His name was Mike Monroe. He called me over as I ran out the door pale and trembling, while my house screeched behind me like a car crushed at a junkyard, and offered me coffee on his porch. The warmth of the cup steadied my nerves.
“Young man, ya don’ know what ya’ve gotten yourself intah, do ya?” He said taking a sip, “It's been almost twenty yeahs and I can’t forget it, I’m not surprised the house hasn’t forgotten eithah.”
“What happened here?” I asked.
“The realtah didn’t tell ya?”
I shook my head.
He glanced at me and sighed. There was doubt in his eyes, as if he wasn’t sure he should tell me. I’d seen him since I moved in and he’d always seemed nice, yet reserved. This was the first time we’d interacted beyond the occasional wave and “how aah ya?”.
“Listen, kid, I’m gonna tell ya the whole story, just as she told me. Remembah, these are her words, not mine.”
Mike Monroe took another sip and began. His husky old-man’s voice broke through the lazy quiet of the summer afternoon. As I listened, the words became pictures, and the pictures became words on paper, thus portending the next story I was going to write and the woman that would shape it.
It wasn’t so much the stench of blood that bothered her, but the taste in her mouth; metallic, reminiscent of rust on her long-forgotten bicycle. She hadn’t used that bike since the fifth grade; when she had let it drop on the grass in the front yard, running straight for the house, unaware of the unsettling silence surrounding it.
She had run into the parlor trailing mud from her white sneakers, while the screen door had slammed behind her, making a loud thwack as it hit the door frame, followed by a quieter one as it bounced back and finally settled in place. Back then, she couldn’t have possibly known what was happening in the living room. There’d been no indication of anything wrong beforehand, no hint that her grandfather would be dying while she happily rode her bike up and down the street; but years later, she would remember it as the before-and-after moment of her life.
Now that moment seemed so far away, so unimportant, insignificant. Funny, how it had once been paramount in the shaping of her person, yet now seemed so puny she probably wouldn’t even have thought of it, if not for that metallic taste in her mouth; the taste of a rusty bicycle, the taste of blood.
The smell remained in her nostrils as she stood in the parlor, the same screen door closing noisily behind her. Everything seemed as it should be, but there was something wrong, something eerie about the place. She felt as if the house and her whole life had been violated, yet everything seemed in order.
She cautiously started up the stairs, the sensation of lingering violence growing stronger with each step.
She dared not speak, lest she rip apart the ghostly silence that suffocated the house and bring more violence into being with the sound of her voice. It seemed as if this unnatural silence had created a vacuum somewhere deep in the walls and sucked away all comfort and safety, which normally defined this home.
As she opened the door to her brother’s room, her memory jumped back to the day so long ago when she had run in with muddy shoes, expecting to find a smiling mother and the much promised afternoon snack of milk and cake.
It had not been so then, and somehow, now, she knew that she would not find her brother asleep. He was on his bed, yes, but his face was turned toward the door, his eyes wide open in terror and blood spilled down the side of the bed from his gutted body.
She staggered back, and trembling, moved down the hall to her parents’ bedroom. The door was slightly ajar. She pushed it open as the reek of blood hit her full on. They were on the bed; their bodies hacked, blood creating pools on the carpet and splattered on the walls. There was so much of it. It seemed to eat into the plaster. It poisoned the air and defiled all relics of happiness, family, childhood and innocence.
The house was silent, it was an eerie quiet, and yet, deep inside, she knew she was alone in that big, dead house. She knew ‘they’ were gone. Only a few hours before, the house had been empty, but even with her father at work and her mother and brother at the park, there had been life pulsing through it. Now, it was full of death, and she was alone in that tomb.
She could stay there no longer, not among the destruction of all that she held dear. Woozy and faint, she ran down the stairs. She passed the living room where she had found her family that day far in the past, kneeling beside the couch and sobbing as her beloved grandfather had taken his last breath. She flew out the door, death clinging to her, and despair leaving a wake of malodorous rupture in the night air.
“What became of her?” I asked. He finished his cup and set it down on the window-ledge behind him.
“I dunno. I remembah she said she ran to her boyfriend’s. Some guy lived not so fah away. The police came and went y’know, but never found nothin’. They watched for weeks an’ knocked on our doahs for months, but nothin’. They never did catch who did this. All I saw was the doah gapin’ open. I called the police, y’know.”
He looked up at the house across the street. It stood, gloomy and dark, at the end of the lane, surrounded by the thick, tall trees of the forest. I followed his gaze; I knew there was something wrong about this house, the darkness within it was different—it was heavy. And the old man was right, there was a metallic taste to the air inside.
