|A cold wind blew some magazines from their stacks. The cashier leaped from behind his register and scrambled every which way to retrieve copies of Fancy Cat and Golfer's Digest. Business was too slow that day for him to afford any lost inventory. However, he didn't notice that a copy of The Daily Press had taken flight as well.
It sailed off the top of a teetering pile at the edge of the newsstand counter and across the avenue, touching down in a most convenient spot for the man who sat on the bench there - right on his boot. He averted his eyes from the book that rested on his lap, and glanced down at the rogue publication. His eyes set ablaze when he saw the headline:
With Four of Five Slain, Will Phillip Be Spared?
Curiosity lit his pale visage as he reached down to snap it up. He folded it out in front of him, ignoring the cashier, who was crying foul after discovering his missing product, and began to read:
By now, it's safe to assume that the name Desmond Eckhardt needs no introduction, given the media circus that surrounded his murder and the upsetting, albeit predictable occurrences which keep bringing it back into the national spotlight. But for those unfamiliar, here is a summary of events:
Desmond Eckhardt, age 32, was last seen (in tact) on Oct. 31st of 2007 in his hometown of Dickinson, North Dakota. There were a couple pieces to the Desmond puzzle that made it special. The first: a page torn out of a journal found in the kitchen of Eckhardt's lower-level apartment. It was dated October 30th, and told of an odd visitor who had given him an ominous warning (the rest of the journal was never found, so there's no way to know whether any more entries were ever written). The second and far more disturbing part took place two days later, on November 1st, when the first ghastly arm showed up on the doorstep of an unlucky recipient. The arm, detached from its body, was freshly severed and the forefinger was pointed towards the front door.
The recipient, named Albert Shroeder, contacted the police immediately. Forensics were done, and within a few weeks they had a positive DNA match confirming the cadaver belonged to Desmond Eckhardt. When Albert was informed of this development, he was horrified. It just so happened that he knew Desmond, and quite well at that. The two had been good friends in high school, along with three others (Barney Hughes, Walter Dodds, Leonard Phillip) who shared an affinity for the supernatural, and who'd dubbed themselves amateur ghost hunters. In their prime, the five friends would take monthly road trips in search of the most haunted places in the state. They had remained in touch right up until Desmond's disappearance, getting together a few times a year to reminisce on their adventures (though it had been some years since they'd actually gone on a hunt).
The police were stumped about Desmond. At first the prime suspects were his four friends (with an emphasis on Barney Hughes, who Desmond mentions in the now famous journal entry), but after all of them presented rock-solid alibis there were no more leads. The home of Albert Shroeder was patrolled regularly for a few months after the incident, but when nothing happened it was assumed that no one was after him, and the case went cold. The general consensus seems to be that Desmond was murdered, but a body was never found.
Save the journal entry there were no clues to be found anywhere in Desmond's apartment. The last person to see him alive was a gas station attendant who recognized him as a regular customer. Security footage from that exchange revealed nothing out of the ordinary. Eckhardt purchased a tank of gas, and can of soda and went on his way. Neither him nor his vehicle were ever seen again.
He burned with enthusiasm, but the paper jostled violently in his hand and he was finding it difficult to hang on. When he looked up, he saw that the cashier across the street was eying him suspiciously. He folded the first section and slipped it into his overcoat, left the rest of the paper to its derelict fate, and stood up slowly. He adjusted himself, grinned smugly at the frustrated employee and walked off.
In a fit of self-satisfaction, he decided to indulge himself at the cafe down the street. He strode leisurely, longing for a French dip. A wild group of children gawked at him as he passed, but he didn't mind. They'd probably had Bologna for lunch, the fools.
The cafe was a bright beacon in an otherwise bleary locale, and the strolling man arrived there to find a long line, which he promptly joined while muttering something to himself.
