“And all the stars were crashing ’round
As I laid eyes on what I’d found…”
The Decemberists, Crane Wife 1 & 2, 2006
Carmelita seldom knocked before pushing her way through the front door of her best friend’s house. Doors were seldom locked in Little Gray Town neighborhoods and most of the single moms who rented the tatty old bungalows felt their kids were safer coming and going through open doors and back gates where the constant Brownian Movement of small bodies meant everyone knew what everyone else was doing.
‘Lita and Dawn had been best pals since kindergarten. The 10-year old duo’s was a friendship forged in Barbie dolls and Smurfs and Culture Club ‘45s. The girls were seldom separated save for bedtime, meals, and church. ‘Lita’s family went, Dawn and her mother did not.
It was early morning the first week of summer vacation. The sun was just rising over the black walnut tree at the south end of West Clay Street and the old rust-riddled school bus that hauled groggy children to and from the strawberry fields where they spent summer days stooping and baking in the sun had just taken a left turn onto Main Street.
‘Lita and Dawn weren’t old enough to be pickers and would have to wait until they were 13 to make their own money for school clothes and LP records and Barbie accessories—assuming they were still into Barbies three years from now.
Assuming ‘Lita was still into Barbies three years from now.
‘Lita’s bare brown toes curled into the deep rust shag of Dawn and Carrie’s front room. Carrie would already be three hours into her Day Shift at the cannery, Dawn would be camped out before the wood-paneled cyclopean eye of the old RCA, legs folded beneath her lotus-style, a bowl of Cheerios in her lap, the TV set warbling ancient cartoon images older than two of them combined.
A smell met ‘Lita’s nose soon as she crossed the threshold. It was a smell familiar to ‘Lita. It was like the odor that issued from the chunks of raw liver her brother bought from the butcher shop. He’d tie them to sticks for crawdad bait. It smelled like that, and a little like the tang given off by that Folgers can full of greening pennies she’d found in the basement last winter. It was like that, but worse.
Carrie wouldn’t be standing on the line at the cannery this morning. She was lying on her belly, arms doubled under her narrow frame, her face turned to the wall.
Dawn would not be opening her box of Cheerios this morning. She was lying on her back, her eyes to the ceiling, her mouth open, her lips slack.
Hours later the local cops with stomachs strong enough to stay in the room for longer than five minutes would marvel at the way the great streams of crimson spattered the walls, ceiling and furniture. They would marvel at how deeply the blood of the victims had soaked into a widening pool (considering the shag’s thickness) and how the little girl had made her way through the tide of gore to the phone on the wall without once slipping.
Upon seeing the bodies of her best friend and her mother, ‘Lita did something universally out of character for a willful 10-year old girl; she did as she had been told. She made for the phone to dial 911. In addition, she cheated a world of expectation usually placed on a 10-year old girl; she didn’t cry, she didn’t scream, she didn’t run. She took in the scene for the time it took to inhale once and walked to the wall-mounted push button phone. Standing at the entry to the kitchen she couldn’t feel the soft carpet fibers between her toes like usual, her feet were soaked in cooling molasses.
‘Lita picked up the receiver and heard the dial tone hum. The receiver was sticky in her hand. She couldn’t see the numbers on the little button faces for all the red paint, but she knew where they lived. Holding the phone to her ear, she pressed the buttons from memory, but they refused to comply. When ‘Lita pressed down the 9 button the tacky red stuff made it rise back into place with an agonizing slowness. The pushbutton’s once high musical beep became a sustained trill, the trill became a prolonged cry and the cry became a scream that resonated in ‘Lita’s soul for the rest of her life.
From the far corner of the kitchen Dawn watched ‘Lita where she stood gripping the sticky phone in shaking hands, her screams falling into jagged harmony with the sustained wail of the touchtone. ‘Lita never saw her best friend’s shade where it had backed into the corner and Dawn didn’t notice for hours how the sunlight from the kitchen window passed clean through her.
