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The House on Gray Street

Naptown Nightmare

By C. Rommial ButlerPublished 3 years ago 22 min read

“Indianapolis, Indiana. Also: India-no-place. More infamously: Naptown. Our greatest claims to fame are the Indy 500. John Dillinger. More recent, we’ve managed to field a good football team—the one we stole from Baltimore—the Colts. They won a Super Bowl back in ’06.

Abe Lincoln was born here, but he left for the same reason so many young people still do: no opportunity to better one’s self. One feels as if one is living in a void here. Life is vague—a story with no setting. One could be anywhere; one is nowhere.

It won’t be long, though, before my boy changes that. He will emerge from this labyrinthine ruin and claim his birthright. People will know then that Indianapolis was the birthplace of a God.”

Detective Hurd paused the video, freezing the speaker’s face in a smile that basked in the light of some secret knowledge. Hurd had asked the man to elaborate more on his “boy”, but the man had only gone on smiling, staring at the detective.

“Could this guy be for real?” Hurd asked.

Hurd’s partner, Parker, grimaced and laid one hand on his stomach. With his other hand he reached into his jacket pocket and retrieved some antacid. “He’s a whack-job, you know that; but he probably kidnapped the McFarin woman. Witnesses saw him escorting her into his home. Where she went after that—where she is now—is what we need to find out.”

“And he’s not talking.”

“No. Just waxin’ philosophical about Abe Lincoln. Fuckin’ asshole.” Packer popped two tablets of antacid into his mouth and chewed.

The man in the video was Willem Ascott, a sixty-three year-old who owned a house on the city’s East side. He collected a disability check for a bum leg; he didn’t work. From his neighbors’ account, he rarely ever left home. Willem had a habit of speaking in monologue, like a comic book villain. Hurd figured it was because the recluse spent hours of his time having conversations with himself.

“I think we should re-examine the house,” Hurd said. “I feel like we missed something.”

“Maybe,” said Packer. “When we saw it the other day, all the forensics guys were still pokin’ around. I hate to hav’ta deal with that smell again, though. It was like pigshit, ya know? Like at the fair, in that building where they keep the big hogs.”

“Yeah. Now that you mention it, that is exactly what it smelled like.”

***** * *****

The East side is old Indianapolis. At one time it was middle class home owners. When those home owners started getting old and dying, their children unloaded the houses or rented them out. People were moving out of old Indy as the city expanded. The class of people on the East side dwindled, first until it was just poor folk trying to scrape together their own version of the American Dream. Then their kids had the gangs. The gangs had the crack houses. The tension between rivals and the violence that ensued tore into the already rotting rind of the neighborhood and ripped it apart, until the neighborhood through which Detectives Hurd and Packer drive reveals itself: every third house abandoned or condemned. All things ripen and fall and decay.

Ascott’s house was a two-story with white paint peeling and flaking all around it. Steps ascended up a small hill of dead grass to a black, iron-barred security door. Behind that a wooden door which must have been more recently installed. It was generic, had no window or peephole; unpainted. There were windows on either side of the door; two on the first story, two on the second. The setup was the same in the back. On the sides of the house, just as many windows but no doors. Very symmetrical. The roofing was dilapidated. One patch on the front right was concave, a scar of misappropriated shingles.

The house was on the corner of Gray Street and St. Clair. Gray was a one-way street that ran north, ending at 10th, which wasn’t as busy as it used to be, but still had some traffic. People still had to pass through to get to higher ground. St. Clair was a side street.

The back yard was of moderate size. Not a postage stamp like so many newer prefabricated homes seemed to sport, but not a sprawling lawn. There was a chain-link fence surrounding the yard; in places the horizontal guide-poles were bowed, as if many people had hopped over to pass through. It had a gate that let out onto a concrete slab which sloped down into an alley.

The alley had potholes the size of craters and dumpsters periodically placed that looked like they might have been there since the early eighties. Some of the graffiti that stained the dumpsters seemed to corroborate this. Despite the giant trash receptacles there were bits of trash that fluttered in the wind like tumbleweeds. There was broken glass everywhere, shattered in such a pattern as to suggest deliberation.

