When Tom & Priya Warwick first pitched the idea of buying Buddy’s Bar to the loan officer at the bank, they had gotten the exact look from him that they had expected. A quizzical stare, which seemed to both condescend and question their sanity from beneath a single raised eyebrow. The look had faded when they had explained their idea to turn it into a museum for urban legends. The loan officer had been forced to admit that it was possibly the only business that could thrive in the premises, given the reputation of the place. There was definitely nobody in the town who would be happy to see it reopen as a venue for drinking and laughter, that was for sure.
Too many strange things had happened at Buddy’s Bar, and too many stories had circulated about the old, battered building for any of the locals to feel comfortable in its shadow as they passed by on the road outside, let alone for them to actually step through its doors. Of course, the fading signs outside it now all called it ‘Benny’s Bar’, from when Ben Shaw had tried to take it over and rebuild the business. It was a brave idea, but it failed after only a few months.
At first, Shaw’s friends and family tried to support him by coming in for drinks, plus the odd actual customer here and there, whether they were curious locals or out-of-towners who didn’t know the reputation of the place. Unfortunately, the tourists and occasional passers-through were not enough to keep the place going when everyone else quickly trailed off and stopped coming. The place just creeped everyone out. Its history made everyone feel uncomfortable, and no amount of brightly lit signs ever stopped anyone from calling it Buddy’s Bar. It would always be Buddy’s Bar. When Ben had tried to start an electrical fire for the insurance money, he only managed to electrocute himself. Not so much as a spark had apparently touched the aging wood of the walls and floors, but Benny Shaw’s body had pretty much cooked from the inside out.
The building had stood empty since then. Shaw’s accident seemed to just add fuel to the fire of local hysteria about the building and everyone’s belief that there was ‘some form of evil between those walls’. Even the non-religious and non-spiritual people swore their belief in pure evil when it came to Buddy’s Bar. But Tom & Priya Warwick’s idea would actually tap into that local fear and superstition, and bring in business from further afield. A museum about urban legends, particularly those surrounding Buddy’s Bar, could be a genuine success. Morbid curiosity is almost always a solid money maker.
The banker’s eyes kept slipping nervously towards the couple’s son, who was playing with a toy car and had ‘driven’ it from the floor, up the side of his desk, and was now running it backwards and forwards carelessly between the stacks of papers and carefully arranged stationary.
“So, there would be plenty of exhibits for all the different things that people say have happened there specifically,” Tom explained to the loan officer, who leaned forward in his chair, cradling his chin in one hand. “Plus then we would have stuff about the bigger history of urban legends – like the ones from Buddy’s Bar, but from all over the country. Maybe even a few international stories and artefacts, if we can get enough to source them.”
“Mmm-Hmmm…” The loan officer seemed to agree, despite his deeply furrowed brow. He pulled his hand away from his chin and leaned back, pursing his lips for a moment as he pondered the proposal. “It seems like you’ve got some good ideas. But, the exhibits… We’d need to know more about them to make sure they have enough mass appeal for this kind of audience.”
Priya turned to Tom, tipping her head slightly towards their son.
“Maybe you should take Jason and play over there near the window while I talk about that kind of stuff?” She said, nodding her head towards some comfortable chairs near the far wall.
“You’re probably right,” he said. “I guess you can’t talk about that side of it without getting a bit gruesome. Come on, Jason. We’re going to take your car over there while mummy speaks to the bank man.”
Tom took the hand which was not gripping the little red car and led his son away from the desk, but not before one last ‘vrrrr-oooom!’ from the kid, which made the wheels of the little car spin so fast that they could hear them spinning over the background noise of bank-chatter.
“Well,” Priya began when they were a few feet away. “There’s loads to go on, so I thought we’d start at the entrance with the story of Buddy Hillenbrand, what with the place being named after him. We’d tell the story about his gangster and occult connections as we lead the guests around the side of the bar and out into the beer garden where it looks over the water. Then we’d do the big finish where we tell them about Buddy feeding people to the alligators for gambling debts, or as human sacrifices, depending on which version you believe.”
The banker nodded, rubbing his chin with open fingers and then pushing his glasses back on his bulbous nose.
