by CJ Reddick
Seven sinners and one survivor locked in a mansion, stalked by a commissioned killer.
The Avenger stepped back and admired his handiwork. What was most impressing about the job, in his opinion, was the lack of blood. Heaven, he had concluded, was a perfect and holy place, and therefore would not be defiled by blood. So he had taken extra precaution, first chloroforming the two victims and then draining them in the bathtub. Slitting wrists was the easiest way to kill while not physically marring the body. Of course, the abuser’s body was missing a few parts, but it was all according to the plan. He and his whore of a wife had made his Heaven, and begun this righteous night
The siren shook me awake. I sat straight up in bed, momentarily forgetting where I was. It all came back in a rush. The funeral. The will reading. The Queen Bohemia Estate. Myself and six other heirs had come to hear the executor, Father Mackenzie, open and the read the will of my late Aunt Eleanor.
But this was unexpected. I was unaware that the Queen Bohemia had any modern appliance, much less an alarm system. Could someone be breaking in? Eager to find out, I hopped out of bed and raced from my room to the foyer. The others and the priest joined me. No one was at the door. “Let’s split up and search the house,” I suggested.
The others nodded in agreement, and it was only then I noticed the absence of Mr. and Mrs. King. They must still be sleeping together, which from what I had heard was a rare occurrence, as Thomas King was abusive and Regina King had a lover in New York. I elected to let them sleep as I passed their room on my way to the attic. Father Mackenzie had followed me, with the others going to search the other three floors. I could tell the alarm was coming from the attic, but that may have just been a coincidence. As I pushed the door open, I found otherwise.
“Oh my God!”
The sight that greeted our eyes was enough to make grown men faint. In fact, Mr. Miller did when he and the others came to investigate the screams. While the others tended to him, Father Mackenzie and I, who had more time to process the scene, investigated it more thoroughly. I noticed the irony of my earlier thought that Mr. and Mrs. King were sleeping together, as they were now together sleeping in death. Mr. King’s naked body was missing a hand, a foot, and an eye, as well as his genitals. He was slumped over in a chair. Mrs. King, however, was dressed in her sleeveless white nightgown, both wrists slit, and propped against the wall.
The details which Father Mackenzie and I were now taking in made the scene worse. Mrs. King had what appeared to be angel wings drawn in blood on the wall behind her. Towards the ceiling, on the same wall, the word “HEAVEN” was written. Just below that was written “Read the will.”
“Ah, I see,” Father muttered.
“What? What is it?”
“We’re obviously dealing with a very religious killer. Christ once said “If a hand or a foot or an eye should cause you to stumble, it’s better to cut it off and throw away, better to be hand/foot/eyeless in heaven than whole in hell.”
"And the dick?"
Father squinted. "Marital rape, adultery, masturbation. Who knows?"
"Our killer, apparently."
The priest nodded. "Read the will," I read.
Father Mackenzie paused. "Now that I think about it, there was no specific time I was supposed to read the will. I didn't think anything of it; she was old. I was just going to read at lunch tomorrow but I guess Eleanor had other plans."
We turned our attention back to the other four. Mr. Miller had awoken, but was still sweating. "This is just dreadful! We should call the police!"
With that, he whipped out his cell phone. A few beeps and a frustrated sigh confirmed my suspicion that all cell phone signals were being jammed.
"What, so we're basically in a horror movie?" Lucy asked.
I turned to her. Out of the whole group, she was the one I knew the most. Some of them I didn't know very well at all. I had actually just met Mr. and Mrs. King at the funeral. How they became heirs was beyond me.
"Yep, seems like it," I sighed.
I was terrified, though I didn't act like it. Somehow my emotions had become completely detached from this situation and logic had taken over. Usually someone survived in the movies, usually the protagonist. Which would be me. Quite obviously too, actually, seeing as I was the most closely related to Eleanor, along with her favorite. It appeared she had organized this, and surely she wouldn't kill her sister's grandson.
As for the rest of them, I didn't particularly know them very well. It would be horrible to watch them to die, but I must survive.
"Let's go down and read the will, seeing as that's what the killer wants us to do," I spoke.
Father Mackenzie took a deep breath and nodded. "Let's go."
