Tags: j.t. warren, blood mountain, psychological horror, horror, macabre, murder, rape, stalking, suspense, thriller, gore
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By J.T. WARREN
Published by J.T. Warren
Copyright 2011 J.T. Warren
Cover Design by Karla Herrera
This is a work of fiction. Any resemblance to anything real is entirely coincidental.
This is for all the women in my life.
Special thanks to my first readers, LeeAnn Doherty and Karla Herrera, and immense gratitude to my wife for her steadfast support.
Victor Dolor went to the diner because two months ago a man killed five people there. The man was Hugo Herrera. He was forty-one, divorced, recently unemployed from a downsized-factory job, and had finally been diagnosed with post traumatic stress disorder from something that happened when he was a child. Victor scanned several online articles for more specifics about the childhood trauma but found nothing.
In response to Hugo’s most recent therapy session with some high-priced psychologist, Hugo wrote a letter to The New York Times that said he was “sick of all the fucking shit and finally going to do something about all the worthless shits in the world.” The Times did not print the letter. Two days after he mailed it, Hugo took his hunting rifle into the Alexis Diner just outside of Stone Creek, New York, and murdered five people.
It was a sign.
There had been many signs recently but the Hugo Herrera murders was the most significant. Everything was changing. The period of acquiescent apathy was over. The time of now was the dawning of the age of the great cleansing when humanity would rid itself of the living detritus, shed the human excrement clogging the world, and give birth to a new golden age of empowered living.
Victor had been chosen. He was a cleanser. Hugo had been a cleanser. Unlike Hugo, however, Victor was not about to kill in one grotesque orgy and then blow his own face off. Victor would help cleanse humanity but he would do it so he too could one day enjoy the fruits of his labor. The next world would be his.
He had also gone to the diner for the girl.
She was in a booth with her father off to the left. Victor did not let his glance linger over her smooth flesh or soft red hair. She did not look up.
Victor sat at the counter on a plush red stool. A young Mexican boy slid a place setting in front of him and produced a glass of ice water. Victor stared at it. In the journey to preserve the status quo, to stave off the inevitable shifting landscape of the cosmos and humanity, the powers that be kept the water supply bloated with mind-numbing drugs. People who drank from this endless reservoir of placation would be blind to the ensuing changes. They would be ignorant of all the signs the universe offered. The warnings.
Condensation trickled down the side of the glass like tears. Or clear-colored blood.
The swinging door to the kitchen opened and a middle-age woman in a black and turquoise uniform smiled at him. Deep wrinkles creased her face like the cracks in dried mud.
“Morning,” she said to Victor. “Coffee?”
He smiled right back, nodded.
When she set down the glass he asked her about Hugo Herrera. He expected her face to pale rapidly, her meaty hands to grab at the counter and her throat to make some kind of choking, gasping noise that was really a cry for help. Instead, she shrugged and said she hadn’t been working that day, but it was a horrible, horrible tragedy.
Victor slowly turned his coffee cup in a circle. It made the faintest scraping noise against the counter, almost like the sounds the mice in his basement made at night. “Any idea why he did it?” Victor sounded so calm, so damn normal, so average-Joe.
The waitress paused. “Everyone has a breaking point, I guess. Sounds to me like he just snapped. Or he was crazy.”
“No doubt,” Victor said. The aroma of fried sausage swarmed around him like poison gas. “But why here? Was he a regular?”
“I never heard of him until that day when Arlon, my boss, called and said some wackjob shot up the place. Killed five people, one of them was a waitress.”
“You know her?”
“Sabrina? She was a new girl. Just out of high school, looking to save up for community college. She was a pretty thing. Such a shame.”
Victor glanced around, merely for show. The diner was fairly busy this Saturday morning. People were engaged in conversations in the booths while scraping their forks across plates that must have been used a billion times. The only other patron at the counter, however, was an old man in a big, heavy coat. He was at the far end, a cup of coffee before him and a newspaper.
“Place seems to have bounced right back,” Victor said. “Like it did after the last time.”
The waitress nodded. “I didn’t know what to expect. Thought I’d be out of a job. But Arlon reopened after three days, when the cops were done, of course, and people came back. Helps to be the only diner in a twenty-mile radius.”
