by Richard J. O’Brien



Chapter One

            The first time I read about Harvey Underwood I was in the fifth grade.  I read an old newspaper article in the town library that detailed how, during one summer evening in 1960; Underwood captured four boys in a homemade rope net and dropped them individually down a well in his backyard.  All four boys drowned.  The next day, he took a shotgun from his closet, loaded it, stuffed his pants pockets with extra shells, and walked out of his house into mass murderer history.  Walking down Main Street in Anchorchase, New Jersey that morning, he shot and killed seven children and six adults. 

            Underwood had worked as a custodial engineer at a defense contractor facility Camden along the Delaware River.  Before going to work in Camden, he attended college at M.I.T., but never finished his degree.  In Boston, he met Betty Dingham, an intelligent, curvaceous, dark-haired, brown-eyed beauty who attended Radcliffe.  The affair that Underwood had hoped for never came to fruition, however.  Betty Dingham was murdered in her apartment.  The victim of fatal gunshot wounds.  A young man named Edward Beasley was tried for the murder of Betty and found guilty.  Beasley maintained his innocence until his death in the early 1980s.

When he dropped out of M.I.T., Underwood hung around Boston until Betty Dingham’s death.  Afterward, he moved back to New Jersey, and, a year later, inherited his family’s home along with a small fortune from his father’s business interests.   

            My interest in mass murderers began innocent enough.  As mentioned, an old newspaper article caught my attention.  From there, my interest became an obsession.  By the time I reached high school, I was an outcast.

            “There goes Kid Death,” the jocks used to tease me.

            “Morbid Mahoney,” the girls used to call me.

            I didn’t mind.  During my sophomore year of college at the University of Illinois in Chicago, I published a small book on mass murderers.  It was nothing more than a survey of recent mass murders and the men who had committed them.  The money wasn’t great.  The book, according to critics, not much better.  However, the exposure was good.  After my initial success, I hit a dry spell.  Upon graduation, I moved back to New Jersey and took a job writing obituaries for the Weyrland County Press while I freelanced articles for true-crime magazines.

            Harvey Underwood was seventy-nine years old when he was released from jail.  He moved back into his old home and became a recluse.  His release did not garner much attention from national media.  In America’s eyes, though he was truly the father of modern mass murderers, Underwood was nothing more than an old man with one foot in the grave compared to the likes of John Wayne Gacy or Jeffrey Dahmer.

            I learned about Underwood’s release through a friend of mine at the Weyrland County Press.  At first, I didn’t think much about the information.  However, the seed my friend planted in my head soon germinated.  It wasn’t long before I was consumed with wanting to write Underwood’s life story.

            The preliminary research I needed was readily available.  Old court transcripts, newspaper articles, the odd magazine article in which Underwood’s name had been mentioned in comparison to latter day mass murderers.  What I needed, what I saw as the only way to portray the kind of life story I wanted to write, was to get inside Underwood’s head.  It was a gamble to be sure. 

            “Do you care for tea, Mr. Mahoney?” Underwood’s voice sounded like a funeral director’s whisper during a viewing.

            “No,” I said.  “Thanks anyway.”

            Underwood was a tall man made gaunt and broken by years of mental unrest and decades of prison life.  He sat in an armchair, upholstered and mildewed, half-hidden by shadow.  Slowly, he raised his left hand and pointed at the window behind me.

            Just outside, surrounded by a small grove of dogwood trees, stood the infamous stone well.  Throughout my visit that day, I kept at Underwood to tell me about something I’d read in an obscure prison journal.  In the 1960s, he wrote a series of poems, four in all, rather lengthy, in which he compared a man driven to the brink of insanity with an old bucket being lowered into a well.  The journal was published by Hildenberg State Penitentiary, a sixty-odd page tome of stories and poems written by the inmates there.  Most of the work in the journal showed promise.  Underwood’s poems, however, caused quite a stir around Weyrland County, serving further evidence of his descent into madness.

            “They come out at night,” Underwood said.

            “Who does?” I asked.

            “The boys, of course,” he answered.  “The come creeping out like pale specters climbing up from hell.”

            As he spoke, I stood near the window looking out at the well.  He struck a match.  I turned around and saw him light a cigarette.  When he exhaled, pale smoke covered his face like a veil.

            “You want to know about me?” he asked.  “Why?”

            Until the moment I met him face to face, I had thought about that question.  Mostly, I wanted to portray his story in such a way as to help others understand what he had done.  Not just the survivors, some of whom were nearly as old as Underwood, and their families, but those people who had written him off as another murderous monster devoid of feelings.  Only now, with the question lingering, I was hard-pressed to put the ‘why’ into words.

            “Mr. Underwood,” I said, “it’s late.  Perhaps I can come back tomorrow.”

            The sky beyond the backyard was already turning dark blue behind the giant pine trees that bordered Underwood’s property.

            “No, Mr. Mahoney,” he said.  “Why don’t you stay?”

            When I knocked on Underwood’s door earlier that afternoon, I expected no answer.  A few days earlier, I managed to scope out the premises.  The place where Underwood had lived since he’d been a child was a colossal Queen Anne Victorian house, with gray stone walls, a tower at the front and a gable roof, built in 1889.  Prior to my surveying the home, I conducted a background check on the house.

County records showed that Mr. John Underwood, a wealthy quarry owner, the only child of a prominent Lambertville family, had purchased the home in 1922 from the widow Mrs. Evelyne Von Strauss.  The Von Strausses had the house built when they had moved to Weyrland County from Germany in the late 1800s.  The Von Strausses had three children, two boys and a girl, who died from exposure during the blizzard of 1901.  Helmut Von Strauss, husband to Evelyne, was torn to pieces by wild dogs during a hunting trip in 1918.  It was common knowledge in Weyrland County that John Underwood purchased the home dirt-cheap from the widow Von Strauss who claimed that the entire county was cursed.

Harvey Underwood, like his father, was an only child.  He was born in 1923.  It was hard to imagine, as I took in the seemingly grotesque grandeur of the Underwood house, what it was like to be an only child growing up in a house far removed from Anchorchase, the closest town to the Underwood estate.  I had knocked six or seven times.  I even made use of the old doorbell, which I decided was probably not in working order.  Then, as I stepped off the porch, Harvey Underwood answered the door.

            I wasn’t sure if I’d get another opportunity.  No one, it seemed, knew for sure where Underwood would go once he’d been let out of prison.  At 79 years old, he was hardly a threat to anyone.

            “The poems,” I said.

            “Time is precious, Mr. Mahoney,” said Underwood.  “Why don’t you ask me a question with more weight?”

            My mind was on overload.  Over the past few months, I consumed every piece of information I could get my hands on regarding those two bleak days back in the summer of 1960.  The names of the victims, the children mostly, stuck in my head.  Out for a Saturday stroll down Main Street with their mothers, who thought nothing of the tall, skinny man who climbed out of his brand new black Mercury Monterey.  They probably didn’t give him a second thought when he reached into the back seat and pulled out his shotgun.  It was common for men to bring guns to Killinger’s Sport Shop in downtown Anchorchase where they sold or traded them.  Some of the children must have thought the first shot was thunder; that is, until they saw flesh being torn from bone; or until they felt the white-hot blast hit them.

            Lately, I’d been thinking that I needed a break.  For two weeks prior to my meeting with Harvey Underwood, I had dreamt about the killings.  During daylight hours, I began hearing things.  And I blamed it on sleep deprivation and poor diet.

            “What was going on in your head, Mr. Underwood,” I asked, “when you took your shotgun from the closet by the front door?”

            Underwood sat there in his armchair, smoking.  He finished the cigarette, stubbed it out in an ashtray on the table beside him, and stretched out his long legs.  Next, he folded his thin arms over his frail chest.



Chapter Two

Harvey Underwood sat in the library of his Queen Anne home, staring through the lace curtains that faced the front drive.  The previous week he had caught four boys riding bicycles on his property.  He managed to catch two of them before they made it to the road.  The boys struggled, but Underwood dragged both of them by their scrawny necks back to his house.  He brought down into the basement, chained them to a wall inside a damp closet, and left them there until dark.  When he let them out, he saw that the boys had been crying.  So beat them with his belt and kicked them out of his house.

            Outside, the two boys found their bikes a mangled pile of junk metal.  They ran for all they worth until they reached Anchorchase.  When they told the police their story two officers paid a visit to Underwood.

            “Evenin’ Mr. Underwood,” said officer Pete Fallon.  “Mind if we chat a bit?”

            “What about?” Underwood asked.

            “Two boys,” officer Bobby Stanford said.  “Says you kept them against their will and beat them with a belt.”

            “Officers,” Underwood began.  “Won’t you come inside?”

            Fallon and Stanford followed Underwood into his home.  Underwood led them through the entrance hallway to the dining room.  From there the police officers followed their host through the kitchen and into a breakfast nook that overlooked the dogwoods.  Beyond the trees, there was a large gray stone well.

            “Nice grove,” said officer Stanford.

            “Thank you,” Underwood said.

            “Mr. Underwood,” Fallon spoke up.  “I’d like to get straight to the point.”

            “By all means.”

            “Some boys were through here last week,” said Fallon.  “They claim you captured them and held them against their will.”

            “That’s right,” Stanford added.  “They say you beat them.”

            “Gentlemen,” Underwood said.  “Boys tell tall tales.  The truth of the matter is this.  There were four boys who drove their bikes on my property last week.  Is it crime to yell at bad boys who have no respect for another’s property?”

            “No, I suppose not,” Fallon said.

            Underwood stared at the officer with his cold blue eyes. 

            “This house has stood here for almost a hundred years,” he told them.  “I wouldn’t do anything to jeopardize my hold over it.”

            “It is a grand home,” Stanford said.