We followed him down the stairs. There was an unspoken agreement to leave the bodies in their places. We all retreated to our rooms to get dressed, and then met in the foyer. Father Mackenzie held the envelope with the will in his hands.
I did a quick head count. Six, including myself and the priest. Our killer had not taken anyone else yet. Father looked around. "We're all here, alright. Let's see what the meaning of this is."
He took a letter opener and opened it. He withdrew the paper, a white crisp sheet. It appeared that she'd had this made recently.
"What's the date?" I asked.
The priest's eyes darted down. "Last June."
I nodded. Just before she got sick. That made sense.
"Well, read it!' Mr. Miller exclaimed.
Father Mackenzie nodded and cleared his throat.
"Greetings, my six heirs. Yes, Father Mackenzie is an heir as well. He was very dear to me in life, and he has been so kind to me in my later years. Unfortunately, he, as much as the five of you are, is subject to this horrible night."
He paused and swallowed. "Go on!" Mr. Miller urged.
"I am old; I have learned many secrets about each of you. As you can imagine, sitting at home alone is very boring, so I have paid good money to keep tabs on all of you And my, how I am disappointed! You are all sinners, save one, my true heir. By now you will already have discovered the bodies of Thomas and Regina King: the wrathful and the lustful. As you can see, they have paid the price for your sins."
"She's insane!" Lucy exclaimed. We murmured our agreement, and the priest continued.
"You will find the doors have all been locked from the outside. The windows are bolted as well. Essentially, this house has become inescapable. You are all locked in with a killer whom I have hired. He is watching you right now. If you look around, you will notice hidden cameras. I have had this house outfitted with the best security system money can buy. Suffice to say, no matter where you hide, the killer will find you."
I couldn't believe my great aunt had degenerated to such madness. She had been such a lovely woman, always attending Mass, very religious. What had happened?
"So, now the point. One of you will survive. I have left the killer detailed instructions on the order in which the rest of you will be killed. As you may have guessed, the seven that will die each have committed one of the seven deadly sins. While most who commit these sins are left unpunished, these sins will in fact be deadly for you. The killer will kill two at a time. He has also been given instructions to kill anyone whom he finds with his target, so I suggest that you hide away from each other."
I looked around at my fellow heirs. I needed to get away from them as fast as possible. I was going to survive; but I didn't want to lose my fortune by standing too close to them.
"So run! The killer will call you to the new bodies by way of the alarm system already employed. After that you will have ten minutes to hide again before the killer strikes. And then ten minutes again. Now go! Hide, and pray for your souls! With Love, Eleanor."
We all stared in horror for a minute as Father Mackenzie looked up. He calmly set the letter down, and then dashed off. The rest of us took the cue and ran.
I pushed past Mr. Miller and ran down the hall to the music room. It had always been my favorite room when I was little, and was still my favorite. I hoped it hadn't been converted to a sewing room.
I shoved the door open and ran inside. I slammed it shut behind me, and locked it. I let out a groan of dismay as the lock clicked open. Of course Eleanor wouldn't be that stupid.
The music room was still a music room. All types of instruments adorned the walls. A grand piano was the main piece of furniture. However, there was an adjoining recording room with a chair. I settled into it and took a deep breath. "Okay, relax, Johnny. This will all be over real soon. You'll survive, get the estate and the money, and then you'll be back in Georgia. Next week you'll be playing your violin like none of this ever happened."
The thought of my newest violin composition calmed me down. It was such a soothing melody. The notes bounced through my head and my breathing eased. “Okay, I wonder who’s next.”
I didn’t have anything else to do, so I tried to match the sins to the sinners. Although I was very scared, from an objective point of view this could be interesting. I could test myself, see how well I knew the sins and the other heirs. I began thinking aloud.
“Okay, so seven deadly sins… let’s see… wrath, lust, gluttony, sloth, greed, envy, and pride. Wrath and lust are already taken care of. So that leaves the other five. Let’s see… who’s the glutton?”
Mr. Jacques Miller was the first to come to mind. His overweight body spoke on its own. However, I recalled a conversation with him, where he told me that he wasn’t usually this overweight. He had just gotten off a surgery six months ago and had spent them lounging around watching TV. It seemed to be a shock to him that he lost his job after refusing to show up to work after his medical leave expired. No, he couldn’t be the glutton. He had to be the sloth.
