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AS FROM A TALENTED ANIMAL
by Carley Eason Evans
2014 Copyright Carley Eason Evans
ALL RIGHTS RESERVED
4 – A Version of Truth
(David’s Journal Entry)
The courtroom was crowded every day throughout my trial. People jammed the long pews in the back and in the mezzanine above. Families of victims cried — most of the time softly, occasionally loud and obnoxious-like. I hated those families on those days. Other days I ignored them. They were houseflies buzzing far in the background on the days they wept quietly. But on the days they moaned and even screamed openly, they were horse flies biting and then I hated them.
The first time I told the court the reason I killed the little girl, the audible gasps from the room stirred my stomach so that I howled like a tormented animal. That’s what one reporter wrote, “In the court this morning, Richard Mock, otherwise known as David Stone, howled for the judge and jury like a tormented animal…” and blah, blah, blah, blah. I’m sure I howled because the people in the room frightened me. The reporter wrote, “Mr. Mock appeared to howl in some desperate attempt to sway the court’s feelings of sympathy as if any could be sympathetic to this animal, tormented or not.” I told the courtroom I’d killed the four year old blonde girl because I was “bored out of my mind.” I may have been lying to myself at that time for I’m not entirely certain that is the truth. I may not have killed all my victims out of a profound sense of boredom and of the dullness of the march of time. At any rate, on the day I first confessed this motive, fear was my reaction to the gasps among the spectators and families. I was afraid. I’d not been afraid — except of my father — before that day.
Fear was — is — an intriguing sensation; in the court, it made me sweat all over my body. My palms became clammy and sticky with it. My tongue dried out, swelled up like a frog in my mouth. I had a hard time answering the questions being thrown at me by the prosecutor and even more difficulty answering my attorney’s questions, leading though they were. The lawyer practically spoke for me.
Nevertheless I answered every question with a steady tone of voice, and only once did the judge ask me to speak louder. My voice failed me when I spoke of my mother, growing so soft even the prosecutor leaned in to perhaps hear better. Here, even as I dealt with my own trepidation, I spotted his fear — the well dressed man was terrified of me, despite standing up in a setting of armed guards and a conglomeration of human beings. From my seated position, I smiled at him. I didn’t mean to do it, but I even showed him my perfect teeth. He stepped back, almost falling over his feet.
Then, I turned to look at the judge. My lawyer had told me to do that now and then — to look at the judge and open my eyes wide and to “try to appear innocent.”
I said to him, “Innocent? But, I’m not innocent. I did kill them.”
“Well yes, I know; but you have to appear not guilty to avoid the death penalty.”
Avoiding the death penalty didn’t concern me. So what if I got electrocuted or gassed? I did admit to myself and to my team of attorneys that I didn’t want to hang.
“I don’t want a rope around my neck; I don’t want to swing.”
I remembered loving to swing on the set in our local park. Every day after school in my elementary years, I went to the park to swing. But a rope around my neck didn’t conjure feelings of joy but only ones of dread.
At the park, the most noticeable absence was the absence of playmates. I didn’t have any — except my twin brother, Michael. Michael and I didn’t swing together — the swing set made Michael throw up. But we did play together. We were in most of the same classes in elementary school; by middle school, the principal began to split us up. I may be smarter than Michael but I’ve no tangible proof of this higher intelligence. I was in seemingly more difficult classrooms with more exacting, demanding, fuckingly-wicked teachers — teachers who expected tons of homework and more tests than Michael needed to do or take. I resented this. I resented him, but I also loved him. I love him to this very day. He looks just like me; since I love myself — surprising, isn’t it? — it follows I love him as much, perhaps more.
In the court, Michael sat with my parents behind the table where I sat and where my lawyers congregated like wolves. I thought of them as a wolf pack because I swear the hairs on the napes of their necks stood straight up whenever the judge ruled, “Sustained” on one of our opponents’ objections. The judge appeared to favor the prosecution, but my lawyers told me, “That’s natural. You confessed.”
Yes, I confessed to thirty different killings over a period of several decades. Having started my career at seventeen and not getting “caught” until I was in my late thirties, I had plenty of opportunities to murder people.
A year and half after the teenager — the one I sat up so carefully in the junk yard automobile — I selected a housewife who was shopping late in the evening. I cut her throat behind a grocery store, then simply walked away after removing a large blue gown and the bloodied pair of nylon gloves — both used in hospital care as personal protective gear. I explained during the first police interrogation in a little town in South Dakota, “Hospital gowns and gloves are easy to acquire. I bought them at a pharmacy in another town.” The investigating officer asked if I had a receipt. I laughed and said that I did not keep receipts of equipment used during my killings. “Don’t you think that’d be a little dumb?” I asked him.
He raised his eyebrows and nodded. “I suppose so,” he said.
“Yeah,” I added, “I’m not known for being dumb, sir.”
The man shook his head, smiled at me, said, “Well I don’t know. I think it’s rather dumb to confess.”
