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
“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
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
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
“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
Excerpted from "Rust: A Novel" by Susana K. Marsch. Copyright © 2017 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.