“Then we’d come in through the back, where we’d have a room for crime stories from around the country where people were fed to animals, and cult rituals with human sacrifices. Anything similar to the local case, you see?” She paused for a moment, trying to assess the expression across the desk, but the banker just nodded again and kept his poker face intact. “So then we get to the kitchen, where the crazy guy who claimed he was from the future stabbed a guy who was cooking burgers, because he thought the guy was going to invent something terrible that would ruin the planet. I’ve always been really fascinated by that one. They never did find out who he really was or where he came from. And he always refused to tell them what the guy was going to invent, in case they thought it was a good idea and tried it for themselves!” Priya let out a small laugh at the ridiculousness of it, but quickly composed herself in case the loan officer thought she was being unprofessional. “So many theories about that one! Then the next room would be where they used to have the backroom casino, so not only do we have stuff about local organised crime, but that was also the lounge where the Grange Park Killer apparently went to get drunk after every murder. They still haven’t been able to find a load of those bodies, so there’s all kinds of stories and legends around that. That would lead into the function room, which would be all your main serial killer and true crime history stuff, which is always a favourite with this kind of crowd, especially unsolved cases, they eat that stuff up. Then we’ve got the haunted bar itself, which will probably be the crowd favourite I would think. That leads into exhibits for all our paranormal stuff and curses and that kind of thing. After that, it would be good to have an exhibit on the history of the site and all the folk stories about the early cults and religions from the area, because a lot of the local stories involve witchcraft and all that stuff, and there’s a lot we could tie in with that theme from all around the world, potentially. Then we’d finish with the most famous case from Buddy’s Bar, the ‘Boy In The Basement’. We could have the whole basement set up with creepy lighting and recreate everything from the crime scene photos from when they discovered the little boy’s skeleton. With it being such a famous unsolved case, there are loads of stories and theories about it, plus we’d get new visitors every time they mention it in one of those crime documentaries.”
“Okay, so it sounds like it would have a fairly wide appeal, for what it is. You know, for that macabre-seeking crowd. But what about sourcing the exhibits themselves?”
“Well, we’ve been collecting little bits ourselves for the last few years, but we’d actually get a lot of help from the local police. Tom’s grandfather was a Captain at the station years ago, and his father worked there too, so we have a few contacts there and made some enquiries and they said they’d be happy to help us out as much as they can.”
“Ah, of course,” the loan officer’s poker face broke with warm recognition. “Tom Warwick. I thought it sounded familiar. So he’s Captain Warwick’s grandson? Well, I’m not surprised they’ve agreed to help out. Captain Warwick was very well known in his day. A real local hero.”
“Oh, I know,” she said, a proud smile spreading across her face. She glanced over at Tom and Jason, playing with the car on the windowsill, with Tom beaming at his little boy and talking enthusiastically as the boy explained what adventures the car was taking. She turned back to the loan officer to continue with the proposal.
“So that takes care of a lot of the true crime stuff, at least in terms of information and set dressing. I work for the local council at the moment and I know that they have been wanting to build on Westrop Field for years, but they’re scared of the local historical society and preservation groups because of the stone carvings and the statue. The thing is, they get graffitied and vandalised every year, so I think we could strike a deal where we could relocate them to our museum so that they’re safe from the elements and destructive kids. They’d be our centerpieces for the local history and folk tales section.”
“Okay,” the banker nodded enthusiastically, scribbling down a few notes as Priya spoke. “So, that’s an interesting idea. It definitely gives us a really good basis to work from.”
They chatted back and forth enthusiastically over the many ideas and possibilities of the project, and the loan officer had swung completely around from his original skepticism at the idea of anyone buying Buddy’s Bar. They talked about the various ways they could monetise the venture, beyond the obvious admission fees, including merchandise of various kinds for every exhibit.
“I’m just curious,” the loan officer said at one point, his brow furrowing again. “The case you said is your favourite – the stabbing in the kitchen one – what on earth would you include in that? I don’t think I’ve ever heard of any other cases where the killer claimed to be a time traveller? And what would you include in the exhibit? It’s not like you can have a time machine set up or anything.”
“No, of course!” Priya let out another small chuckle. “But actually there were supposed to be some old religious rituals that revolved around the idea of time travel. They used to perform these ceremonies to open portals to give their past selves advice. Some of them might have actually included the artefacts at Westrop Field. There was also a lesser known case where a guy disappeared at Buddy’s Bar and showed up five years later in the same clothes, claiming he had no knowledge of the time he was gone.”
“Okay, I can’t say I’d heard of that one.”