I felt my face go hot. I wondered why I confessed to a crime I didn’t commit. What was it about this process that was so fucking exciting? I know access to the crime scene was one aspect I found addictive. With the little girl, the crime scene was — well, amazing. She was found inside the trunk of a small car parked very close to her home. Her arms were tied behind her back and her eyes were blindfolded. She’d obviously been smothered. I got a few details wrong the first time through the interrogation but I fixed those mistakes in the second interview. It’s not difficult to frame yourself, I’ve discovered. The police are unwitting accomplices to the self-frame. If you get a detail wrong, they’ll actually tell you. They don’t seem to notice — or if they do notice — they don’t seem to mind that the next time through your story, you’ve changed some details that were incorrect the first time through. They don’t do much more than look up at you when you change a detail unless the detail conflicts with the facts. Then the officer will stare at you for a longer stretch of time, maybe put the end of his pen in his mouth, hold it between his teeth, and squint. He might even tell you what you got wrong or he might take you out to the crime scene and show you what you got wrong. The first time this happened to me was when I said I’d tied the little girl’s hands in front of her. The officer looked up, said softly, “Don’t you mean behind her back?” I blinked, said quick as a jackrabbit, “Yes, sir, behind her back.” Only then did he note what I said on the piece of paper before him. I remember the satisfaction that I felt when I saw that he believed me. He wanted to believe me. And I wanted to believe me, too. And — of course — that’s what acting is — believing. I’m a talented actor. Unfortunately, my acting career bought me a one-way ticket to crazy-land.
Because I confessed and because I learned to look at the judge with wide open eyes that — I suppose — appeared to belong to an innocent man, I didn’t get the death penalty. The disappointment of the families was palpable. The spectator gallery erupted into angry shouts. One father threw something at the back of my head and was immediately taken to the floor by several armed guards. He was hand-cuffed and dragged yelling from the court room. He yelled obscenities at me — nasty things I’d never heard before. I couldn’t help myself — I began to bawl like a little kid. My lawyer placed his soft hand on my shoulder and smiled at me as if to say how glad he was for me — a convicted killer of thirty people.
My lawyer said, “Just ignore them. They’re angry; they’re sad and angry.”
I looked at the families close by and I saw how they were indeed sad and angry.
The judge sentenced me to life imprisonment but not in a regular maximum security facility but in a special mental hospital in downstate North Dakota. I’d heard of the place but didn’t have any idea how isolated it would turn out to be. When I first arrived, it was quiet as a graveyard. No living people anywhere close.
These days the hospital grounds are not as far from populated areas as they were twenty years ago. Still there are mostly farmsteads and small communities nearby. An interstate runs north to south approximately ten miles to the west of the complex. Sometimes, I hear semi-trucks as they downshift to take the steep grade along the edge of the mountain range. The grounds are close to a national park forest. If I could get to the forest, I’d be home free. Hell, I’d probably get lost and die of exposure in the national park. No one would find my corpse. I’d just disappear like a few of my victims. Or — better yet — I might catch the attention of one of the big rig drivers cruising down the mountain ridge. I might hitch a ride with one of these drivers and get off the mountain. I might even kill — no, that’s not true — the driver, take his truck and disappear into the greater world. Once there, who knows what I’d do.
D.S. March 21, 2010
AS FROM A TALENTED ANIMAL
by Carley Eason Evans
2014 Copyright ALL RIGHTS RESERVED
28 – Simple Discipline
David — in one of my last interviews with him — told me that when his mother, Hazel Mock punished him — it was a simple and direct punishment. She made him stand with his face close to a tree trunk in the front yard no matter the weather, no matter how many neighbors or automobiles went by, no matter if other children made fun of him or even threw things at him. Hazel Mock insisted he stand for at least an hour with his face as near to the bark of the tree trunk as possible. “She didn’t want a mark on me,” explained David. “If I pressed my face up against the tree, she’d yell at me to step back a bit. She’d scream, ‘Don’t you do that, Rich. Don’t you dare.’ My mother had a strict but simple policy.”
“So you’d just stand there?”
David nodded, “Yep in the rain, in the snow, in wind — you name it, my mother had me standing in it.” And he laughed.
Michael verified this. “Yes,” he agreed, “our mother did make Richard stand with his face toward this big tree we had in our front yard — actually I think you’ve seen that tree. You know the one —.”
With Sandy Whitehead, I later looked through photographs of the Mock residence and indeed, the oak tree was rather large but was off to the side of the front yard so I’d not noticed it when I visited. Earlier, I had asked Sandy to take a few photographs of the house surreptitiously, which she’d done, of course.
In the interview, David told me, “Once a kid threw a rock at me. He hit me here —.” David pointed to his left temple. “I stood bleeding as the kid laughed at first then got scared and ran away. My mother was on our porch, knitting I think. She saw the kid throw the rock. She knew it hit me. She just sat there with her knitting needles — I think she was knitting — and when I turned toward her, believing she’d want to see how hurt I was, she screamed at me, ‘Rich, don’t you dare.’ And I had to stand there for another thirty minutes with blood streaming down my face onto my shirt. I don’t remember if I cried. I bet I didn’t. But I do remember I was angry.”
