Souvenirs From Dead Man’s House

It was Wednesday evening at 461 High Dr. on an otherwise quiet week; when we say quiet, we mean nothing had deviated from the usual chaos and jittery thrill seeking the gang was accustomed to. Like slobbering dogs the boys were getting drunk playing Gin Rummy on the coffee table while the girls gossiped outside chain-smoking on the porch couch. Mikey’s enabling mother had been passed out in her room since four that afternoon – another “mice will play” kind of night.

Surrendering to the elation of booze around 9pm, the boys began losing focus on their games. The girls filtered back inside out of boredom and an unexpected cold chill in summer. Interlacing chatter and catch up ensued.

“Hey Gene, did you tell any of these guys what we found the other night?” Dylan asked to the collective earshot.

“No, not yet, I was waiting for the right moment when we were both here so we don’t leave anything out…”

Everyone heard the boys and perked their ears. 

“What, did you find your virginity? Oh wait, sorry you never lost it, right?” quipped Katrina. 

“Nah c’mon Katrina, let ‘em talk,” said Rudy.

“Okay, check this out… So, there’s this house across the street from my place where we never see anyone go in or leave, but there’s always a car in the driveway and someone’s been taking the mail. We’ve been watching it…”

Gene had been crashing at Dylan’s place. School be damned, the two would drink into the night on his porch while Dylan’s folks were asleep, giggling whispers under the Laguna moon. They quickly tempered an obsession with Dylan’s invisible neighbor directly across the street.

“… and we just couldn’t stop wondering about this place, so we went over there in the middle of the night and stole the mail out of the box. All current postmarks, so someone is coming to get that shit, or it’d be overflowing. Most of them were bills, too, so someone is obviously staying there, just coming and going. Well, we decided to slash the tires on the car, to see if that might make the person show their face since they wouldn’t be able to leave…”

The gang erupted with machine-gun guffaws. “Wait, what the fuck?!?” You did what?!? And what the fuck for again?!?” The girls attempted to scold but instead surrendered to embarrassed cackles, their fingers sloppily covering their lips.

“That’s fucking genius!” Caleb and Rudy declared in tandem. The gang used the word “genius” liberally, to describe things either resourceful or utterly idiotic, and this was smack dab in the middle. In this case, the word genius was also used to encourage a bad idea.

Gene and Dylan shrugged their shoulders, grinning shitty. 

“Yeeeeah, we know… We were drunk, it made sense at the time.” The gang understood – their inebriation was eating it all up. Some began pacing around the room, confounded by this unfolding mystery, imaginations ascending. 

“Okay, wait… when did you slash the tires?” asked Rudy.

“Couple nights ago. We don’t think they’ve been back.”

A silence fell. No one even had to say it.

“We are going. We are going inside that house. Now! Let’s do this!” said Rudy.

* * *

Their immediate acceleration left no window for anyone to argue – any naysayer would just get laughed out and insulted. 

Nefarious dweller or not, this was quickly escalating into a full-blown burglary. The gang swiftly piled outside 461; others trailed behind, grabbing anything from inside that could qualify as a weapon – a baseball bat, a hammer, a knife. Many, many knives – those who didn’t normally carry a personal raided Mikey’s kitchen for the steak and butcher variety. Katrina even grabbed the rectangular cleaver and stuck it in her purse. Simple burglary was now morphing to armed burglary status.

The battalion gathered in the driveway. The gang looked around at each other giggling, their absurd number now in concentrated view. Rudy began counting everyone, making notes about who should go with who and in what car. He announced that they were rolling fourteen deep, then clenched his teeth.

“Alright, there’s a lot of us but no one gets left behind! Nobody is not coming. We don’t know what we are getting into so we may need all the heads we can. Donnie, Katrina, Hackman – grab your wheels. We can pack everyone into your three cars!” Rudy’s sense of command vibed like they were storming the shores at Normandy. The drivers giddily ran to their vehicles, no questions asked, while the rest walked out to the street, to meet the delinquent valet.

* * *

The three-car caravan was led by Donnie’s mint green Impala. Hackman’s beater drove behind Donnie, followed by Katrina’s periwinkle Volvo as the caboose. They kept it tight, occasionally pulling over and waiting when they were separated by a traffic light. Their frayed nerves and excited solidarity dictated they all show up at once. The sketchy procession began its ascent up the winding twists of Park Avenue. Donnie hovered it around 20mph to keep the others close. They approached the last turn before Dylan’s, eying the house in target.

“We should all park down the street from the house a bit, so we don’t make a scene, “suggested Caleb. “It’s already gonna be a fucking scene…”

Donnie leaned out the window, motioning back to the others that they were going to park and walk.