            “Well,” Fallon said, looking out at the backyard, “if you see the boys again don’t take matters into your own hands, Mr. Underwood.  That’s what we’re here for.”

            “Someone should talk to their parents,” said Underwood.  “It seems that those boys don’t know the value-”

            “Right,” Fallon said.  He nodded at Stanford.  “We’ll find our own way out.”

            When he moved toward the door that led into the backyard Underwood stopped him.

            “I’m sorry gentlemen,” he said as he stepped in front of the door.  “But the door’s locked and I’ve lost the key.  I’d be happy to show you out through the front.”

            Underwood ushered the police officers out.  He stood on the front porch as Fallon and Stanford climbed back into the police car.  As the police officers pulled away, Underwood waved heartily. 

He waited until the sound of the police car’s engine faded into the distance before he walked the length of the wrap-around porch, and descended the back steps.  From there, he went into the backyard, and headed for a row of pines that bordered his property.  He found the mangled bicycles he had destroyed after he had caught the boys.  Underwood further camouflaged the bikes with fresh branches and fallen dead leaves.  When he was finished, he went to a tool shed that stood off to the right of the well.



Chapter Three

The match turned back the darkness inside the shed.  Underwood lit his cigarette, looking beyond the tiny flame, and spotted the spools of rope he had purchased from Landover’s Hardware.

Say, Mr. Underwood, said Darryl, the dim-witted Landover boy had said at the checkout counter, going mountain-climbing?

Underwood had known the Landover family for a long time.  Chuck Landover, the patriarch and the proprietor of the hardware store, was the bullish type who went from beating boys up in high school to forcing himself on college girls.  After he received his degree in business administration, Chuck Landover returned to Anchorchase and inherited his father’s store.  Since then, Landover had spawned five children of his own, two girls and three boys, all of them half-wits as far Underwood was concerned, who grew up and assisted their father with the hardware store operation. 

As he drove home from the Landover Hardware Store, Harvey Underwood reminisced about the raven Radcliffe beauty Betty Dingham.  He cruised through the winding roads that led to the Underwood estate, caught up in the rapture of those fond memories, as he replayed in his mind how Betty looked the first time he laid eyes on her.  His recollections then drifted, as they always did when he thought about her, from a place of sunlight and feminine beauty to one of darkness and despair.

Underwood pulled into his drive as twilight put up its last fight against nightfall.  The golden seam that had earlier laced the clouds was gone.  Overhead, a full moon shone like the visage of some cruel jester who never shared the joke that kept a permanent smile etched on his face.

After he parked his car, he removed the spool of rope from the back seat, hoisted the spool onto his left shoulder, and proceeded to the backyard.

Underwood went to the tool shed and unlocked it.  He took out a small bench, a long knife, and a design he had drawn on a piece of tracing vellum.  Next, he took out a Coleman lantern, lit it, and placed the lantern near the bench.  He used four small rocks to weigh down the vellum he placed on the ground near the lamp.  He sat down on the bench, loosened a length of rope from the spool, and went to work.

It took nearly two hours for Underwood to complete the net he aimed to construct from store-bought rope.  During the first hour, he worked at a leisurely pace taking in the beatific song of crickets and the distant lament of a lone owl.  Underwood was convinced that the boys who had trespassed the previous week would be back with a vengeance; especially, once they discovered that the police had done nothing about their claims.  Boys were like that.  Full of venom, spite, and crude justice. 

Underwood listened to the wind.  It carried the voices that had followed him from Boston all the way back to Weyrland County.

“Leave me alone,” Underwood mumbled as he continued working on the net.

Still, the voices called to him.  The sound was like rain hitting a glass pane on a late summer night.  That was part of their charm, to disguise themselves as what Underwood cherished most; the soft whisper of natural rainfall on a warm night when the world was quiet.

“It’s my fight,” he said.

The voices continued, unabated.

With quick, hard jerks, Underwood took more rope from the spool.  He wiped the sweat from his brow as he tied knot after knot.

The voices quit after some time that night.  Underwood looked up, and stared at the stone well.  He let the rope drop into his lap when he saw a demon sitting on well’s edge, a malevolent spirit with a proposition that could not be ignored.



Chapter Four

“Mr. Underwood,” I said, “you don’t expect people to believe that a demon lived in your well?”

            Underwood lit another cigarette.  He inhaled the smoke, held it a moment, and exhaled.

            “I don’t give a damn what other people think,” he said.  “He was a pale demon with an offer I couldn’t reuse.  Power and glory in exchange for a few innocents.  In the end, I would give my soul to him.”

            “What about Betty Dingham’s soul?” I asked.

            The words slipped out before I could check myself.  The shape of Underwood’s eyes changed for a split second, as if invoking Betty Dingham’s name somehow turned into something sinister.

            “What do you know about Betty?” he asked.

            “I know that she died from a gunshot wound,” I said. 

            “I met Betty one night at a mixer,” he said.  “Granted, my interests weren’t the same as many of the other students I knew.  But my studies had been tedious.  I needed a break.  That was when, as if sent by unseen forces, I received a visit from Ed Beasley.”

            Beasley, the young man eventually convicted of killing Betty Dingham.  Still, I didn’t put it past Underwood to manipulate the truth to suit his own needs, starting with the time he spent in Boston.

            “Good old Beasley,” Underwood went on.  “He was a lout if ever there was one.  How he had gotten into M.I.T. in the first place was the question on everyone’s minds in those days.

            “Some said his father was a huge construction tycoon.  Others believed Beasley’s old man made his money in steel.  Whatever the case, Ed Beasley was hardly the kind of guy you’d expect to find at any university, much less M.I.T.”

            “Every school has guys like that,” I said.  “What about Ms. Dingham?”

            “You don’t want to know about her,” said Underwood.

            “What you mean is,” I said, “you don’t want me to know the truth about how she died.”

            Underwood took out another cigarette and lit it.  His hand shook as he removed the cigarette from his mouth.

            “Fine,” he said.  Then, “Tell me, Mr. Mahoney, haven’t you ever seen someone from afar and knew the moment you saw them that you were in love?”

            “Infatuated with?” I asked.  “Sure.”

            “No,” his voice wavered now as he spoke.  “I mean love.   Betty Dingham was the girl for me.  She was dark-haired, blue-eyed, pale-skinned, voluptuous, intelligent, and brazen.  Betty was the saintly type of woman about whose kind I’d always dreamed.  Here in New Jersey there were girls.  And many of them smart and fine looking.  Some of them even let you slip it to them if you told them what they wanted to hear.  But when I first met Betty, I knew that she was going to be the one.

            “I ended up going with Beasley to a mixer held in an old mansion off-campus,” he continued.  “It was Halloween.  The leaves on the trees around Cambridge had already turned to fool’s gold.  And the wind that night blowing off the Charles River was icy cold.  Beasley chastised me for the better part of an hour, as he stood there dressed like Genghis Khan, until I finally broke down.  But I couldn’t go to the party, Beasley informed me, unless I was in costume.  So, he took me back to his coldwater flat to fix me up.

            “As was the custom in those days, Beasley and I stopped off at a few pubs before we arrived at the party.  Afterward, we adjourned to the old mansion that stood near Mount Auburn Cemetery.  I had wanted to visit the cemetery for some time and see the burial place of such literary giants as Henry Wadsworth Longfellow and Oliver Wendell Holmes.  But Ed Beasley had no appreciation for the finer things in life.  So, we moved straight away to the mansion where the party was in full swing.”

            Underwood stopped.  He placed his cigarette in an ashtray beside his chair, slowly rose from his seat, and went to the bar.   

            I watched as he took two glasses from a small cabinet behind the bar.  He set the glasses down and opened a decanter.

            “Scotch?” he asked.

            “Sure,” I said. 

            Underwood finished pouring the drinks.  He walked toward the window and stopped.

            “You don’t mind meeting an old man half-way, do you?” he asked.

            I took the scotch from him and returned to the chair by the window.  “Thank you,” I said.

            “It’s getting dark,” he said.  “I hate the dark.”



Chapter Five

The conqueror and the court jester staggered from one room to the next inside the mansion.  Underwood winced when Ed Beasley forced a glass of whiskey on him.  Until that night he’d drank beer a few times, and only in moderation.  Underwood was more a wine drinker than anything else.  His father had taught him at an earlier age that any vulgarian could swill down beer.  It took a special taste to appreciate the beautiful nectar of the gods.  But all he was offered was beer.  That is, until Beasley announced that they were going to drink shots.  When Beasley shoved the whiskey into his hands, Underwood protested.

“No honest,” he said.  “Maybe I can get some wine.”

Beasley wrapped one meaty arm around Underwood’s thin neck and gave him a squeeze.

“You know something, old pal of mine,” he bellowed.  “For a jester, you’re pretty morose.”

Underwood had put together his costume for the Halloween party at Beasley’s room.  He found a cache of stage costumes that Beasley had procured after the ogre booted his old roommate from the premises.

“I can’t stand actors,” Beasley had told him before they set out that night.  “And Niles fancied himself the next John Barrymore.”

“This looks interesting,” Underwood announced as he uncovered a jester’s cap complete with jingle bells and a fool’s costume.

“Haw!” Beasley slapped him hard on the shoulder.  “You’ll look like a clown in that get-up!  It’s perfect!”

“I am a clown,” he said.

“Come on,” said Beasley.  “Put the rest of that fairy shit away and let’s go.”