“At your mother —.”
“At the kid mostly,” said David. “But yes, at my mother, too.”
When I spoke with Michael, he denied that Hazel Mock disciplined him in the same manner. “Oh no,” he said, “my mother never made me stand outside in the rain and snow. That was Rich’s punishment, not mine.”
I asked him, “So how did Mrs. Mock punish you?”
“She didn’t,” he explained. “My mother left disciplining me to our father.”
“And how did Mr. Mock punish you?”
Michael looked at me blankly as he’d done other times. He shook his head and commented that I was getting awfully personal, as he’d done at least one other time.
“I think it’s pertinent how your father disciplined you,” I said.
“Well,” said Michael, “it wasn’t much of a punishment. My father didn’t particularly enjoy disciplining — and that included disciplining Richard. Our father was — well, still is — a gentle man. He doesn’t raise his voice; he doesn’t care to hit. He did on occasion wield a belt but always with a measured calmness, never in anger and certainly never in rage.”
“So why did he hit your mother?” I asked.
Michael blushed. He had a large bite of buffalo burger in his mouth and he just spat it out onto the plate. “My father never hit my mother,” he stated.
“She said he did,” I offered, cautious.
“My mother told you that my father hit her?”
“That’s ridiculous,” said Michael. “Richard told you that.”
“No, David — I mean, Richard — reacted like you just did. Well, he laughed actually.”
“My mother must be getting senile,” said Michael flatly.
I ventured, “Do you think perhaps it was your mother who hit your father?”
Michael knocked his cola over — the dark liquid moved across the table and over its edge. I scooted my chair back, stood up to avoid getting wet. He said, “Oh, I’m sorry.”
“That’s okay,” I said. I took several napkins from the black holder in the center of the table and wiped up most of the cola. A waitress came with a dry cloth to clean the rest. I thanked her.
Michael sat perfectly still. He had stopped eating. He looked at me. “I don’t understand,” he said.
“I don’t understand why my mother would say that about my father.”
“So you don’t believe it?”
“I don’t,” he said.
That weekend I drove back to the skilled nursing facility to visit with George Mock on the Alzheimer’s unit. I wanted to know if Hazel Mock had ever hit him.
George was running a low-grade fever, but the nursing staff allowed me to visit him in his room. When I came in, the old man was in his bed with its head cranked up to around forty-five degrees. He was pale but his eyes were open. He grinned at me, said, “Oh there you are.”
“Hi, Mr. Mock.”
“Call me George,” he said. “And you are?”
“I’m Max, George. Do you remember me?”
“No, I’m afraid not.” He smiled, said, “For a moment there, I thought you were Michael — that’s my firstborn son.”
“Yes, I just saw Michael the other day,” I told him.
“You did? Where? At the school?” he asked.
“No,” I said. “I saw him at a cafe in Hot Springs.”
“Hot Springs?” he asked, obviously bewildered. He said, “I didn’t know Michael had moved back to Arkansas.”
I shook my head, sat in a wooden chair which I’d pulled up to the side of the bed. “Mr. Mock,” I said, “did Hazel ever hit you?”
“Is she here?”
“No,” I said.
“Where is she?”
“I imagine she’s at your house,” I answered then asked my question again. “Mr. Mock, did your wife ever hit you?”
“What?” I asked, almost involuntarily.
“Nothing,” said the old man, then smiled again.
“Mr. Mock, did Hazel hit you?”
“Once,” he said.
“Yes, she hit me with her damn Impala one Sunday morning. She was backing it up too fast and clipped me — knocked me right down on my ass.” And the old man laughed. Tears welled up in his eyes. He said, “Oh how I miss her — my Hazel.”
“But,” I said, faltering, “she never hit you with her fist or an object?”
“Oh, good Lord, no.” He frowned. He sighed and repeated, “No, good Lord, no.” Then he grew still, added, “I hit her.”
“Yes, I did.”
“Every time I was angry at Richard, I took it out on my sweet Hazel.”
“That was often?”
He nodded, tears flowing freely now.
“Thank you, George.”
The old man looked at me, confused. He leaned forward so that his head came off the pillows, asked, “Who are you anyway?”
AS FROM A TALENTED ANIMAL
by Carley Eason Evans
2014 Copyright All Rights Reserved
20 – Over Distances
(David’s Journal Entry)
The pharmacy job was boring and I didn’t stay there long. I quit after six months, did an internet search and found the job I had for the remainder of the time I was ‘on the loose’ so to speak. I found employment in the large distribution center. Although I realize that sounds just as boring as stocking medications in the pharmacy, the distribution center job involved travel in a van to all parts of Rapid City and to some of the outlying areas. This travel afforded me opportunities to identify more victims — and if you haven’t figured it out yet — that was what I was searching. At all times, I searched for people over which to wield power — the power to terrify hearts, the power to take lives. Being inside a van, I was able to spot potentials — people who appeared vulnerable or deserving or better yet — both.
