Life wears thin in places, over time. Everything does. From the growing width of the tears in the fabric of my couch, to the thinning connections we all have to our fellow citizens. Certainly both time and tragedy contributed to the thinning of Marcel Robertson’s mind, in equal and forceful measure.
Marcel never stood a chance. Growing up malnourished in a trailer alongside more siblings than there were rooms. Beaten back from any attempt at schooling, surrounded by a litany of substance abuse, physical abuse, and poor coping mechanisms from the very start. He would have been lucky to find a place among the highest achievements of his recent ancestry. A steady job at the meat packing plant, and a crowd of disheveled and mediocre children of his own. But even that was not to be.
He lived a cruel and empty life. This of course is not meant to excuse him. There is no justification to be made for the bodies of the three children found on his property. And certainly not to their condition.
The disappearances started last summer. The way Kathleen Vickers and her husband Roger tell it, they had been delivering flapjacks to their son Tony up in his bed on Sunday morning. Given Tony’s thin frame, threadbare clothing and notorious latchkey wanderings, those particular details seem… unlikely. What is indisputable fact however, is that Tony was gone.
Just simply gone.
A search party was formed, first sweeping the neighborhood, then the woods, and finally with the help of the neighboring town, dragging the lake. This turned up nothing more than a pair of sodden girls underpants. It always made me anxious to see clothing discarded in the woods like that. Abandoned and pregnant with a story. One that no one really wanted to hear.
Three weeks later, little Lizzy Jenkins did not come home from school. And the macabre dance was performed once more. The streets, the woods, the lake. When the third, Harold, joined their ranks things started to turn ugly.
I was the deputy called to the scene to peel Freddy Plotnik from the pavement in front of the bar and get him in an ambulance. Freddy had arrived in town two months ago looking for work. Not having any luck he had spent most of his time getting wasted and being run from the local’s barns and outbuildings in the mornings.
It seemed that the populace had decided for themselves that he was a “person of interest.” Then they displayed that interest using fists and pool cues for several minutes in the middle of the street. My experience on the force has taught me better. Whoever was responsible for these missing children needed space. Somewhere to keep them for however long it took them to act out their mental agony upon them. For as long as their little bodies could stand it. Not the work of a vagrant who was lucky to find somewhere to catch a few hours of unconsciousness each night.
Marcel came up on our radar when a driver, passing his lot heard screaming and called it in (after going home to sober up for a few hours).
“I might have had a drink or two, but I know I was under the limit. I called it in anyway didn’t I? Did the right thing?”
At least he was straight with us. Gave us the information we needed to establish an accurate timeline. So the next morning I arrived with my partner at the Robertson acre. An acre littered with rusted car frames, hastily erected out-buildings, crumbling wells, and a root cellar that had reportedly been there since near the time of the revolution.
It was hard to say that Marcel acted suspiciously. Between the DT’s that ran rampant through his entire family, slurred and twitchy words rolling from his mouth that had remembered more teeth than it currently boasted, and his constant fidgeting, Marcel was simply… himself.
It was the book that clinched it. It stood out to me immediately on his countertop amidst tens of opened cans, dirty bowls and oily rags. Seeing a book in Marcel’s house was like seeing a cross-dressing satanist at a baptist service. Unusual.
I nodded my partner to the front door, and she understood immediately, asking Marcel to step outside for a chat. While she questioned him I picked up the book, and just as quickly dropped it. It was wet and sticky. Covered in blood. I cursed myself for handling it with my bare hands, and quickly cleaned up with some clorox wipes. Something that many are surprised to be a staple of our duty belts.
We took him in for questioning and got the crime scene people out there to collect the book and any other evidence we could locate. There wasn’t much more than the book. The only other thing we found was traces of blood on the door to the root cellar out back. But it was locked, and the construction solid, in the way that 18th century construction usually was. Wrought iron, half an inch thick, and nearly petrified oak. We took samples, and made a note to locate the key.
I knew what we would find inside. It was the perfect place to hide and contain his victims. Underground so that sound wouldn’t carry. Sturdy, with little chance of escape. Find the key, and find the bodies. That was what was next for me. To walk into a room that likely contained the corpses of three local youngsters, two of which I knew in passing.
“We need the key, Marcel.” His arms twitched, pulling at the chains that kept his wrists secured to the table.
“All need a key. You gotta key though. I had it, hadda key, but now they key’s with y’all.” Marcel tried to spit, but most of the dip and rot that lay in his mouth just dribbled over his hanging lip.
“We have it? Is it in the house? In your truck?”
“Nah, keys inna room, here like-as-all. Ona shelf likely. Donneven know ya got it. But ya do. With you know. Wet and ready. Opens the door ya want, or donna want. Opens a door that’s fer me and mine.”
The door behind me slammed open and I jumped. I glanced at Marcel to see if he had recognized my jumpiness, but his face was still and dour.
My partner whispered in my ear. “Found the bodies, all three. Shallow graves in the yard. Pulling them out now for the coroner.” She left once the information had been relayed.
“We found the kids Marcel. It’s all over now, but it could help if you assisted us. I want the key to the root cellar.”