“Yeah, and there have been a few other cases around the country too. Maybe even in other countries. Obviously most of them turn out to be hoaxes or people who are just mentally ill, but there are also a few like this one, where the person was never identified and the case went cold. We’d obviously stick with the unsolved ones and the history of the pagan festivals to play up the possibility that it could be real.”
“Hmmmm… Interesting… Good, good….” The loan officer muttered to himself as he pondered over his scribbled notes.
Jason was happy by the time they finally left the bank. His mum and dad seemed really happy too. They kept talking about life changing and how things would get so much better, but Jason thought everything was already good. He didn’t really care about them getting the money had they been talking about. Then again, he didn’t really understand why they talked about money so much at all. He figured that adults must see money the way he sees toys and desserts, and he hoped that he would never prefer something as boring as money to those things.
His parents talked excitedly in the front seats as he sat in the back, running his toy car along the edge of the car window, down the side of the door next to him, across the armrest of his child seat and then zooming through the air. He heard his dad talking about how much work they would have to do when they got some keys, and his mum chatted away about loads of people he had never heard of, and phone calls she would have to make to get things called ‘exhibits’. He would almost have thought that ‘exhibits’ was another word for money with how excited she sounded, but then they mentioned money as well, so he knew it was different, but probably just as boring.
He stuck his legs out straight in front of him, nearly reaching all the way to the back of his dad’s seat, and used them as a runway for his toy car, zooming it down one leg, stretching forward to run it all the way down to the top of his socks, then making a screeching sound as he turned it to drive all the way back up his other leg. He was running out of new surfaces that he could drive it on, but he didn’t care that much. He could make the car go round in circles for ages without getting bored. His mum turned around in her seat and looked at him as he started running the wheels up and down his own stomach and chest, making a ‘brumm-brumm-brumm’ sound.
“You were a really good boy at the bank today,” she said. “So we’ll have some ice cream later as a treat.”
“Yay!” Jason cheered, throwing his arms in the air as though he had won a gold medal.
“We just need to make a couple of stops before we go home, but it shouldn’t take too long.”
The first of the stops didn’t take very long at all. They pulled up outside the police station, where they had been a few times in the last few weeks. Jason knew that his dad was doing some kind of work with them, but he wasn’t actually being a policeman. It didn’t sound very exciting, but his dad always seemed quite happy about it. This time, his dad told Jason and his mum to wait in the car while he just went in for a few minutes. He was back quite quickly, and when he got back into the car he turned to Jason’s mum and told her it was a ‘good news, bad news situation’.
“We can have copies of the files, but it’s going to take a few weeks to get the release forms signed so that they can send them to us. They can’t give us access to them until the Captain gets back from a three week holiday. It’s just a formality, but they need his signature. I’ve filled out all of the request forms, so they’ll just send them when he signs off on it”
“Ok, well we’ll just have to work on the plans for other sections for the moment,” his mum said.
Jason realised the conversation was another boring one and drifted off back into his own world. This time, he pretended the red car was secretly a police car that could go a million miles an hour. He made roaring engine noises as his parents started the real car. It didn’t take long before he recognised the roads that led to Westrop Field, where they must be going to look at the statue and the weird stones again. This was one of the most boring things his parents had made him do all summer, and the thought of doing it again made him feel boredom right down to his bones. He let out a groan and dropped his hands onto his lap in exasperation, bringing the spinning wheels of his toy car to a stop against his leg as it slapped down.
“Don’t worry,” said his mum from the front seat. “We’re just going to meet someone from the council and talk about the statue and the stones. It should only take a few minutes, then we’ll head straight home.”
“Can’t I wait in the car?” Jason whined.
“No, I’m afraid me and your dad both need to speak to the lady, so you’ll have to come with us. You can bring your toy car though.”
Jason let out a ‘mmmph’, then turned to look out of the window with an exaggerated sulk.
They pulled up on the gravel road close to a gate and trudged across the freshly mowed field. Jason sulked the whole way, because he was sick of looking at the stones and listening to his parents talk about weird people in robes, and witches who didn’t sound as interesting or magical as the ones he had seen in cartoons.
A woman was waiting next to the statue and his parents waved to her enthusiastically as they approached. They ushered for Jason to hurry, but he just exaggerated his steps rather than speed them up. As they reached her they all started shaking hands and the woman turned to Jason and gave him an oversized smile and asked how he was in a much higher voice than she had spoken to his parents. He shrugged and turned away, placed his car on one of the bigger stones and started making his engine noises again.