"I'll take the pork sandwich on a Kaiser bun, thanks." The woman ordering had a high-pitched voice that clearly aggravated the rest of the patrons, who shuffled on their feet and glanced frequently at their watches. But the man at the end of the line didn't pay any mind. He had pulled the paper back out from his jacket and begun to read again:
Pictured below is the document which was recovered from Eckhardt's home on the day his cadaver appeared:
** Images For Use By Upgraded+ Only **
*Text: Someone just showed up at my door, and I think I might recognize him. It's so strange.. I'm shaking. I was just hanging around in the kitchen when he knocked. I didn't feel like answering, but he kept knocking so I went to look out the window. I saw someone standing there resting his arm on the door. He looked up and shouted "trick or treat!" I didn't think he was going to be giving up any time soon, so I nervously walked to the door. When I got my first look at him I felt a hint of spooky familiarity.. I don't think I know him, but it feels like I do.. something about the bowler hat and purple vest. He told me that I'd better watch it because he'd heard that someone was after me and would be making their move tomorrow.. on Halloween. He walked away after telling me, wouldn't respond to my calls. It's a prank.. it has to be. He must've been put up to it, maybe by Barney, the asshole. I don't even think I'm going to bother following up on this.
Barney was picked up for questioning shortly after this... "Sir? Sir what would you like to order?"
He had been staring at the photo for so long he hadn't noticed that he'd made it all the way to the register.
"French Dip, please," he uttered, " and a coffee." He stuffed the paper back in his jacket, not so neatly as before, and fished for his wallet.
"7.48," was the total, "eating in?"
"Yes yes.." he had the wallet unfolded on the counter, and was pulling each bill out carefully, stacking it neatly in front of the man at the register, who was trying hard to hide his annoyance. "There you are." He slid eight dollars towards the cash register.
It was incredibly crowded in the dining area, but he managed to find a spot. He was glad when no one noticed him. He eased into a seat that faced the foggy window pane, and pulled out the book he had been reading before.
Disappearing Desmond was the title. It was no coincidence that he'd been reading this book when the paper had landed on him, since Halloween was close and everyone was talking about Desmond's case - discussing whether the final friend would go missing that November (as was the trend). He flipped open to an interview with Walter Dodds that was taken in 2008 shortly after Albert's disappearance:
"Walter is clearly uncomfortable as I enter his kitchen. He does not offer any refreshments, he wrings his hands. I pull up a chair and in my most calming voice I begin the interview.
Me: So Walter, you've expressed dismay since the beginning over the lack of police interest in the case, how does Albert's disappearance and subsequent dismemberment reinforce your concerns?
Walter: Well, it's obvious there is a trend beginning here, I think they could be doing more.
(He seems to be holding back his hysteria.)
Me: Would you say this is a "curse"? And if so, who do you think is perpetuating the crimes?
Walter: Curse.. that word will get you into trouble, they will take you for being insane. And I can't risk that. All I know is that the man, the man with the bowler hat and purple vest.. Desmond might not have remembered him, but I do. He appeared on one of our ghost hunts, back in '96, over in Edmore. There was a haunted a museum there, I don't remember everything exactly, but I do know that Albert had seen a man with a bowler hat and a purple vest.. standing in a doorway. I don't know what the connection is really, or why he'd be after Desmond. Albert tried to tell the cops about it, but they didn't listen. They kept searching in all the wrong places, until they finally gave up. I can tell you Barney had nothing to do with this.
Me: You say that they looked in the wrong places, well where do you think they should have searched?
Walter: I really don't know, the museum maybe. There's no telling, I guess I just wished they'd tried harder to protect my friend.
(I look in Walter's direction, trying to gauge just how much he believes his own words. He seems authentically horrified, with good reason. I am getting the creeps just being in the same room.)
Me: Do you think there is any way you could be mistaken on your ghost theory, that maybe it was a coincidence and the murderer is just very good at what he does?
Walter: I suppose so, but if that is the case, the police shouldn't have just given up.