“I’m sure.” Victor had lived in Stone Creek his whole life. The little town was squished on the corner of Orange County, New York, at the foot of Blood Mountain. The mountain was the second highest peak in the region next to Schunemunk Mountain, which, at almost seventeen-hundred-feet high, always got all the attention. Blood Mountain, however, had that killer name and the beauty that went with it.
“What did you mean, the last time?” the waitress asked.
“Some places are marked,” he said.
“Cursed, I guess you’d say, but it’s more than that.”
“Uh-huh,” she said. “What can I get you?”
“The coffee is fine for now, thanks.”
“You just let me know.” She winked.
Victor smiled back. What would she look like beneath his hunting knife? Would she still wink at him when he pushed it slowly into that soft spot at the base of her throat where her skin had started to sag?
She walked down to the old guy at the end of the counter and then made her way to the front of the diner where the rest of her customers waited in booths. Victor spun slowly on the stool as if he were maneuvering to get up, maybe head to the bathroom.
The girl and her father had only coffee and water so far. But they would soon be eating quite a large breakfast. They wanted to have enough energy to make it to a late lunch if not dinner. They would have eggs and bacon and pancakes and toast and hash browns. They would eat up because they thought it would help them.
He would watch them eat for a little while. Watch the way the girl, not a girl but a young woman, chewed her food. The way her jaw moved. The way her lips pursed open just slightly like offering some secret kiss.
He would watch and then he would go back to his car and eat the tuna fish sandwich waiting there.
He would leave five dollars on the counter and a full cup of coffee.
Mercy Higgins did not want to climb some ugly mountain with her father when she could be at home reading a book or working on one of her short stories. Could be at the bookstore helping Pete clean out the fiction section for the new coffee bar he was installing.
Dad needed this, however, and that would have to suffice.
The book someone had given him at work—Daddy/Daughter Bonding: Activities to strengthen a Father’s Connection with his Daughter—waited before him like it was his meal. Several skinny Post-Its stuck out from the pages.
“I know you don’t want to do this,” Dad said. She started to protest but he continued. “I know this may not be what you want to do on a Saturday, but I think it’ll be good for us. Get some fresh air. Some distance from the world. You might actually have fun.”
They had never been camping. Dad never showed any interest and she certainly had no desire to sleep in a tent on the ground. Not to mention the hiking. They weren’t prissy people; they just liked their quiet time at home. It was warm there, especially in the reading room where Dad kept the fireplace going through the winter and the walls of books sheltered her like giant arms.
Mom had loved that room, too.
“It’s fine, Dad,” she said. “I’m looking forward to it.” She held his gaze long enough for him to believe it, or at least add it to the tomb of self-denial he was perpetually building.
“It’s supposed to be beautiful tonight. Maybe a little chilly but we’ve got the thermal sleeping bags and the arctic tent. The portable grill, too. Hopefully, I’ll be able to get a fire going.” He laughed in that way that always made him sound vulnerable. It was something she liked about her dad, something she’d liked about Joel at school, too. So many men came across as cocky know-it-alls; it was refreshing to find a few who could be self-deprecating.
“I know, Dad.”
“I bought the best stuff. It’s not like we’re heading out unprepared.”
“It’s going to be fun. Trust me.”
About a month before she died, Mom told Mercy all the things she loved about her husband. She said them slowly, breathing shallowly between words. When Mom started on the physical traits, Mercy had steeled herself against the expectation of graphic sexual references because sometimes in those last days Mom had forgotten what she was saying, gotten really vulgar. Instead, Mom said it was Dad’s smile that always moved her heart. So sweet and inviting. And those dimples.
Dad’s smile now was no less sweet but carried a weight of desperation. The beard he’d grown had covered his dimples and his face had thinned.
“You’re really sweet, Dad.”
“No pity on your old man. This is for us.”
When the waitress took their order, they both asked for more food than they had intended, like they knew they would need it.
Beyond the parking lot outside the window was Route 51, which led straight across the county to New Jersey in the west and onward to New York City in the east, and on the other side of the road, almost close enough to touch, waited the foot of Blood Mountain. Clouds obscured the peak like it was something secretive. Or dangerous.