They curbed the vehicles in order, covertly, into the mooncast shadows made by the tall cliff overlooking the curve. Faces turned, index fingers went over mouths in unison. The gang gingerly exited their vehicles, each door closing with surgical care, each last push pressed with the hip for minimum of din. Katrina didn’t get the memo – she slammed her door full volume.

ssshhhhhh the thirteen others aggressively whispered.

Katrina’s shoulders shrugged; she whispered something ugly back, then brought up a good point – that she and the girls should stay by the car in case anyone comes. That way they could holler at the gang to scram through the neighbor’s yard, then down the street where the girls could pick everyone up. Donnie and Hackman gave their keys to Sadie and Jasmine, entrusting them with the shrewd getaway plan

They lined up on the side of the road until they were all accounted for. Rudy, the de-facto leader for the night, silently counted heads again. He whispered fourteen as he sort of punched his own heart with his right hand, quickly throwing it back up into the air as he waved two fingers toward his direction – the sign to proceed.

They walked in single file, hanging a right into the driveway on a steep incline. Rudy signaled Gene and Dylan – you… and you – to come to the front since they knew the layout of the outside. The two scurried up and pointed to the back patio where they would enter. They slow-dripped into the back like a gathering storm, no light to guide their way besides the moonlight shifting shadows upon shadows. The boys faced the sliding glass door, a subdued lunar beam casting a ghastly luminescence on their reflection, holding tight to their weapons and idiot bravery. Rudy flipped the switch on his flashlight, making this image vanish into nova. His large, muscular frame blocked the view of the inside of the rest behind him.

“Oh…my fucking God.” he whispered through clenched teeth. He looked back at the ten. “Ready?”

The ten nodded, a palpable fear now scrambling their rhythm.

Rudy slid open the door, slowly. A stench wafted out; the smell of shit, black mold, bad sex, neglect. The boys made choking sounds. “What is that?” Rudy, Gene, and Dylan had barely set their first feet in, before the stench paralyzed their creep. The smell of death: when an odor is so unholy that the only way to combat it, is to cease breathing. One could plug their nose, but that smell has a taste.

Obscenities spouted from every mouth, a point of no return. 

They reluctantly proceeded, only to realize they were all shin deep in an ocean of pornography. Eyes came into focus: 

Gay pornography. 

Half-toppled stacks of magazines and VHS, covering nearly every inch of the floor in a large living room. Each tower of man smut, the pages appeared stuck together, warped with mold, untold stains dusted in eons of filth. Hundreds… no, thousands of issues and tape; there was barely anywhere to stand. The flashlights illuminated a path zig-zagging through the chaotic pay dirt of sexual deviancy. Time stood still; the boys froze inside the inexplicable hoarder den of ill repute. Yet time was proceeding without them – the only light in the room emanated from a digital alarm clock in the corner. Time: 10:33pm, indicating someone was still paying the electric bill, keeping a schedule in the wake of utter neglect to everything else but their vices; in the squalor continuing to reveal itself. Every bookshelf, desk, or side-table displayed countless bottles of vintage wine and hard-booze; some sealed, others half-consumed – shocking even to this gang of celebrated dipsomaniacs. 

They grabbed as many bottles as their arms could hold.

Rudy cut through the collective gasping. 

“Fuck… Okay, let’s split up. You guys – one, two, three, four, five – come with me into the bedroom, you guys over there – one, two, three, four, five – cover the kitchen. Whoever’s place this is, they’re a fucking sicko. Grab anything not nailed down. Who fucking cares…”

The gang split right down the middle, forming a Y, filtering into their appointed areas. Hackman led Caleb, Allen, Dorian, and That Brian Kid to the left, while Rudy, Mikey, Donnie, Gene, and Dylan went to the right. 

Cautiously, they entered the bathroom, covering their noses and mouths as the stench grew stronger with every step. Rudy shone the flashlight erratically to get a vague lay of the land, ending at the bathtub – Oh fuck oh fucking hell.

A large veiny dildo lay in the middle of the tub, its end covered in excrement in what looked like a significant dried puddle of blood, but reds become browns over time and when blood meets the world of human waste, adrenaline accelerates time so you don’t wait to ponder what is what. The boys responded with more appalled cursing, nervous laughter, some even trying to arouse God. Their voices took on a strange nasal quality – they were all holding their noses, giving some brief comedic relief. They distracted themselves with the jackpot of the medicine cabinet – bottles upon bottles of liquid morphine, Demerol, Vicodin, sleep aids. Not only was this person a sicko, but also maybe legitimately ill? they wondered. Quite the stash for a garden variety drug fiend, but all our street education is obliterated after tonight… but why are all the labels peeled off where there should be the patient’s name? Premature theories were whispered back and forth as they filled their jacket pockets with the feel-good loot.

The bathroom ransacked, they barely set foot in the master bedroom when they heard the other group’s screams fill the left side of the house.

