von Martin Trappen
“You’ve got to be kidding me, lady. A Vision?” Gregory Briggs asked. “You’re saying you’re seeing things?”
„Yes, detective, and I know how ridiculous it sounds.” The woman on the other side of the desk was serious. That meant she actually believed what she was saying. Which allowed only one conclusion: she was completely insane.
„I don’t think you do, lady. If you’re seeing things, you shouldn’t talk to a policeman, you should talk to a psychiatrist.”
“I’m not crazy, detective. But I don’t think you’ve been listening.”
“I’ve tried my best. You’re the barkeeper at McConnell’s pub near town square. You became close friends with a guy who plays guitar there regularly. He likes supernatural stuff and now has, apparently, disappeared. I got it right so far?”
“So far, yes,” she said, the confession clearly causing her some discomfort.
“You lost me at ‘vision’. Come on now, lady, you don’t expect me to believe that, do you?”
“I expect you to listen to a concerned citizen. Isn’t that the job of the police?”
“You’ve got me there.” Briggs got out a pen and notepad. He knew nothing would come of this, but it had been a slow morning at the Westlake City Police Department. He had only recently made detective and been waiting two weeks for a case. At first, he had been glad. Quiet in his home town had been just what he had wanted after being discharged. Now, he was desperate for something to happen. All that did happen, though, was people walking into the police station with ludicrous stories. And he had to listen to them. So this is the reward for three years of policing the streets and eight years of military service. It wasn’t the eighties anymore, but even so, he couldn’t help but wonder if it had anything to do with the color of his skin.
“Let’s assume I buy that you can somehow look into the future. What exactly did you see?”
“I’m not sure if I looked into the future, but I saw my friend, Martin, walking through a dark forest. The trees faded away and an old mansion appeared as if out of nowhere. Martin went in and the walls turned to blood; screams echoed through the hallways. Instead of running the hell away, he kept going towards the screams. Suddenly, a frightening monstrosity showed up. A scarred, bleeding abomination. It slowly turned to Martin and then charged at him. That’s when I woke up.”
Briggs wrote it down. Forest. Mansion. Blood. Why did these words ring with an echo in his mind? He shook his head and pushed it aside for now. “Hang on, ‘woke up’? You saw this in your sleep?”
“Could it be that you just watched a horror B-movie before going to bed and it gave you nightmares?”
“Bad horror movies didn’t give me nightmares even when I was a kid. This was different. When you have a nightmare you wake up scared, you quickly realize it wasn’t real and you calm back down. But this time after I woke up, my heart kept pounding for minutes and I couldn’t stop sweating. I knew that what I had seen was not just in my mind. It will happen. Or it already has.”
It was all nonsense, and yet she kept a straight face. A very pretty face, he had to admit. Why was he only noticing this now? What was it? The dark hair, clear eyes, small nose? “Are you sure he’s missing? What if he’s just a very outdoorsy guy, loves nature, so much that he doesn’t want to come back?”
“No, Martin has gone into the wilds several times, probably to prove some mystery creature exists. I’ve already mentioned he’s into that. Actually started to piss me off with his Pseudo-Science.”
Briggs hardly kept his mouth shut. If she wasn’t into Pseudo-Science, why was she talking about visions? There was still that nagging feeling that wouldn’t let go. What is that?
“He asked me to lend him 200 dollars to buy a video camera. I thought he’d come back the next day, admitting he’s too scared to go.”
“I take it you were wrong.” Mansion.
“When he showed up two days later he was covered in dirt. He didn’t say anything but he looked so miserable I thought he wouldn’t be doing it again. But he went several more times, always returning dirty and tired with nothing to show for his trouble. I asked him to just stop, but he said he would keep trying until he did it. Eventually, I just stopped arguing.”
Blood. The more he heard about Martin the less he liked him. He had never cared much for this kind of people: unreliable, selfish, stumbling through life, somehow making it even though they didn’t work hard at all, leeching money off of friends. But this guy was even worse, sticking to some belief in supernatural forces, wasting his time while others were out there fighting and dying to keep this country safe. Forest. What? No, it’s all nonsense!
