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The Hatchet Man

By Paul Mirabile

Courtesy: Creative Commons

Tonight, in accordance with what I generally find necessary to record, I have mustered the courage to give full account of the singular events that have befallen friends and neighbours. These nightly entries have drained me of energy and patience, produced unusual sounds in my home, like those caused by nests of bees or wasps. Unusual too, the grotesque belief that loneliness and long periods of silence and speaking to one’s self, will give rise to hallucinations or other such aural phenomena. Be that as it may.

In the edition of the May ninth 1973 Daily Mirror, I came across an article which reported a most daring escape made from the Mental Hospital not far from our quiet neighbourhood. In 1968, the escapee had been accused of excoriating the flesh of a sixty-year old widow, so it read. What inflamed the imagination of the good people of our village was the way in which he had let himself in. Knocking at the door he introduced himself as a salesman for an encyclopaedia publishing house. The unsuspecting woman let the killer in and even offered him a cup of coffee. Her husband had died a very long ago, so it was supposed that she must have had an urgent longing to speak to someone. After conversing with her at some length, he casually revealed his hideous companion, an axe, and buried it deep within her brain, so the autopsy showed. He then proceeded to excoriate the poor woman. This odious account he willingly, and I add here, with over-excessive enthusiasm, declared to the authorities shortly after his capture. Owing to the savage and cynical nature of the crime, the monster was committed to the mental institution, and there interred for life …

Quite understandably his flight created a disturbance in our village neighbourhood. The twisted-minded beast was no doubt lurking about the wood surrounding our tranquil homes. The police stated that they had discovered fresh footprints leading from pockets of underbrush in our general direction. They have identified these footprints as his ! He had found an asylum during the hunt, and now was in search for new prey. His bloody doings would not stop at one …

Some time passed before the police gave up hope of locating the mad murderer. No one had seen him nor had my neighbours made any attempt to form a squad of vigilantes to ferret him out of his lair. I, as usual, sat behind my desk as I am doing at present, gazing half dreamily upon my scribbled notes, regarding the affair rather apathetically.

Five nights ago whilst lethargically reading through my writings as was my wont, a scream tore through the stillness of an unusually still night. Looking up from my writings, I imagined a sulking figure dragging itself over a rooftop just opposite my home through the parted serge curtains of my bay window. I state emphatically that the hour was late, and that perhaps my eyes had grown weary. Thinking it was merely my imagination, I returned to my work at hand.

The following morning to my astonishment, the papers reported a grotesque killing during the late hours of the night only six houses from that of my own ! In fact, it was someone with whom I was acquainted. My blood ran cold. He had been found beheaded. Chunks of flesh had been hacked out of his neck and torso. A hatchet undoubtedly was used for this gruesome purpose. What proved singularly frightful was that the unfortunate victim had been having coffee with his killer. Two cups of half-drunk coffee were discovered unmolested on a small, sitting-room settee. As to how the murderer entered, it can only be assumed that his victim let him in. The state of the house was in ruin. Nothing, however, had been stolen. A clear case of premeditated murder, so the police concluded.

This of course brought myriads of police to our quiet street where investigations were carried out with much fanfare and discomfiture. I was visited several times, the police sniffing about my home like a pack of retrievers. The chief inspector questioned me as if I were the criminal.

Did he think I was deflecting his attention from something important to their investigation ? Did he suspect me of foul play ? Of complicity ? He had those shifty pink rabbit’s eyes of a police inspector ! In spite of this ferreting and harassment, I said nothing. He casually flickered the ashes of his pipe in a seashell which I kept on my writing-table, thinking it, no doubt, an ash-tray, then left without a word, a master mustering his hounds. You may ask why I divulged not a word about that phantom on the rooftop. This I have asked myself, and even now at my desk writing this entry, I have no rational answer …

That evening (of the murder), I uneasily noted that my mind had been wandering from its normal systematic chain of thoughts. I was continually straining my eyes to envisage that evil phantom dancing on the roof opposite my home. Suddenly, and I assert my eyes did not deceive me, there it pranced again, sweeping haphazardly from shingle to shingle … from chimney to chimney, brandishing something metallic which glittered in the blue moonlight high overhead. And in one emblazoned second, I believe he gaped at me, mouth open, eyes ablaze! Yes, I am sure of it! And in that one terrible moment I noted that he possessed the same facial features as me: flattened head, black, beady eyes, pug nosed, curled lips. He vanished, darting out of the moonbeams … Throwing down my pen, I clutched at my hair ; my head churned out a series of chilling, bizarre scenes. The uncanny resemblance unsettled me, even alarmed me.  I finally lay on my canopy falling into a troubled, dreamless sleep.

