An End Fit For Scum by Craig Steven
An End Fit For Scum by Craig Steven
With my father and uncles, I carried my brother’s casket to the hearse. On an overcast day in the middle of October, we gathered at the Floral Hills Cemetery to mourn his passing. Only a week earlier, the police had found Eric, seven years old, dead in a ditch a mile from our home.
The pastor as he delivered his eulogy over the open grave, concluding a brief ceremony. My parents and I shook hands with the attendees, plenty of them made uncomfortable by the manner of my brother’s death and my mother’s wailing. I wondered secretly how many of them would have stayed home today if they knew what they were getting into. I didn’t blame them; funerals sucked, and of the three I’d gone to, none of them threatened to evaporate my heart so bad as this. My parents had assured me many times his death wasn’t my fault, but I disagreed entirely.
I tried and failed to distract myself as men in jeans and t-shirts covered Eric’s coffin with dirt. The rain would start falling any minute now. The wind blew, whipping coats around waists and rattling the dying trees in the woods north of the graveyard. From where I stood, it looked as if those trees might never end.
There hadn’t been many leads as to who killed him. There were assumptions, investigations, interviews, pleas for information with the promise of reward money. Nothing followed, though, and my brother’s murderer still roamed the streets.
I knew who did it, even if no one else did.
They might have known, but the sufficient evidence they needed to press charges hadn’t popped up yet. An old man lived around the block from us. His name was Eustace Wallace; sex offender, pervert, creep. He got in trouble in the eighties for indecent exposure and sexual exploitation of a minor (Google told me everything I needed to know). He technically kept his nose clean after that, so far as his record was concerned, but his name had come up during dozens of cases afterward. He was never convicted, though. Not because he was innocent, I knew; he just knew how to come off as such.
The day after we found Eric, he started taking walks around the block. Every morning, like clockwork. I didn’t know if this had been a habit of his beforehand. Then again, I never had a reason to pay so much attention to him. My parents had warned my brother and I to never go around his home.
He wanted us to know he did it. To know there was nothing we could do about it.
I stared at Eric’s grave from beneath a black umbrella long after everyone else had left. I had to avenge him. My fault or not, I would make up for letting him die.
I would kill Eustace Wallace. He hadn’t been charged by the authorities. But he would answer to me, and pay for stealing my baby brother’s life.
The weather had lightened the next day. The sky was still a gloomy shade of gray but the rain had stopped pouring. Now I could sit on the roof and watch Wallace’s house, already unbearably boring, without getting soaked in the process.
From my vantage point, I could see into his backyard, across the alley, two houses down. I’d learned a lot by sitting up there for four days. He left for his walk at eight. Around noon, he brought out a shopping bag full of garbage and put it in his bin. After sundown, he did it again. Easy enough ritual to memorize. He grew lax as the police’s interest in him dwindled. He thought he was safe.
For the hundredth time since it happened, memories of that day rushed me. I doubted I would ever be able to suppress them, let alone after only a week.
Dad had been manning the grill while Mom entertained the guests. Family, friends, neighbors, even those we didn’t particularly like, but it would have been mean not to at least invite them.
These same people would be at the funeral a week later.
“Robbie!” Mom had yelled. I was lounging by the pool, chatting with a few of my buddies about school and chicks, back when things had been that simple.
“Will you check on your brother? I told him to come and check in every few minutes and I haven’t heard from him.”
“Yeah, sure.” I stood from the lawn chair, basking in the sun. It was an unseasonably warm day and the news said it would be the last until Spring rolled around. I walked to the front yard and scanned the street.
“Yo, Eric!” I yelled, cupping my hands around my mouth. “Come here, squirt! You’re supposed to check in!”
He didn’t respond. The street was quiet save for the raucous coming from the backyard. I inhaled to yell again before someone ambushed me from the bushes beside me.
“Ahh, oh, no!” I fell to the ground, protecting myself from the would be attacker. “Please, don’t hurt me, scary monster!”
Eric giggled ferociously like kids do when they think they’ve actually scared us. “No, Robbie, it’s me! Eric!”
“Oh, it is?” I squinted at his face. “You’re right! You are Eric! You almost had me fooled for a second, kiddo.” I stood and ruffled his dark hair. “Why haven’t you checked in? You know Mom gets worried.”
“Sorry. Guess I lost track of time.” He shrugged sincerely. My mother gave him a lot of grief, but he was much more behaved than myself at his age.
“All right, well, try to be better about it, okay? Why don’t you come back and hang out? There’s a few kids your age. You don’t need to stay up here and play with your trucks like a loner.”