“Detective?” Briggs blinked. He realized he hadn’t said a word in minutes and had been staring at her.
“Well,” he cleared his throat, feeling heat rushing to his cheeks, “if he’s done this before, why are you worried?”
“Because it’s been over a week. He’s never been gone for that long.”
“And then of course there’re the visions.”
“I’m not kidding around, detective.”
“Too bad. Have you tried calling him?” Mansion.
“Of course. But he’s not answering.”
“What about his family? Have you talked to them?” Blood.
“He has no relatives, neither here in town nor anywhere else.” That was unusual. Almost the entire population was made up of families that have been living in Westlake for at least 3 generations. He himself was an anomaly, not just because there were so few black people in town. His grandfather, Walter Briggs, had moved here to spend his days in peace after World War II. The old man had taken care of him after his parents died. He never wanted his grandson to join up. In the end, it hadn’t helped.
“If you want to file a report, I need more information about the missing person: a physical description, a recent photograph, where he was last seen or heard from, places he may visit, a list of any medical problems or medications…” Mansion.
“Wait, that’s it? File a report and be done with it?”
“What else do you want me to do?” She really started to wear on his nerves. “We don’t have enough people to scour the entire county. We can only record that he’s missing and hope that someone spots him.” Blood.
“You’re just waiting for his corpse to show up, then? No, I won’t accept that. You‘re the police, you’ve got to do something about this.”
“You have a suggestion, lady?” Blood.
“Send someone to look for him. You didn’t seem to be doing anything when I came in here.”
“Now, hold on…” Blood.
“Maybe you’re not the right man for the job. That detective shield looks freshly minted. A more experienced officer would be better.”
“Do you want to be locked up?” Blood.
“I want you to try.”
“Alright, that’s it,” he said, standing up and taking the cuffs off his belt. He was about to put the restraint on her when she grabbed his arm, rolled him over her shoulder and slammed him to the floor. She fastened the cuffs on his wrists and put them around the foot of the desk.
“Are you gonna take me seriously now?” she asked, a triumphant look on her face. Briggs was furious, whether it was at her or at himself he wasn’t sure. The precinct around him was bustling now, all eyes on the man lying on his back, cuffed to his own desk. Briggs thought things couldn’t get any worse when a tall frame stepped into his view.
“So, I see you’ve met my daughter, detective,” captain Schultz said.
“Daughter?” Briggs blurted out.
“Your ears are in perfect working order it seems, detective,” Doctor Harris commented from across the room and was rewarded with roaring laughter. “It’s always important to get a medical opinion,” Johnson added.
“Enough,” the captain cut in, “Miles, Scott, would you be so kind?”
“Yes, sir,” the two policemen answered. Miles got the keys and undid the cuffs, while Scott helped him back on his feet.
“So, Rose,” the Captain asked, “Why are you throwing my detectives around?” Despite the Captain’s intervention, a stifled snickering echoed through the office.
“Well, dad, I talked to detective Briggs here and explained to him that a good friend of mine, Martin Spencer, has gone missing.” Spencer. Forest. Mansion. Blood. It was as if a switch in his head had been flicked. A series of images flashed through his mind. Spencer: That had been the name of their neighbor. His grandfather had liked working in his garden so much he had been glad if there was someone to watch the kid so he could focus on his plants. Briggs could see himself sitting on the lap of old Grace Spencer, listening to one of her stories. None of them were particularly cheerful. But one day, when he had heard what the woman was telling the little boy, his grandfather dragged him away from her. Struggling, wanting to know how it all ended, was all Briggs could remember. He never found out. He had always wanted to find out.
“Detective Briggs is right. There’s not much else we can do.” Briggs realized he had been out of it for a few minutes again. Had she just recited the whole case to the captain? To her father, as he now knew. How had he missed that? Maybe I shouldn’t be a detective after all.
“I’m not here to kid around. You know me better than that,” she said, sounding every bit like a woman who could throw an Ex-Marine on his back.