Underwood did as he was told.  He had the overwhelming sense that Beasley never meant to be his friend as much as he did his captor.  Even when they made the rounds at the local pubs before adjourning to the mansion party, Beasley introduced Underwood to other louts he knew as ‘his fool’.  But Underwood didn’t mind.  He kept reminding himself that it was an experiment.  He wanted to see how the ignorant lived, those foolhardy types who were completely at ease with the illusory veil that so many of the sages he had studied spoke of in their obscure books.  And after pounding down more than his share of beer, Underwood began to feel the veil closing in around him.  For a fleeting moment, he saw himself becoming like Beasley.  A carefree buffoon whose boorish ways got him free drinks and occasionally even landed him a girl or two.

“Ain’t whiskey grand?” Beasley was saying after Underwood drank down the first glass.

Underwood sputtered a few words.  The whiskey burned the back of his throat and made his eyes water.

“Haw!” he hugged the jester’s neck hard.  Then he took the empty glass from Underwood and let him go.  “I’m gonna get you another.”

“No,” he said. 

It was too late.  Beasley pushed his way through the costumed revelers, pausing to shove a lanky Merlin out of his way with one hand as he pinched a shapely female angel on the ass with the other.   He was completely in his element now, uttering his comic ‘Haw!’ war cry.

Underwood felt the floor move beneath him like a gentle wave.  He looked down at the ridiculous boots he wore, noting that for all the extra material used in constructing the curled toes they felt like they were two sizes too small.   Somewhere in the big room a glass broke.  He looked up when he heard a girl’s shrill cry.  Suddenly, he tasted bile as it made its way up from his stomach and into his throat.

“Goddamn it, Underwood,” Beasley said as he stood before him now, brandishing two tall glasses filled with whiskey.  “I leave you alone for two seconds and you turn all green on me.  You look like you seen a ghost.”

“I’m sick,” he told him.

Beasley shoved the drink at him.

“Take one of these,” he said.  “And don’t call me in the morning.”

“I’m serious, Beasley,” said Underwood.  “I think I’ve had too much to drink tonight.”

“I’ll be the judge of that,” Beasley announced.  He grabbed a short guy dressed as a leprechaun who sought desperately to avoid him.  “Say, Tom O’Shanty,” he shouted when he snatched a glass of beer from the guy.  “You won’t be needing this when you find that pot o’gold.”

The leprechaun protested.  Beasley spun him around and booted him in the seat of his pants. 

“Haw!” he shouted as he turned and looked at Underwood.  “Little John McSadsack fall down and go boom.”

Underwood watched as the leprechaun got up from the floor and clenched his fists.

“I think you did it this time,” he said.

“Haw!” Beasley laughed.

The leprechaun saw his chance and took it.  He ran straight at Beasley.  At the last second, before he collided with his larger opponent, the leprechaun ducked at the waist and drove his head into Beasley’s groin.  As Beasley buckled, the leprechaun straightened his back up, nailing his opponent in the chin with the back of his head.

Beasley staggered backward and fell down. 

The crowd close to the fight spread out.  Young men cheered as young women hid their faces from the carnage.

“I’m going to do a jig on your face, big man,” the leprechaun announced.  “Don’t you know it’s bad luck to steal an Irishman’s beer?”

Beasley gripped the leg of a small wood chair.  He hauled himself to his knees as the leprechaun advanced.  Then he swung the chair and hit the leprechaun so hard that the chair broke into several pieces.

“Oh honey,” a man in an ape suit announced as he covered the eyes of another ape wearing a camisole, “you don’t want to watch Beasley finish this.”

It was Underwood who finally stepped in and pulled Beasley off the little leprechaun. 

“What’s the big idea?” Beasley shouted as he shook off Underwood and gave him a shove.

“You’re killing the guy,” he told him.

The leprechaun lay on the floor.  His ears and nose were bleeding.  His eyes had already swollen shut.

“Where’s the whiskey?” Beasley asked.  He took two fingers, reached into his mouth and extracted a tooth that had come loose during the fight.

“I…I gave it away,” Underwood told him.

Beasley’s face slackened as his eyes grew dark and menacing.  “You did what?” he said, slowly.

“Some girl was standing to next to me,” he started to say.

Beasley punched him hard in the gut and walked away.

Underwood fell to his knees.  He heard people laughing at the spectacle.  He’d never been hit by another man before, not even his father.  The pain was different from the kind he felt as a boy when he fell off a bicycle or slipped on ice after a snowstorm.  The sour feeling in his stomach intensified as he tried to catch his breath. 

He looked at the costumed partygoers now through tear-filled eyes.  Suddenly, the drunken lot of them had turned from familiar to alien.  Even the room looked different, now.  It was as if he’d been turned into some perverted entertainment for grotesques who longed to see the weak perish.  The young men in the crowd pointed at him and laughed.  And the young women who accompanied them clutched their stomachs to mock him as they stomped their feet.  The bile crept back up his throat once more.  His stomach convulsed, and he vomited.  The grotesques who mocked him took this to be encore performance.  They applauded the teary-eyed jester as he crawled from the room on his hands and knees. 

There was a hallway outside the enormous room.  In the shadows, couples pawed at each other while a girl in another room whimpered.  Underwood managed to get to his feet by the time he reached the hallway.  He staggered further into the house toward the sound of the whimpering girl.  At the end of the hallway, he found a door ajar.  Slowly, he removed the jester’s cap he wore and stuck his head between the open door and the jamb.  He could see a girl, no older than sixteen or seventeen, half-naked and curled up on a sofa.  Her blond hair covered most of her face.  Underwood felt another surge down deep in his stomach as the girl sucked on her thumb.  It was then he became aware that the girl was not alone.  He heard male voices whispering to each other.  Someone struck a match and lit a candle.  There were six young men in the room.  They were putting their pants back on.  One of the men looked at Underwood.

“Give her a minute,” the man said to him.  “She’ll take that thumb out of her mouth and let you put in something else instead.”

The other men laughed. 

Underwood felt someone touch his shoulder.

“What are you doing?” a woman’s voice sounded from the hallway behind him.

Underwood slammed the door shut.  He gave the young woman a quick glance before he shuffled further down the hall; aware, he was, that she meant to pursue him. 

The woman who had followed him was dressed as a witch.  Her long, pointed black hat scraped along the hallway ceiling.  She stretched out her hands as she shuffled after him.

“Come back!” she shouted.  “Come back!”

Underwood found his way into the kitchen.  There were several people standing around drinking and smoking cigarettes.  He stumbled through the kitchen toward a small door on the opposite side.

The next room was cool and dark.  Underwood heard a man grunting. 

“Harder,” a woman whispered.  “Harder.”

Underwood felt along the wall near the door.  He found a light switch, and turned it on.

Beasley stood behind a powder-skinned fairy complete with gauze wings.  The fairy’s skirt was hiked up over her waist as she lay facedown across a small table.  Beneath her pale make-up and her dark locks of hair, Underwood recognized the fairy’s identity. 

“Turn the light out, you dope,” Beasley told him.

Slowly, Betty Dingham, the powdery fairy, slithered off the table and hid herself beneath it. 

“You deaf?” Beasley roared. 

Underwood never had a chance to retreat.  Beasley strode quickly across the mudroom, his right hand cocked back in a meaty fist, and swung with all his might.

Pain erupted through Underwood’s head when the punch connected.  The sourness in his stomach returned as his knees buckled.  Underwood’s world went dark as he fell against the small door. 


Weeks later, Underwood haunted several used bookstores in search of obscure esoteric books.  Since the fiasco at the mansion on Halloween, he had immersed himself in what he loved best, seeking hidden and forgotten knowledge.

Near the M.I.T. campus there was an odd bookshop that occupied what had once been an old Victorian home.  The shop’s exterior offered nothing in the way of signs indicating that books were for sale inside.  It had been said that the shop’s owner was a cantankerous old woman who claimed direct lineage to a witch who had been burned at the stake at Salem, Massachusetts.  Her name was Victoria Mayweather, a short, thin, prune of an elderly lady whose pale skin was covered from neck to ankle in black dress.  Upon hearing about the bookshop, and the woman proprietor, Harvey Underwood knew he had to visit.

Like many of the used bookshops in the Cambridge area in that time, Victoria Mayweather’s smelled of mildew, cat urine, and something more sinister.  Underwood hadn’t been inside the shop for more than ten minutes when an allergic reaction to the atmosphere nearly rendered him incapacitated. 

“Young man,” he heard an old woman’s voice in the next aisle as he perused a copy of Crowley’s 777 and Other Writings.  “Young man, are you all-right?”

Underwood suffered another more violent sneezing fit before he could collect himself.

“I’m fine,” he said.  “Thanks for asking.”

“It’s the mites, you know,” the old woman went on.  “They live and breed in the bindings of the old books.”

“Something I did not know, Ms. Mayweather,” he replied.  “Thank you.”

Underwood snapped shut the Crowley book and put it back on the shelf from where he had found it.

“Ms. Mayweather was my mother,” the crone told him.  She appeared now at the end of the aisle like some ghastly apparition.  “Call me Victoria.”

Her eyes were dark and alert.  A complete contrast to her sagging jowls and gnarled little hands that she constantly wiped with a lace handkerchief.

“It’s a deformity I was born with,” Victoria said, glancing down at her hands.  “My palms sweat uncontrollably.”

“You’re sure it’s not nerves?” Underwood asked.

“Rude, you are,” she barked at him.  “Just like the rest.”

“I didn’t mean to be,” he offered.  “Please accept my apologies.”

“What’s your name, young man?”

“Harvey,” he said, extending his right hand to shake hers.

“What?” she asked.  “Have you forgotten the mites?”

They stared at one another.  The silence that passed in those few seconds seemed more like minutes to Underwood.  On campus, he’d heard about how Victoria Mayweather was better at running customers out of her shop than she was actually selling books.  Underwood began to understand why now.  Still, there were other stories he had heard.  Stories about the cache of rare and potent grimoires the old woman kept under lock and key in the attic of the shop.

“I was just looking over some of the esoteric titles here,” he said to Victoria.