I tried to explain this to Max Peterson at our next interview but he was distracted by Felix, or so it seemed to me. I thought perhaps Max wanted to spend his precious time with the guard more than he wanted to spend his time with me. He kept glancing at Felix while I talked about the red-haired woman I killed soon after graduating from college. Max acted as if he didn’t know I’d gone to the University of Iowa or that I graduated with a degree in Chemistry. But, he also didn’t appear particularly interested in these facts, ignoring me when I told him I graduated with honors. While I talked, Max looked at Felix who gave him a knowing look at least once. I smiled at the two men who were attempting to communicate something to one another.
Then Max stared at me, said, “Excuse me, did you say you’d graduated from the University of Iowa with honors?”
I grinned, said, “I did.”
“My, my,” said Max; then he mocked me, “You must be so proud.”
“Well, where’d you go to school?” I paused. I’d never asked Max for any personal information so I wasn’t entirely surprised by the look he gave me or the silence that fell in the small room. Of course, Max just shook his head and told me he had no intention of sharing any of his life with “someone like you, David.”
“Someone like me?” I asked rhetorically.
Max ignored my comment, asked, “Well I guess you should tell me about the red-head.”
“I just did,” I protested. “You weren’t listening.”
“No, I guess I wasn’t.”
Felix shifted. I looked at him, said, “What’s with you?” The guard didn’t answer.
“Something’s come up, David,” I said.
“My article — well my rough draft of it — has stirred some questions about you,” I said. “At the magazine, my editor asked me the same question I’ve asked myself — why there’s no forensic evidence against you after all these years?”
“Cause I’m too good,” suggested David. Then he laughed, “Or because I didn’t kill anyone.”
Max pointed to the guard, said, “The latter is what Felix thinks. I’m thinking your brother also believes you didn’t kill anyone you claimed to kill.”
“Felix,” I said, “you old dog.”
The guard involuntarily smiled at me, then moved into the room toward Max. Felix said, “You knew that, didn’t you, Mr. Mock — that I haven’t thought of you as a killer for years now.”
“No,” I said honestly, “I didn’t know that. You always seem so paranoid when Michael is here. You act terrified that you’ll let me out instead of him at the end of our visits.”
“Well, that would cost me my position, Mr. Mock.”
“Why do you call me that, Felix?” The guard usually called me David. I wondered why he was using my given name today.
“Because you are not David Stone,” said Felix. “As Dr. Wiggins always tells you — there is no David Stone; there’s only Richard Mock.”
“But,” I said, “Dr. Smack — I mean, Dr. Wiggins thinks I’m a killer, doesn’t he?”
“Yes,” said Max Peterson, “I think Dr. Wiggins believes you are the serial killer you pretend to be.”
“Am I that good of an actor, Mr. Peterson?”
“I guess so,” said Max. But I spotted the doubt — that nagging uncertainty — in his expression. He didn’t know for sure. He was afraid of being made a fool. He was distressed that Dr. Smack might — in fact — be correct. Max was worried that I was indeed a hideous monster. And in Max’s doubt I had my power over him. Then, I looked at Felix. The guard was looking at me with the same pity and understanding I loathed. Now I knew why I did not have power over him. Felix didn’t believe. Without belief in my monstrosity, there could be no fear and without fear, there was no power.
“Well,” I said to Max, “what are you going to do about it?”
“What do you mean?” he asked.
“Well,” I continued, “if I didn’t kill all those people — any of those people — then I am being held for nothing.”
Felix nodded his head, whispered, “That’s exactly right.”
“I’m not sure,” said Max. “Why don’t you do something?” he asked me.
“Not sure what I can do,” I lied.
Felix offered, “You could tell the superintendent that you lied when you confessed.”
I glared at the guard, then whispered, “I guess I could do that.”
“Sure,” said Max in a manner that sounded half-hearted, “you could do that.”
D.S. March 15, 2011
The idea of denying my confessions bothered me for the entire weekend. During the week, most inmates had assignments — essentially job tasks around the hospital. I worked in the laundry on Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays and in the gardens on Tuesdays and Thursdays. Not surprisingly I preferred the gardens. Being outside was good. But on the weekends we each had too much time on our hands — time to worry, time to get bored, time to grow anxious and crazy.
On top of having more time with myself and with no one else, I also had another dead person calling across time and space, reminding me that I was not an innocent victim. This person I killed in Wyoming. I’d driven across the state border on a weekend excursion — I’d decided to go camping, try my hand at fishing. I had nothing better to do.
Just across the border, my old heap failed me. I stood peering under the faded blue hood pretending I might discover what was wrong when a bright red pick-up truck pulled over in front of my car. A forty-something gentleman hopped out of the cab, called out, “You need some help there, buddy?”
I put on my best smile and said, “I surely do.”
