Church Grim

The Highwood Horror

~ 1942 ~

Six inches of siding and drywall separated Officer Roberts from a psychopath named Skoog. They sat with their backs against opposite sides, he on the front porch and the killer inside with a corpse. Blood streaked the picture window above them. Two bullet holes marred the door.

"Because you work for THEM! You ALL work for them!" Roberts had asked Skoog to surrender his weapon and come outside. "You'll just shoot me or hang me and then they'll bring me back, torture me for information!" Roberts asked if that's why he mutilated the bodies. "Of course that's why! I'm not a monster!"

Roberts checked his ammunition for the third time, thought about putting his fist through the window and shooting Skoog in the head, but that's not justice. It might have been righteous, but not justice. Instead, he looked to his partner in the patrol car and pointed expectantly at his watch. Backup was on its way, but not for a while.

He asked Skoog how many. "How many have I killed?" There was a long pause as Skoog weighed his confession. "This is the sixth. All Satanists, witches. They control the whole town, from City Hall to organized crime. They raise the dead to blackmail the living. They worship a hellhound, make pacts with the Devil. They are damned and they will damn us all, if no one stops them."

How does he know all this? "The Black Dog, I see it everywhere, since I was a boy. I follow it, I see it with people. I hear them talking. The old witch, she used it to terrorize her neighbors. She made sacrifices to it: small animals, neighborhood pets. I watched her do it. I tried to take pictures, but she doesn't show up on film. That's how I knew she'd sold her soul. She was already damned, so killing her was not a sin. It was the only way.

Roberts asked if that's why he mutilated the bodies.

"One night, I crept into her house." He sounded proud of himself. "There were Satanic symbols everywhere, disguised as art or religion, but I knew what to look for. I knew the truth. The Black Dog waited at the top of the stairs, but didn't try to stop me. Though I walked through the valley of the shadow of death.

"I chopped her head off in one swing. Her blood was thick, black, like dirty oil. It welled up out of her. I kept chopping. I had to! I didn't know if they could resurrect a severed head; the Templars worshipped one, you know. It spoke to them. I had to destroy her body, else they'd know who did it. They'd raise her and she'd tell them. They'd come after me in the night."

Wouldn't that be a shame, Roberts thought, but he let Skoog continue. Confession has its own inertia.

"I started taking my camera around town, to find more of them. There were so many damned, so many with no soul to capture on film. The boy, I stole from his mother's side, snatched him right up in broad daylight. He was playing with a pocket knife. I could see blood stains on the handle. As we disappeared down an alley, I held it against his throat to stop him from screaming.

"He tried to cast a spell on me, when the moment came. He tried to stay my hand, but it moved by God's will, not mine. He was more difficult than the witch had been and the noise kept attracting attention. I had to move him down to the next block, then the next, leaving pieces as I went. I saw dogs carrying them off, scattering them further. Covering my tracks. It was God's will."

Her blood was thick, black, like dirty oil.

Roberts wished his partner would abandon the radio and come back to the house, if only to shoulder his share of the madman's sin, but the coward ignored Roberts' pleading eyes. Four more depraved tales poured out of Skoog, all thoughts of escape seemingly exorcised from his mind. Roberts wept, for Skoog and for his victims, but mostly for himself.

When the cavalry finally came, it was only in time to interrupt the final account, that of a young woman Skoog had lured into his home with using a sick and fictitious child. Roberts was surprised to see the chief of police exit the squad car, flanked by two heavily armed men.

Roberts cut Skoog off in mid- horrifying sentence. He told the murderer to surrender and face a court of justice... or face the Lord's justice here and now.

"There's no justice for me, here," Skoog objects. "The judges, the mayor, the chief of police... they're all in it to their elbows. Oh God, promise me you'll destroy my body! SOMEONE HAS TO DESTROY MY BODY!!!"

The chief waved Roberts away and, without a pause in his stride, kicked the door off its hinges. The three men turned and unloaded their weapons. Glass and blood rained down around Roberts as he rolled off to the side.

Though riddled with twenty-six bullets, Skoog's body remained intact.

May he rest in peace.

- Daniel Bayn, 2013