“What is your take on this, Briggs? You’ve been bored to death for over a week now, haven’t you?”
“It’s actually been two weeks, sir.”
“Well, we might as well give you something to do. Look into this case and report back to me by 8 o’clock tonight.”
“Yes, sir.” Briggs had wanted to interject, but couldn’t.
“Alright, then. Everybody back to work.” The captain walked away and the onlookers returned to their desks.
Briggs wasn’t sure what to think. Following up on the report of one crazy woman, only because of ancient stories told by an even crazier woman. Was he out of his mind? But he couldn’t help it. It was etched into his brain, into his flesh. This had haunted him ever since he was five years old. He had suppressed it, tried to bury it. But it came back to him nonetheless. He needed to find out if there was anything to old Grace Spencer’s stories. And there stood the captain’s daughter, arms crossed before her chest, a cocky smile on her lips. He had had a feeling she would want to tag along.
“Well, detective, where do we go from here?”
It had been a short drive from the precinct to Spencer’s apartment. Schultz had accompanied him, sitting in the passenger’s seat. He didn’t mind. He wouldn’t let her get the better of him again, but he no longer trusted his hand-to-hand combat skills. Besides, it wasn’t smart to pick a fight with his boss’ daughter.
“There we are. 121 North Street”, Briggs said as he stopped the car. Schultz got out along with him.
“I’ve known him for over five years, yet I’ve never been to his apartment.”
“You don’t say,” Briggs responded. He made a mental note of it. Spencer had not been the boyfriend or even a casual fling. He wondered if there was a strategy behind it. He had no doubt she was up to something, and, having seen what she was capable of, he would be careful around her.
“I don’t suppose you have a key?” he asked her as they stood at the front door. She just shrugged “Well, the shutters are closed, the mailbox is flowing over, and the welcome mat hasn’t been cleaned. Clearly, your friend has been gone for a while.”
“I’m sure a detective such as yourself can find a way in.”
“Not unless you want me to break down the door.”
“No. I wouldn’t want you to hurt your arm even more.”
“How ─ Do you figure he’s the type who leaves a spare key hidden under the mat?”
“No, but there might be one right here,” she said as she knelt down to a potted plant and produced a key.
“Lucky guess?” he asked her.
She winked at him as she unlocked the door and pushed it open. In the hallway they saw more of the plants that had been on the front porch. First thing: Check all rooms, see if anyone’s there. He slowly tread his way through the hall. First on the left was the bedroom, next came the bathroom on the right, both fairly chaotic. The living room and kitchen were even messier. The only decoration, apart from the plants and a current 1999 calendar, were various frames, most of them showing black and white photographs. There was a door leading to a balcony. He went out, just to be sure.
“He’s not home,” Schultz said as she walked up behind him.
“Not the orderly, type, is he?”
“He never seemed organized. But still, I couldn’t have imagined such a mess. I don’t know what’s up with the ivy, either.”
“That’s not ivy, it’s pothos. Simple plant, doesn’t require much. Never dies on you. It purifies the air and strips toxins from many materials. It works as a climbing plant so you can easily confuse it with ivy.” Rose stared at him with a blank expression. “My grandfather loved flowers and gardening. Talked about nothing else,” Briggs explained, “as a kid I used to help him out after school. Long story.”
“I think I got the best part,” she said, grinning. What’s going on? I’ve never told anyone that. A boy didn’t exactly brag about playing with flowers. He had already been the shortest and skinniest kid in school, he had not needed another reason to be mocked. Thankfully, a growth spurt had gotten him to a respectable 5”6’, but all the hours of drills and lifting weights did not change his bony frame. At least, no one at Westlake High had ever found out about the gardening.
“What do you think he wants with the pathos?”
“Pothos. I’m not sure. Like I said, it’s easy to handle. A good plant to start with. Maybe he found out that working with greenery soothes him. That’s why my grandfather loved it. I doubt it has anything to do with his disappearance.”
“Obviously. I was just curious.”