“Anna,” he said out of the blue and I froze at the sound, “her name was Anna, boy’s name was Tommy, Beth an’ Paul were the parents. Last name Jenkins. I saw her y’know, the day she left with nothin’ but a suitcase. Just walked out the doah. I was standin’ right heah’, tendin’ the roses when she walked by an’ I talked to her, called her ovah, y’know. Her face was all sad an’ pale an’ her eyes were sunken as she said goodbye. Said she’d go stay with her boyfriend for a while an’ then an aunt up in Maine. That’s all I know. But y’see, I was lookin’ right in her eyes an’ when I told her I’d pray for her an’ her family, I saw a glint, like a spark light up from way inside, an’ I swear there was somethin’ evil about that look, an’ it gave me the chills. ’Twas ninety degrees out heah an’ I was cold as ice. I watched her walk down this street an’ I remembah thinkin’ to m’self: that girl had somethin’ to do with it all.”
“Nobody heard anything? Screams, anything like that?” I asked, trying to maintain my composure. ‘Anna’ was the word that rang out through the house at night.
“Now you’re stahtin’ to sound like the cops did back then. Nah, it was Memorial Day weeken’ an’ the Dawsons an’ Connors were already gone for the holiday. My wife (God rest her soul) was deaf, so thankfully she didn’t know nothin’ of what went on. I was workin’ the late shift for the Big Dig back then an’ it was gettin’ to be our busiest time. Aftah all, buddy, this is Boston, there’s only two seasons: wintah’ an’ construction. I was turnin’ onto our street when I saw someone duckin’ into a yahd, but thought nothin’ of it till I got to the Jenkins house and saw the doah wide open. It was past midnight, so I called the cops. Anna told me latah she hid behind a hedge cuz she thought it was them comin’ back for her.”
I asked him a few more questions about the investigation, but he knew next to nothing. He said the police had kept a tight lid on the whole thing and that the papers didn’t really cover the murders much. Politics had been the order of the day back then. He remembered they had asked him what the family was like and whether he thought the girl could’ve done it.
“I said no way, sweet girl like Anna, nevah. But that was befoah she said goodbye, befoah I saw that evil in her eyes.”
Apparently, the police couldn’t find any convincing evidence, and no motive was clear.
We talked for a while longer. He was a big man and I could tell he’d been quite muscle-bound back in the day, your typical construction worker. Now he was gray-haired and had a musty smell about him.
He told me how this was once a quiet street where most people knew each other; Anytown, USA really. They kept their doors unlocked and their yards clean. They waved and talked and had coffee together. Dinner parties almost every week. He said it used to be all friendly and whatnot. He told me the family was nice, quiet, and nothing suspicious ever went on there. They weren’t noisy or disrespectful, they were good people, he said with a shake of his head; good people.
I asked him to tell me again what had made him think that the daughter had had something to do with it. I couldn’t really say the name, the house said it too often. He shook his head and said,
“Just a feelin’ y’know. Like a hunch. Somethin’ about her eyes that day she said goodbye. They scared me shitless. Then lotsa pieces stahted fallin’ into place, y’know, details that you only think of aftahwahds. I told the cops, but they said it wasn’t enough.”
He described how Anna always seemed more detached and distant than the rest of her family. How she was often cold and mean to her much younger brother. Little things she did and said—he couldn’t really remember now—but it had seemed right back then. Seemed right still. There was a stark contrast between the Anna in his story and the Anna now. He said that just as Anna had told him her grandfather’s death was the before-and-after moment in her life, for him there was a “befoah and aftah ‘The Look’”.
“Have you heard from her, did she ever come back?” I asked.
“All I can tell you is what I’ve already told ya, kid,” he nodded towards the house, “there’s been people movin’ in for a while an’ then they leave. Just up an’ leave, y’know. The last time ’twas a couple a yeahs ago, a young family about your age with small kids. They weren’ heah’ two months when they just up an’ got in their cah’ one night. Left the doah wide open an’ everythin’.”
He looked up at the house and shook his head again, “Yeah, somethin’ ain’ right about that house, just like somethin’ wasn’ right about that girl. I can only hope her aunt in Maine is still alive. “
I looked up and down the street and realized for the first time that none of the houses looked inviting. Yes, the stoops were clean and flowers bloomed in the sunshine, but there seemed to be invisible dark clouds hanging over them, like miasma.
Could this horrible incident be permeating the walls of the other houses on this street too, staining their lives with grief and fear? The old man said that no one locked their doors before. Now they go on with their daily lives, but always looking behind, jumping at shadows, unable to separate themselves from the carnage that happened next door.
I wish I’d known the extent of the damage before I’d bought the Jenkins house for a song. This was not something that can be painted over.
Excerpted from "Rust" by Susana K. Marsch. Copyright © 0 by Susana K. Marsch. Excerpted by permission. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher. Excerpts are provided solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.