Who then, was the glutton?
Then, it hit me. Gluttony didn’t mean eating too much. Gluttony just meant overindulgence in something. That narrowed it down to one suspect. I grimaced with slight remorse as I realized Lucy Paul was going to die tonight. She had to be the glutton. It was no secret she was addicted to marijuana. In fact, she was probably lighting up a joint somewhere right now.
I sighed. Well, I would be sad to see her go. But there would be no real impact on my life. We were only friends at family reunions; we didn’t talk outside of that. I’d probably attend the funeral, assuming there was one. God only knows what Eleanor’s killer planned to do with the bodies. Probably burn them in the coal-burning furnace in the basement.
Pushing the thoughts of Lucy’s burning body out of my mind, I thought about the remaining three sins. Envy, Greed, Pride.
Jesse Boxer was definitely the Envier. He was constantly complaining about how he didn’t have this or that, but other people did. That promotion at work, that girl in high school, that bike when he was eight. I thought he would’ve matured out of it. Yet, my recent conversation with him proved otherwise.
Bobbie Sue Williams was greed, I was sure. She was one of Aunt Eleanor's "friends" that had attached to her once she became rich. From what I had heard Aunt Eleanor say, Bobbie Sue had actually been her childhood enemy. It was not until Eleanor married my Uncle John (who I was named after) and acquired her fortune that Bobbie Sue had traded her harsh words for loving compliments. She was only at the will reading for the money and the estate; she had all but said that at the funeral.
Which left pride. Which left the priest. I could see that. I personally thought the clergy had a bit too much of a high-and-mighty attitude. I personally didn't know him, but Eleanor had. And Eleanor's opinion was all that counted.
Four down, three to go.
Purgatory was perhaps the most difficult to represent. Very much like hell, yet no true death. Dante Alighieri had written the most famous description of Purgatory in his book, The Divine Comedy. And this was, naturally, what the Avenger had chosen as his inspiration. Another male-female pair. It was fitting, as Adam and Eve had fallen together, so should these. The positioning, again, was symbolic. The terraces of Purgatory was difficult to find a parallel to, but after scouring the house the Avenger had found two decorative terraces branching out slightly over the foyer. Ideally, one would be above the other, but this situation was far from ideal.
The siren screamed through the house again. I checked my watch. Roughly an hour had passed since the will reading. I had survived the second cut. Not that there was any doubt I would, of course. "Time for the viewing," I muttered.
I stepped out of the music room. The siren was coming from the foyer, very close to where I had been hiding. The killer must've walked right past my room at some point. I stopped in the foyer and looked around. No bodies appeared to be present. After a few moments by myself, Father Mackenzie came running up the basement stairs. He stopped and heaved a breath.
I threw a fake smile at him. "We made it."
"Yes, for now," Father looked around. Mr. Miller emerged from-- where else-- the kitchen. My guess was he was a nervous eater.
"Alright, three survivors. Where's the fourth?"
A scream answered my question. Lucy. Her screaming came from the windows overlooking the foyer. I ran up the stairs, followed by the priest and the pig. I dashed the corner and ran into that hallway. "What? Did you find them?" I exclaimed.
Lucy's jaw quivered and she pointed her joint towards the terraces overlooking the foyer. I hadn't thought to look there. And there they were. One body per terrace.
On the left terrace lay Bobbie Sue. Thankfully, the old woman was clothed. That possibility had occurred to me after Mr. King's death, but I was glad it had been avoided.
Bobbie Sue was pinned down, face down on the floor. Literally pinned, as in having nails driven through her hands and feet, Christ-style. But I'm sure there was no resemblance between the two. The blood stains and rips on the back of her shirt implied that she had been beaten. I bent and ran my hand on her back, feeling the log-like bruises. Caned.
The bloody sign on the wall between the terraces read "Purgatory." I shelved that thought away for later and moved on to Jesse's body.
It was difficult to tell what Jesse's cause of death was. After closer inspection, I noticed the strangulation marks on his neck. But that was a minor detail compared to the rest of the body. The glaring distraction was the eyes. Dried blood leaked from them, like tears. Heavy, black, Frankenstein-like stitches sewed his eyes together. And his entire body was painted gray.