They went back inside. Briggs still couldn’t belief the mess. His own home wasn’t the tidiest place, but this was pushing it, even for a single man in his thirties: Dirty socks strewn across the floor; pants and shirts flung over chairs; plates, knives, and forks crusted with food rests; and dirt prints all over the rug.
If Martin Spencer had left, he had done so of his own accord, not giving a damn about what his apartment looked like. The plants were a different matter. Not only were they lush and healthy, even though they hadn’t been watered in over a week, they were also fairly neatly trimmed, and probably would be perfectly so if their caretaker had been there. He had clearly cared a lot about these. Was it just a hobby, or was there something to these plants?
Schultz helped him look through all the cabinets and drawers in the kitchen. They didn’t find anything of note. The bathroom did not contain anything useful either. The bedroom looked more promising: It was as stark as the rest of the apartment. This seemed to be where Spencer spent most of his time. Briggs noticed a framed picture with a familiar face. There was Grace Spencer, smiling happily into the camera. Her hands were resting on the shoulders of a young boy standing in front of her. Behind them he could clearly make out the front of her house.
“What the─? That’s him! That’s Martin! Younger, of course, but it’s clearly him!” Rose yelled a little too loud into his ear.
“I’ve never seen him before. But I do know the woman behind him.”
“Who is she?”
“Grace Spencer. She lived next door to my grandfather and me. Used to look after me.”
“You were her neighbors? Then how come you never met Martin?
“He must have left before I moved in next door. He never mentioned her, either?”
“No. But he said he was taken in by child services when he was around 5, and put into a foster family. He came back to Westlake as an adult, about 2 years ago.”
Briggs walked over to the desk and picked up one of the books. They were not your everyday paperback mystery novels, but leather-bound and heavy. The numbers on their spines showed that they had been rented from Westlake Library. The one he was holding read ‘1945-1950: The post-war years in Westlake’.
“He likes history,” Briggs commented.
“Local History,” said Rose, lifting up a different volume. “This is all about Westlake’s past. Fucking boring. I remember Mr. Finch rambling on about how Abraham Lewis and his caravan headed west, found the lake, and decided to build a town there. Never been so bored out of my mind!”
“Jesus, Finch is still teaching? He was ancient when I was at that school.”
“He’s retired now. Hasn’t been that long, though. He was still going strong when I finished high school almost eight years ago.”
“Class of ’91, then. I’m ’85 myself. Martin should be closer to my age, right?”
“I’d say so. But, it starts to look more and more like I didn’t know him at all.”
“What do you mean?”
“I took him for a conspiracy theorist and a ghost hunter. Only his place doesn’t look like it. There should be more mystery magazines, more UFO-posters, more blurred pictures of men in bear suits.”
“I thought he told you that he went into the forest to look for ghosts, ghouls, and goblins?”
“No, he just always talked about finding the truth. It sounded so crazy, I thought he was looking for something supernatural. That was before the visions started and my perception of crazy shifted.”
“You’re not letting go of this vision-nonsense are you, lady?”
“No, I’m not, flower boy.” Briggs cringed. He had known that one would be coming. “Because the visions aren’t letting go of me, either.”
He took a deep breath. Martin clearly hadn’t been in his apartment for a while, but, without knowing his usual routine, it was difficult to say whether or not that was out of the ordinary. Even so, there was still that feeling, telling him that something was not right. But, could he trust that feeling?
“You up for some in-depth reading? Not a big fan myself, to be honest.”
“So, we do have something in common after all.”
Briggs spotted a stack of paper on the desk. “Maybe we won’t have to.” He sat down: There were a few newspaper articles, all of them dealt with people vanishing without a trace. Briggs read the paper each morning and he had clearly missed these. There were also a few scattered notes.
“Can you read this?” he asked Schultz. She took the sheet of paper he held out for her.
“Yeah, his handwriting takes getting used to. I think I can make out the gist.”