“Sorry about him,” he heard his dad say. “He’s just grumpy because we’ve had to take him around with us all day.”
“Oh, that’s no problem at all!” The woman said with a half-laugh. “It’s starting to get a bit chilly, so we’ll get straight down to business so that you can all get home. Do you have the proposal that I asked you to write?”
“Yes,” his mum said, handing the woman an envelope. “Everything is in there. As you can see, the graffiti problem is out of control out here, especially on the statue. We’d be preserving some important history by taking these in.”
Jason made his toy car leap off the stone and onto the next one, as if it was jumping over a canyon. The second one was covered in a bright green moss, which came loose under the wheels of the car. He ran the wheels backwards and forwards over a section of the moss until it fell away. Underneath, he saw some carved lines in a wave pattern, and realised that the trenches in the stone were exactly the right size for the wheels on his car. It was like someone had carved out a track for him to follow on the stone with his car. He pulled away some of the moss with his fingers to expose a bit more of the track, and started tracing along the lines with the car.
He could hear his parents having the same old conversations with the woman about the place they were buying, and about the people who carved the stones and the statue all those years ago. He didn’t know why they found it so interesting. Jason liked new things, but his parents always liked things that were really old. Probably because they were old themselves. He once heard his dad say that he was thirty, which sounded old to Jason.
“Did you hear that they’re putting that documentary on again soon?” The woman asked. “The one about the ‘Boy In The Basement’? It’s going to be available to stream from next week.”
“Yeah, I heard they’d bought it,” Jason’s dad answered. “Just a shame they don’t wait a few months. The timing would be better for publicity if we were closer to being up and running.”
“I’m sure it’ll all still help though,” his mum pitched in. “It might even help us to secure some more investors or donors if we need to.”
“It will probably help on our end,” the woman from the council said. “The extra publicity might help to persuade any fence-sitters to support the project.”
Jason thought ‘fence-sitters’ sounded funny, but didn’t want to interrupt them to ask why people were sitting on fences. He just wanted them to hurry up so he could go home for ice cream.
“Did they really never identify the boy they found down there?” The woman asked in a voice that was nowhere near as quiet as she thought it was.
“No, it’s always been a mystery,” Jason’s mum said, glancing over at her son to make sure he wasn’t listening. He could still hear them, but he was trying to ignore them and play with his car. Priya mistook his lack of interest as being out of earshot, which happened a lot, but Jason hardly ever found their conversations interesting. It was a bit annoying actually, because they talked as if they had interesting secrets, but they never really did. “No one even reported any missing children, and they’ve checked the records for all the neighbouring towns, but nothing from them either.”
“We actually might be able to find out a little bit more,” Jason’s dad added. “There’s something in the grave on the photos, but it’s always slightly out of shot and we can’t tell what it is. We’re waiting on the police to release some files to us that apparently have more photos from different angles. Depending what’s in there, it might tell us more about where the kid came from.”
“So, everything’s going well with getting the other exhibits and research together?”
“Oh, yeah, it’s all going really great. We should have quite an impressive collection, plus we’ve got some amazing people working on the waxworks and scenery reconstruction and everything.”
Then they started talking about travelling through time again, and spells that had something to do with the stones. Jason always thought that stuff sounded really weird. In the cartoons he watched, it was scientists who travelled through time, not witches and wizards. Magic was for turning people into things, or making sick people better, or making things appear from nowhere. It had nothing to do with changing the past. Maybe sometimes for seeing the future, but that was usually by looking into crystal balls or one of those big cauldrons, or at least that’s how it seemed to always work.
He spun the toy car around into his other hand, driving it down a different part of the carved-out track. As he did, the lines in the rock seemed to move. They slowly curled and shifted, looking like crudely animated waves creeping across a stone screen. Jason pulled his car away and looked at the spinning wheels on the bottom, then back to the rock. The lines had stopped moving. He traced them with his fingers, but they were still and cold, like the rest of the stone. He looked back at the car in his hand as the wheels slowed to a stop. He turned it over, looking at the toy from every angle, then looking back at the stone with a deep, confused frown.
“Oh, I think we’re wrapping up just in time,” he heard his mum say. “Looks like we’ve got a really grumpy boy now.”
“I’m not grumpy!” Jason shouted over to them, his frown turning into a sulk at the accusation.
“I think you’re right,” his dad agreed as they waved goodbye to the woman, who walked away with the envelope his mum had given to her.