The man wore coveralls and a red and black plaid shirt making him look like a lumberjack — except that he was small in frame and wasn’t carrying an axe. He leaned in next to me to stare at the engine. He wiggled a couple of cables and grinned at me. He said, “I really don’t know much about engines.”
“Neither do I.” I smiled at the man.
“Well,” he said, “I tell you what. I’m driving into Gillette, why don’t you come along? Just lock up your car and I’ll take you to a garage I know where you can get a towing service —.”
I interrupted him. “Yes, that’d be great.”
The man hesitated, added, “It’s a ways from here, but I’m pretty sure your car will be here when you come back for it.”
“Oh,” I said, “don’t worry about my old heap. She’s seen better days, but I think she’ll survive without me.”
“Okay then,” said the man.
I excused myself from him, reached into my car to get my short blade knife which I placed in the concealed holster in the crook of my back. From the back seat, I grabbed my camping kit — a small tent, a sleeping bag and some food and water. Then I slammed the driver’s door, locked the car and followed the gentleman to his pick-up truck. I tossed my camping gear in the truck bed, and climbed into the passenger side.
The day was overcast and the light from the afternoon was fading rapidly. As we drove along, the man grew silent. He turned on the radio and we listened to country-western songs for miles. Then he turned it down, asked me, “So you live around these parts?”
“Rapid City,” I said.
“Nice town,” he said.
“It’s okay,” I agreed.
Silence fell again. The man turned up the radio so that we listened to more country-western songs. About twenty-five miles later, he turned the radio down again, introduced himself, “My name’s Bob Miller.”
“I’m David Stone,” I said.
“Nice to meet you, Dave.”
“David,” I said.
Bob Miller nodded, cocked his head, said, “Okay.”
Silence fell once more. For a few minutes, Bob didn’t turn the radio volume back up, then he reached for the knob and turned it up louder than before. The music swelled and I shut my eyes.
“You going to sleep?” Bob shouted over the music.
“I doubt it,” I said.
After another thirty minutes of driving, darkness fell on the roadway. I said over a song, “I need to piss.”
“Oh, right,” said Bob.
“Pull over right here, anywhere, I mean.”
“Okay, sure.” He drove on a few miles looking for a turn-in. The road was wide and the shoulder relatively even. He pulled in and turned off the engine. As soon as he did, I reached back to the knife in the holster, pulled it, turned slightly toward Bob and stuck the blade under his right arm into his chest. He flinched as I’m certain it was a shock. He grabbed at me, but I’d taken the knife from his ribcage and made one clean slice across his jugular — the blood was already spurting against the inside of the truck’s windshield. He gurgled one word or semblance of a word before he died. As he tried to speak one more time, I pulled up his right shirt sleeve and meticulously carved a small diamond on the inside of his wrist. Then, I got out of the truck, stood, unzipped my fly and took my piss. After relieving myself, I leaned back into the cab, took my shirt corner and wiped down the passenger door, the dashboard, and the seat while avoiding the blood that was still gushing from Bob Miller. Then I gathered my belongings from the truck bed, turned away, and headed into the woods.
Flashlight on, I walked well into the night, using my compass to make sure I was heading away from the highway and not accidentally circling back which is so easy to do. I found a stream, set up the tent, rolled out the sleeping bag, ate a dry meal bar and drank a bottle of water, then slept. In the morning, I surveyed my map of Wyoming. I’d noted the mile markers as Bob clipped along on the highway and so I had a good idea where I was — Gillette would be a four mile hike west of my location.
When I arrived, I told the garage attendant my car was parked by the side of the road immediately beyond the border between South Dakota and Wyoming.
“You walked all that way?” he asked, incredulous.
“No, no,” I chuckled. “I hitched — got a few rides. But yes — I did hike a bit.”
“Why didn’t you hike back to Rapid City?”
I stared at the garage attendant as I didn’t have a ready, reasonable answer to this question. I shrugged my shoulders, laughed, “I guess because I’m not very bright.”
The attendant — who was probably twenty-five or so — laughed. I glared at him but he missed it because he was looking at his dirty fingernails. He said, “Well, it’s likely to cost you a small fortune to have your car towed from there to here. I’ll call my sister shop in Rapid City and have them pick it up. How’s that sound?”
“Sounds like a great idea,” I said, smiling.
“Now all you have to do is get home,” he added.
Getting home didn’t prove to be as difficult as I expected. I found the bus station in downtown Gillette — the garage attendant was kind enough to drop me off so that I caught a red-eye special back into Rapid City. Then I took a taxi to my house.
The next morning, the sister garage called me to tell me my old blue Ford Taurus had died.
“There’s no fixing that Ford, sir.”
“Okay,” I said, then asked what the garage would do with the Taurus.
“The junk yard will pick it up this afternoon, crush it most likely, sell off the metal.”
“What about the engine?” I asked.
“Worthless,” said the attendant. “You might come pick up the tires — they’ve got some tread left on ‘em.”
