Aphelion Issue 275, Volume 26
August 2022
 
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The Hook... Revisited

by Benjamin Green



Black as the night around it, the Oldsmobile Toronado rumbled down Pacific Avenue toward Gasworks Park. The big-block engine burbled with contentment on premium gasoline. Behind the wheel, Matt Taylor killed the lights, and swung the big car into the lot.

It was all part of his master plan to get into Chloe Winter's tight fitting Levi's. The genesis of an idea came when it was announced that a mental patient had broken out of Western State hospital. Adding fuel to the fire was the news that the state conducted sex offender rehabilitation there.

The government refused to give a name or a description, saying the local and county police were handling the situation, and there was nothing to fear. In the absence of any hard news, rumors ran rampant.

At Nathan Hale high school, the consensus was he was a sexual predator by the name of Captain Hook. There was no agreement about how he got his name beyond the claim that his left hand was a hook, or about what crimes he was responsible for committing. All the stories sounded like a pastiche of B-grade horror flicks.

Matt saw his opportunity, and began making his move on Chloe. She, like a lot of the girls, was spooked by the sexual predator angle. Only a few months ago, the Green River Killer had been brought to justice with the aid of DNA evidence.

He had played on those fears, spinning a lower-key variation of the lurid tales that were making the rounds. Tonight was to be the crescendo of those efforts. If everything went according to plan, not only would he get laid, but he might also earn the respect he craved.

He and Hugh 'Monster' Wilkes had been best friends and unabashed nerds back in middle school. They had remained friends when they entered high school, but the dynamic changed. Matt began making a bid for respectability, while Hugh remained an unapologetic nerd.

The road to his goal had been a difficult one for Matt. The learning curve had been steep, and he struggled with breaking old habits, and trying to act hip.

He was also hindered by the fact that he refused to repudiate his friend. While Hugh acted as a social anchor around his ankles, he was also Matt's most trusted friend. He had proved his worth again and again in the past, and tonight, he was going to do so again.

The Captain Hook hysteria was a godsend to him. In the social pecking order, Chloe was far enough above him that he otherwise wouldn't have a chance with her. While she didn't move in the rarified circles of football players and cheerleaders, she had the contacts necessary for him to move into the periphery of the 'in' crowd.

The plan was to frighten her into his arms. Hugh was enthusiastic about the plan. He'd earned his nickname because of his fascination with horror fiction. Any opportunity to put his expertise to use was welcomed with great ardor.

The only problem was Chloe wasn't cooperating.

"What are we doing here?"

He gave a helpless shrug. "It seemed romantic." As soon as the words were out, he realized how lame it sounded.

"It's an old industrial site. What's romantic about that?"

He shrugged again. "Aren't women always complaining that they aren't taken somewhere new and different?"

She snorted, and rolled her eyes. Of course, it ended the interrogation. He got out, and opened her door. That earned him another rolling of the eyes.

"Why don't we go up on the Great Mound? It has a great view of Portage Bay."

They began walking across the grass. He took her hand, and gave her a furtive sidelong glance. She put his arm around her waist, and rested her head on his shoulder with a sigh. "I can't blame you too much. You are trying."

He saw his opportunity, and took it. "Yes, I'm told all the time that I am very trying."

She giggled, and elbowed him. Once they stood on the giant sundial, her attitude began to change. Southern Seattle and Capitol Hill were spread out in front of them across the dun water of the Ship Canal. The lights looked like diamonds scattered on the dark velvet landscape. Over to the right was the dark hump of Queen Anne hill, the lights shimmering and dancing.

She stared at it with wide-eyed wonder. He felt an urge to tell her a part of a crashed Seattle Police helicopter was part of the sundial, and quashed it. Despite his best efforts, he was still prone to nerdish impulses.

He might yet pull this off, but he would have to be extra vigilant about what he said and did. His eyes turned toward the generators. He debated tossing off a nugget about what was in the original plan for them. While he was wrestling with this dilemma, she looked in the same direction

"What's so fascination about those old towers?"

The words came to him before he had time to think about them. "Oh, the architect that designed this park planned on using them. He wanted to put a camera obscura in one."

She frowned as she looked at him, her brow knitting. "What is a camera obscura?"

He gave her an encapsulated layman's version of how it worked. She was silent giving an occasional nod. "Wow." She was silent another moment. Then a tentative smile crept across her face. "That would be cool." Then it dropped away. "Why is it fenced off?"

He shrugged. "Maybe they decided it wasn't structurally sound enough to do it." He gave her a quick sidelong glance. "Or maybe they decided not to spend the money."

"Bastards." It was a simple declarative remark, with no emotion showing on her face. They stared at the generators for a long moment, Matt psyching himself up for his next move.

This was the riskiest part of the plan. While playing on her fears of a sexual predator had gotten his foot in the door, she became more skeptical by the day. She now stated the escaped mental patient was still in Pierce County and no real threat anyway. If she suspected that this was staged even for a second, their relationship would be over.