The house next door was one of the condemned. It was boarded up and the roof above the front porch was caved in, spilling debris onto the front steps. With the two windows above this mess looking like closed eyes, and the front entrance offset to the right, the house might have been someone vomiting out of the side of their mouth.

Hurd and Packer pulled up across the street behind a line of cars owned by residents equally unwilling to brave the potholes and broken glass in the alleys.

“Here we are,” Hurd said as he put the car in park. “605 North Gray Street. Right over there.”

“Yeah. Home sweet fuckin’ home, Hurd. I hope this is worth the trip.”

“The McFarin woman was seen going into that place not more than three weeks ago. So say the neighbors up there in 610. They remembered because the only thing odder than the old man coming out was him going in with someone else.”

“This Ascott fuck confessed to a string of murders, but he didn’t say about the McFarin chick. He wouldn’t talk about her. She’s been missin’ three weeks. You think she’s still alive?”

“We wouldn’t be here if I didn’t hope.”

Hurd and Packer got out of the car and crossed the street. Before they got to the bottom of the steps they could smell the inside of the house. It was August. It was wet, and it was hot.

“Damn. They turned off the air. Now it’s baked pigshit. Fuck.”

“Well, partner my partner, let’s hope this will not take long.”

“Let’s hope.”

Hurd used the key for the security door and then the one for the main door. He opened the door, and the stench rolled out to them on a wave of trapped heat.

“Let’s stand out here a minute, maybe let it air out,” said Packer.

“Yeah, sure.”

They backed down the steps and stood on the hill of dead grass together.

“We’ve been doing this a long time, Hurd.”

“Yes, we have. Eleven years, the two of us. Longer than some; shorter than others.”

“I don’t remember ever seeing a case like this before. That Ascott guy, he’s a fucknut; but he talks like...” Packer couldn’t finish the thought. As often would happen, Hurd finished it for him.

“Like a man with a mission. A purpose. Like someone who knew just what he was doing and just how he was going to do it. Like he was well-informed.”

“Yeah. Yeah, that’s it.”

“Think you can handle it in there?”

“I ain’t no pussy. I can handle the smell of a little pigshit, or whatever it is, after all we been through. Lead the way.”

They entered the house.

***** * *****

The living room had the appearance of being well-kept. The whole house did. There was no accounting for the smell. The forensics team scoured every inch of the house for bodies. They thought maybe it would be something like Gacy. They might find corpses crammed in every available crawlspace. They didn’t find a single body part.

Ascott had told them that they wouldn’t, though. He made it clear that all the corpses were in the same place, and that they would have to find that place. He made it clear that the clue to finding that place was in the house.

They knew that Ascott was not bluffing about the corpses, or at least they had to be reasonably sure. He walked into the police station to make a confession. He provided Indiana Driver’s Licenses or State ID’s dating back thirteen years. Twenty-seven of them. Each one turned out to be the ID of some missing person, ranging from the ages of fifteen to forty-three, in ascending numerical order. Ascott mentioned that there was a thirteen and fourteen year-old as well, but they had no ID. He said:

“The blood is the life. There is no remission without the shedding of blood. This is the truth at the heart of every religion, regardless of its pretenses toward benevolence. This is why it was significant for the final victim to be number thirty-one and aged forty-four. On the surface it is trivial; it is only symbolism. But thirty-one is God, and forty-four is blood.”

He would not elaborate on why these numbers held that significance. He left many associations vague. Hurd thought it was just nonsense contrived by a lunatic; what irritated Hurd was the conviction with which Ascott spoke.

Here in this house was the evidence of all that conviction. Here was the evidence of a mind and a life meticulously arranged. The living room was a library; a couch surrounded by bookshelves filled with volumes on comparative religion and anthropology and mythology. The forensics team had been through every book, searching for loose papers or notes scrawled in margins; they found none.

Hurd could feel something tugging at him. He remembered it tugging at him before, the last time when he was here. It was like a hand was pulling at the inside of him, from the groin up. Drawing him. He ignored it then. He felt he would have to wait until there weren’t so many people around to see the almost metaphysical way he practiced his craft. Packer knew, and never questioned. Packer was a supportive partner, always had been.