“I don’t like those kids, Robbie. They’re a bunch of buttheads.” I figured that calling someone a butthead at that age was the equivalent to calling someone an asshole as an adult, so I dropped the subject.
“All right, but keep checking in so Mom doesn’t keep sending me up here. Deal?”
“Deal!” Eric shot me a thumbs up. I returned the gesture and started walking back. “Robbie, wait!”
“What is it, buddy?”
“Do you think I could ride my bike around the block? Just one time?”
“Eric, you know Mom wouldn’t like that.”
“Please? You can come with me if you want. I’m tired of riding it up and down the driveway. That’s only like, twenty feet long! Please!”
“All right, fine. But hurry up. I’m going to stand right here and if you’re not back in five minutes, I’m going to find you and beat you up.”
“Yay!” Eric hugged me around the midsection. “Thanks, Robbie!” Eric ran to the bike he only removed the training wheels from a week earlier. With an ecstatic wave, he took off down the street on his Spider-Man bike, wobbling back and forth until he finally got the hang of it.
I never saw him alive again.
After the allotted five minutes, I circled the block on my own bike, hollering for him. I saw neither hide nor hair. I immediately called 911 and raced home. Five minutes turned into ten, ten minutes into an hour, one hour into three. Mom lost her mind. Dad tried amicably to keep his cool, but he was noticeably shaken. Would any parent blame either of them?
Our guests wished us luck before scuttling out of there, shamefully relieved their own children were right beside them.
They found him at eleven o’clock that evening. The worst-case scenario had come to fruition. We weren’t allowed to go to the crime scene, and when the time came, neither of my parents allowed me to go with them to identify the body. The closest I came to seeing him was the vivid dream the night he was found. Truthfully, I was surprised I had fallen asleep at all.
I was riding my bike in the dead of night when I came upon a crime scene, surrounded by a dozen police cars. My bike disappeared and I was running through the arms of every officer who tried to stop me and weaving through the paramedics like traffic cones. When I ducked beneath the caution tape and reached the edge of the road, I looked down at what was left of my brother.
The sight of him, bloody and bruised, knocked the wind out of me. His face was beaten unrecognizable. Were it not for the cerulean eyes we shared, I wouldn’t have known him. They were glazed over, staring a hole through me.
“Avenge me, Robbie,” he said in a wheezing croak so far away from his voice. “You let him do this. Find him and make him pay for it.”
I woke up in tears that continued pouring for almost an hour. I’ve gotten more used to the dream since then, but it never fails to evoke the same reaction.
I siphoned gasoline from my mother’s Volkswagen, praying she wouldn’t come into the garage. She had no reason to. She hadn’t left the house at all except for the funeral. She lost the will to do anything but sit in her bedroom and cry into her pillow. No skin off my back. I was quite dead to the world myself. I hoped when I got my revenge on Eustace, the days would be easier to live through. The nights, I feared, were forever uncertain.
Did I know for a fact Eustace had done it? I was almost completely positive, but that inkling of knowing stewed in my brain in spite of the tiny voice that wanted to side with the police, that said, “Don’t go jumping to conclusions, the police said the guy didn’t do it, so maybe he didn’t.”
If one day the police came forward with new evidence that pointed to a definite suspect, that would be that. At the moment, though, they had nothing. I, however, had a pervert living right across the alley, and everything about him screamed guilty.
I was a smart kid, though. I hadn’t gotten a full ride to Ohio State on my looks alone. I did realize that he might have done it. But I always had a tendency to go with my gut. Funny how little the brain and instinct saw eye to eye.
If I came to find out he was innocent long after I’d taken his life, I would just remember his track record. If he hadn’t raped and killed Eric, he was guilty of a plethora of other things. The world would be better off without him.
I would remind myself of that every day for the rest of my life if I had to. Turning back wasn’t an option.
The sun had set for the night, and I had moved from my perch on the roof to a new spot. I’d been crouched behind Eustace’s garbage can for about an hour. Barring a natural disaster, he would walk out of his backdoor with a small bag of garbage in his hand. With the crowbar clutched in my hand and a backpack strapped over my shoulders, I waited for the biggest piece of garbage of all.
Was this my best idea? Probably not. I’d seen all the cop shows. The chances of getting away with this were pretty slim. I only hoped the police wouldn’t look too much into Eustace’s murder. Maybe they would let the whole thing go, admit that someone had done the world a service, and everyone could go back to the way things were. Wishful thinking, but I couldn’t afford to think any other way. The thought of a life behind bars didn’t really comfort me.