“Find anything of interest?” she asked.

“Not really.”

“Is that so?”

“I was looking for something more distinct.”

“Like what for instance?”

“I’m embarrassed to say,” Underwood admitted.  The idea hadn’t struck him until that moment.  “Something in the way of love spells.”

“Ah,” Victoria rubbed the handkerchief between her hands.  “The heart of it.  If you’ll pardon the pun.”

“I don’t see anything here,” he said.  “Good day.”

After he turned his back, Underwood felt Victoria’s brittle hands on his arm.

“Not so fast, young Harvey,” she cooed.  Her flirtatious tone was unsettling.  “I think I have something of interest.”

“I don’t want to trouble you,” he said.

“Not at all,” said Victoria.  “Let me show you the way.”


The attic turned out to be larger than Underwood first guessed.  There were plain floorboards and bookshelves.  Victoria led the young man through the many stacks until they reached a narrow aisle.  On the shelves in that section of the attic, the books were laid flat.  The grimoires ranged from dirty, mildewed tomes with crack spines and torn pages to impeccably kept copies complete with leather binding and pages edged with gold.

“Here’s the one,” Victoria announced sharply.

The sound of her voice startled Underwood.  He had nearly forgotten the old woman when his eyes fell over the book titles.  Some of the books he recognized, having heard them referenced by other occultists in their work.  Others the titles were too worn to read.

“You’d do well to start out simple,” she instructed him.  “Otherwise, you’ll invite a whole heap trouble that you cannot defend yourself against.”

“What have you there?” Underwood asked when Victoria pulled a slim volume out from behind a stack of thick books.

“Constance Guerro,” she said.  “A Mexican Jew who lived in the previous century.  It’s been said that she’s had more lovers than any other woman in her time.”

“What are they?” he asked.  “Love poems?”

“Oh, Harvey,” Victoria sidled closer to him.  “Don’t be a bore.  A woman like Constance Guerro couldn’t be bothered with something as elusive as love.  She longed for physical pleasure.”

“And her spells worked?”

“Of course they did.”

Victoria opened the book to a page inside and showed Underwood a daguerreotype of Constance Guerro. 

The woman in the brown and yellow picture was by far the most hideous creature Underwood had ever laid eyes on.  Constance Guerro had wide, menacing eyes and teeth that looked like a train wreck.  She was buxom in her black low-cut dress, but Underwood saw that her hips and legs packed as much meat as her fat arms and heavy breasts.

“So,” Victoria said, “is this research or are you after the real thing?”

“That’s personal,” Underwood told her.  He thumbed through the slim book and did not look at her.

Downstairs, the bell hanging on the entrance door rang out.  Footsteps sounded as the door closed.

“Another customer,” said Victoria.  “I’ll give you a few minutes alone to think about it.”

“Thank you,” Underwood said.

Victoria made as if to leave him alone.  She stopped after taking only a few steps and turned quickly to face him again.  Suddenly, she appeared to be much younger; but the effect lasted only a second before she resumed her elderly visage.



Chapter Six

Underwood’s backyard was a tangle of trees overgrown with vines and encroaching shadows.  From where I stood at the window that faced the yard, I could still see the stone well.  Only now, it too had succumbed to the dark, turning into a black mass against a dark green background.  I tried to picture the shed that had once stood in the yard, the garden that he had so meticulously cared for, and the dogwoods that had once surrounded the well.  It was only a matter of time, I thought, looking out the window, that Underwood’s backyard would be taken back by the pineland forest that lay beyond his property.  The same for his house.  I imagined that some day some errant woodland hiker might come across the gray stone well and wonder, without ever knowing a house had stood nearby, who would construct such a fine well in the middle of the woods only to leave it alone.

By now, true night had fallen.  I kept hoping to glimpse some portion of twilight lingering in the western sky, but darkness had already descended.

Lost in my own thoughts, I was not aware that Underwood continued relaying his tale to me.  My head felt clouded.  Some rational side of me believed that Victoria Mayweather was a figment of the old man’s imagination, that he had conjured her and the old bookshop to make the real story about what had happened between Betty Dingham and him less inhumane.  I glimpsed what I thought might be a ghost in the window, but then I realized it had been my own reflection.

“She was a shrewd bitch,” Underwood snapped.

I turned around to face him again.  He gestured at an armchair facing his, indicating that I should sit down.

“Betty?” I asked, taking my seat.

“No,” he answered.  “The bookshop crone.”

“You bought the love spell book?”

“I parted with more than a month’s rent,” he said. 

He looked utterly defeated.  It was as if by recounting the extortion that had taken place so many years ago he was reliving it now. 

The room felt hot and close.  I put down my drink and adjusted the collar on my shirt.  When I wiped my forehead it felt cold and sweaty.

Slowly, I rose from the chair, and headed for the window to open it.  Underwood got up from his chair as I did.  Just as I was about to open the window he took hold of my arm.

“Please, Mr. Mahoney,” he said.  “I’d rather you didn’t.”

If I excused myself at that moment and left Underwood’s house I knew that I’d never get another chance to interview him.  So, I sat back down and began taking more notes.

“You left the bookshop with the grimoire,” I said.  “Did you ever see Victoria Mayweather again?”

“Oh yes,” he said.  “The spells in the grimoire turned out to be not what I expected.  Some of the materials and ingredients were beyond my grasp.  I needed help.  And in those days there weren’t many people in Boston who knew enough about magic and the like to give me the help that I needed.

“Sure,” he went on, “there were poseurs and half-wits proclaiming to have true esoterical knowledge.  Even the friends I knew at college were acolytes, really.  So it was for me, too.  The greatest fear a fledgling magician has is that the craft is all for naught.  That no invisible forces were at work.  That the scientists and the industrialists are the ones with any real power in this world.”

“And through Victoria Mayweather,” I said, “you found someone who really had power.”

“She turned you on to someone else?” I asked.

“No,” he said.  “Victoria definitely had power.  Her allure was…subtle.  It worked on you the way water does with a sand wall.  Sooner or later, it gets through.”

Underwood drained his glass.  He stood up and went to pour himself another drink.

“Were there any special preparations you had to take?” I asked.

From across the room, Underwood looked like a ghoul all weak and hunched over.  His hands shook as he poured more whiskey into his glass.

“There are always preparations,” he said as he shuffled back to his armchair.  “Magic is no different than life.  In fact, magic mirrors life to some extent.  You wouldn’t run a marathon without first doing some roadwork.  Nor could a person, except on the rarest of occasions, jump from grade school to college.”

“Was Victoria Mayweather powerful?” I asked.

Underwood choked on his drink.  He put the glass down on the table next to the armchair and clutched his throat with both hands.

Without thinking, I rushed forward.  For a brief moment, he looked like an ordinary old man rendered helpless by an obstructed airway.  It was until I was nearly on top of him that I had realized my mistake. 

A cold, slender hand shot forward and took hold of my neck.  Underwood’s fingers gripped my throat.  His grip tightened as I struggled to break free.

“I’m not an invalid,” Underwood said after he gave me a good shove.

I stumbled back and fell back into my chair.

“You’re a monster,” I said.

“Now?” he asked.  “Sure.  But there was a time when I was a young man like you full of life and ready for love.”

“You want to know what I think?” I asked.

“Not particularly,” he said as he waved a dismissive hand.  “You’re the one who came to me, Mr. Mahoney.  I didn’t seek you out.”

I picked up my notepad and pen and jotted down a brief description of what had just happened.  Then I began to write down everything about the room in which we sat.  The light, the smells, the antique furniture, the old wood trim, and the gloom of utter hopelessness that hung in the air.

“Do you believe in demons, Mr. Mahoney?” asked Underwood.  He had a faraway look in his eye as he lifted his glass up.  “In the classical sense, of course.  I’m not talking about psychobabble mumbo jumbo here.  The jargon of our post-modern head doctors.”

“You want to know if I believe in Hell?” I asked.

“No.  That’s just it, isn’t it?”

“What is?”

“We’ve come to a point where we don’t need to believe in demons,” he said.  “From the time of Christ, and before that, man has always maintained that for every angelic messenger there’s a demonic counterpart.”

“Then the answer’s no,” I said.  “For me demons are the personification…”

“Another one prone to regurgitation,” Underwood said.  He drank down the whiskey and placed the glass back on the table.  Then, “Haven’t you ever met one?”

“A demon?”

“Yes, Mr. Mahoney.  Well, have you?”

“I wouldn’t know.”

“Because you are blind,” he said.

“And what about you, Mr. Underwood?”

“The first one I met was Victoria Mayweather,” he said. 

“Who were the others?”

“That’s hard to say.”

“How so?”

“Some have substance,” said Underwood.  “Others do not.  But it’s the ones who mimic blessedness that are most feared.”



Chapter Seven

What Underwood needed most was direction.  For several weeks, his studies at college faltered while he tried to grasp the strange idiom of the grimoire.  He spent days in the Harvard library, having decided not to risk being seen by his fellow M.I.T. students, holed up deep in the stacks where he rigorously set to figuring out how best to approach one of the spells.  The more he studied the grimoire the less he was able to make sense of it. 

The language of the grimoire was written mostly in Old English.  But each day he studied the book Underwood began to see subtle shifts in the text.  The words changed from Old English to Latin to Greek and back again.  One fitful afternoon he decided he’d had enough.  So, he left the Harvard library and went out to see the one person who might be able to assist him.

At the bookshop, Underwood was disappointed.  A frail old man, tall and lanky like Underwood, stood behind the counter when the student had entered the store.  Underwood asked to see Ms. Mayweather.  The old man looked at him with empty eyes.  His dour expression touched a nerve in Underwood; as if the young man had just seen an aged doppelganger; and the longer the young man concentrated on the old man’s blank face, the more he realized that somehow he had stepped out of one world and into one completely unfamiliar to him.