They headed back to the car and Jason kept looking at the toy in his hand, and then turning back to look at the rock as it shrank away into the distance behind them. His parents talked about how everything seemed to be going really well and his mum repeated the promise of ice cream for being so good while they ran all these errands today.
“I think my toy car might be magic,” he said.
“I bet it is,” said his dad, as if he wasn’t really listening.
“Everything is magic if you believe in it,” said his mum in her encouraging voice.
“That’s not what I meant,” Jason muttered, more to himself than to his parents.
They went back to talking about all the same stuff they had talked about all day. Jason sat in his car seat with his toy car on his lap for the ride home. He stared at it and turned it over and over in his hands, studying it for anything that might have changed, or any sign of where the magic had come from. All he could see was the same car he had played with since he got it for his last birthday. He decided that maybe the stone hadn’t moved after all, but every now and then when he’d play with his toy car, he would remember the waves in the stone. He would check the patterns in the carpet and the lines of concrete between bricks in the wall, wherever the wheels of the car touched, but over the weeks that followed, Jason didn’t see any more magic.
There’s a thickness to the cold air in buildings that have stood empty for a long time, and Priya was convincing herself that her shivers were only from that heavy coldness as she stood in the lounge of Buddy’s Bar. As she looked around the room, it was hard to deny that there were other factors adding to the chill in her blood and the goosebumps prickling up on her skin.
They had already removed all of the signs that said ‘Benny’s’, and were having some of the salvageable ones touched up and restored, so that they could potentially be used as a side exhibit. After all, it seemed logical to have something to acknowledge that chapter of the building’s history. It was certainly in line with the overall theme, even if it wasn’t the most salacious or mysterious of events. Now that the signs and the mirrors with the updated logos were gone, a lot of the original wood and stone was exposed, making the place feel raw.
It had also seemed to confirm the rumours about Buddy Hillenbrand being involved with the occult. Some of the walls had patterns carved directly into the concrete which were clearly based on the stones in Westrop Field. The swirls and waves of the lines were unmistakable to Priya after all the time she had spent studying the original stones, in books and in person. The remaining walls were even more chilling, with graphic murals of sacrifices and demons. One scene depicted a group of demons feasting on a dismembered body, surrounded by laughing people in robes, while something that looked like a portal to hell was opening beside them. The scene was taking place at the foot of the statue from Westrop Field, where Priya had stood multiple times with her husband and son. She stared at the mural and bit her bottom lip, feeling an urge to cover up the images, despite knowing she
be happy to have made such a discovery. She wondered how many of the other rooms might have similar things lurking beneath the wood panelling.
“Mum?” Jason’s voice pierced the silence, making Priya gasp and spin around towards the doorway with her eyes wide with alarm.
“Oh! Yes, honey?” She said, her eyes quickly shrinking to normal size as the momentary panic subsided. She hurriedly walked across the room, glancing quickly over her shoulders as she maneuvred her body between her innocent son and the gory scenes on the walls.
“Are you okay?” He asked. “Did I make you jump?”
“Yes, you did a bit!” Priya let out a little laugh that didn’t sound as casual and reassuring as she had hoped. She cleared her throat. “I don’t really want you coming into his room while there’s work being done, okay?”
“But I only came to ask you if we’re having lunch soon?”
“That’s fine darling, we’ll take a break very soon and grab you something to eat, but just stay in the hallway for now and play with your toy car while I finish measuring up in here. It won’t take me too long.”
“Okay,” Jason mumbled, walking away with his body slightly slumped.
‘Poor thing,’ Priya thought to herself. ‘He’s probably bored stiff… I’ll make it up to him when this place is up and running, and he’ll be much happier when he can eventually start school.’
She pulled the tape measure out of her pocket and took a deep breath as she turned back to the room.
Jason pushed his toy car along one of the wood-panelled walls in the hallway and brought it to a screeching crash into one of the thick, dark wood door frames. He made some explosion noises then burst straight back into another high-speed chase. He zoomed the car across to the opposite wall and then crashed it into the bottom of the closed door.
The door opened a crack, with a groan from the hinges which echoed through the hallway and bounced off the walls. Jason peered into the pitch-black opening and screwed up his nose at the vague smells of damp, dust, and stagnant air. The daylight from the hallway spread across the inner wall as the door began to open and Jason saw something familiar. He pushed the door slightly more ajar and saw that the entire wall was covered in the same kind of tracks that he had seen on the stones up on Westrop Field.