Hurd looked over the library. As his eyes gazed along the titles he could feel the hand tightening the cord within him, pulling up straight until the cord was completely taut. His focus intensified on one book.

There was only one word on the spine. No publishing house listed; no author. Just one word: MOCCUS.

Hurd walked over to the book, the word a shimmering white beacon in a black leather binding. He retrieved the book from its place between a smaller red book which said The Book of the Law and a larger volume which had printed on its spine The Golden Bough.

Hurd examined the front and back covers and found not a word, symbol or drawing. Hurd opened the book.

The first page was blank. Then the second and the third. Hurd kept turning pages. He must have turned fifty individual pages before he started to rapidly flip them with his thumb. All blank. He closed his eyes at the same time he closed the book. He opened his eyes and turned to his partner.

“Hey. Take this book and open it and tell me what it says inside.” He didn’t know why he was asking for confirmation.

Packer took the book. He opened it. “First page is blank.” He turned the page. “Second page says: Mah-kus. Day-ty of Gawl.”

“Okay. Hand me the book.”

Packer gave his partner a quizzical look, but complied.

Hurd opened the book again. The first page was blank. The second page said: Moccus; and underneath that: Deity of Gaul. Turned the next page. It read:

Peter Hurd. You must seek them when you are alone, and you will find them.

Hurd closed the book. He closed his eyes and took a deep breath. He handed the book over to his partner.

“Are you alright, Peter?” Packer only called him by his first name when he was really concerned.

“Yes. Uh. Read the next page. Please.”

“Sure. Okay.” Packer opened the book and read. “Evidence of the existence of the God Moccus has been found in both France and Italy. The evidence in France is believed to date back to Celtic Gaul—“

“Okay. Stop. Hand me the book.”

Packer handed over the book. Hurd opened it and read just what Packer had read, and from then on the pages were filled with information about the God. Apparently, Moccus was a pig-god—not of the wild boar, but the domesticated pig—who had some relevance in Celtic cults as a psychopomp; like Mercury—or his Egyptian predecessor Thoth—was rumored to have guided people into the realm of the afterlife. At least, this was the contention that this particular writer was making. There was a section of the book in which the author revealed that his primary source of information was a method that involved the direct invocation of the God. The author points out that though his colleagues will not accept such a method as a valid source of corroborative evidence about the God, it is nonetheless so.

The merit of thaumaturgy, writes the author, is validated by the effects it induces in those who practice it. It expands not only one’s knowledge but one’s experience. Those who write it off as a form of willed hallucination are crass and soulless. They can only accept that which their hands can touch, their eyes can see, and so forth. They are unable to experience that sense which is of the other five a transcendent composite.

“Peter.”

Hurd’s head jerked up from his absorption in the book. He had sat on the couch to read.

“You’ve been sittin’ there reading that book for over an hour. I been trying to be patient. I went and explored the rest of the house again while you were readin’. I didn’t find anything that we didn’t notice before. I definitely didn’t find any hidden passageways to a fuckin’ hog farm, though I should’ve! The smell doesn’t get any better in this place, wherever you go. I’m sweatin’ my balls off. You think maybe you could take that book back to the station and read it there?”

“Yeah. Yeah, I can do that. Thanks for casing the place for me, Bill. Let’s go.”

***** * *****

William Packer loved his wife, and often told Hurd how much he missed her when they were spending a lot of time on a case. He would call her in spare moments, when they were grabbing a bite to eat or waiting for somebody to call. He would call her just to say he loved her. Hurd had met Wanda, and he knew Packer had every reason to make those calls. She treated Bill like gold.

Hurd told Packer to go home, when they got back to the station. He told him he would read the book and give him the gist of it tomorrow.

“Thanks, Pete. Are you sure you’re alright? Man, you looked fuckin’ zoned back there. Your eyes were doin’ funny things when you were readin’ that book.”

“I’m fine, Bill. Tell Wanda I said hi, okay?”