“She’s gone,” the old man said.

“Mr…” Underwood began.

“Ashtree,” he said.  “Devlin Ashtree.”

The two shook hands.

“Mr. Ashtree,” said Underwood, “do you know when Ms. Mayweather might return?”

“She’s gone.”

“Yes, you’ve mentioned as much.”

“Then what’s to tell?”

“It’s just that I bought a book from her,” Underwood explained.  “And…well, to be honest, I’m a having a difficult time with it.”

“No returns,” Ashtree said.  “Sorry.”

Underwood started for the door.

“What book?” the old man called after him.

“A grimoire,” he told him.

“Perhaps,” said Ashtree.  “I can offer some assistance.”



Chapter Eight

Underwood’s face looked ashen as he stared at me.  His eyes were deficient of any emotion.

“That was the beginning of the end for me,” he said, quietly.  “Ashtree was an empty one.  Do you know what an empty one is?”

I shook my head.  What I wanted to know was the fate of the boys Underwood had trapped and eventually killed.  But in my fascination with killers and death, I knew that I had to deal with shattered minds, to piece together fragments of a tortured life in order to garner a complete picture.

“A demon?” I asked.

Underwood laughed.  “No,” he said.  “Worse than that.”

Suddenly, the mirthful expression he wore vanished.  He stared at the window behind me.

“What is it?” I asked.

“It’s almost time,” he whispered.

“Time for what?”

Underwood cleared his throat.  He busied himself by straightening out his pant legs.

“Ashtree was a conjurer gone hollow,” he said.  “A magician consumed by his own selfish greed.  History is replete with men like him.  The old lady was his undoing.  After that day, I learned a few things.  One of them was that Victoria Mayweather had died in an auto wreck.”

“But you said you’d met her,” I told him.  I picked up my pad that I had placed in the space between the cushion and the left arm of my chair.  My pen was poised ready to scratch out the old lady’s name.  “Do you think you imagined her?”

“No, she was real, once,” he said.  “But the likeness of her that I met in the bookshop was not human.”

“Then what was she?”

“At first?” said Underwood.  “An egregore.  A simple spirit conjured to carry out Ashtree’s bidding.  His mistake was his total consumption with her.  By the time I had met him Ashtree was an old man.  Likewise, Victoria Mayweather was old, too.  Mind you, Mr. Mahoney, I didn’t spend all my days gloating over Ashtree’s preternatural companion.  However, I did learn that Ashtree had summoned the egregore to console him after the real Victoria Mayweather had died.  He projected all his memories and all his fond recollections of the late Victoria Mayweather onto the egregore.

“Over time,” he said, “the spirit took on a more human form.  It appeared to Ashtree as a young Victoria Mayweather, and, as you may have already guessed, the real Victoria and Ashtree had been lovers.  The accident wasn’t Ashtree’s fault.  Victoria’s father had been driving the motor coach that crashed one rainy night.  A fluke event in a chaotic universe.  No matter, though.  Ashtree eventually created an unnatural likeness.  And while there were many banishing rites at his disposal, as there are for any levelheaded conjurer, he could not bring himself to banish the egregore who became Victoria.

“The years passed,” Underwood said.  “As Ashtree got older so did the egregore, at least for appearances sake.  Imagine how utterly alone the old man had been, living with a hollow likeness of the woman he loved most.”

“They weren’t from Cambridge,” I said.

“Smart, you are,” he told me.  “No, Ashtree came from Lawrence, Kansas.  Cambridge was a world away for him.  There was no chance that anyone from the late Victoria Mayweather’s family would have caught on.”

I let out a yawn and stood.  My arms and my legs ached.

“Tired, Mr. Mahoney?” Underwood asked.

“A bit,” I said.  Then, I asked, “How about a walk outside?”

Underwood’s laughter sounded demonic.

“I don’t go out after dark,” he said.  “Too many bad memories lurking out there.”

All-right,” I said, walking back and forth.  “Then tell me how this old man named Ashtree ruined your life.”

“Don’t you know?” Underwood asked.  The glint in his eye was positively creepy.



Chapter Nine

Underwood soon found a mentor in Ashtree.  He was still smitten with Betty Dingham, and he wanted her more than anything.  Winter and spring passed in a flash for Underwood.  By summer, he was ready to have what he desired most.

Conjuration was a ritual that always mysterious to Underwood.  It was not until Ashtree took him on as a student that the acolyte learned that spirit conjuration was perhaps the oldest magic known to man.  Moreover, Underwood discovered that spirit conjuration was within his grasp.

When he was ready, Underwood knew exactly the type of spirit he would call forth.

“You are an eager young man,” Ashtree told him when he revealed his intention.  A severe smirk showed on his face.  “One must learn that magic takes time.”

“If you won’t show me,” Underwood said, “I will find someone who will.”

“You think there’s a magician out there who can show you how to create what you’re after?”

“You want to know what I think?”

“Frankly,” said Ashtree, “I don’t care what you think.  Do you remember your conjuration exercises?”

“I’ve conjured numerous spirits,” Underwood argued.  “Why can’t I create my own?”

“There’s one I haven’t taught you,” the old man said.  “Come back tomorrow and I will show you.”

Underwood stood his ground.  He wanted to learn, and he wanted the knowledge right now.

“I’m closing up shop,” said Ashtree.  “If you don’t want to become my prisoner, then I suggest you come back tomorrow.”

Underwood grimaced as his shoulders slouched. 

“You give me your word?” he asked.

Ashtree nodded.

“I do,” he said.  “There’s a catch.”

“And what’s that?” Underwood asked.

“If I reveal a secret to you tomorrow,” he said, “you must promise to share the knowledge with someone else down the road.”

Underwood agreed.  He left the old bookshop and returned to his flat.  That night he set his altar, the way Ashtree had shown him, and performed several conjurations with the hope of obtaining the secret before he met with the old man again.  No matter how much he pressed the etheric visitors who came to his flat, Underwood learned nothing.  Some of the spirits chided him for trying to be so cunning.  Others simply remained tight-lipped.  All of them, no matter how much they detested the inquisition, were incapable of denying Underwood their visitation.  For no matter how much power each spirit had, there were rules that bound them to the fledgling magician.

The following day Ashtree proved good on his word. He took his apprentice to the basement of the shop to show Underwood that all the preparation work had been done.  A small altar had been set up in the center of the small damp room.  Ashtree has laid out a perfect circle on the floor with crushed chalk.  Within the circle lay the pentagram.  Located at the center of the pentagram’s center was an altar, a small wood box draped with black velvet.

“There are new tools to consecrate,” said Ashtree.  He moved toward the back of the basement.  When he returned, he held an old leather-bound book in his hands.  “And here’s Gelvado’s Grimoire.  You’ll notice I’ve marked the page you will use.”

Underwood took the book from Ashtree’s hands.  He watched as the old man sauntered toward the steps.

“You’re not staying?” Underwood asked.

“Too many memories, friend,” said Ashtree as he paused with one foot on the stairs.  The pale, thin fingers of his left hand rest on the banister.  “And to be honest, the thing you call forth is for you only.  Remember that.  Many a magician has been destroyed by sharing such creatures.”

Underwood turned around and placed the grimoire on the altar next to a thick black candle.  Next, he lit the candle.

“You make it sound like I’m calling up something hideous,” the apprentice said as he turned to face the stairs again only to find that that Ashtree had already ascended quietly to the first floor.

“Harvey?” the old man called from the top of the stairs.


“I’m going out,” Ashtree informed him. 

Underwood listened as the old man closed the basement door and locked it.  Seconds later, he heard Ashtree’s footsteps move over the floor above him.

After he heard the shop entrance door close, he performed the consecrations rites for the new instruments he needed to perform the ritual.  As he held the athame that Ashtree had left him, Underwood marveled at the dark metal blade and the ivory handle.  There were intricate patterns carved into the ivory.  And as the candlelight graced the surface of the handle, he saw that the patterns appeared to move.

Once he had performed the rites he needed, Underwood opened the grimoire to the page the old man had marked.  He invoked elemental powers to guard him, powers whom he had not previously heard named.  Next, he called on the one who held the key to his predicament, the elusive spirit named Fruscierja who appeared to those who beckoned him as a gaunt man with brittle, wrinkled, gray skin that called to mind the ashen ruins of a fire long extinguished.

When Fruscierja appeared, he was crouching in a shadowy corner of the basement.  At his full height, he stood nearly seven feet tall.  The basement ceiling brushed against the top of the tattered wrap he wore on his head. 

Underwood’s jaw slackened as he looked into Fruscierja’s dark, ocular cavities when the spirit approached him.  For it was there, deep in the blackness where eyes should have been, that Underwood saw firsthand the forbidden knowledge that men had sought since they first crawled down out of the trees.



Chapter Ten

“You’ve made mention of this spirit,” I said, “in your interviews with the police.   This is the one you claim impersonated Betty.”

“Idiots,” said Underwood.  “If I’d been accused of the same crime today I would spend my life in a mental institution.”

It wasn’t easy, but by chance I came across the name of the one of the arresting officers.  Bill Baird, the Weyrland County sheriff who helped to apprehend Underwood, lived Absecon, New Jersey.  He was old, alcoholic, and hardly fit for a lengthy interview.  When I first met him, he demanded to know why I would want to glorify a monster like Underwood.  It took some convincing.  In the end, he believed I would further perpetuate the real-life horror that Harvey Underwood embodied. 

Baird was so far gone most nights that he barely made sense.  One Sunday afternoon I caught up with him as he was exiting church.  It was the only day of the week that he remained sober.  I took him for a drive to Atlantic City.  The night before, on Saturday, I had booked a room with the hope of luring Baird there.  Once I convinced him that I’d take him out for drinks and dinner after he told me his story, the retired sheriff was a pushover. 