"Why don't we head over to the Play Barn?"

She turned, and gave him a sharp look. "You aren't going to explain how all the machinery in there works, are you?"

He was so flustered by the question that he was unable to think. Then he noticed the crinkling around here eyes, and the sly smile sneaking onto her face. Realizing he was being teased, he wracked his brains for a reason. After a minute, he came up with one.

"Actually, it's another idea that never quite made it off the drawing board. There's a condenser coil in there the architect wanted to turn into a musical instrument. Fill each tube with differing amounts of water, and call it a ferrophone."

To his surprise, she blanched. "That's horrible! I'm glad it didn't happen!"

He looked at her. "Why?"

She rolled her eyes. "Most of the guys I know feel the need to strum on a guitar. All they can do is play 'Stairway to Heaven' or 'Smoke on the Water' off-key." She chuckled. "Can you imagine how much noise they could make with that?"

His eyebrows went up, and then he gave a slow nod. "I see your point."

She pinioned him with a fixed stare. "Promise me you won't take up a musical instrument."

He nodded, and drew an X on his chest with his index finger. "Cross my heart, and hope to die, I promise."

She giggled, then pulled him close for a kiss. For a moment, he considered calling off the plan. The night seemed rich with promise it didn't have before. Hugh would be furious, but he would get over it.

Then he decided to go ahead anyway. He couldn't think of any way to back out without giving himself away. The die was now cast, and he would rise or fall by the dictates of the plan.

As they approached the Play Barn, gray wisps of ground mist rolled down the stairs. Matt groaned inwardly. Hugh's sense of the dramatic may be the undoing of their big scheme. Where did he get the dry ice, anyway?

A dark figure, wearing a hockey mask emerged from the gloom. His left arm ended in a prosthetic hook, which glittered in the moonlight. "Hey kiddies, are you ready to die?"

The voice changer his friend was using impressed Matt. That was a major league creepy voice, even if it was a hokey line. "It's Captain Hook! Run! Run!"

He shoved Chloe forward, toward the parking lot. Hugh was supposed to follow close enough to add verisimilitude, but not enough to look like he was going to catch them. Even though he knew the whole thing was staged, he was unable to repress a cold chill. This was just a little too real for his tastes.

He dove into the Toronado, and began fumbling with his keys. There was a solid thunk, then he could see the hockey mask leering at him from the rearview mirror. Was it just him, or did he see a flash of orange-red light in the eye sockets? Even Hugh wouldn't get that crazy.

He got the key in the ignition, and took off with a roar of power, and a crunch of gravel. Once the adrenaline high wore off, he took his foot off the pedal. The car slowed down the speed limit as it hurtled down Pacific Avenue.

Matt made a big show of wiping his brow. "Whew, that was..."

His voice trailed off as he saw her stone faced scowl. What wounded him most was the contempt he saw shining in her eyes. "Just what do you think you're trying to pull?"

He shrank back into his seat, but tried bluffing his way out of it. "I don't have any idea what you're talking about."

Her response was to turn on the radio, and hit the preset button for KIRO. The top of the hour news was on, and the third item the newsreader had was that the mental patient from Western State had been caught earlier in the afternoon. She gave him a meaningful look, before crossing her arms over her chest, and staring out the windshield.

His mouth flopped open, but no words came out. After a moment of reflection, he realized the uselessness of the gesture, and closed it. She remained focused on what was in front of her, refusing to look at him. So he switched it to a FM station.

He turned left onto Fifteenth Avenue. He might as well take her home. Their relationship was now dead. Buried in the same grave were his hopes of using her to move up the social ladder. All of this could have been prevented if he paid a little more attention to the news.

The question now became, was there any way he could salvage something from this disaster? One door had slammed in his face with grim finality. Might there be another door or window to get him where he wanted to go?

He was deep in thought as he turned right onto Sixty-fifth. She lived out in Ravenna, out by the Wedgwood neighborhood. Matt had to repress a small smile as he decided the evening wasn't a total disaster.

If he kept the hook stuck in the lock of his trunk lid, he could start telling the story of his big blunder. As long as it was him telling the story, it should minimize the damage, and boost his visibility among his peers. Maybe it wouldn't win him the social status he was after, but it would bump him up a couple of notches.

He drove past the Hoagie's Corner on Thirty-fifth, and made a right into the alleyway. Her apartment was behind the business. It was an open front business, with parking on the first floor. The lights were on in the living room, meaning her mother was still up.

Once he pulled to a stop, Chloe got out, without waiting for him to offer to open the door. He got out as well, intending to recover the hook.

She acted as if he didn’t exist. She hesitated a moment once she was on the porch, noticing he was frowning at his trunk lid. Curiosity turned to petulance as he continued ignoring her. She put her hands on her hips, and frowned at him. “What’s so fascinating back there?”