The backdoor swung open and I immediately held my breath. Eustace’s heavy footsteps approached, the soles of his slippers slapping against the concrete. The bin’s lid opened backward and some leftover raindrops landed on my head.
I remained unmoving, vigilant, ready to strike. The lid slammed and Wallace yawned. He didn’t move. Was his head turned toward the sky, with its full moon and the black clouds surrounding it? Looking down at the wear and tear in his slippers, wondering if he should get new ones? Anywhere but at my current location, I hoped, three feet away, ready to send his soul to Hell.
He finally turned and started walking inside. I peeked my head around the corner. As soon as he pushed in the door, I pounced, running silently. When he kicked it shut behind him, I kicked it back in.
He turned and screamed, hands up, backpedaling. He couldn’t retreat quick enough to avoid the business end of my crowbar coming down on his forehead.
He clutched his face, blood pouring from the gash like a broken faucet. He writhed on the kitchen floor, kicking at me, at the rusted refrigerator, at the counter full of dirty dishes and rotting leftovers. The stench would have forced me to cover my nose had the task at hand not required my full attention.
“I’m-” he began. I kicked him in the stomach. He cried out and tried to crawl away. I sidestepped the blood as best I could to avoid slipping and joining him in his misery. He whimpered like a sad puppy when I raised the crowbar again, and shrieked when it smashed his left kneecap.
“I’m sorry!” he screamed, rolling on the floor, both hands cradling his battered leg. “I’m sorry, I’m sorry, I’m sorry!”
“Really?” I asked, spinning the crowbar in my hand. “You don’t seem too sorry every time you walk past my house. Don’t seem sorry enough to turn yourself in. Didn’t seem so sorry when you killed-” I smashed the crowbar into his shoulder, “my fucking-” again in the knee, “brother.”
“I’m sorry! Please, don’t kill me! I’m sorry! I won’t tell anyone you were here! Please!” The homes in this subdivision had some decent space around him, yet I was worried. Then again, who would call for help on behalf of this piece of shit?
“Sorry, sorry, sorry. What do you have to be so sorry about, Eustace?” He gripped at the oven to help him stand, and I let him get halfway before I punched him in the face, squeezing the crowbar in my fist to add power to the punch. He stumbled backward and fell onto his kitchen table, knocking bowls, cereal boxes, and mail to the floor. His right hand started curling into a fist. The nerve of this guy.
His silverware drawer was open haphazardly, the messy bastard. I helped myself to two steak knives and stabbed one of them through his wrist. It dug through skin, bone, and wood, leaving him embedded to the table. I think he would have screamed if he had the energy to do so.
“Shit, Eustace, these are really good knives.” I hit his other arm with the crowbar, straightening it out, before repeating the process. I’d successfully crucified him to his own kitchen table, screaming, crying, choking on tears and snot, making an even more gargantuan mess of his kitchen with his own blood.
Thus far, the plan was going swimmingly.
“I’m sorry about your brother, all right!” he yelled, struggling against the table. His weight brought it to the ground, banging his fat ass on the ground so that he sat straight up, arms at his sides, table at his back. “I’m sorry the cops haven’t caught the guy who did it, but it won’t bring him back, anyway! But it wasn’t me!“
I leaned against the counter and stared down at him. I had expected him to blatantly lie, of course, but I would be lying if I said he hadn’t at least piqued my interest. I stared at him, tapping the crowbar against the edge of his cupboard.
Apparently it wasn’t an easy hint to pick up on.
“Keep talking, you piece of shit. You know who did this?”
“Yes! I swear!” He gulped some air and spat bloody mucus on the floor. “I was sitting on my porch when your brother rode past. I… I…”
“I watched him! You’re not stupid, you and everyone else in this goddamn town knows me!” He inhaled deeply, shuddering his extremities and wracking his lungs. “I was watching him, but that’s all. Then a car pulls down the street and pulls up next to him-”
“What kind of car?”
“Red. A red Toyota Camry, it had one of those polar bear license plates, you know, the ones with the zoo’s name on it?” I didn’t answer him, but I knew the car; it always drove ten miles under the speed limit through the subdivision, and the license plate was kind of cute.
I remember seeing it more than once.
“He talked to your brother for a minute, and he finally got him to put his bike in the trunk. And he climbed into the passenger seat and he drove off down the street. I had nothing to do with it, I swear to you!”
“All right.” My knuckles had turned white from gripping the crowbar so tight. “And did you tell the police this? My parents?”