“No,” I said, “that’s okay. You can have them if you want them.”
“Well, thanks for thinking of us, sir. Have a good day.”
I surprised myself as I responded, “You, too.”
D.S. March 22, 2011
AS FROM A TALENTED ANIMAL
Carley Eason Evans
2014 Copyright All Rights Reserved
17 – Hazel Mock
My interview with Mrs. Mock was one of the strangest I’ve done in my career — a career that spans twenty or so years now. She didn’t want to meet with me at first; didn’t want me in her home. Once I convinced her to let me inside, she showed me what I came to see. My interview developed over time — after she showed me the way into her basement, pointing, “The collection’s down there, but it’s boxed up. I always hated those things. Wish I could have talked George into keeping them in the attic instead of the basement. You know, Mr. Peterson, I had to move my washer and dryer into the kitchen ‘cause I couldn’t stand to be down there with those dead things.”
“I can certainly understand that, Mrs. Mock.”
“Oh, call me Hazel, Mr. Peterson.”
“Well then Hazel, you must call me Max.”
“Oh no,” she said, blushing, “I can’t do that.”
“‘Cause you’re a professional,” she explained. “You deserve your title of respect.”
I remember I raised my eyebrows. I actually felt them lift. Then the now elderly woman pointed again to the dark wooden staircase leading into the basement. She pulled a string to turn on the overhead bare-bulbed light, and said, “Right down there. You can’t miss ‘em.”
When I came back up, she must have noticed my dismay. Hazel Mock offered me a cup of black tea and I took her gesture of kindness to mean she might allow me an interview. I nodded, said, “Please ma’am.”
“Well, I guess you’d better sit down then,” she said, pointing to the lumpy couch near the front window. “I got some cookies, if you’d like.”
“Yes ma’am,” I said. As she stepped from the living room into the kitchen, I added, “That’s quite a collection down there.”
She turned, looked at me, “I don’t want to talk about those dead things.”
“Okay,” I said. “Perhaps we can talk a little about your twins.”
“Maybe,” she said and disappeared behind the wall separating the two areas of the house. I stood up, followed her into the kitchen. She turned, looked at me, said, “I thought I put you on the couch.”
I blushed. “Yes, ma’am, you did. I —.”
“Call me Hazel,” she said.
“Yes, Hazel you did. I thought we could talk while you make the tea.”
She put a silver kettle on the stovetop and turned on the gas — the pilot failed to catch. She took a wooden match, struck it and lit the eye — blue flames shot around the black circle as if to wink at us. “There,” she said, then looked at me. “Damn house is falling apart.”
I glanced around her kitchen. The windows were dirty; a few dishes were piled in the sink. Clean clothes were stacked neatly atop the washer with dirty ones heaped on the floor in front of the dryer. A broom lay across the floor at a back door as if it had fallen and she hadn’t bothered to pick it up. I ventured, “You’re not like Richard.”
“What?” she asked, then said, “Oh, you mean I’m not a neat-freak like my second-born?”
“No, I’m not. I’m more like Michael — or should I say, Michael’s more like me. Rich and I are like strangers. I never connected to my son. I wanted to, believe me. But Rich was not — how do I say it? He was not accessible.”
The kettle slowly began to whistle. She ignored it.
“Rich was always sure I was going to be mean to him; he anticipated it. Even if my intentions were kind, Rich would see them as mean. If I asked him to take out the trash, I was accusing him of not taking out the trash. If I asked him to feed the dog, then Rich took that to mean I thought he was trying to starve the dog. If I told Rich he ought to do his homework before watching a t.v. program he liked, he would take that to mean he shouldn’t enjoy that t.v. program. Oh god, I could go on and on.”
The kettle was now fully whistling and she turned off the gas. She took a ragged dishcloth and picked up the hot kettle from the eye. Hazel Mock poured the boiling water over the tea bag in a clean white mug.
“Aren’t you having a cup?” I asked.
“Oh no,” she said. “I don’t drink tea.”
“Why not?” I don’t know why I asked her this, but I remember I did.
Hazel Mock looked at me, said, “It makes me mean.” Then she smiled and goosebumps leaped across my forearms. She asked, “Do you take sugar? Cream?”
“Yes ma’am,” I said, “cream.”
“You a Brit?”
“No ma’am,” I responded. “I just like cream in black tea.”
She put half ’n half in my tea, just enough, and handed me the hot mug. Then she gestured for me to sit at the small kitchen table which was pushed up close to a window. On one side was a narrow bench while on the other side were two small chairs. I sat on the bench as she sat in the first chair across from me. I sipped the hot tea. Then I asked, “So Richard tells me Mr. Mock beat him.”
“Yes, Rich always tells everyone that.”
“Is it true?”
“Is it true?” And Hazel laughed, tears forming in her eyes. “George beat me. That’s true, but oddly enough he never laid a hand on either of our children, Mr. Peterson.”
“Your husband beat you?” I asked.