“Whoah,” he muttered to himself. He got to his feet, car still firmly in hand, and used his free hand to push the door all the way open. The tracks stretched out across the entire wall, stopping just at the top of a metal staircase which led downstairs. He figured the staircase must lead to the basement that his parents were always whispering about.
He stepped through the doorway and stood in the middle of the long, narrow hallway which led to the top of the stairs. He stared with his mouth wide open at the massive amount of the track-like pattern on the wall. Excitedly, he placed the car at the side of the wall near the door frame, and ran it along the entire length of the wall between the door and the railing at the top of the stairs, letting the tracks guide the wheels of the car in a smooth wave pattern as he ran. He spun around on the balls of his feet when he got near the railing at the top of the stairs, and switched the hand that was holding on to the car in one motion. He set off running the other way, letting the wheels of the car slip into different parts of the track as he jogged up the corridor, ‘brumming’ and ‘vrooming’ as he went. He ran backwards and forwards, stooping down and then stretching his arm up high as he ran the car around the curves of the carved lines.
Then he saw it. The lines started to move. It was just like they had done on the stones at Westrop Field, bending and swirling like slow-motion reeds in a soft wind. He slowly pulled the toy car away from the wall and dropped his arms to his side. He stared at the dancing waves in the stone wall as they dipped and rose, and flattened and curled. He leaned in towards the waves and reached out the fingers of his free hand, but hesitated to actually touch the moving stone patterns. His hand lingered only a fingertip away, but he pulled it back, worried that it might suck him into the wall somehow.
Somewhere in the distance, he thought he heard both of his parents’ voices calling out to him, sounding scared and almost like they were screaming his name, but from really far away. The lines started to change shape, and now they were trying to make pictures that Jason couldn’t quite make out. They turned into a whirlpool, then burst into a huge, smiling face. It was gone as soon as it appeared, but the face had been there, looking at him, smiling at him.
Jason’s expression quickly changed from wonderment to panic, his eyes wide and the colour draining from his face. He started shaking and turned towards the door to the hallway. As he turned towards it, the door slammed shut and plunged Jason into complete darkness. He ran towards the door anyway, grabbing for the handle blindly. When he found it, he pulled and yanked it with all his might, but the door didn’t budge. It was solid in its frame, locked and completely unmoving. Jason carried on trying, using all of his weight to pull down the handle, but still the door didn’t move. Then, in the darkness, he heard whispers coming from the basement. He wondered if his mum and dad had maybe found a different way down there. Maybe they were down there looking for him, he thought.
He gripped his car in both hands as he slowly walked towards the top of the stairs in the dark. A soft glow from somewhere downstairs cast a shred of light around the top of the staircase, so he could just about see where he was heading. The whispers seemed slightly clearer as he reached the top of the staircase, but he still couldn’t make them out properly or hear any actual words. He started to edge his way down the metal stairs, slowly slipping down one stair at a time. After a few steps he bent down to look between the steps into the big, dark basement. He could just about make out two shadows at the far end of the basement, but now the voices were clearer and he was sure they were both men. At least one of them could be his dad, so he eased himself down another few steps, not wanting to get in the way if they were doing some work in here, too. As his foot lowered onto one of the steps, he didn’t see the small screw which had been lying there gathering dust for months, and it slipped out from under the sole of his shoe and bounced down the metal steps.
One of the voices shouted “What the -” and suddenly there were running footsteps getting louder. Jason definitely didn’t recognise the voice, and it sounded angry. He started to scurry back up the steps, but before he reached the top, a voice growled up to him.
“Hey, you! Stay where you are.”
Jason slowly turned to see a man he had never seen before in a smart, dark blue suit and hat. The man had stopped at the bottom of the stairs, with one hand on the railing and his other at his side. Jason had seen enough superhero cartoons to recognise that the hand at his side was holding a gun. The man’s friend caught up a moment later, not in quite as much of a hurry, but looking much angrier than the first man. This one was in a black suit, with a thick black beard and eyes that looked like tar pits. He had a gun in one hand as well, while his other stayed in his trouser pocket. The two men stared up at Jason, then looked at each other with their eyebrows raised, then back at Jason, who stood perfectly still on the staircase, glancing between the men and the locked door at the end of the corridor. He could just about make out the outline of the door from whatever tiny bit of light was shining on the other side.
“What the hell is this?” Asked the guy in black.