“Sure will, Pete.”

As his partner and friend of eleven years walked away, Hurd frowned. He didn’t think he would be seeing him again.

***** * *****

Peter Hurd had no wife, no children. His mother, the only family he had ever had, had died when he was twenty-six. He was thirty-two now. He didn’t know his father.

Hurd didn’t read the rest of the book. He remembered what had been on the first page when the rest were blank. He knew it wasn’t just a willed hallucination. He knew it was a message for him and him alone. He told one of the guards to bring Ascott into an interrogation room.

Willem Ascott sat across from Peter Hurd, and they stared at each other for a long time. Ascott smiled and Hurd frowned.

Hurd broke the silence. “What can you tell me about Moccus?”

Ascott looked at Hurd for a while longer. His smile was imperturbable. Hurd imagined that smile, presiding over thirty murders.

Hurd waited, knowing that the answer was forthcoming.

“The answers that we seek, as Plato is so well known to have explained, are already within us. We need only re-discover them. Plato was such a prick. Giving away all of the company secrets.” Ascott’s mouth rested into silence; again into the comfortable smile.

Hurd was shaking. His hands were clenching the table. He wanted to jump across and strangle the man. Not so much for the vague nature of the answers, but because the bastard would not speak to the querent. Always the monologue.

What stopped Hurd from lashing out was the foreknowledge that Ascott would keep on smiling, even as his windpipe was crushed. Hurd just couldn’t stand the idea of watching that smile persist, even through pain, punishment.

“Are you a thaumaturgist, Willem?”

“We all channel some sort of energy. The only distinction between the sacred and the profane is the extent to which what we channel is willed.” And again the smile. “It’s amusing, however, what phantoms of sense will drift about long after the invocation or evocation has occurred.”

“Your boy. Your boy is the incarnation of a God?”

“We like to believe that Mary was impregnated by the Holy Ghost alone. In the form of a dove? At some point we have to concede to either an absurd form of bestiality, or to the fact that some of the most obvious truths are veiled beneath nonsense.”

Hurd’s eyes shut hard, pronouncing in detailed relief the crow’s feet at their corners. He breathed deep through his nose. When he opened his eyes he saw the smile. He pushed himself up from the table so roughly that his chair rattled on its back to the floor. Ascott did not even flinch.

Hurd turned and walked out of the room.

***** * *****

Hurd sat at his desk. Going home would have felt too much like giving up. He had never felt so alone. Bill and Wanda were the only friends he had. What little time he didn’t spend on his work, he spent brooding on the way it felt, to be alone in a room full of people; to know that they cannot feel what he feels, sense how he senses.

Bill didn’t understand, but he never questioned how Hurd knew some things.

Hurd questioned himself, though, constantly. He wanted to believe he didn’t have this gift. He felt like a freak. It was a curse.

He knew where they were. All of Ascott’s victims; but not Linda McFarin. Linda McFarin was not a victim. Linda McFarin was a perpetrator.

Ascott rose from his desk hoping that he was wrong. No gift, no curse. He hoped that up to this point he had only been lucky.

***** * *****

607 North Gray Street. The house next door to Ascott’s. It had been abandoned for almost fourteen years. Ascott himself had called to have it condemned, only a few years ago. He complained that children might get hurt. Yeah, right. Children had already been hurt in that house. They may have been thirteen to seventeen, but they were still children.

The porch roof must have caved in since the house was condemned, because they were able to board up the front door. Hurd went around to the back. The back door was boarded up as well. Hurd hopped the fence over to Ascott’s house. He knew that what he would be looking for would be in the basement.

The back door was the same as the front. A security door and a recently installed generic job. Hurd had the keys for these as well. Ascott had brought them with him when he turned himself in. Why wouldn’t he? He had known it would be Hurd that would ultimately use them. Hurd let himself into the house.

Hurd stood for a minute, a look of consternation on his face. Something was different. It occurred to him.

The smell of pig feces was gone.