An hour had passed while Baird reviewed information that I already had on the Underwood story.  But I thought it would be a good idea to let the cobwebs clear.  It worked.  Because in the next hour Bill Baird gave me the inside scoop on Underwood’s arrest, his booking procedure, and the much-talked-about episode in the county courthouse where Underwood suffered a severe panic attack.  Later, Baird learned from Underwood that the accused thought he saw the egregore he had created back in Boston.

“In the beginning, she hardly had any form,” the old man was saying.  I’d been lost for a moment thinking about Bill Baird and his pink, alcoholic eyes.  “It was only my secret desires that nourished her, that turned her from a thing of spirit to a thing of flesh.”

Underwood shook his empty glass at me.  When I got up to take the old man’s glass for a refill, my index finger touched his hand.  There was a strange sensation that passed over me.  It was more sorrow than anything else.  I went to the little bar and poured him another tall shot.

“By now you had completely dropped out of college?” I asked.

“Long before that,” he answered.  “Shortly after I conjured the egregore I took to robbing people in order to survive.  I wasn’t very good at it.  Most guys were larger than I was and much stronger.  Even the women around the university seemed self-assured, as if nothing could hurt them.  So, I preyed on the elderly.  Nothing violent, mind you.  Simplistic confidence scams for the most part.”

“How did you go about getting the egregore to turn into Betty Dingham?” I handed him his drink.   

“I made her whole, you know,” said Underwood.  Even after so many years had passed, he was proud knowing that no one could take that away from him.  “But I left out all the pleasantries that were expected of young women in those days.”

“Such as?” I asked.

“Sugar and spice,” he answered.  “And everything nice.”

Underwood’s teeth clicked as he snickered at me.  He squinted his eyes and snorted through his nose at the same time. 

“Mr. Mahoney,” he said after he’d collected himself.  “The tale is long and dark, twisted and painful.  Why ask an old man to relive his past?”

“Because I think people will want to know your story, Mr. Underwood,” I told him.  “They will want to know what drove you to do what you did.” 
            “Survival, that’s what it came down to,” he said, waving away with his left hand the accusation.  “So much of life is magic, Mr. Mahoney.  It’s no wonder, when you get down to it, that we know so little about it.

“You want to know about the egregore and Betty Dingham.  As I told you, it took time for the spirit to become flesh.  At night, in my own flat, I had to work many subsequent spells.  By day, I carried on as if everything was normal.  Though as you may imagine things weren’t quite that way.

“She’s was only half-flesh, my love’s likeness was.  I began to think that I made a terrible mistake, tampering with the powers of creation the way I did.  Ashtree had warned me numerous times that such magic was not for the weak of heart.  In my frenzy to have what I wanted, naturally I ignored him.  My new Betty was not complete.  But I knew I would make her whole.

“I don’t doubt that Ashtree kept tabs on me.  At night, when I came home from work, having taken a position washing pots and pans at a college cafeteria, I would unlock the room where my sweet egregore would lay.  As her face became whole, I was able to see the frightened expression she wore.  There was something in the room with her, and while my human eyes could not see what it was I had no doubt that Ashtree had conjured a few entities of his own to keep an eye on us.”

“How long did it take?” I asked.

“For what?” said Underwood.  “For my sweet egregore to come to life?”

“No,” I said.  “I meant how long did it take between the time you called forth this thing and the time that you took Betty Dingham’s life?”

Underwood grunted and sat back in his chair.  He fingered his drinking glass for a long time as he stared at me.  As I looked at him, I felt the hairs on the back of my neck stand on end to greet whatever unseen force that hovered behind my chair.  At first, I wasn’t aware of it.  But when Underwood opened his mouth to speak again, I saw something reflected in his eyes, something dark and insubstantial, yes, but something that made the old man cower all the same.



Chapter Eleven

Another winter would pass before Underwood went out to seek life among the living.  During the day, he dressed the egregore in men’s heavy clothes so as not to attract too much attention.  The egregore’s eyes were dull like those of a dead man.  Underwood always made her where large floppy hunting caps that concealed the fact that she wasn’t quite human.

The first thing he taught her was not how to talk, how to eat, or how to walk, but how to satisfy his sexual needs.  After that, he taught her the basics of speech.  Underwood was surprised to discover that the egregore knew how to do so many things without ever teaching her how.

From time to time, he saw old schoolmates from a distance, and, for obvious reasons, he always avoided making contact in those early days after the egregore’s birth.  For the thing he had made was not yet whole.  Even so, he felt compelled to bring her out, to let her experience the world he knew, hoping that she would somehow absorb life by being exposed to it. 

It happened one morning before dawn while walking along Main Street between Vassar and Ames Streets with the egregore that he heard a voice from the past cry out to him.

“Haw!” Ed Beasley’s unmistakable guffaw blasted the cold pre-dawn air.  “I think I seen a ghost!”

Underwood turned and saw Beasley, all drunk, wearing a red flannel coat and red hunting cap, come barreling toward him.  Behind Beasley, half-dozen louts were experiencing difficulty in standing without the aid of some fixed prop like lean against like a street lamp pole.  Underwood was surprised at how much ground Beasley covered, so much so that he forgot to push the egregore aside when Beasley bowled him over.

“Where the heck you been, kid?” Beasley said.  His breath reeked of whiskey and stale cigars.  “I’ve been looking all over for you.”

“Busy, I guess,” Underwood said as he squirmed out from beneath him.

“Say, what’s you’re story?” Beasley was staring bleary-eyed at the egregore.  He snatched the hunting cap off her head.  “Haw!”

He looked at Underwood.  Then he looked at the egregore.

“I’ll be damned,” he said.  He slapped Underwood in the arm.  “She looks exactly like…”

“Sorry, Ed,” Underwood spoke up.  “We have to be going.”

“Look here, pal,” Beasley wrapped one of his big arms around Underwood’s frail shoulders.  “You come see me some time.  You hear me?”

Underwood nodded.  He took the egregore by the arm and led her away.

“Haw!” Beasley’s voice boomed.  “Them smart guys always get the prettiest ones!”

Underwood heard laughter as Beasley’s friends shared some private comment.  He looked nervously at the egregore.  If there was one thing Betty Dingham had, he reasoned, it was a great laugh.  He knew that morning the next thing he would teach the egregore.



Chapter Twelve

I asked Underwood to pause a moment so that I could change the tape in my recorder.  He nodded, keeping his eyes lowered.  After the tape, I took out the old batteries, and replaced them with new ones.

“Now, when Beasley saw the egregore,” I said once I turned the tape recorder back on, “she was a complete woman?”

“Hardly,” Underwood said.

“I don’t understand,” I told him.  “You took her out in public.”

“The Betty I made was only half-finished.”

“Surely, you didn’t walk around Boston with a zombie?”

Underwood’s hollow laughter sent a chill down my spine.  It had a lasting effect, like coming upon a dead body for the first time, or seeing a child be hit by a car. 

“Some portions of her were missing,” the old man said.  “Fortunately, it was winter, and her face had fully developed.”

“You told me you made love to her,” I said.

“It wasn’t all sex,” Underwood said.  “Lovemaking is more than a man and a woman rutting like common animals.”

“You would know that for sure?” I asked.

“Mr. Mahoney,” he said.  “I’ve been fair, and kind enough to allow you into my home.  Why take that tone with me?”

“I…I’m sorry, Mr. Underwood.”

“Apology accepted.  Now, did I mention that egregores don’t age?”

“What about Victoria Mayweather?” I asked.  “Ashtree’s egregore?”

“She…that was the way Ashtree wanted it,” said Underwood.  “He thought it would best if she aged as he did.  So, he worked the spells to make that happen.”

 “What happened next?”

“Mr. Mahoney,” he said, grinning sheepishly.  He might have been anyone’s grandfather in that moment, except for his cold, methodical eyes.  “You’ll go far with this true crime genre you’ve obviously immersed yourself in.  Always cut to the chase for the reader.  That’s the problem with people.  No one wants to think anymore.  They want someone else to explain everything for them.  Idiocy begets idiocy and all that.  Right?”

It bothered me that Underwood made such assumptions.  Still, the old man had a certain charm.  The more I thought about it, I figured that Underwood didn’t even to have to force those boys to the well before he tossed them down into their dark, watery grave.

“No one ever noticed that your Betty wasn’t what she appeared to be?” I asked.

Underwood chuckled.

“If you’re implying that others may have sensed her preternatural make-up,” he said, “I suppose there were others in Boston prone to such things.  For the longest time, I feared that Ashtree’s associates would get hip to what was going on.  That is, if he had any association with other magicians and such.  It didn’t take long for me to realize, however, that magicians conjure all sorts of things all over the world every day, and most people are none the wiser for it; especially, the commoners—so to speak.”

“Did you ever see Beasley again?” I asked.

Underwood’s expression of general mirth hardened into grim savagery.  He nodded slowly as he pretended to be interested in something outside the window behind me.



Chapter Thirteen

It was a spring night when Beasley sat in a bar, looking out the open door that offered a view of the street.  The smells from the street brought back many memories for Beasley; namely, long, warm nights in the arms of easy girls who wore perfume that lingered for hours after they had gone.  Beasley polished off the beer he had been drinking, closed his eyes a moment, and wished for company in the way of a curvaceous female.  He wasn’t hung up on looks, hair color, or to what old-money family the girl belonged.  He had enough of that in his relationship with Betty Dingham.  Beasley wanted a girl with a good, solid body and very little going on in the way of cerebral prowess; one that was as easy to land in the sack as she was able to fill out a flimsy dress. 