“What’re you askin’ me for?” The man in blue answered.
“Well, someone must have let him in!”
“Well, it wasn’t me!”
“Well, it sure as hell wasn’t me either!” The man with the black beard glared at his friend, who immediately shut up, his eyes shifting nervously between the floor and Jason. The one in black looked back up at Jason. “Who the hell are you, kid? Who sent you down here?”
“No-one, I was just playing with my toy car and then I heard voices…” Jason trailed off.
“You expect me to believe that?” The man asked, looking even angrier than before. “Who sent you here?”
“No-one, I’m just here with my mum and dad, they’re buying this building and turning it into a museum.”
The two men turned and looked at each other, then burst out laughing, but the laugh didn’t sound warm, like when Jason’s parents laughed. It sounded nasty, like they were finding it funny to be mean to someone.
“So, someone thinks they’re going to buy my bar? Well, you can tell your mum and dad that they’re not going to get their hands on my bar. I’ll be dead in the ground before I ever sell this place. Now, who are your mum and dad? Who thinks they can buy my bar from under me?”
“My dad’s Tom Warwick, and my mum is called -”
“WHAT?” The man yelled, leaping up the stairs towards Jason. Jason cowered with his hands up over his head, but he couldn’t make himself run. Maybe it was because he knew the door was locked, or maybe it was just fear of the man with a gun running at him and shouting. He froze as the man grabbed him by his t-shirt. The man leaned in very close to him and he could feel his warm breath against his ear as his sneering voice growled out questions.
“Are you seriously Tom Warwick’s son?”
“Yes…” Jason answered, his voice trembling.
“And he sent you here to spy on me? He sent his own son in here to try to spy on ME?”
“No! I was just playing with my car and I got lost. I don’t think he knows you’re here.”
“Of course he knows. I’m always here. I never leave my bar and that boy-scout bastard knows it. So what did you hear?”
“Nothing! I couldn’t hear anything.”
“WHAT DID YOU HEAR?” The man screamed, despite still holding his mouth to the boy’s ear.
“Nothing! Nothing! I didn’t hear anything! I just want my mummy and daddy!” Jason shouted out, breaking into tears and wailing.
“Come with me!” The man grunted angrily, pulling Jason down the stairs alongside him. His friend in the blue suit was still standing quietly at the bottom of the stairs, but as they came to the bottom he nervously looked at the black-suited man.
“What are you going to do with him, Buddy?”
going to do with him? What are
going to do with him, you mean?”
“What? We can’t… you know.”
“Why not?” Buddy seemed enraged by the suggestion that he couldn’t do whatever he was thinking of. “You’re trying to tell me that Tom Warwick sends his own kid in here to listen in on us, and you want to… what, exactly? Just let him go so he can tell his daddy everything he’s heard?”
“I didn’t hear anything!” Jason shouted again between sobs.
“Well, look Buddy, think about it. You can’t just kill his son! You think he’ll let that go? He’ll be in here with a firing squad before you know it!”
“Well, that’s gonna be on his head, not mine. He thinks he can pull this shit and get away with it? No fucking way! Anyway, we don’t even know it really is his son. He looks nothing like Warwick. But what does it matter? They think they can send a kid in here because we won’t do anything about it? Well, they’re fucking wrong.” He pushed Jason by the shoulder into the blue-suited man’s stomach. The man caught him with his free hand and pulled him around so that his back was against the man’s gut.
“Seriously, Buddy. Don’t make me do this.”
“You want to prove your loyalty to me? You want us to be able to keep running this operation, or do you want Warwick and his boys to put us all away? They’ll try anything to take us down and we can’t let them. Just do it. Get it over with. Now!”
“ I don’t think I can do it, Buddy. He’s just a kid!”
“You either do it,” Buddy said, very slowly and almost in a whisper. “Or, if you don’t, there’s only one person walking out of this basement.”
Buddy raised his gun and pointed it over the top of Jason’s head at the man who was holding him. The man put his hand over Jason’s mouth and pulled him in even closer. Jason started to struggle and tried to make some noise, but everything came out muffled. The man whispered “Sorry kid,” then something cold touched the back of his head. Jason tried to scream once more, but all he heard was a click, followed by a deafening bang.
The toy car fell to the floor with a clatter, its wheels spinning slowly to a stop.
Priya walked out onto the porch to find her husband, Tom, looking even more confused and uncomfortable than she felt. He was sitting on the steps staring intently towards the main road, where she could see someone in a red coat stepping off the edge of their car park and walking away.