“Alright, you look through these, I check the articles.” They all revolved around Westlake’s past. A few people had gone missing over the decades, which wasn’t unusual this far out, where bears and mountain lions still posed a threat for hikers and campers. Only some bodies had never been found. Another referred to an old diary from the 1930s that detailed a hotel owner’s daily comings and goings: He wrote about a couple by the name of Spencer. They stayed the night at his place with their 3 children, and headed for the woods despite all warnings. It said nothing of them coming back.
Yet again another article introduced a particularly wacky character who had appeared suddenly in Westlake, talking about how he was going to strike it rich in the mountains. Briggs remembered reading about this just a few weeks before: Norman Botts. The writer of the article basically made fun of the man, pointing out how he was over a century late for the gold rush, and in the wrong state on top of that. Botts had either ignored or not noticed the ridicule. He had gone off into the forest anyway, and hadn’t shown up again. Briggs began to notice a pattern there.
“Martin’s interested in the forest, it seems. And if it’s a smart idea to go there.”
“His notes boil down to the same thing. They detail who has gone missing in or around Westlake and if they ever returned. It goes back to the 1920s.”
“Does he mention any particular page?”
“Yes. 482. In the oldest book, by the looks of it.” She pointed to a tome so ancient, Briggs was afraid it would turn to dust if he touched it. The cover read ‘A Westlake Chronicle’. He carefully picked it up and leafed to the designated page. The chapter was titled ‘The founding of Westlake’. He was stunned. Over 400 pages and they’re only just now founding the town? He read aloud:
“Let it be known that the four families responsible for the foundation of this most esteemed place of refuge from the wild, henceforth to be known as Westlake City, hold the names of Lewis, Brown, Morris, and Spencer. It is thanks to their foresight, fortitude and indomitable spirit that our expedition found the trek west and persevered through all the hardships this untamable land has put before us. May their names go down in history along with the great men that carry them!”
Briggs blinked. His eyes darted over the lines of text again, just to be sure he hadn’t misread anything.
“You sure you read that right?” Schultz asked.
“I am. You’ve never heard about this, either, have you? There were only three founding fathers of Westlake: Abraham Lewis, George Brown and Benjamin Morris.”
“Yeah, and those are the most common last names in town today. My grandfather only came here in the fifties, bringing the name of Schultz with him. You’re the only Briggs here, too, aren’t you? It’s as if this place just wants to shrug off anyone who isn’t truly from here.”
Briggs nodded. Between himself, Schultz, Martin and this man Botts, it sure seemed like everyone involved was not originally from Westlake.
“No, wait. If we can trust this, Martin’s the last of a family as old as this town.
“I’m not sure we can. Why would an entire family have been erased from the records?”
“What if there was a huge argument between the Spencers and the other families? If the Lewis, Browns, and Morris worked together, they could have easily driven off anyone they did not like and written their names out of the history books. Just like any other, they only say what their writers wanted them to say.”
“History is written by the victor.”
“Exactly. I guess Martin was at least convinced enough to risk his life. He marked all the spots on the map where he presumed the old home of his family might be. See? They’re all crossed out except one.”
“Then that’s where we’re going next.”
Briggs took a long look at the map. It really was all laid out for them. Why was that bothering him so much? Judging by the density of the forest, this place looked like it was in the thickest part of the woods. No wonder nobody had ever found it, if there even was anything to find. But that nagging feeling had gotten more insistent over the past hour. He didn’t like it, but he doubted he could keep Schultz away unless he tied her up.
“You care enough about your friend to go out there? I’m not exactly an experienced woodsman, lady.”
“Neither am I. But Martin is clearly in over his head, and I cannot sit around and wait for something to happen.” She got up as if to get him to do the same.
“I don’t have much of a choice, do I? Besides, I’ve already met you. What could be worse?”
“Keep it up, detective, and I’ll throw you to the floor again. Let’s go.”
Briggs took the map off the wall and followed her. He still couldn’t rule out that she was crazy. What did that mean for him, then? Who’s crazier? The crazy woman, or the crazy guy following her? But Briggs always trusted his gut. And right now it was telling him he had to get to the bottom of this.
To be continued…