He looked up, holding the hook he pulled out of the lock. The end was dripping red fluid. “This hook is steel. Hugh’s was plastic.” There was a splash of dripping red fluid from the lock. He put his finger in it, and tasted it. “That’s blood, not corn syrup!”

Matt was frozen in place, his mind racing. Chloe was also thinking hard. Something was going on, and she wanted to know what. She heard footsteps coming down the stairs, and knew she had only seconds to make a decision.

Then his eyes went wide, and his jaw dropped. She knew he was about to bolt, and ran back for the car. She managed to yank open the door as he dived inside. She let out a squeal as the car lurched into reverse. She was trying to sit down, and close the door, but she wasn’t all the way in the car.

Chloe flopped around as her center of gravity was tumbled about. Matt seemed to show no awareness she was there, or for her plight. The car continued its precipitous plunge backward, before making a left turn onto Sixty-fifth, and taking off with a screech of tires.

Chloe’s mother was in time to see the car charge back out of the alley at close to thirty, then make a tire burning left onto the arterial. She shook her head, waiting to hear the explanation for this one.

As the car raced down the street, she managed to get herself into the seat, and get a seatbelt on. Next, she put her hands over her eyes, and whimpered. She didn’t know what scared her more, Matt, or the way he was driving.

He was staring at the road with a fixed stare, hunched forward, his hands claws clutching the wheel. The drive was reminiscent of Mr. Toad’s wild ride. He ignored both speed limits and traffic signals. Because it was late, the danger was much less. Still, he had at least half a dozen close calls.

For his part, Matt’s vision was filled with terrible thoughts about what had become of his friend. He tried telling himself that he was being silly, but the demon of uncertainty spurred him on with horrible visions.

Chloe let out a drilling scream as he tapped the brakes, and downshifted for the turn onto East Greenlake Way. The big car rolled on its suspension, and the tires cried. Billowing white clouds of burning rubber surrounded the car. Still, it managed to stay on the road, and he gunned up again.

She now knew where they were going and surmised that something went wrong. Of course, a thousand questions still plagued her. Whatever the answers were, they would be found at Gasworks Park.

The turn onto Stone Way was not as severe, and below Thirty-fourth, it became Pacific Avenue. Matt could already see strobing red-and-blue lights behind the buildings.

That seemed to confirm all the worst thoughts lurking in his mind. His mind ran riot with the possibilities. If Hugh was gone... He didn’t want to finish the thought.

Most of the park was screened from the roadway by a thick stand of trees. Of course, the near side was open. He jerked the car off the road, and jammed the stick into Neutral. She screamed, because the big Oldsmobile kept rolling.

She was sure it would go over the edge, and tip into the water. Of course, it ended up stopping a few feet shy of the rocky seawall. Chloe got out on shaky knees, too pumped on adrenaline to trust herself.

Matt had already bailed out, and was running across the grassy field. There was a growing cordon of police and emergency personnel around the Play Barn. They had strung up work lights and police tape, fueling his worst fears.

Hands tried holding him back, but fear gave him superhuman strength. He managed to break through, and his eyes widened at the ghastly tableau.

Hugh was hung from a rafter in a crucifix position. The hockey mask hung around his neck, his face twisted into a rictus of terror and horror. He had been disemboweled, the loops of intestine used to tie him into place. Written in blood on the floor, it said:

BEWARE THE THINGS YOU UNLEASH!

-Captain Hook

Matt stared a long moment, every gruesome detail seared into his memory. As long as he lived, that scene would haunt him. He fell to his knees, covering his face with his hands, and let out a long, inarticulate howl.

He had a dim awareness of a scruffy man in a dirty housecoat pointing at him, felt his arms being jerked back, and heard the click of the handcuffs. The policeman began reciting the Miranda warning as he pulled him to his feet. Matt didn’t care. The world might go on, but his life was over.

Chloe heard the howl, and tried breaking through the cordon, but was unable. Her eyes widened, and her hands covered her mouth as she saw Matt being led away. Grim-faced policemen surrounded him, and a dirty vagrant trailed along behind them, pointing at Matt and uttering a stream of profanity-laced accusations.

What caught her attention was the look of forlorn despair and hopelessness on Matt's face. She knew he wasn't responsible for the atrocity committed here -- he had been with her when the crime had been committed, and the grotesque corpse had not been there when they left the site. But somehow Matt didn't see it that way. He didn’t protest as he was manhandled into the back of the police car.

Chloe shivered. The mental patient had been captured, but someone else was out there in the night, someone far worse...

"Miss, you'll have to come with me. We have some questions we need to ask you." The police officer's face was grim. Chloe understood that he thought that she must have been involved in Hugh's murder, but she didn't care. The police station might be the safest place she could be...

On the breeze she heard a deep, guttural chuckle.

THE END


© 2011 Benjamin Green

Bio: Benjamin Green's stories have appeared in a number of publications including Aphelion (The Bogeyman's Warning, December 2008).

E-mail: Benjamin Green

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