***** * *****

Ascott had condemned Plato for giving away the company secrets. Hurd could understand. Gods were the company, after all. They functioned effectively under different names, in different cultures. They might perform as vast a purpose as Jehovah or as menial a purpose as Moccus. They might be only Thoth disguised as Mercury, or Mercury disguised as a pig.

No matter what, they were always leading people to their deaths.

And people followed. Hurd was himself sniffing the scent of his doom. He knew it. Curiosity propelled him forward. For all the ominous portent that his intuition could surmise, his intellect yet flowed like blood in the arteries to the heart of this mystery.

The basement was all grey stone. There was a drain in the Northwest corner, underneath a showerhead that stretched out from the wall. Hurd bent down and examined the drain. He felt the floor with his hands.

There were seams—to the eyes unseen, to the hands felt as plain as day. There were seams in a square around the drain. A door. The cover of the drain, a circular plate grated with holes, unattached by any screws. Hurd plucked it up. Beneath it, around the drain-hole, was a ring which swung on a hinge.

With one of his keys, Hurd fished out the ring, gripped it tight and squatted outside the seams.

With a great heave, he pulled up the door.

Hurd had a little flashlight on his key-ring. He turned its head and shined its light down into the darkness. A cursory examination revealed a grey stone tunnel which ran North and South, parallel to Gray Street. There was a streak of dried grime running down the center. The manner in which it had set indicated a streamlet that must run from the North. From the direction of the house next door. Hurd mused on the possibility that all of the houses on this street might have doors hidden beneath shower drains, leading into this tunnel. Could it have been just a drainage tunnel for the basement showers? Hurd thought not; but he would probably never know.

Hurd placed himself at the side of the opening and hung his feet down into the hole. He held his flashlight with his teeth and made the short jump down into the tunnel.

It must not have been six feet high. Hurd was six-foot-one and he had to stoop to avoid the ceiling when he walked towards 607, flashlight in hand.

***** * *****

Hurd didn’t walk long before he found the door above him which led into the basement of 607. However, he knew that this door would not lead him to that which he sought. Rather was there another door on the East wall below it.

The door was made of wood. Old wood. Maybe oak; Hurd couldn’t be certain. There was a face-sized square high up in the center with three iron bars vertically placed in its midst. Underneath this was a large steel ring; a knocker. There was no door handle. This door was only meant to be opened from the inside, by someone who guarded what might lie beyond.

Hurd grabbed the knocker and pulled on it. At first the door only shifted a bit. It was warped into its frame. Hurd took a deep breath and braced himself. He pulled again and the door chuffed open with a creak that echoed in the stone tunnel, which had not otherwise been privy to any sound but footsteps and the chattering of rats.

Behind the door were steps leading down. When Hurd walked through the doorway, he saw the flickering of firelight at the bottom of the stairwell, from the right. Shining his flashlight down onto the steps for the sake of his footing, he descended.

At the bottom of the stairs was another tunnel running parallel to the one above. The firelight came from a torch set up on the left wall a little ways down.

Hurd walked down the tunnel. He figured by the time he reached the room at the end of the passage he’d be under 605 again.

The room had a domed ceiling. There were torches at each of its four corners just under where the dome began to ascend. Each torch lit enough of a quadrant of the dome to expose painted depictions of atrocity.

Here was a boar with its tusks goring the womb of a pregnant woman to accommodate the snuffling mouth of a tailless black sow who fed among the entrails on the soft head of the fetus. The umbilical cord which should have connected to this ghoulish smorgasbord instead snaked into the quadrant to the right, gradually changing from pink to green.

Here was a serpent coiled around the left leg of a naked woman. Only the back of the serpent’s head could be seen, hiding its mouth, which suckled at the woman’s crotch. The woman’s lips were pursed together in a smile—a smile the nature of which was familiar to Hurd—and she held her right index finger to the smile in a shushing gesture. Yet her eyes did not know or care of secrets, for they were the merciless eyes of a tigress. Blood poured down her right leg and over her foot, spreading out to form a river which changed to purple and then blue as it flowed into the next quadrant.