How stunned I was the next morning when I read in the morning papers that my next door neighbour had been brutally butchered, ostensibly by the workings of the same maniac. The killing was identical, as was the means by which the killer entered the house. The police searched frantically. House to house inspections had been ordered and carried out. Again the hounds rummaged through my household belongings in the most disrespectful manner; had they snickered at the scones and boiled eggs I failed to remove from the kitchen table, crushing the shells that lay scattered on the floor under their muddy boots ? They had some cheek. And as they went about their sordid ‘duty’, the chief inspector eyed me with a strange mixture of pomposity and wariness, twitching his pipe inside his mouth from left to right and right to left, his nostrils quivering.

I felt my knees stiffen under that glare. Yet, I dared not return his pinkish rabbit stare, nor divulge my visions of the fleeing phantom. They finally left, then scoured the wooded area with dogs. I heard the howls and barks and yells of the chase. If I’m not mistaken they searched the surrounding woods and glens for days ; alas, the escapee was nowhere to be found. Many of my neighbours began to leave. To tell the truth, I felt no immediate danger, although I was quite naturally disturbed. Dull depictions flooded my thoughts of a hatchet-wielding man breaking down my door. And evening after evening, as darkness mantled the clusters of woods and lonely streets and lanes, icy droplets of fear gripped my heart ; I had seen this maniac, yet said nothing. Knocks rattled my door. Upon answering it, there was no one. Hornet-like droning and bee-like buzzing rattled the drums of my ears. Was it my imagination ? Could fear stir the mind to such heights of fancy ?

And so it was as four or five more nights passed. Two more murders had been reported in an adjacent neighbourhood, notched on the helve of the maniac’s gory weapon. I was in a quandary. Why did this evanescent shadow haunt my nocturnal solitude ? Why did he pertinaciously dance before my window ? Why hadn’t he knocked casually at my front door ? God if I knew. And why hadn’t I been to the police to notify them of this moonlit macabre rite ? Did the killer mock my terror … my  timid reluctance to act ? Did he embrace me as his tacit witness … his accomplice ?

Yes, why hadn’t I gone to the police ? The words are so difficult to express ; they wretch themselves from my pen. How then would they sound, sputtered to the police, or to that pipe-wielding inspector ? Oddly enough, though, I always remained calm. And even as his crazed figure  sauntered under the silver moonlight, I sat stoic, placid, squeezing my pen until my fingers and knuckles turned pale white …

The night of the double murder occurred a week ago. Since then the killer appears to have ceased his bloody onslaught. Perhaps he has been apprehended, or cornered in some distant wooded recluse like a wild animal. I haven’t seen him, and I must confess, on several occasions I’ve actually stepped out my door on to the porch to listen more attentively ; to see him more clearly ; to call out to him, discharging my savage, commingled phantasies and fears …

That night, as I toyed pointlessly with my writing tool, I fixed my bloodshot eyes to that hellish cornice of the roof opposite my house, a roof long since abandoned by its two or three occupants. Nothing. No one. I’ve wondered from time to time if the lunatic had really caught sight of me glaring at him in his frantic flights, my eyes pinned on his as he glided from rooftop to rooftop as if floating puppet-like in mid-air. All this had me chilled. It was unusually damp. My study felt damp and mildewy from insufficient heating. I hear footsteps coming up the street, hollow in the thick night. They halted.

I detect a slight rustling sound outside on my porch, like crispy leaves cracking under a booted foot. Why I write all this down just now is indeed troubling. A faint dizziness has sharpened my aural perceptions. And as I continue to write, in spite of myself, the porch door was opening, slowly … patiently as if the creaking wished not to intrude upon those sleeping at this late hour. And still I scribbled line after line.

There was someone knocking at my front door. I was chuckling as only a deranged man would when sensing foul play afoot, yet patiently waiting for it to strike ! And again, my pen continued to dictate to me. I was completely taken up by my writing. Is it because it mirrored the indelible mark of my solitude … my banal existence ?

There it was again that knocking. Should I answer it ? Perhaps it’s the old codger wanting a cup of hot coffee ! What a shuddering, stupid thought. No, probably some drunkard who noticed my light … or a neighbour in distress, no, better yet, the pipe-twitching inspector hoping to catch me off guard. Yes, I’m sure it’s that snooping blighter. God how my nerves were at an edge! And that tapping and rapping at my chamber door … Some late visitor entreating an entry? Ha ! Who could it be for Heaven’s sake ? Him ? Yes, him ? Rotten luck mate, I hadn’t a grain of coffee to offer him. That blasted door … If only I had a pistol … No, in the kitchen … the cleaver ! I fetched it and decided to see who fared better ! Hatchet against cleaver … I was sorry for the old sod — no coffee that night but a taste of my cleaver. To the kitchen. That hammering was driving me daft ; he’d wake up the whole damn neighbourhood … or what was left of it … First my cleaver, then the door … then to the rooftops … to the rooftops …

Paul Mirabile is a retired professor of philology now living in France. He has published mostly academic works centred on philology, history, pedagogy and religion. He has also published stories of his travels throughout Asia, where he spent thirty years.

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