Victor did use the bathroom before he left the diner. It was a cramped, two-person room with one stall and a urinal. When he relieved himself, Victor admired his penis. He stretched it out. From what he found on the Internet, it was above-average in length. When he had paid a woman to suck him off, she made no comment about his size. He almost asked but he didn’t want her to look at him with that skeletal face and gap-tooth smirk.
“Soon enough,” he murmured to it.
He put himself carefully away in his pants before he could get excited and washed his hands at the sink. Too many images crowded his mind. So many ways he could manipulate the female body. So many positions. He had to keep those images in check. If he let his excitement get control, he would lose the upper hand. He had planned this for far too long to let it get away because he was desperate for a woman’s touch.
After the cleansing, there would be plenty of women for men like him. Plenty of touching.
Mercy Higgins could be saved. It would be her choice.
Victor almost missed the writing on the mirror. He started to turn away, shaking his hands dry, and wondering if using their water had been such a good idea; it might permeate his skin, infect him.
In the lower right corner, scratched into the mirror’s surface, it said: Cleanse the World.
Victor traced the three words with his finger. The indentations they made in the mirror were like slices in skin, knife tracks about to spout blood.
It didn’t matter who put it there, Hugo or someone before him. It was another sign.
Victor left the bathroom. His smile must have looked so peculiar.
While Mercy and her father gobbled eggs and pancakes and toast, the teens in the booth across from them discussed the recent shooting in which a crazy guy named Hugo killed five people in this very diner.
“Fucking guy came in with a shotgun or some shit and bam! bam! bam!” The teenage boy in the skinny jeans and body-tight hoodie made a child-like gun gesture with his thumb and forefinger.
His equally tight-dressed friend laughed like the kid was talking about some movie.
The first kid glanced around, like scoping out the place. “Can you imagine? Must of been sick to see it go down. Blood hitting the walls and shit.”
“You’re sick, man,” his friend said.
The first boy glanced at Mercy and her father. His gaze lingered briefly. What was he seeing in his head? Was he imagining fucking her in some degrading way? “Can’t be prude about it,” he said to his friend. “Most people live in a bubble.”
That’s what Joel had said: Mercy, you live in a bubble. And he’d told her to use fabric softener. Such a weird thing to say. You’re clothes always smell stale. So, she’d used dryer sheets and went around in a cloud of lemon. Then he’d told her she had clammy hands and that he’d found someone else. She tried to elicit a smile from him but he stared at her like she was some beggar on the street.
In a way she had been. She’d begged to have sex with him, told him she was a virgin and that she really wanted him, even though she wasn’t sure that was the case but she was almost out of college and nobody graduated college still a virgin. Only losers. Then he said her hands were clammy and he’d met someone else.
“Can you imagine how fucked up it must have been?” the first boy asked.
“I’m glad I wasn’t here,” his friend said.
“Fuck that. I would have taken that guy down. Would have shot him between his eyes. Watch the blood splatter. Been a hero.”
Mercy’s eyes started to water. A minute ago she had been fine. Her only feeling was one of slight dread about hiking up a mountain on a chilly spring day and then having to sleep on the ground at some campsite. Then those two boys started talking about the killing and she was remembering Joel for some reason and how he said she smelled stale and had clammy hands and wouldn’t have sex with her and then she had graduated a virgin. Now, she was crying. Sometimes she hated being a woman.
Her father put down his fork and touched her arm. “Honey, what’s wrong?”
She took several napkins out of the dispenser on the table and dried her eyes. When she looked at her father, he had that sweet face he always got when things didn’t turn out right for her. When she’d fallen off her bike as a little kid. When her violin audition for Juilliard fell through and she studied literature at the State University in Pleasantville instead. When Mom died.
“I’m sorry,” she said.
“You have nothing to be sorry about. This is my fault. I shouldn’t have pushed this whole camping thing on you. I just thought it would be fun. Thought we could have some time to bond.”
Tears began to reemerge. “It’s not that. I want to go camping. It’s just … Just … ” She paused, breathed deeply. “I have to use the bathroom.”