"Greed and Envy," Father Mackenzie muttered.
"What?" I asked, feigning surprise.
"It appears our killer is not only religious but well-educated. Dante's Purgatorio."
"Oh! Wait! I know this!" Mr. Miller became excited. "I read this while on leave. According to Dante, Purgatory is divided into seven terraces, each of which represents one of the seven deadly sins. Bobbie Sue, greed, the covetous in Purgatory were forced to remain face down in the dirt. And Jesse, envy, the envious had their eyes sewn shut, and they wore gray. Something about falconry."
Father Mackenzie nodded. "Very good, Jacques."
Mr. Miller beamed in spite of the two dead bodies.
"Um, not to worry anyone, but I believe our ten minutes are up," Lucy interjected, taking another puff.
I ran back to the music room as the others ran back to their hiding places. I settled into my chair, exhilaration rising. I was so close! But there was one more pattern to interpret. The first two killings had been labeled "Heaven." At first I thought it was some twisted random detail, but now I knew better. The next two killings were labeled "Purgatory." Aunt Eleanor was Catholic; these two labels aligned with two different theological dimensions. If my memory served correct, Purgatory was the place where souls destined for heaven but not pure enough went. They had to serve penance. But, naturally, it would be higher than Earth, as the souls there were technically purer.
Perhaps the arrangements did have a pattern. There were four levels in the house: the attic, the second floor, the first floor, and the basement. Mr. and Mrs. King had died in "Heaven", the attic. Bobbie Sue and Jesse had died in "Purgatory", the second floor. So, assuming that the killer was working down from Heaven, and each floor corresponded to a different realm, the next two bodies would show up on the first floor, arranged in something to represent Earth. And then the final kill would be in the basement, Hell. And I would finally win my fortune.
Earth was definitely the easiest. Modern culture was so sinful, practically any "normal" situation could be chosen to represent Earth. So, the Avenger had put the two sinners in their most normal positions. He smirked as he flipped the TV on. Friday the 13th. How appropriate. Of course, the Avenger's killing had more pattern and purpose than those of Jason Voorhees. Killing was an art; the Avenger was a virtuoso. Only one sinner left, and his would be the hardest fall of all.
Sirens shook me awake. I yawned. At some point I must have fallen asleep. No matter, I was completely safe. Time to see who had died now.
I got up and stretched. I lazily stepped out of the recording room and then out of the music room altogether. The sirens sounded like they were coming from the room across the hall. One of the living rooms. I stepped in and viewed the latest bodies. Lucy and Jacques.
"Pity," I muttered, staring at Lucy's corpse. Like Mrs. King, her wrists had been slit. And like Mrs. King, she had been propped up. She leaned against the bar, the still-smoking joint stapled to her fingers and resting just inside her mouth. Aside from the slit wrists and the pale, tight complexion, she looked completely normal.
Jacques was reclined in the La-Z-Boy facing the TV, glassy eyes open and staring at the screen. Like Jesse, the cause of death was not immediately apparent. Then I realized that there were two different shades of red on his shirt. I stepped up to him just as Father Mackenzie entered the room. I tapped the knife’s handle and looked up at him.
“Hold back your analysis, Padre, I got this.” I motioned to Lucy.
“Because she was the glutton, gluttonous for drugs, that is, and this was a common position for her on Earth, the killer propped her up like that. And Mr. Miller, this was his most common position. The TV,” I motioned to the TV, which had “Earth” written on it in Mr. Miller’s blood. “I’m guessing it was just a coincidence that Friday the 13th was playing, but the killer wanted the TV to be on, as TV really is the representation of today’s culture: mindless entertainment and false advertisement.”
I smirked at him. “I rob you of your a-ha moment?”
The priest stepped in and examined Jacques’s body. “Do you know why the knife is driven through his stomach?”
I paused. “No.”
“Our killer is smitten with details and irony, it appears. There was an evil king who was famous for being fat. A prophet of God killed him while he was on the toilet. He stabbed him and apparently the fat folds actually folded in around the knife, pushing it in further and making the wound worse. This appears to be how Mr. Miller was killed.”
I turned my nose up. That arrogant dick. Who did he think he was?
The priest took note of a note left on the table next to Mr. Miller. "What's this?"
