Lester collects unusual trophies.
|On a cold winter evening in the stark Nebraska Sandhills, a Ford Bronco barreled through climbing snowdrifts on County Road 87. As the sun faded below the western horizon, the Bronco slid sideways and circled twice on the snow packed road before Lester regained control. He tightened his grip on the wheel, cursed the weather and gunned the decrepit vehicle’s engine. Chunks of ice catapulted from the undercarriage like transparent cannon balls, careening in every direction as the Bronco lurched forward. Lester’s latest trophy tumbled backwards, rolled in its own blood and came to rest against the Bronco’s hatch.
Lester cursed again. “Damn weather.” He leaned forward, doing his best to see through the dirty, spider-web-cracked glass. The Bronco’s worn-out windshield wipers struggled and chattered; doing their best to get Lester home. The tired SUV bulldozed snow dunes as the wipers labored and sustained their singsong cadence. Back and forth they went. Swish…clunk…swish…clunk.
Lester tried to ignore the pesky noise. He tried to ignore the voices in his head, too. He didn’t want the voices in his head again, they said bad things, they made him do bad things, but like a bad penny…they were back.
“Lester’s no good…Lester’s no good…Lester’s no good,” the voices chorused, accompanied by the wipers’ steady beat.
The voices had stopped after the government forced Lester to see a psychiatrist. He didn’t like government people meddling in his business, but they had warned him. “If you don’t get help, see a doctor, your disability check won’t be in the mail next month, Lester,” the social worker had said. So Lester played their game for awhile, but he grew tired of being told what to do and when to do it and went back to his old ways.
Lester drove down to Chadron once a week. He would sit in a soft chair and pretend to listen to what the psychiatrist said. “Sometimes parents abuse their children. Sometimes terrible things happen in our lives, but we must forgive and forget. We know what’s best for you, Lester.” Then she would give him pills. In the beginning he swallowed the pills and the voices went away. In time, Lester grew weary of the doctor’s game. He outfoxed her and hid the pills under his tongue. This was his way of playing the game that he missed. When she turned away, he would spit the rainbow colored capsules into his palm. He fooled the psychiatrist just like he had bamboozled the sheriff back in the winter of ’98.
Sheriff Rogers and Lester stood in the driveway and watched as the coroner’s car drove away, followed by a large black car that carried his parents. The sheriff cleared his throat, hiked up his pants and said, “I’m sorry ‘bout your folks, Lester. Who’d ever believe your daddy could do such a thing to your mama, then go to the barn and take his own life like that?”
Lester turned his head away from the sheriff, looked toward the barn and grinned. That’s when Lester’s game began, the day he severed his mama’s head from her plump body and put a noose around his daddy’s fleshy neck and hung him from the barn’s rafters.
The voices had told Lester what to do. Every day, the voices droned in his head. And on that day, the voices had said, “Cut off Mama’s head.”…and…“Hang your Daddy.”
“You goin’ to be alright livin’ out here by yerself, Lester…out here in the middle of nowhere, so far from town?” the sheriff asked. He then patted Lester’s shoulder and added, “Anything I can do for you…you just give me a call.”
Rogers got into his car, drove away and that was the last time Lester ever saw or heard from the sheriff.
Lester, now 33 years old, had been playing his game for 14 years. Some folks said, “Lester doesn’t have the brains to pour piss out of a boot.”…but they didn’t know Lester very well. He was smart. Smart enough to play the game and never get caught. That high and mighty psychiatrist bitch found out the hard way that he was good at his game.
Lester looked over his shoulder. In the dwindling winter light, his gaze fell upon his trophy, his heart raced, his scowl widened and then he whispered, “That bitch will never hand out anymore pills.”
He had done what the voices had ordered. “Cut off her head.” “Cut off her head.”
As Lester was reveling in his newest conquest, he came upon a faded, yellow Volkswagen; buried in a snowdrift. He slowed down, drove on and then stopped. He looked in the rearview mirror and saw her standing next to the car. He knew who she was, that bitch bartender down there at Rusty’s Bar and Grill. A few times, when he’d been in Chadron, he'd stopped in Rusty’s place for a rum and coke. He knew her. Her name was Charlotte Faye.
Lester jammed the Bronco into reverse and crept backwards. The voices warned, “Be nice, Lester.” Of course, Lester wasn’t stupid…he’d never spring the trap until the time was right.
He stepped out of the Bronco. The air smelled of burnt oil and hot rubber. Then the odors of cheap perfume and even cheaper hair-spray curled their way around Lester's acne scarred nose. His tamed gag reflex helped hide his disdain for the woman. Experience had taught him...unwary victims were the most vulnerable prey.
“Need some help?”
“I sure do,” Charlotte answered.
Lester was quick to notice the way she stood back, unwilling to move away from her car. He watched, as she tucked her scarf tighter around her neck, doing what she could to block the cold wind. For an instant, Lester thought to himself, "Does she know about my game?"
The voices said. “Cut off her head.”
“Looks like you're stuck tighter than a flea on a dog’s back,” Lester said.
“Transmission’s shot, too,” Charlotte said as she motioned with a wave of a hand. “I blew it up trying to get myself out of this mess.”
“You’ll be needin’ a ride then…or did you call for help?” Lester asked.
“I tried calling. Phone's not working,” She answered.