When he opened his eyes, he looked at the open door.  Instead of the girl he had wished for, he saw a gaunt, ghostly figure turned to shadow by the lights outside.

The figure stepped into the barroom.  Beasley shivered when he caught a good look at him.

“Old pal of mine?” Beasley said to the man in the doorway.

“Hello, Beasley,” the thin, ashen-faced man replied.

“Underwood?” he asked.  “Jesus, pal, you look like death warmed over.”

“I’ve been sick,” Underwood told him.

“Hey, hey,” he climbed off his bar stool, and took Underwood by the arm.  “Come on, sit down and have a drink.”

“I don’t drink anymore.”

“Haw!” Beasley slapped him on his back.  “That’s a good one.  I still remember the load you tied on at the Halloween party.”

Gradually, Beasley coerced his old friend into having a few drinks.  A few hours later, he regretted it.  Underwood’s demeanor changed.  He wasn’t the quiet, meek, skinny guy Beasley used to know.  Now, it was as if something dark and sinister had taken over Underwood.

“Come on, old pal of mine,” Beasley slapped him on the back.  “Have another boilermaker!  That’s the spirit!  Haw!  Haw!”

Underwood snatched the beer mug off the bar as soon as the bartender submerged the shot glass full of whiskey into it.  He drained the mug in no time flat.  Then, as Beasley and the bartender looked on, Underwood leaned forward and vomited all over the bar.

“That’s it, you rummy,” the bartender said.  He produced a baseball bat from beneath the bar and waved it in front of Underwood.  “Get out of here, now!”

“Hey, take it easy,” Beasley said to the bartender.

“Don’t tell me how to run my place, ivy league,” the bartender threatened.  “If you and your pal don’t leave now, you’re both going to be brain-damaged.”

“Fine.  Just take it easy,” Beasley said to the bartender as he took hold of Underwood with one hand.  He lifted up his beer mug with the other.  “We’re going, we’re going.”

Beasley took one sip of the beer, and then tossed the rest into the bartender’s face, haw hawing at his own brevity.

“You son of a whore!” the bartender shouted as he climbed over the bar.  “I’m going to kill you both!”

Beasley snatched the baseball bat from bartender, and whisked Underwood out of harm’s way.  Underwood skidded across the floor and crashed into a table.  Beasley beat the bartender with the baseball bat, rendering the man bloody and unconscious.  He noticed there were a few other patrons in the bar.  None of them got up to help the bartender.

“Let’s go, old pal of mine,” said Beasley as he lifted Underwood off the floor.   “This night ain’t over yet.”


The flat was cold and dark.  Underwood began to feel worse after he had walked several blocks while having to listen to Beasley’s constant chatter.  Inside Beasley’s apartment, a wave of nausea washed over him.  He bee-lined for the bathroom, making it to the toilet with little time to spare.  Several minutes later, Underwood came out of the bathroom, and found Beasley sitting at a small kitchen table with a bottle of whiskey and a full glass in front of him.

“Just what the doctor ordered,” Beasley said.

“I’ll pass,” Underwood told him.

He flopped down onto a couch that had small piles of hardback books in the place of legs.  The couch smelled like spoiled cabbage and smoke.  There were stains and tears everywhere on it.

“Keeps the bugs off,” Beasley remarked.

“What?” Underwood asked.

“I bought that fine piece of furniture at a discount,” he said.  “On account of it having no legs.  But this shit hole is filled with roaches.  I put it up on books to keep the bugs off.”

Underwood’s eyes fluttered as the remaining alcohol in his system took greater effect.  He wished he hadn’t stopped to see Beasley at the bar.  But an hour before he had gone to the old apartment Beasley had kept only find it occupied by an overweight, bespeckled female law student who threatened to call the police if he didn’t leave the premises.  Underwood cursed her and left. 

For the next half-hour, he wandered around near the college campus like a ghost bent on haunting that academic landscape.  The egregore was at home, locked in a closet.  Underwood felt like he trapped between two worlds.  More than anything, he wanted desperately to see the real Betty once more.  In his darkened heart, there was barely a glimmer of hope. 

He was about to give up when he spotted John McFadden, the little Irishman who had been dressed up as a leprechaun at the mansion Halloween party.  McFadden’s face looked malformed, as if the wounds inflicted by Beasley’s brutal hands that night had never properly healed.

“Oh, you bet I know where he lives,” McFadden had said.  He gave Underwood the address.  Then he asked, “What do you see in that guy?”

Underwood thought about it for a moment.  “Do you know Betty Dingham?” he asked.

The little Irishman shook his head.  “A cutie?” he asked.

“Prettiest girl in Boston,” said Underwood.

McFadden shrugged his narrow shoulders.  He shook hands with Underwood and continued on his way.

Underwood checked out the new apartment building.  He soon discovered that Beasley wasn’t home.

“You’re looking for Edward?” asked a severe-looking girl who was dressed in black from head to toe.  The black beret she wore made her face look pale.

Underwood met her as she exited the building.  “Yes, I am,” he said.

The girl gave him the once-over.  She had one lazy eye, the left.  The right looked directly at him.

“Beasley is scum,” she said.

“That seems to be the consensus,” he told her.

“You guys are lucky.”

“How’s that?”

“Being a man,” the girl said.  “You never look back.  You don’t care about anyone but yourself.”

“That’s a blanket judgment,” Underwood argued.

“Try the Rotterdam Bar,” the girl offered.  “He’s always there.”

“How do you know?”

“Because that’s where I met him.”

Underwood almost asked her what Beasley had done to her.  But he decided not to.  Despite her wandering eye and angular face, the girl looked solid.  Nice thighs beneath her black jeans, and what looked like enormous breasts hidden by a loose black sweater.  It didn’t take a genius to figure out that Beasley had probably done the deed with her one drunken night and never called on her again.

Presently, Underwood jerked himself awake.  He looked over at Beasley who lay hunched over at the kitchen table.  Underwood looked at the clock on the wall.  3:15 in the morning.  How long was out? he wondered.  Slowly, he got up from the couch, and made his way toward the front door.  He stopped when he noticed a closet door to his left.  It made him think about the egregore at home.  He tried the closet doorknob and found that it was not locked.  Inside, there was a red flannel coat and a red hunting cap.  Underwood tried them both on.  Over his own shoddy coat, the flannel fit him well.  A glint of shiny metal in the back of the closet caught his eye.  He reached in and felt a shotgun barrel.  At eye-level on a shelf in front of him was a box of shells.  Underwood deposited the box into the front pocket of the flannel coat.  He took the shotgun and tucked it beneath both coats.

Beasley snored like a fatted king after an orgy.  His left arm slipped off the table and hung limp at his side.

Sorry old pal of mine, Underwood thought as he turned out the living room light.  He retreated into Beasley’s bedroom.  There he found a window and opened it.  After he crawled onto the fire escape outside, he descended four stories to the alley below.


By the time he reached his apartment building it was raining.  Several times he thought that a policeman would catch him with the shotgun.  Even when he reached the block he lived on, Underwood still felt scared.  He made it into the building without being seen, however, and proceeded to his apartment.

Inside, his worst fear had come true.  He entered the bedroom, and saw that the door to the closet he had used to keep the Betty Dingham egregore locked up was now wide open.  He bolted out of the apartment, and descended the stairs that led to the building foyer.

Seconds later when he emerged onto the street, Underwood saw someone moving through the shadows beneath a storefront awning.  It was a woman.  She was dressed exactly the way he’d pictured Betty Dingham might look if he had met her on the street. 

Underwood ran across the street and to the end of the building.  He heard the bell of a trolley car coming from the next street.  By the time he’d reach the end of the block the woman had already stepped onto the trolley.  He ran, but the shotgun stashed beneath his coat kept him from moving fast.  When the dry heaves came on, Underwood stopped.  He hunched over at the curb, and vomited clear bile into the sewer.

For the next several blocks, he struggled to keep the trolley car in view.  Along the way, he noticed a sharp blue slit in the eastern sky.  Morning had come.  People began exiting apartment buildings and houses all over the neighborhood on their way to work.  Ten minutes later, another trolley car rumbled up the street.  Underwood jumped on through the back door.  He gave the driver a tired, angry look when the old man spotted him in his rearview mirror.  He traveled several blocks when, looking through a window on his right, he saw Betty Dingham disappear down a narrow alley.  Underwood jumped off the trolley, and he nearly broken his ankle when the shotgun slipped from his hands, causing him to trip.

By now, night had relinquished its command to the early morning light.  Underwood walked slowly down the narrow alley.  Toward the very end, there was a wrought-iron fire escape with the ladder pulled down.  As he approached it, Underwood heard footsteps sound high overhead on the fire escape.

Wearily, he climbed the ladder—dragging the shotgun with one hand while he used his other hand to pull himself up.  It was a laborious process.  With each step, he envisioned how he might accidentally drop the shotgun, and have to climb back down to retrieve it; or, worse than that, possibly discharging a round that might maim or kill him.

Once he had made it to the first landing right outside a second-story window, he felt better.  He continued his ascent along the fire escape until a muffled cry caught his attention.

A curtain billowed out from a window three stories above him.  Underwood hefted the shotgun up only to find that the weapon was not loaded.  He rested the weapon in the crook of his left arm, then, reaching into the front pocket of the hunting flannel, he found the box of ammunition.  He loaded three shells into the shotgun.

Underwood traversed the remaining fire escape stairs two at a time as he listened to women’s voices coming from the window where the billowing curtain was located.  When he reached the landing that accessed the tenth floor, he stopped, took a deep breath, exhaled, and crawled through the open window.

“Eddie!  Thank God!” Betty Dingham cried when she saw him.

The room was dark.