The boy’s howls echoed off the cliffs and down the hill to the girls chain smoking at their cars. They giggled oh shit, extinguishing their cancer sticks. They jumped into the three vehicles, revving the engines at staggered rhythm. They stepped on their gas to meet them half-way – not exactly part of the plan, but their guy’s shameful screams communicated emergency, expedience. 

The testosterone mob spilled out into the street, surrounding the cars, clawing for the interior. Some went fetal on the floor, others crammed onto each other’s laps. The harder they clenched their teeth, the quicker they might disappear from what they had just seen. As the last door slammed, the three cars holding all fourteen humbled rebels flipped bitches, burning rubber back down the hill.

* * *

Six headlights came shining down High Dr. Each car jerked, swerving lanes, cutting, competing to be both the farthest from the gruesome scene and the closest ones back. The three vehicles parked across the street from 461 – while they couldn’t contain themselves, they all avoided fighting for the driveway. 

The splinter group that had ventured into the kitchen (at what they were now referring to Dead Man’s House) were all in varying degrees of hyperventilation. The rest kept on pleading what did you see?!? No tale would be recounted until they were all safe. 

Once the front door slammed behind the last one inside, they fell to their knees in a circle on the floor. Mikey moved the coffee table to make room for everyone, complete the formation. Eye-contact was mandatory to listen intently. All hands full, they piled their loot in the middle of the circle, like proud and exhausted children on Halloween. 

Caleb spoke first. “You guys have no idea what we just saw….”

“No shit we don’t!” Rudy barked. “Are you finally gonna tell us?”

“Okay but I’m gonna need the rest of your help so you all don’t think I’m bullshitting here. Back me up, guys.” Caleb pointed to the rest of his splintered platoon.

“Okay, so we were piling into the kitchen, single-file. But then we all bunched up around the fridge, all curious. I was right by Dorian, and…”

“I opened the fridge,” said Dorian. “I swung it open with my left hand, Caleb and the rest were to the right of me, and as the light shined on their faces, I just saw them losing it. Then I swung my head to the right and looked in the fridge…”

“Okay, all I’m gonna say is that it looked like this.” Caleb made sort of orb formation with his hands, making sure to include a base at the bottom of his miming. It was completely covered in maggots, cockroaches and …” He gestured to his own face, making prickly finger-dances all over. “I can’t say it, but I’ll give you one fucking guess what was in the fridge.” 

The gang gasped and groaned. “No fucking way!”

“Way.” Allen nodded his head, reluctantly assured. “Totally way.”

“There were worms coming out of the eye-sockets. I saw a nose sticking out of the whole mess.” Caleb said. “There’s nothing else it could have fucking been. Believe me, I don’t want to believe it either, but…”

The girls squealed. The guys grabbed their own heads, as if theirs was the one in the fridge. There would be no escape from the mere thought of this.

Rudy shook it off by running his fingers through his Murray-greased hair. He knew they needed distraction to break this spell. 

“All right, all right… Has everyone emptied their loot on the floor? Let’s see what we got?”

Their souvenirs of disorder quickly filled the mush pot of their circle; an impressive load of dust-encrusted bottled of wine, hard-booze, VHS’s of pornography, and high-tier pharmaceuticals were thrown in, now property of 461. Mikey hesitated then threw in a couple last articles.

“Fucking bondage pants?!?” Rudy scolded. “From that place? You gotta be sick to wear those, man!”

“I thought they looked cool!” said Mikey.

“We don’t know where they’ve been… Hell, we don’t know where any of this shit has been. Which means, well, I guess we have to test it all first!” he said, shrugging.

Mikey threw on some of the gay porn “to gross everyone out,” he said, while the gang spent the next fifteen minutes sifting through the pile for quality control. Luckily the spoils barely dented the mountainous loot. There was nothing left to consider besides the final taste analysis.

They dove in. They went all night; like every holiday rolled into one night – Christmas, Halloween, Easter, St. Paddy’s Day, Thanksgiving; only with heartfelt sodomy on the television, making it their own, something else entirely.

— Gabriel Hart lives in Morongo Valley in California’s High Desert. His literary-pulp collection Fallout From Our Asphalt Hell is out now from Close to the Bone (U.K.). He’s the author of Palm Springs noir novelette A Return To Spring (2020, Mannison Press), the dispo-pocalyptic twin-novel Virgins In Reverse / The Intrusion (2019, Traveling Shoes Press), and his debut poetry collection Unsongs Vol. 1. Other works can be found at Expat Press, Misery Tourism, Terrorhouse, Shotgun Honey, Bristol Noir, Crime Poetry Weekly, Punk Noir, Rock and A Hard Place, and Ligeia Magazine. He’s a monthly columnist for Lit Reactor and a contributor to Los Angeles Review of Books