“Hey hun, what’s the matter?” She asked, placing a hand on his shoulder.
“Can you see the guy in the red coat?” He asked.
“Yeah,” she said, looking up in time to see the man walking away with his face turned towards them, as if he couldn’t take his eyes off them.
“He was just standing out here when I came outside, and he seemed lost. I asked if he was from the council or the police station and he seemed really confused. Then he just said that he thought he was supposed to be here. It was really weird. He said he thought he had something to do, and that he felt like he had to come here, but then when he got here he said that he felt like it had already been done. I asked him if he wanted me to call anyone, you know, in case he’s not well in the head and he’s slipped out behind his carer’s back or something, but he just kept saying that he was supposed to be here.”
“What did you tell him?”
“Well, eventually I told him that we own the place now, so unless he’s with the building company, the council or bringing our files from the police station, that he had to leave. He seemed to get a bit upset, but then he said that he was just being crazy and he agreed to leave. It was just so weird. And he looked so familiar…”
“What, so we know him?”
“That’s the weird thing. I don’t think we know him, like not properly. I feel like we know who he is, but I’ve definitely never met him. But he looked so familiar.”
“Maybe he’s just got one of those common faces?” Priya said, trying to offer a quick explanation.
“No, it’s not that. It’s something I feel like I should know.”
“Well, while you try to solve the mystery of the random crazy man, do you want me to make you a snack? Jason was just saying that he was hungry.”
“Maybe in a few minutes,” Tom said, still staring into the distance. “The guy from the police station should be here with the – wait! I think that’s him now.”
A car had turned onto the car park and was driving down towards them. Tom leapt to his feet enthusiastically and hopped down the steps. The car pulled up right at the foot of the steps where Tom was waiting, practically jumping from foot to foot in excitement. The woman from the station rolled down her window, made some small talk and then hopped out to open the door to the back, where binders and file boxes were lined up along the back seat. Tom scooped the boxes and files out into neat piles on the bottom step and thanked the woman a hundred times for bringing everything over. He didn’t even wait for the car to be all the way back off the car park before he started opening folders and boxes to start flicking through.
“Are you not going to wait and bring those inside?”
“Just one minute,” he said, flicking through the pages of a folder. “I think this is it.”
“What? What are you looking for?”
He carried on flicking through the pages, studying each for a moment, then flicking to the next page with determination. He got about half way through the file, then stopped, turned around and plonked himself down on the step, knocking over a box as he did. To Priya’s surprise, he didn’t seem to care about the folders and loose papers spilling from the box into the dust and gravel.
“Careful!” She shouted, bounding down the steps to collect the papers from his feet. She got on her knees and started grabbing at everything to put it back into the box.
“I don’t believe it,” he muttered, letting the folder fall open in his lap. His gaze floated off into the distance again.
“What? What are you talking about?” She asked, standing back up to look at the folder he had been holding. It lay open on a page about the stabbing in the kitchen, with a photo of the man who had claimed to come from the future.
“It was him,” Tom said in a whisper.
“Who was him? What do you mean?”
“The guy, from earlier. The guy in the red coat. It was him.”
“What? He’s who?”
“He’s the guy in this photo.”
“That’s impossible,” Priya said, stooping down to pick up the last of the photos. As she did, she froze.
“I’m telling you, it was him. It was definitely him…” Tom trailed off.
“Tom…” Priya’s voice came out cracked and stifled. She held a photo in her hands, and her eyes grew wide as her hands began to tremble.
“I don’t understand,” said Tom, not really listening to his wife. “How could it be him? Is it some kind of prank? But how? He looked just like him.”
“Tom…” Priya’s voice was louder and sharper. “Where is Jason?”
“What? He was inside with you.”
“We have to find him. Right now!” She shouted, pushing the photo into Tom’s hands. His face fell as he dropped the photo to the floor. The two of them ran inside, screaming Jason’s name, trying desperately to find him.
The breeze blew dust over the photo at the foot of the steps. The gruesome image showed a child’s skeleton in a shallow grave in the basement. It was a familiar scene, but from an angle they had not seen before. And there, next to the skeleton, was an old toy car with flecks of red paint still visible between the patches of rust.
Thank you for taking the time to read this short story. I hope you enjoyed it. Please take the time to read some of my other short stories by clicking here. Many thanks again.