The Razor Baby
Before the predecessors of Homo sapiens sapiens had tumbled to the ground from the lower-most branch of the evolutionary tree there had been a Razor Baby. It existed long before the hominid forerunners found the skill to convert thought-forms to symbols and symbols to words. It existed before there was even a name for its very notion. It calls itself Razor Baby now, but it’s had more names than a murder of crows has black feathers. The Razor Baby is that little blink of blackness you catch from the tail of your eye when you round a corner; it’s the shape that ducks out of site as you turn your head to that odd little sound.
It is the malign stepchild of gods long dead–it is vicious and gleeful and cruelty personified.
The Razor Baby hunkered beneath the black walnut tree at the south end of West Clay Street and watched the men in white suits bump shiny metal gurneys down the bungalow’s concrete steps. It crouched over stump-like legs and lifting slick talons to its nostril slits took a whiff of fresh blood and let its pair of pit-black eyes roll back in ecstasy.
The last time the Razor Baby visited this part of the valley, the two-legs were a darker skinned people with shiny black hair and long limbs, and they housed themselves in tree limbs and animal skins. The Razor Baby’s lips peeled back along its long snout and it grinned a reptile’s grin–happy in the fact that since the two-legs found themselves homes of bricks and boards their overconfidence at their own safety sweetened the tang of their blood like a narcotic. The Razor Baby, all soaked in red, was so giddy it shook with delight.
Sadly, the delight was always short-lived. For all the joy found in the killing, the prey was never the right one. Though sweet, the flavor was tainted with something bitter. Though the cries were high, the harmonics were always a bit off. But it kept searching and searching, regarding the previous pair as practice for the day it claimed the genuine article. And on that day, the Razor Baby would lie back in the noon sun and snooze the most comfortable of snoozes in its very long life.
The hunt for the two would simply continue.
The Razor Baby watched as the longest, mother-length black bag was gently hoisted from the gurney and into the open berth of the white van and was quickly followed by the shorter, daughter-length bag. Clustered on the sidewalk stood a gaggle of concerned neighbors and a handful of policemen. Young parents and retirees, teenagers standing astride their 10-Speeds and book-bearing college students all shared the same slack-jawed expression of shock and dismay. Some folks verbalized their fear and awe with gasps and yawps, others kept it inside. Two men in dark suits moved along the sidewalk asking questions of the gawkers:
“Did you know Ms. Cromwell very well?”
“Did she have any male companions?”
“Have there been any recent disturbances in the home?”
“Does anyone know the whereabouts of her little girl’s father?”
Each person up and down the sidewalk answered “no,” and went back to their neck craning and mumbling.
Wrapped in a fresh blue hospital blanket, her eyes focused on a horizon a million miles away ‘Lita sat nestled against her mother. The young Hispanic woman held her daughter close, her arms wrapped tightly about ‘Lita’s tiny shoulders, her tear-soaked face buried up to her lips in ‘Lita’s dark hair.
Beneath the old black walnut tree the shadows were growing deeper as midday slid into evening. Feeling sated and drowsy, the Razor Baby looked on languidly as the white paneled trucks and black and white cars pulled away from the curb. Yellow streamers criss-crossed the lawn and zigzagged across the doorframe of the bungalow. It was time for the Razor Baby to take its leave of the Little Gray Town.
In a blinking the toad-like form disappeared. The wash of red that had soaked the Razor Baby from head to foot hung upon the air like a drifting crimson veil and then spattered against the hard dry soil. The following afternoon detectives would curse themselves for having overlooked the drying puddle of evidence. The liberally mixed blood types found under the tree would match the victims’, but no other trace elements were in evidence.
But most puzzling to the county forensic team was finding such a large quantity of blood so far from the crime scene and no trail between. One detective was heard to comment the pool of blood looked simply cast-off like cold coffee dregs flung from a passing car window.
As the crowds and cars dispersed, no one noticed the four-foot half-shadow detach itself from the front porch, pass through the streamers of yellow tape and drift to the sidewalk as a young man in a white coat and rubber gloves slammed shut the hatch of the coroner’s white van. The half-shadow hovered in the dwindling daylight, slowly becoming one with the dusk.