"Did you order the French Dip?" a lady was standing behind him with the beautiful specimen. He turned from the book and nodded. She set it down in front of him and he ate it slowly, carefully, acting is if each bite were his last.
A half hour later, with the sandwich a distant memory and the coffee a puddle of sludge at the bottom of his cup, he decided to make his way home. He put the book back in his coat along with the newspaper, and made his inconspicuous departure from the crowded cafe. He was glad to be back out in the the fresh, cool October air; he was glad the bus would arrive in just ten minutes, and that he would be home in 25, just before sunset.
The bus came, right on track, to a squealing halt with its front end protruding a few feet out into the intersection. The homebound man was smart enough to have collected the change for his bus fare long before it arrived, since he always had such difficulty with loose change. As he stepped on, he was greeted by a friendly driver.
'His shift must be ending soon," thought the man as he sat down. No one else was on the bus, no awkward glances, no loud exchanges between insufferable commuters. 'What a day!' thought he.
The newspaper crinkled in his coat as they hit a bump in the road, and he remembered he hadn't finished reading the article. He began again:
Barney was picked up for questioning shortly after this document was found. It was, of course, suspected that the man who showed up at his door was somehow related to his disappearance and that Barney was involved, as Desmond had speculated.
But it led nowhere. Barney lived alone, just like all the rest of the friends (except Walter, who was married) and his presence in the community was scarce. His contacts proved fruitless, and he had been at his mother's house on the night of the disappearance.
With no one in Desmond's past or present that had an apparent motive, and no more evidence, the case was hung to dry.
One day, the following year, Albert showed up at Barney's house. Part of him showed up, rather. His arm was in the same grizzly state that Desmond's had been, finger aimed straight at the door. That day was November 1st, and a ritual had been born. The police once again went searching for leads and came up short. And now that the killer's M.O. had been established, they knew that the following Halloween they would have to stand guard at Barney's home, lest something terrible may happen.
No one could believe it when he went missing the following year. The cops had been waiting all night, and no one had ever come. Yet somehow, when they went to check on him, he had vanished. The next day, like clock work, an arm showed up on the doorstep of Walter Dodds' home. The police had been setting up a stakeout across the street when they noticed the arm. They were too late, and the horrid thing predictably turned out to belong to Barney Hughes.
Dodds was placed into protection with his wife and son, which was thought by authorities to be adequately safe. The following Halloween (2010), despite Dodds being practically untraceable, his wife made a frantic call to the authorities reporting him missing from what was later revealed to be an apartment in South Carolina.The police were absolutely baffled, and when the next day Dodds' arm showed up at the home of Leonard Phillip, Phillip was promptly taken into custody for his own 'protection', and he has been waiting out the storm in a secure location ever since.
The reading man looked up from his paper to find that he was already a block past his stop, and he quickly notified the driver of his need to exit.
'Oh well,' he thought to himself, it's not as if he didn't know how it would end. He left the paper sitting on the seat beside him and left the bus. A tangerine sunset was waiting for him outside, and he cheerfully ambled the rest of the way home.
He dug around for the keys in his pocket as he walked, and as he approached the front door he fumbled to find the proper key.
The house was dark and pleasantly warm, with just a faint chemical smell. He didn't mind the smell, he was accustomed to it. He hung his coat and threw the paper and the book down on the kitchen table. He kicked of his shoes and poured himself a glass of purified water.
The basement door was open, he went toward it. He reached to close it, but stopped in mid-motion and changed his mind.
'Better go check on them,' he decided. The stairs creaked and bellowed as he made his way down to the malodorous basement room.
Yes, the bodies were still there. He beamed at them, admiring his work. "I love this time of year," he said to himself. There were three corpses with hooks piercing their skulls that hung from the ceiling, each missing an arm, each in various states of decay - the oldest mostly bones.
'They made it a challenge for me this year, did they?' he thought.
A sadistic grin washed over his face. He knew he could outsmart them again.