Harker's face was grim. Edison's was starting to blubber.

"He cut the line," Edison whispered. "He must've cut the line!"

"Then we go get help," Harker said calmly. "We go out there and get help. One of us, or all of us. You can keep the knife if you want. We need to get help, Edison."

"You don't go anywhere."

"If you want, I'll go," I said. "I can go. If you want him to stay, buddy."

I smiled as best I could while I said it. Edison's eyes turned on me, and I saw that they were animal eyes, peering out from between the trees in his mind, rabidly unable to understand any concept anymore except survival. Harker saw it too, and his face pleaded with me to stay. I wanted to. If I left, Edison might try to kill him. The sun was still shining high in the air. It'd be a long time until anyone was asleep.

Edison hadn't replied, and I edged my way towards the door to go. I almost got there. The beer bottle shook in my hand, tucked behind my leg.

"Wait."

Edison had said the word calmly. I stopped, near the door. Near him. Near the desk. The torso.

"How do I know you're not in on it with him?" Edison whispered.

I felt a wave of numbness go through my body. I couldn't answer. I saw the stare turn on me fully, and there was nothing I could do.

Edison hissed, taking a step forward with the knife.

I don't know what possessed me, but sheer panic and desperation made me swing the bottle as hard as I could.

It connected with Edison's arm with satisfying fullness, and for a split second the world stopped being a place of hearing.

The fracture and the shattering of the bottle combined exploded through our heads. Edison's scream mixed with the slosh of alcohol on the cabin floor. The knife dropped and bounced in the liquid, sending splatters on my shoes. Harker got up stumblingly to his feet. Edison's jaw opened, sending spittle running rank down his chin. He stooped to get the knife. The torso listened to all of it, watching with shut eyes.

I opened the door and ran outside.

Behind me, Harker roared and tackled Edison. There was a scream. Another shattering, of metal and glass. Then a crackling. Then it grew, and as I looked back, I saw through the doorway a flooding outpour of smoke. The collision of men had knocked the lantern down, and it was burning. All of it was burning. Two shapes were writhing inside, locked together, burning. And the screaming. The screaming.

I took a step back, then another. Then I fell still, and time fell away from me.

I couldn't move for hours, and watched the cabin burn. I watched and watched, and around me the sun died and night overcame me and bugs sucked at my skin and I watched it all with emotion-empty eyes.

Finally the smell of burning flesh wafted my way, and my eyes watered. Reality came back, and I stumbled away. Details overwhelmed my mind, and I had a last silly thought to go fishing, because that was what the day had to be.

I was just going to go fishing with my friends today. Tonight. Just fishing with my friends.

I walked half a mile down to the lake.

I moved to the blood-smeared boat and went out to the middle. I felt calm.

Somewhere, a million miles in the past, someone I knew had once said "a murderer always returns to the scene of the crime."

Out in the water, I saw something bob to the surface. A curved form. Just a head for now, but a torso was under the water. Just a torso. No other limbs.

It turned to face me, and opened its eyes.

slasher

Justin von Bosau

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