When she slid out of the booth, the first boy said, “You think the guy wanted to have sex with any of the bodies? Shoot his load and then shoot his head off.”
If Mercy were a different sort of woman, she would tell them to stop being such stupid pricks and grow up and then she’d throw a cup of coffee on each of them.
She started to get her tears under control. A skinny guy with several-day’s worth of stubble on his face was staring at her. He was walking past the counter while she was on the opposite side of a dividing row of booths. He wore jeans and a black jacket. He was cute, too, aside from an undernourished face.
She knew him from somewhere.
Their eyes met and the man looked away. A moment later he was at the front door and Mercy was in the bathroom.
She knew him. She had spoken with him.
Victor held the girl’s gaze for no more than a second or two. He would have loved to stare at her for hours. Loved to hold her close and stare into her eyes, caress the fragility of her soul.
There would be time for that later. If she caught on too soon, there was a risk the whole thing might collapse. He had pressed his luck, no doubt about that, and if he pressed it any further he would be, as his father used to say, S.O.L.
No dinner tonight, son. Sorry.
But I’m hungry.
Shit out of luck.
Victor’s father hadn’t been a bad man or even a bad father. He was the kind of father who never understood what fatherhood was really about. He saw Victor as a roommate, maybe even an acquaintance. He didn’t belief in tender consolation. Life dealt you a bad hand? Well, looks like you’re S.O.L.
Victor didn’t want to be S.O.L. Luck had been with him for a while now. It would continue to be with him. He only had to trust the greater powers manipulating his future.
He turned from the girl’s soft white skin and innocent blue eyes. They would be his in time. Then he could chew on that flesh and suck those eyes right from her skull if he wanted. Maybe she’d even like that, get off on it. Her body would convulse in a spasmodic orgasm as her eye slid past his lips and onto his tongue.
He walked quickly outside to his car. The friction of his jeans only encouraged his arousal. His underwear, always a size too small on purpose, was doing little to stymie the growing bulge.
He had parked at the far end of the parking lot. His car was a beater from the late eighties he had bought for one-hundred dollars. It had two-hundred-eighty thousand miles. The steering wheel shook violently at speeds over forty and the exhaust stank of rotting eggs. But it was all he needed.
There were no cars near his.
He dropped into the drivers’ seat. It groaned like it might finally give out. He yanked down his jeans and took his cell phone from his jacket. He caressed himself faster and faster as he scrolled through the fifty pictures he had taken of Mercy Higgins.
He managed to get the box of tissues out of the glove compartment in time.
Mercy almost started crying harder when she thought how much easier it would be to explain everything to Mom. Women understood how messed up they were. They knew their bodies were uncontrollable vessels of perpetually battling hormones. A woman could be giddy with happiness one minute and completely devastated at the crippling power of some perceived fear the next. She could not explain everything to Dad. She couldn’t tell him how she felt about Mom, about her desperation to have sex with Joel, her overwhelming feeling of failure about her music and her fear that her life was a pointless string of disappointments. Mom would have understood, let her voice her shopping list of worries and then shared a secret smoke with her and told her that life for a woman was much harder than a man could ever realize. Dad would blame himself because he was sensitive and then she’d feel even worse.
She almost surrendered. She almost told Dad that she wasn’t feeling well and that she’d rather just go home and curl up in bed with a book. Spend tomorrow at the bookstore helping Pete.
The bookstore. Where she had seen that guy.
Since high school, Mercy worked a few days a week at a local bookstore called Rune Books. Pete Harwinski started the place in the eighties and managed to keep it profitable through all the publishing scares. He created an online presence to make his place known for the people who prided themselves on shopping only at privately owned shops. He’d recently added free Wi-Fi and was building a coffee bar with a few plush chairs for costumers who didn’t want to buy books but liked scrolling the Internet in such ambiance. Since graduating, Mercy worked there six days a week. She’d probably end up serving coffee by the end of next week. Not very impressive for someone with a Bachelor’s in Literary Theory with a minor in English Literature.