He unfolded the paper. "Descend into Hell and claim your reward."
"Hell is the basement, just FYI," I called over my shoulder as I walked out the door. I turned down the hall as Father Mackenzie caught up.
"I'd watch that pride, boy, seeing as it's the only sin left."
"Please," I rolled my eyes as we entered the basement. "You're the prideful one, not me."
We climbed down the stone steps into the darkness. I passed a light switch, but elected to leave the lights off. I didn't want to witness a disgusting act of violence. "Alright!" I called. "You can come out now!"
"What are you doing?" the priest furiously whispered.
"I'm getting impatient; I want my reward!"
The priest stopped and tugged at his collar. I was just waiting for him to die. Gunshot, stab, chloroform rag, something. Then the killer would emerge and present me with the deed to the estate, as well as Eleanor's bank account numbers.
I turned back to face the furnace. I let out a cry of surprise as someone grabbed me from behind and slipped a rag over my mouth. I struggled and took in a whiff. Chloroform? No! This wasn't right! I was the heir!
Father Mackenzie smirked. Here was the greatest fall of them all. The others had been unconscious for their deaths, but it seemed fitting that this one would be awake. After checking the bonds, he stepped up to the entangled man and slapped him. "Johnny! Wake up!"
The man's eyes flickered open. "Wh... what?"
"It is time, Johnny."
"Father Mackenzie? What are you doing? The Avenger was supposed to come and take you!"
The priest stepped closer. "Funny, none of you ever questioned the killer. None of you ever thought that he might be among you."
Realization dawned in the man's eyes. "You?"
Father Mackenzie nodded. "Me."
Johnny started struggling against the ropes that held him in place.
"Let me go!"
"I will not let you go!"
"Let me go!"
The priest sighed and rolled his eyes. It was beyond him why Johnny thought it would work the second time.
"I will not let you go! In fact, I'm pretty sure the devil has a lovely demon set aside just to torture you."
"Um, I'm pretty sure I'm going to Heaven!"
"And yet, here we are," Father Mackenzie motioned around the basement. After he had incapacitated Johnny, he had poured gasoline around the edges of the room and ignited it. The floor and walls were both white cement, which eliminated any risk of burning down the rest of the house. To amp up the Hell factor, he had splashed the extra blood from the abuser, the luster, the glutton, and the sloth on the walls. As a bit of a foreshadow, the "Hell" sign was not in blood, but charcoal. This was the pinnacle of his artistic killing.
"What are you going to do to me?" Johnny demanded.
"Oh, Johnny," Father Mackenzie clucked his tongue. "You are going to pay the price for your pride. The greater a man's pride, the greater his fall. Which is why we let you live right up until the very last second. But now, the time has come. You will die like the rest."
"You're a priest! Why do you even want the money?"
"Oh, the apostolic life has been kind, but I want to try something else now. In fact, Father Mackenzie is dead. I've left an alternate copy of the will which decrees that all eight of us will die. They won't come looking for me, especially after they find the eighth body I left. See, your aunt was a smart woman. Her instructions are written out as if there was a real separate killer. The final instruction is for the killer to kill himself."
"They'll trace the money back to you," Johnny coughed.
The man who was Father Mackenzie shrugged.
"Maybe. I doubt it. Especially considering the final sentence of her will bequeathed all of her money to one William Joseph Roberts."
"And you're him?"
He nodded. "And Mr. Roberts will have had a recent plastic surgery that makes him unrecognizable as Father Mackenzie. It's foolproof!"
"Were never recording."
The ex-priest smiled as the final bit of horror finally appeared on Johnny's face.
"What was your first clue?"
Johnny began struggling even harder. Chuckling, the new William Joseph Roberts put on a pair of welder's gloves. He approached the furnace and opened the door as Johnny screamed. With a strength that surprised even himself, Mr. Roberts picked up Johnny, chair and all, and tossed him in. The screams grew louder. Mr. Roberts dashed to the still-intact landline and called 911. "Help! Help! We're trapped in the Queen Bohemia with a killer! Come quickly!"
He hung up before the operator could respond. Police would be here in a matter of minutes. It was time to go. Smiling, he ripped off the collar and tossed it into the flames. William Joseph Roberts had a flight to California.