He guffawed. “What, and get thrown behind bars for being an accomplice? Fuck that! They’d take one look at me and knowing my record they wouldn’t think twice about pinning it on me! They would say that by not calling 911 immediately I helped him do it. I’ve kept my fucking nose clean, kid. I’m not going to stick my nose into anyone else’s business, and your brother getting killed isn’t going to fuc-”
Crack. The heavy end of the crowbar dented his head in. It only took one swing to shut him up, but a couple more certainly didn’t hurt. He wasn’t much to look at before, but he had become an abstract mess of blood, bone, and brains. My Sistine Chapel. His glasses buried into the bridge of his nose, permanently implanted. The rise and fall of his chest ceased altogether, and he was gone.
And yet, I was empty. I had taken his life. Eric hadn’t come back from the dead. Nothing I did to Eustace could relieve the pain Eric had felt during his last few hours. I couldn’t turn back time. Maybe when I found the man who drove the red Toyota Camry, my pains would be further alleviated. I hadn’t killed the killer; just the man who had watched my brother’s abduction and let it happen. Either that, or the man who had lied and killed my brother after all. No time to think about that, though. Like I said, the world was a better place now, regardless of who had done the deed to my brother specifically.
I began to clean up my mess. Though I still had plenty of night left, I needed to get moving. I threw my backpack to the ground, emptying its contents. I left Eustace alone and poured gasoline all over him. It fell down his face and soaked his wife beater and sweatpants. I sprinkled it all over the floor and covered the walls of every hallway and bedroom. I was afraid to open any doors on account of what I might find.
I stood at the back door and looked down on my work. The man responsible for my brother’s death, maybe, at least partly, laid in front of me, dead as a doornail, beaten to death. I should have been over the moon. The moment should have at least been bittersweet.
I felt nothing. I wasn’t happy, nor upset, nor even anxious to hurry up and cover my tracks. Eric’s death had claimed a large chunk of my humanity, and I fear my actions tonight took whatever remained.
I already had my alibi set for the night should the police swing by my place. Granted, it cost me a good deal of saved allowances to both pay for my friends to go on a two day road trip and to bribe them into saying I’d gone with them, but it was well worth it. We went over the cover story together in grueling detail for the better part of six hours, and the best part was, they thought I was simply going somewhere nefarious and hiding it from my parents. Being a teenager had its advantages sometimes.
From here I would go straight to the woods near the cemetery and hide there, where I’d already planted a duffel bag with a change of clothes and a shovel with which to bury the ones now covered in blood and gasoline. My friends would pick me up at the agreed destination upon arriving back in town the next day, and I would be there with them, acting shocked but not too grieved along with the rest of the town at the discovery of Eustace Wallace’s house burnt to the ground.
I would have to wait a while before doing this, and worse, to the man who did it. Had he lied in order to save his own life, hoping I would have a change of heart? Point out a car he knew well enough from living around here, say the man who drove it was the one who kidnapped and murdered Eric?
On the off chance he was telling the truth, I’d have to kill that guy, too. And I would be in the same pickle if that guy pointed the finger at someone else. Part of me feared the killing might never stop. I might be at work forever.
Whoever had done this had ruined my family. Our neighbors stared at our house and whispered behind cupped hands as if we could hear them from behind its walls. We would always be the family who’d lost a son, a brother. Eric would always be gone. My parents and I were going to be miserable for a long time regardless of what happened to his killer. For the rest of my life, I would have nightmares of seeing my brother’s corpse lying in that ditch and I would wake up screaming.
When you got right down to it, there was really no point to any of this, but at least being a vigilante passed the time and cleaned up the earth a little bit.
I lit the book of matches and tossed it onto the linoleum floor. I turned and walked through the backyard and down the alley on the way to the cemetery. Eustace’s body burned right up behind me, and after some thought, I decided I didn’t really need to see that. I pulled up the hood of my jacket, vowing to scour the city for the red Toyota Camry as soon as the police forgot about all of this. Then, left with no choice lest my dead brother never forgive me, I would kill again. Scum would always litter the world. I couldn’t do much about all of them, but if they had a hand in Eric’s death, even if it was hearsay, I would kill them. I would kill Eustace all over again, and I’ll kill whoever else I need to after this.
Until I had a reason to stop or the police made me stop. Whatever happened first.
Copyright Craig Steven 2020
About the Author: “Craig writes horror because he’s always enjoyed having the bejesus scared out of him. Now he wants to do the same thing to other people, and he likes to think he’s pretty good at it. He reads books, mostly horror and psychological thrillers, watches movies in the same vein, and sometimes you’ll catch him watching rap battles. He smokes menthol cigarettes and wears fancy aftershave. He lives right by Cincinnati. Check him out at http://www.craigwrites.com/ ”