The store was never very busy except around Christmas, but Pete made enough to keep the business going and pay Mercy twelve dollars an hour. She lived at home and didn’t really care about the money. She worked there because Pete was such a nice guy, a second father, really, and because she’d always loved books. She could sit in the store, breathing in the sweet intermingling aromas of new and old books and read all day long.
The small size of the store and the way the towering shelves of books obscured what dim lighting there was always intimidated newcomers. Most newbies wanted the latest bestseller from whoever, but some were on a mission to get a rare hardback copy of some novel published in the sixties or seventies.
Maybe two-dozen regulars frequented the store every few days or so on what seemed like a rotating schedule. Most were nice, some weird. She knew all their names, too, all except for the guy she had just seen in the diner. She should have recognized him immediately. He usually came into the store every three or four days an hour or so before closing. He never returned her hellos. He went right to the far end of the store, opposite the cashier counter. He never seemed to find anything to buy. Pete called him “the perpetual browser.”
Mercy was reorganizing a shelf of horror paperbacks from the eighties with their flashy covers of gory monsters and blood-soaked landscapes when he caught the man peering around the corner of the bookcase at her. She asked if she could help him. His eyes did some kind of weird jiggle or something and he said no. A moment later, he was running out of the store like he had forgotten some urgent appointment.
That had been a month ago. Since then, he had been in the store but always like a ghost, hidden from view, only felt as some kind of different presence. Not threatening, exactly, but certainly strange.
He probably wanted to ask her out.
Perish the thought.
Victor cleaned himself up and stuffed the towel back into the glove compartment. Free of that stuff, his body was calm, his mind focused. When he didn’t relieve himself for a while, he could get a little crazy. He accepted that. The pleasure he gave himself was part of his maintenance, like brushing his teeth or bathing.
With a clear mind, he could see the situation better. See the pitfalls. The danger. He had been stupid to enter the diner. Stupider still to stare at the girl and, stupidest of all, to make eye contact. It wouldn’t take long for her to place who he was. Not that she knew anything about him, but he hadn’t exactly been as covert as the situation required.
The girl might get freaked, call off the camping expedition. She’d told her friend over the phone that her father thought the night on the mountain would be some kind of bonding thing but she would much rather see a therapist together. The girl had laughed at something her friend said before saying that maybe it wouldn’t be so bad, maybe they would run into a cute hiker.
Victor had been near the back of the bookstore where she worked, on his knees, pretending to scan the bindings of old hardcover books. The girl’s voice echoed through the store and teased him with its sensuality like those mythological creatures and their songs that lured sailers to their death.
The girl was no beast. She was an innocent, perhaps marked for death as the old world gave way to the New Time, but he would give her a chance to save herself. At least for a while.
It was the how of this situation he had never fully calculated. He couldn’t simply speak to her. She would see the truth of his nature, discover he was a cleanser, and rebuke him. Then he would have to kill her.
For now, he would stay out of the way. Trail them up the mountain. Hide in the distance. Wait for his opportunity.
Like when the rats came out. He could spend hours waiting in the dark of his basement. His hearing would get fuzzy and then adjust to the silence. His eyes would find the outline of the furniture and then gradually reveal their hidden dimensions. If he waited long enough, his senses grew super keen.
Then the rats had no chance.
Sometimes he killed them outright. Other times he amputated their legs and then gradually sliced open their bellies to see how long they would keep fighting to live.
The struggle could last for some time.
He would trust in his patience, in his senses, in his self-control. In the power the universe had given him.
That was easy to do when his mind wasn’t flooded with images of the girl on her knees before him, mouth wide. In those fantasies, her eyes were black holes that cried tears of blood.
Like the tears the trees cried on the mountain.
The girl and her father were at a table in one of the windows. The glare from the sun painted the girl in a holy aura like a giant halo.
Two teenage boys were smoking on the opposite side of the front stairs. They were laughing about something.
Victor got out of the car and opened his trunk. He checked his supplies. He hoped the rifle would not be necessary. He had never fired one. It was the same kind Hugo Herrera had used. He must have been quick, reloading and firing to kill five people without anyone stopping him.
Too quick to almost be unbelievable. Why didn’t anyone try to stop him?