Underwood saw two Betty Dinghams.  They were both dressed alike, wearing panties and camisoles.  For the first time, he understood the awful power behind his labor.  The girls were identical.  And one of them had shed the clothes she wore when she had escaped from the closet back at Underwood’s apartment.  Try as he might, he couldn’t distinguish who was flesh and blood and who was the product of his own dark making.

“Wait,” one Betty said.  “You’re not Eddie!”

“Come home, now, Betty,” Underwood said.  “I command you to come home with me.”

Neither Betty budged.

“She’s not real,” one of them pointed at the other.

“I’m me,” said the second.  “Not you.”

“You’re me?” the first argued.  “I don’t think so.”

“Kill her,” said the second one.  “Do it now.”

“You’re Harvey Underwood,” the first one said, astonished.  “I remember you.  I’ve heard about you.”

“What are you doing here?” asked the second.

“Quiet,” Underwood leveled the shotgun as he spoke.  “Just shut up and let me sort this out.”

“What’s to sort out, Harvey,” one Betty said.

“You did this,” said the other.  “This is all your fault.  What did you do with Eddie Beasley?”

“My beloved Eddie?”

“What?” Underwood felt his stomach rumbling.  He was sure that at any moment he’d puke all over the shag bedroom carpet.  “What do you mean beloved?”

“We’re in love, Harvey,” the Betty on the right said. 

“Shut up,” the one of the left told her.  “We’re not in love.”

“Ever since the Halloween party at the mansion,” the first one said.

“He didn’t tell you?”

“Oh, Harvey.  We’re so sorry.”

Underwood’s vision blurred as tears filled his eyes.  He couldn’t understand how the real Betty was in love with an oaf like Beasley.  Moreover, he hadn’t grasped that the egregore Betty might be capable of experiencing all the same feelings the real one did.  He brushed the tears out of his eyes.

“I’m the real Betty,” the one on the left said.

“No you’re not,” said the one on the right.  “I’m Betty Dingham.  I don’t know what you are.”

Underwood tightened his finger on the trigger.  When he did, the two Bettys began pushing and clawing at each other as they tried to flee the bedroom.

They made it as far as the door before one of them twisted the other’s arm up behind her back and shoved her at Underwood. 

It had all happened so fast that he didn’t have time to think.  Underwood pulled the trigger.  The first shot blew open Betty’s abdomen.  She staggered backward.  He pumped the spent shell out and chambered another round.  Betty was holding her hands out, spitting blood, as she tried desperately to remain on her feet.  Underwood took another step forward.  He pulled the trigger again.  The second shot made most of Betty’s head disappear as blood, bone and brain matter spattered all over the wall and into the hallway outside the bedroom.  Her body fell over backwards and landed in a twisted position. 

Underwood chambered the third round.  He stepped out into the hallway and saw the other Betty standing there.  He raised the shotgun and fired; but it was too late.  The second Betty had ducked out of view into another room.  Underwood heard the front door open, followed by the sound of maniacal screams as the other Betty went running down the hallway pounding on the all the doors.



Chapter Fourteen

“A witness had seen Beasley at Betty’s place before,” Underwood told me.  “Same coat.  Same hat.”

“Beasley was wearing the same on the night he met you and the Betty egregore,” I said.

“Beasley was a twit,” Underwood said. 

“He didn’t deserve to go to jail for a murder you committed.”

“Mr. Mahoney, I didn’t kill Betty Dingham.”

“You told me you shot her.”

“The egregore.”

And that was that.  Underwood had spent decades convincing himself that it was the Betty egregore that he had brutally murdered that early winter morning.  Never mind that the real Betty Dingham never came back.

“What about the children?” I asked.

Underwood looked at the window behind me.  I didn’t have to turn around to know what kept his attention rapt.  The look on his face told me that he was visited regularly by ghosts, night after night, year after year, that crawled out from the past like specters climbing out of the stone well in his backyard.

“If hadn’t been for that country bumpkin sheriff,” Underwood said, sourly.

Billy Baird, I thought. 

“You know Baird was in no great shape when I caught up to him,” I told him.  “He looked like…”

“Hell?” Underwood said, and laughed.

“Tell more about the children,” I said.  “And the Main Street incident.”

“Back then, after I left Boston,” he went on, “I was followed.”

“By whom?”

“Spirits,” said Underwood, lazily waving his drink in the air.  He quit staring at the window behind me.  Then, “This county is a hotbed for that sort of thing.”

I’d heard the rumors, but, personally, I never experienced any of the strangeness that so many Weyrland County residents had claimed they did.  For me, horror came in the form of men, like Underwood and other murderers. 

“What does that have to do with the children?” I asked.  “Or Main Street?”

“The boys I tossed down the well, those people I gunned down on Main Street, none of them were real,” he said, quietly.  “They were as hollow as the egregore I had created back in Boston.”

“Your victims were mostly children, Mr. Underwood,” I pointed out.  “How did it make you feel when the mothers wept at your trial?”

“They wept because the judge didn’t give me the chair.”

That much I knew already.  The year Underwood was sentenced was the same year that the state of New Jersey had suspended the use of the death penalty.   

A loud knock on the front door.  I nearly dropped my tape recorder when I heard the sharp report.

Underwood never flinched.  He casually set his drink down on the table beside his chair; as if he’d been waiting for whomever it was that called on him at that late hour.

“Excuse me, Mr. Mahoney,” he said as he stood up.  He paused a moment, and added, “If it’s another writer, shall I tell him you already have the scoop?”

“Sure,” I said.

Underwood exited the study. 

After he was gone, I suddenly became aware of a clock ticking.  In the corner of the study, there was an old-fashioned roll top desk.  Positioned on top of the desk was a grandmother clock that looked older than Underwood.  The seconds slowly ticked by.  Soon, the seconds turned into minutes.  I left my chair and exited the study.

Underwood’s house was like a tomb—cold, poorly lit, and damp.  The hallway outside the study led to the foyer by the front door.  At first, when I was sitting in the study listening to the clock tick, the thought did cross my mind that Underwood was plotting some devious end for me.  Fortunately, I found Underwood leaning against the jamb with the front door open.  Outside, crickets chirped their familiar symphony.  Underwood never heard me coming. 

“Mr. Underwood,” I called to him.

No answer.

I stepped around him and looked out onto the porch.  By the gate near the road, a shadow passed.

It was not until I turned around to face him that I discovered that Underwood was dead.  His face was colored pale grey, and the pupils in his eyes had narrowed into tiny pinpoints.  The expression he wore, with his mouth stuck open, was one of shock.  I touched his neck to see if I could still feel a pulse.  When I did, Underwood’s corpse slid off the doorjamb and collapsed into the foyer.

After that, I beat it back to the study and grabbed my tape recorder, my notebook and my pen.  I shoved everything into the satchel I used to haul my trade tools. 

When I first arrived at Underwood’s house, I noticed there wasn’t a telephone to be seen.  It didn’t surprise me.  So, I ran out of the house, hurdling Underwood’s body, and raced to my car.

I used my cell phone to call the police.  They took their sweet time getting there.  One of the cops assaulted me with all kinds of questions.  When he finished interviewing me, he got on the radio and requested a county coroner to visit the scene.

“Finally,” one of the other cops said.

“Maybe we should toss him down that well in the back,” said the cop who had interviewed me.

It took less than two hours between the time the police arrived and when the coroner’s van departed carrying Underwood’s corpse.

I got into my car, started it, and pulled out of the yard.  Leaving the Underwood property, I saw a figure half-hidden by shadow beneath a large oak tree.  As I exited the driveway, the person stepped out into the street.  She was a young woman, average height, lean with dark hair pulled back in a ponytail.  I stopped and rolled down my window. 

“Excuse me, miss,” I said as she stood in front of my car.  “Do you need some help?”

The woman approached the driver’s side of the car.  She was wearing a black dress with a black coat. 

“What’s that?” she pointed at my satchel in the driver’s seat.

“Research,” I told her.  “Do you need a lift somewhere?”

The woman stared at Underwood’s house for a moment, and then she turned her attention back to me.

“What were you doing there?” the woman asked.

“I’m a writer,” I told her.  “I’ve been working on a book about Harvey Underwood.  You’ve heard of him?”

“I was there, you know,” said the woman.  “When he shot her.  In the apartment back in Boston.”

There was something about her voice.  Something that wasn’t quite right.  The upper-class New England accent sounded almost hollow.

“No way,”  I said.  “As young as you are?” 

The woman bent down to look inside my car.  She had nice cheekbones, and pouty, full lips.  But it wasn’t until I looked into the young woman’s eyes that I realized she wasn’t putting me on.  Her pale blue eyes were like the eyes of a dead man.

“Oh, I was there,” she told me.  “I was the Betty that got away.”

I panicked, slammed the gear into drive, and took off.  By the time I reached the first turn at the end of Underwood’s street, I wasn’t looking at what was ahead of me.  Instead, I stared down at the satchel in the passenger seat that held my tape recorder and my notes.  I wanted to kick myself hard for not bringing a camera to the interview.  Whatever she was, a spirit made flesh by arcane rituals, with dead man’s eyes or not, she was a story I couldn’t let slip.  I made a u-turn at the intersection and headed back. 

When I returned to Underwood’s house, the other Betty was gone. 


- The End -


© 2003 by Richard J. O’Brien.  Richard J. O'Brien, a writer who lives in the New Jersey Pinelands, home to the Jersey Devil, is a graduate of Rutgers University.  The author of two novels, The Last Dark Place and The Babel Codex, as well as a collection of short stories entitled Antichrist Blues, Mr. O'Brien has published several short stories online and in print.  In addition, he has written seven screenplays.  When he is not busy writing, Mr. O'Brien caters to his dog who he suspects is royalty from another planet who likes to watch humans make fools of themselves.