“Yeah, they don’t work out here half the time, not here in the hills. I could give you a ride to my place; it’s just about a mile on down the road. You can call from there.”
They rode the mile in silence. “Swish...clunk…swish…clunk.” the wipers yammered.
And the voices repeated, “Cut…off…her…head.”
Lester's house was a typical ranch, built in the early 60’s. It had a two-car attached garage, a basement and weather-beaten wood siding that hadn’t been painted since the day the house was built. On the roof, a bent television antenna was lying on its side, next to a collapsed chimney. All the front windows had been boarded up with low grade plywood that had weathered to shades of gray; resembling an old maid's grizzled hair.
Lester parked as close to the house as possible and they walked up the narrow path that he’d shoveled. He remarked, “Looks like I’ll be shoveling again tomorrow.” He opened the door and they walked in, through a mud room and into the kitchen.
Like a wild beast stalks its quarry, Lester watched the woman. He saw the way she turned her nose away from the stack of dirty dishes, the greasy pans and the rotting leftovers. She’s like all the rest Lester thought. “Goody two-shoes.”
“Phone’s in the basement,” Lester was quick to say.
Charlotte followed as he flipped a light switch and started down the stairs. Unlike the kitchen, the basement was well lit and cleaner. Clean, but it smelled of blood, decaying flesh and chemicals. Three walls of the block enclosure were covered with mounted animal heads of one variety or another. The glass eyes of elk, deer, moose, cougar, rabbits and even a couple of dogs reflected the light, giving the basement an eerie voyeur's atmosphere.
A large, long workbench sat in the middle of the room. Rows of carefully placed knives, saws, scissors and needles covered half of the bench surface. Underneath, jars and cans of chemicals were neatly arranged and had been labeled with a black magic marker. Off to one side, next to the furnace, sat three metal barrels that contained a mishmash of animal parts.
“Where’s the phone?” Charlotte asked.
“You haven’t told me what you think of my collection, Charlotte,” Lester stated.
“How’d you know my name, I don’t know you,” Charlotte blurted.
“I know you, Charlotte. Do you like my collection?”
“Yes…but kind of creepy. Where’s the phone?” she asked again.
“You haven’t seen my best work, Charlotte,” Lester bragged as he opened a curtain; revealing the fourth wall.
Charlotte gasped; the basement’s stench flooded her lungs. She stepped back and braced herself against the bench. “God damn,” she whispered, shaking her head, “that’s absolutely unbelievable.”
Charlotte stood still, mesmerized at what she was looking at.
Lester wanted to laugh at the shock on Charlotte’s face. The reaction he desired, the shock, a part of the game that he enjoyed on special occasions didn’t happen. Then, with quick resignation that he would never understand, Lester saw the look of admiration on Charlotte’s face.
The voices clamored, “Kill the bitch now.”
Lester’s gaze went from Charlotte’s face to his trophy wall. Yes…they were still there, dozens of women's heads in various stages of decomposition were impaled upon stainless steel hooks. Some were void of flesh, some had wrinkled tissue still clinging to jaw bones and cheeks. Others wore a permanent grotesque smile, framed with different hues of red, blonde and brunette hair. The freshest ones’ eyes stared back at him...lifeless orbs...forever open, like an abyss into hell.
Lester couldn’t disguise his disappointment. Usually, his quests…either wet their pants and fainted or went screaming toward the stairs. The petite, blonde coed he had found on the steps of St. Mary's School of Nursing in Omaha didn’t do any of those things; she began singing Amazing Grace.
Amazing Grace, how sweet the sound,
That saved a wretch like me.
I once was lost but now am found,
Was blind, but now I see.
T'was Grace that taught my hea…
Lester had slit the coed's throat before she'd finished her last word…heart.
Charlotte wasn’t doing anything, not screaming, not running…not even wetting herself. And she sure as hell wasn’t singing, but she was smiling.
Lester growled. His fists clenched. He was angry and confused. He hadn’t been this confused since that Christmas day when his mama forced him to hold his hands in frigid water for hours. She'd put her back to the wind, leaned against the horse tank and spouted scriptures from the good book. All he had done was said, “Shit,” when his daddy told him to do his homework.
The voices screamed, “Cut off her head...now, Lester.”
“Do you like my trophies, Charlotte?” Lester asked…while moving toward her.
She didn’t answer. Her right hand groped the bench top. She found what she needed; exactly what she needed.
Lester reached out, seized a handful of Charlotte’s scarf and yanked her towards him. She lost her balance and fell to her knees on the concrete floor and at the same moment, with one motion…with a violent jab…she buried a knife's blade into her attacker’s femur muscle.
Lester staggered and cried out in pain, “You bitch.”
The blade had found its mark. Lester’s femoral artery was severed. The front of his pants turned red, while blood began to pool around his boots.
Charlotte grabbed another knife, this one she chose from all the others. She liked the way the handle fit her hand, it was well balanced and the curved blade was long enough for deep penetration. She shoved the knife into Lester’s ribcage, just below his heart and with an upward thrust; found her target once more.
Lester fell to the floor, rolled over onto his back. His lips moved, but no words came out.
“Yes, I like your trophies, but I like my own more,” Charlotte chided.
She stood over the dying man, cocked her head to one side.
The voices commanded, “Cut off his ears, Charlotte.” She obeyed, bent down, looked into Lester’s pleading eyes and cut off his ears.