Here was a river rushing through a valley; mountains rose up in the background. In the river was a horror-stricken man struggling to free his left arm from something beneath the water. His right hand flailed out toward the bank, whereupon was perched a goat. The goat had sunken its teeth into the hand. The countenance of the goat was as sanguine as the blood which in rivulets streamed from its mouth and dripped from its jaw. This last depiction ended the mural. The next quadrant stood alone.

Here a serene departure: a pelican—luminescent, white—piercing with its beak its own heart and bending to allow the crimson drops there from the liberty of falling into the expectant throats of its offspring.

The walls and floor of the room were splattered and smeared with crusted black splotches.

Blood. In the paintings. On the walls. Across the floor. The blood is the life.

In the center of the room was an altar. It was made of patches of stitched-together human flesh stretched over the protuberant joints of pieced-together bones. Atop the altar, sitting cross-legged with her hands upon her knees, was a nude woman. Thin splinters of bone sharpened to fine points on both ends pierced her nipples. Though her head was shaven and her eyes closed, Hurd recognized her from the pictures which had been provided by her relatives. It was Linda McFarin.

Behind her was something that might have been a man. It had its hands on her shoulders. Its head rose well above hers. Its face seemed to shift with the flickering torchlight. It was a pig’s head; the head of a young man with a precocious smile; the head of an ibis.

As it spoke, the mouths on each head moved to form the words, slipping into some soft part of Hurd’s mind and making him sway, hypnotized. He tried to lift the flashlight to shine on the faces, to make one of them stand still; to keep the different heads from appearing and disappearing within the flickering shadows; but his hand would not lift the meager artificial flame. The arm fell to his side and the flashlight fell from his hand and clattered to the floor, winking out as his keys jingled against the stone. Moccus spoke:

“Little is known of me, and so it should be. Does it matter whence I come and whither I go? Nay. I am but a messenger. I harbor the holy flame beneath a cloak of shadows, only to expose it and shine its light upon the most worthy. This woman bears a child from the old man, who at the time of conception did invoke a God of such terrible power that it energized his seed, and it is that very God to which she shall give birth. It is what men of this age shall in their superstition label Antichrist; but he will not bring about an apocalypse. No. It will be a new beginning.

The blood of all the old man’s victims fed this sacred tryst. On one small detail he lied to you. He told you that it was the sacred number for the age of the last victim to be forty-four. Nay. The first victim was twelve, only having just reached the time of her flowering. The old man’s final victim was forty-three, a number sacred to mystics of his nature; but the final victim, the thirty-first, must not be his. It must be hers.”

Each of the three shifting faces appeared with a twinkle in its eye, expanding, which seemed to spiral out into Hurd’s own eyes, again slithering into that soft part of his mind; and he remembered. There had been no identification for a victim aged thirty-three; and as of midnight of this day, the day when Leo crosses over into Virgo—

“Indeed,” said the God, reading Hurd’s thoughts, “the day when the Lion lays down for the Virgin. You will turn thirty-three, which is the sacred age of the final victim. Her victim, or, rather, the victim which shall provide the meat which will quicken the fetus within her. You see, she will be eating for two.”

The woman’s eyes opened. Her eyes were the tigress eyes of the woman in the painting above. Moccus released his hands from her shoulders. The woman outstretched her legs and dropped from the altar, walking toward Hurd. He became transfixed by the gleaming of her teeth as she bared them in a feral grin. There were no fangs; but human teeth could rend, tear—and all the more for the pain due to their dull, jagged shape.

“You see,” spoke the God, as his minion overtook her victim, “as a God of fertility—and a psychopomp—it is my job to oversee the proper development of the yet unborn as well as the proper method of dispersal for those yet dead.”

Hurd did not scream.

supernatural

About the Creator

C. Rommial Butler

C. Rommial Butler is a writer, musician and philosopher from Indianapolis, IN. His works can be found online through multiple streaming services and booksellers.

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Comments (1)

  • Dharrsheena Raja Segarran2 months ago

    I got excited when you mentioned John Wayne Gacy. Moccus is soooo creepy! I loved the painting on the quadrants of the dome. So now I've read all the 6 stories that I've missed hehehehe

C. Rommial ButlerWritten by C. Rommial Butler

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