Because in those final minutes, everyone in that diner knew the bell of a special hour had rung. People spend lifetimes looking forward to things but when destiny catches up with them they are helpless.
We are all helpless before the Great Plan.
Victor caressed his backpack. The hunting knives were in there. Set of seven. Each sharpened and polished. Sometimes he stared at his reflection in those blades and imagined blood traversing the grooves like open veins.
The teenage boys were gone. On the table, they left one dollar. Dad looked so sad and helpless that Mercy’s tears almost returned full force. When he began to apologize and call off the camping expedition, Mercy shook her head like Mom used to and said she was sorry, that she wanted to go on this trip with him, she really did.
“It won’t be as bad as you think,” Dad said. “It’s not going to rain.”
He was trying.
She picked at the remainder of her meal.
Outside, the two teenage boys were walking across the parking lot toward the far end. Their tight jeans with the sagging butts looked ridiculous. They probably didn’t have a car. Maybe been up all night drinking, talking about sex. They were assholes, but boys had it easier. Living the bohemian way came naturally to them. Ratcheting up sexual escapades like they were collecting baseball cards. Virginity was a grease stain needing to be wiped clean.
Joel had not pressured her. He had given her intense physical pleasure. The first time he went down on her she was appalled and horrified, afraid he would comment on her smell, but those worries vanished in a full-body tingling sensation. She was nervous returning the favor and had done her best imitation of what a porn woman would do. Even after a month of similar exchanges, he denied her the full pleasure of his sex because he had found someone new and he didn’t want to take advantage of her.
How wonderfully noble of him.
“We can talk about anything,” Dad said. “I know I’m your father and that makes it weird sometimes, but I am here for you. I won’t judge you.”
He meant well but it made her feel even more like a little girl. She was supposed to be a woman, a college-educated woman, not some teen fretting over boy issues.
“I know,” she said. “I’m thinking about Mom.” Ironically, talking about Mom was a preferable discussion.
Dad’s face paled. “It was hard. But you were so wonderful, honey. So strong.”
“It’s fine, Dad.”
“No. I mean it. Without you, I would have fallen apart. My little girl saved me.”
“I was a mess.”
“You were so strong. There is a lot of your mother in you. I hope you know that.”
Gradually, their solemn faces brightened until he made that stupid walrus face and she managed a giggle. Like when she had been young.
The boys were almost at the far end of the parking lot where a small car with dark splotches of rust on its side waited, the trunk open. The guy from the bookstore was standing there, gesturing for them to approach, like he had something really wonderful to show them.
The boys came around the car on either side like jackals. All three stepped behind the open trunk lid.
“You don’t have to keep things bottled,” Dad said.
“I’m just looking at the mountain.”
Dad appreciated the view for a moment. “A little bare right now but in a few weeks the trees will be lush. By then, lots of people will be up there. The trails will be littered with wrappers and plastic bottles.”
Going up Blood Mountain was a rite of passage for many people in Stone Creek. Parents took their kids up there as infants. Boys shot their first deers up there. Teenagers gathered to drink and have sex up there. Or so she heard.
“This time of year is why the mountain gets its name,” Dad said.
The boys moved behind the curtain of the trunk. A jagged rust scar marked it like a battle wound on a soldier’s face.
“All the pine trees. They start excreting around now. Change in the temperature or something. Sap is deep red. Tourists come to see it. The Great Bleed, it’s called.”
Dad had been stumbling around the Internet again.
In elementary school, kids said the mountain got its name from all the Indians that were slaughtered up there when the white settlers founded Stone Creek. In high school, the story had something to do with a hook-armed psychopath who liked to kidnap teenage girls up there. He’d rape them and hang them naked upside down from the trees. He would slice their throats with a hunting knife and watch them bleed out. Even a teacher once supported the story. “Lesson is, girls,” the teacher said, “don’t go camping.”
“The Great Bleed?” she asked. She thought of the first time she got her period. Thankfully, Mom had still been very much alive.
“It’s what they say.”
“Can’t trust everything they say, Dad.”
“You’re sure you want to do this?” he asked like she were debating getting on a roller coaster she’d finally gotten tall enough to board.
Outside, one of the boys fell to his knees.
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