“Whenever George was angry at someone else or something else, he got angry at me.” She sighed, added, “And if the anger he felt was because of Rich, then the beating was particularly severe, shall we say.”
“So, he did hate his son?”
Hazel stared at me. “Mr. Peterson, we both hated our son.”
AS FROM A TALENTED ANIMAL
by Carley Eason Evans
2014 Copyright All Rights Reserved
19 – Salutatorian
Michael and I had our worst brotherly fight when we turned twelve. Michael got the perfect gift from our father — a bb-gun while I got a book on butterflies. I was so angry. I couldn’t take it out on our father, so I took it out on Michael later when we were alone in our bedroom. I didn’t understand why our parents made us share a room; it wasn’t like one of us couldn’t have stayed in the attic or — oh god — the basement with my father’s collection of dead insects and rodents!
I crawled on top of Michael just as he was falling to sleep and pressed my left hand into his throat. He gasped and his eyes flew open. He stared at me in the darkness. I let my hand up slightly so he could breathe. He gasped again, whispered hoarsely, “What? What are you doing?”
“I want to trade,” I said.
“What?” he asked and his eyes widened as he must have realized what I was doing. He whispered, “You want the gun?”
“Yes,” I said, “and you want the book, don’t you?”
He shook his head to indicate he did not want my book, but I pressed my hand into his throat again and saw that my brother couldn’t breathe. I smiled at him, nodded my head several times, said, “You want the book, don’t you?” I let up my hand again, and this time Michael said, “Yes, I want the butterfly book — please.”
I let go of him, stepped off the bed, stood up straight and said, casual-like, “Oh okay. You can have the book. I tell you what — I’ll take that bb-gun for it. Okay?”
Michael sat up in his bed, rubbed his throat, said softly, “Okay.”
“Great,” I said, feeling cheery, “it’s a deal.”
Then I crawled into the top bunk and went to sleep. I knew Michael wouldn’t tell our parents of my attack. I knew this because Michael knew I’d kill him — not metaphorically mind you, but actually kill him.
The next day, I took my bb-gun into the woods behind our property thinking I’d shoot some crows. But when I aimed at one of the birds, my arms began to shake. Within a few seconds of having the bird in my gun sight, I realized I couldn’t shoot a dumb animal. I couldn’t be like my father — I couldn’t kill a living animal. I admit that this inability to kill a dumb thing surprised me. Standing in the woods with the gun, I also realized that a gun was too impersonal. I didn’t want to kill anything with a gun. I would use a weapon that required up close and personal attention. I would use knives.
And that’s when I remembered my grandfather’s knife on the cutting table — so beautiful and balanced. That’s when I decided to purchase my first knife through mail-order. I sold my bb-gun back to Michael and not for the book on butterflies. I made him pay me his whole allowance — five dollars. With those five dollar bills and money I’d earned mowing lawns and raking leaves, I ordered the Colts High Plains dagger.
When the dagger arrived, I showed it to Michael. I said, “With this, I can do anything I want. You know that, don’t you?”
“I won’t need my hand on your throat anymore,” I said, smiling. “I need only put this sharp edge against your throat and slice. And you’ll bleed out like a stuck pig —.”
Michael started to cry, said, “Shut up.”
“Make me,” I said, and walked out of our room, the dagger in my left hand. I stopped in the hallway, came back into our room and put the Colts High Plains dagger in my locker. I put the small key in my pocket, and left my brother behind.
In seventh grade, I showed Michael what it meant to be smarter than most other students. I did very well, especially in our math and science classes. Unfortunately for him, we were in the same classrooms for these two subjects and his grades were consistently and considerably worse than mine. But then again, most of the students in those classes didn’t do as well as I did. I had competition from one boy — I’ve been trying to remember his name — I think he was called Lon or Larry. I’m not sure. At any rate, he was smart, did well on tests. He had no trouble with homework whereas I hated homework and sometimes turned it in late which counted against me. Therefore, Lon or Larry was first in our class and I was second. Being second didn’t bother me until graduation; then I was Salutatorian whereas Lon or Larry was our Valedictorian. As he delivered his speech to our high school graduating class, I dreamed of ways to kill him. However, I didn’t kill him. Instead, I killed Steven Miles who I didn’t know except that he was vulnerable on the day I decided to kill someone — even if that someone was not Lon or Larry.
Michael graduated in the middle of our class, having average grades. But our parents were proud of him, of what he accomplished despite not having the mental prowess I had. As for what they thought of me, my mother said something about my Salutatorian address to the class — she said it was “interesting.”
“Thanks, Mom,” I said.
“But that Valedictorian, he was something else,” said my father. “What a fantastic speech.”
“Yes,” beamed my mother, “he was amazing, wasn’t he?”
“He was,” I admitted even though by now I hated Lon or Larry. I remember his name — he was Lon Lancaster and he went on to own a computer software development company in Sioux Falls and become wealthy and powerful in his own right. I never went down to Sioux Falls for fear I’d run into him and naturally murder him. If I murdered Lon Lancaster, everyone would turn to look at me and I’d be caught — caught long before I was ready to confess.