He looked up into my eyes. There was some sadness there. I did not quite know what to make of it.
“Yeh, kids dinna make it. It’s that place. It eats atcha. They were-a young and strong, thought they’d make it in an out. For long ‘nough at least. Hadda bury ’em all though. They helped right as rain, but it ate at ’em too. Not being Robertson stock en’all.”
“And the key Marcel? Where is the key?” His ramblings were starting to infuriate me. I needed this day to be over. To get in there, take photos, collect evidence, and have it done with. Tomorrow I would still need to speak to the families but I wanted that part, at least, done with.
“Toldja. Ya got the key, All o’it. Blood opens the book ‘anna book opens tha door. Y’all got the key, books open, ready ta open the door. Though I suspect ya done wanna.” He smiled then, if you can call it that. His inflamed cracking lips pulling away from his gaping empty mouth and brown gums. “Open yer door and somethin’s as libel to come out as let ya in. Anna you think the children’ bad… ha… well.”
Done. Hell, I was done with this, at least for now. I sent him along for processing.while I made my way to the evidence room to take a closer look at the book.
Donning my medical gloves and using my pen, I opened the book to take a look at it’s contents. The cover was some kind of leather, perhaps goat and the pages were brittle and cracking, covered in foxing and released a musty and rich air of history.
The entire book was blank except for the very first page, upon which was inscribed in ink:
The w’rd f’r ope is patentibus
That was it. There were no other words, markings or anything else inside the ancient volume, aside from the stains that had seeped into the edges of the pages. Marcel had said it was the key. And herein written was “a word for open”.
I scoffed and tucked the book back into the plastic bag, and placed it back on the shelf. This was absurd. This dirty, white-trash swamp yankee and his magick book that was really a key. A key to open a door where he had surely abused and murdered his neighbor’s children. Fuck him. Don’t give that trash the satisfaction of feeling like this. Feeling this sense of trepidation. That he had something that I could not understand.
He was nothing. A sick man, produced by a sick family, who killed to gain some semblance of power or control.
I headed to the lobby to clean my hands with disinfectant. Get that smell off of them. Even though I had worn gloves this time, my hands felt as if I had dragged them through the corpses of Marcel’s poor unwitting victims.
I spent the remainder of the day on the paperwork that would likely chew up the rest of my week before packing it in to go home, crack open a beer (maybe a few tonight) and try to take my mind off of things. I passed Marcel being led to his holding cell on the way out. I walked quickly, not wanting to have anything further to do with the sick bastard, but he shouted out to me before I was able to reach the exit.
“Doors gonna git gone tumarra, ya know.”
I let the door slam behind me and pulled in a deep breath of the evening air. It smelled like burning. Not sour like burning trash, and not comforting like a campfire. Just burning. Pure destruction, erasure, an irrecoverable thinning all around me, of everything we hold dear. Families. Order. Sanity.
“Doors gonna git gone tumarra, ya know.”
It ate at me all night, those words. Four beers only seemed to amplify it. When I momentarily dozed off in my chair, those same words shouted through me and I bolted upright. It was madness of course. A magick book, that had a word to open a magick door, that wouldn’t be there tomorrow. The bastard had gotten to me. Got his hooks into me like some rookie.
But at the same time, I’ve lived many decades with many regrets. These days I’ve learned that a bad choice is preferable to a lost and forever unknown opportunity. It was well after midnight when I grabbed my jacket and headed back to the station to get the book. Another thirty minutes of driving before I found myself light headed and partially inebriated standing before the door of the root cellar holding said book.
“patentibus” I said it loud and clear, though feeling like a dolt for engaging in this absurd fantasy.
The latch opening rang out even louder still. And the creaking as the door swung inward cut through me like an injection of adrenaline. My heart pounding, and sweat beading on my forehead against the cold night air.
“Come back in the daylight with the team.” My mind screamed, trying to convince me. But at this point, seeing the very tangible result of the magick word and the magick book, I could not help but to trust that Marcel’s other words may carry some truth as well.
“Doors gonna git gone tumarra, ya know.”
I approached the doorway, pulling my maglight off of my belt. It was a thin corridor, nothing more. Barely wide enough to allow a single moderately sized man to pass. But I could not see the end, nor any room it eventually opened up to. Just a dark, earthen corridor leading straight forward into the earth for at least thirty feet, if not more.
Duty is the word that comes to mind. If you were to ask why I began to make my way inside, this would be my only possible explanation. I had a duty to my community. To investigate the crime, to do my best to make things right. To uncover any prior or future danger that may lie in wait for us or our people.
The door shut behind me once I had taken three steps inside. The word will not open it from the inside. Three steps further and my cellular signal disappears.
I’m posting this record of what has transpired online, in the case that I am unable to return and make my way out of wherever this leads. Come to the root cellar on the Robertson acre. Speak the word to open the door. Find me if I am lost. Please.
I am alone. I have only the book, my service revolver, a flashlight and this cursed sense of duty that will push me to proceed down the hall unto God knows what. And discover whatever it is that lies hidden away deep beneath our town.