Michael shook my hand after we both received our diplomas. Because the first letter of his first name comes before mine in the alphabet, he was in front of me in line. I stood behind him as he reached for his high school diploma and saw him turn back to watch me receive mine. He was proud. I saw this in his face and I admit I teared up briefly when I realized Michael still loved me despite every threat he’d endured from me over the years. I was embarrassed as I took my piece of paper from our district superintendent for I’d not felt anything when Michael graduated.
After that day, my relationship with Michael changed. I didn’t threaten him again. To some extent, this was due to the fact that Michael and I parted ways — he went to the local two-year community college while I left the state to attend a much better school — the University of Iowa in Iowa City. The four years that I attended university, studying chemistry, I didn’t think about killing. This hiatus went unnoticed by me until much later — it was as if I became a different person the day I graduated from high school.
Unfortunately, the day I graduated from college, something changed again. Standing in the crowd of graduating seniors, I — almost inexplicably — missed my collection of knives which I’d left in my metal locker under my bed at my parents’ home in Rapid City.
The next day, I bought an old heap at a local used car dealer and drove it from Iowa City to Rapid City. I parked on the street, walked up to and unlocked our front door, startling my mother who was watching television in the living room.
“Oh, Rich,” she cried out. “Why didn’t you call?”
“I don’t know,” I said. Then without speaking to her further, I marched upstairs, opened my bedroom door, reached under the bed, pulled out my metal locker, trotted downstairs with it, peered into the living room. “Got what I came for,” I said to my mother who was just turning off her program. “I’ll be heading out now.”
“What?” she asked.
“I got what I came for,” I repeated. “I’m leaving now.”
“No, Rich,” she said. “Come in. Come in. Have a cup of tea with me.”
“No,” I said, “I don’t have time. Besides, I don’t want to.”
“You don’t want to,” said my father who came into the living room from the kitchen.
“No, I’ve got to go,” I repeated.
“What’s that?” asked my father, pointing to the metal locker in my hands.
“It’s mine,” I said.
“That’s not an answer, Richard.”
“It’s mine,” I repeated, “and it’s none of your business what it is.” My father moved toward me, and I threatened him with the metal locker, raising it up as if it were a weapon. “Don’t,” I warned the man who hated me. “I’m going now. Okay?”
My father stepped back and nodded.
Before I left, I said to my mother, “By the way, I graduated yesterday.”
“Yesterday?” asked my father.
“Oh Rich, that’s wonderful,” said my mother and for a moment she sounded excited, proud.
“I didn’t know you went to a college, Richard,” said my father.
“I know, sir,” I said. “I went to the University of Iowa. I got a Bachelor of Science degree yesterday in engineering.”
My mother started to cry, said, “Rich, we thought you were in Montana fighting fires or logging or something like that.”
“I know,” I said, “but I wasn’t. I was in Iowa City.”
“Did Michael know?”
I nodded, said, “Yes, Michael attended the ceremony yesterday.” I turned, opened the front door after resting my metal locker on my thigh so my hand would be free to twist the door knob. I turned again, said to my parents, “Don’t blame Michael. I asked him not to tell you. Good-bye.” Then I pushed the door open and walked out as I heard my mother howl like a hurt dog.
“Carley, I am loving your book! I will write a review at the end. You truly have a gift of writing.”
— F.D.S.P —
Re: THE EIGHT-FOOT BOY
4.0 out of 5 stars After Jewel, A Tale of Two “Jewels.”, March 1, 2014
This review is from: After Jewel (Paperback)
After Jewel is the author’s fourth book. To be totally honest, it is my least favorite of the four. That being said, I still liked it, as it frequently reminded me of Grapes of Wrath. There is, in some of the chapters, a great portrayal of a simpler time. A time when children were required to be stronger; a time when automobiles were the exception, rather than the rule; a time when eight grades of school met in one classroom.As Jewel begins, it is apparent that something odd is going on. We find Jules under the house with her Grandpa, “Pop,” watching him fix some plumbing. Her Grandmother, Jewel, died when she was around eight months old (I believe). But even at the age of five years old, Jules (nickname for Julia Lynn), hears an odd voice inside her head; a voice that, at times, can be rather intrusive.As the story unfolds, we get a few chapters of Jewel’s (the grandmother) life, beginning with her childhood. It is in these portions of the book that I’m reminded of Grapes, especially when Jewel, her husband, and her son, decided to move to Texas for work during the depression. Then we get a few chapters of the life of Jules, always being distracted by this voice in her head.
I’m not sure how I’m supposed to feel, but I don’t like Jewel (the grandmother, not the book), at least the Jewel that is inside Jules’s head. She is selfish and demanding. Almost mean at times. I do like Jules (the granddaughter), and have to say that I was mildly disappointed at the ending, which I will not spoil here.
After Jewel is a good read, but, as I said earlier, not my favorite of this author’s work.