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“I thought you said they couldn’t touch us.” Simmons asked as we rushed down the hallway, the file tucked neatly under his arm as his legs pumped hard. Behind us the charred bodies clamored after us, knocking over filing cabinets and boxes as they pursued.
“I also told you this shit was guesswork!” I yelled as I grabbed his shoulder and yanked him a hard left. One of the…things smashed into the far wall, apparently not able to change direction as deftly as a pair of panicking people. The thing, when it hit face first into the exposed brick, slowly turned its head, dragging charred skins off its face, exposing more bone and letting out a sickening scraping sound. It then launched itself after us and I swear I felt its fingertips brush the back of my jacket.
As we passed the haphazardly stacked walls of boxes, I grabbed one unstable tower and yanked it hard down. I kept running and heard the corpses collided with the falling boxes. We made it to the far stairwell and I spun, pulling my phone as Simmons fumbled with the door. I quickly opened the camera app and snapped a few pictures, not knowing if I caught anything, but knowing I had to try. Don’t judge me. I figured if I survived this I could at least get a good article out of it.
“Remind me again why we came out here in the middle of the night?” Simmons growled as the door was unforgiving in his efforts.
“That was your idea,” I pointed out. I heard a horrendous bang behind me and looked back, seeing that Simmons had just hauled off and kicked the door open, knocking it off its hinges. “That works!” I said and followed Simmons down the stairwell.
We rounded the next few flights of stairs at full speed, taking multiple steps in single bounds and a few times nearly tumbling over each other. When we got to the ground floor, Simmons hit the door hard, sending the latch on the outside flying off. I stopped and looked up with my phone and snapped a few more pictures, then I ran after him out to the car.
Washington was there, outside the gate in his car. The rain was coming down hard now. He stepped out of the car, wearing a raincoat and cowboy hat. “What the hell happened in there?” he asked.
I flopped down in the passenger seat of Simmons’ car, breathing heavily, regretting every cigarette I’d ever smoked in my life. “Uh, we found something,” I said, not sure how to address it.
“We got a call from dispatch. Motion alarms going off all across the building, all floors. Were there squatters?”
I pulled out my phone and swiped through the pictures. I found one that showed exactly what we saw, the clambering corpses, glowing red eyes, charred skin and all. “Squatters…” I repeated handing him the phone. “That’s…a good way of putting it.”
“What…the fuck,” He muttered. He looked back at the building. He could still see them moving through the windows, returning back to the old jail. “Lets…get the hell out of here.”
Simmons had already fired up his car. “Agreed.” he threw it in gear. I grabbed my phone from Washington, but Simmons was already driving before I could close the door.
Washington followed us, just as unsure about where we were going as we were. Simmons drove back into the city proper, navigating his dad-mobile through the rain soaked streets. Simmons looked distant. “Take me back to my car, give me the file.” I finally said. He seemed to snap out of his haze for a moment. I’d been there, where so much was going through your mind that everything just kind of shuts down, you’re on autopilot. He silently drove up Joyce’s street parking alongside my car. I got out, file in hand, and told him to go home. He nodded silently and drove off as I closed the door.
Washington pulled up to me. “What’s the plan?” he asked rolling down his window. I put the file in my car to keep it as dry as possible. “I’m going to go back to my hotel room, dig through this file, and find out what I can find out.”
“You’re just…okay with what you saw back there?”
“Weirdly, yes…” I said distantly as I got in and turned on my car. “I’ve…seen some shit in my time doing this. A lot of stuff you can explain away. Shadows and noises and things like that…almost all of it has a mundane explanation. When your job is telling the stories of the unquiet dead, and you actually get to see something that defies explanation, and you have someone with you who sees it too, its weirdly comforting. Like suddenly you realize you’re not entirely crazy, that something is out there.”
“The black eyed inmate thing…?” He asked, skeptical.
I smiled. “Honest to God, there are times I see it, and I’m the only one who sees it, and I think I’m going crazy. I mean, you haven’t seen any of them. You only have the word of everyone else to go off of. Even if you only admit it to yourself, you have to admit it all sounds like some kind of mass insanity, especially when the only one who can corroborate the story is a blind lady.”
Washington nodded. I continued “But you saw it. Tonight you saw it, I saw it, and Simmons saw it. We all saw something that cannot be explained. I have no idea what we saw, so don’t ask about that. Maybe they were angry dead inmates. Maybe they’re a portal to hell in the courthouse? Maybe they were just the weirdest flash-mob ever? We don’t know, but we all saw it.”
He looked troubled. I told him “If you don’t take any other comfort tonight, at least know that other people saw what you saw.”
That was my big speech I guess. Washington rolled up his window and drove off. I returned to my hotel room.
I threw the file on the bed, some papers and black and white photographs slid out, and I clicked on the television. I just wanted the background noise of some mindless action flick to fill the quiet while I took a shower, and thank God I did because I ached all over and smelled funky. Finally clean and in fresh clothes I sat down on the edge of my bed and said a prayer because I had been down a very dark rabbit hole. I then opened the file and started reading.
The next morning I got Elda, Joyce, Simmons and Washington out to Whataburger and presented my findings. What we would know as B-Pod was actually built in 1943 to accommodate the ever-growing jail population. It was intended as the maximum security section of the jail and house the worst the county had to offer. Cell 48, for a long time, housed the worst of the worst. Simmons told me that he knew of three people who killed themselves in the cell. The number was disquietingly higher than that. Since 1943, once a year an inmate confined to the cell committed suicide.
“Sixty four people have died in that cell; sixty three of them were ruled as suicides.”
“What about number sixty four?” Washington asked.
“That was Jonathan Kenneth Rogers. He was our county’s first and so far only known serial killer. He was also the first inmate to die in cell 48.”
“I remember reading about that case,” Washington said. “There was something fishy about his trial. No hard evidence was ever found to confirm he killed his victims, so rather than give him the death penalty they locked him up for life in prison and he died in custody.”
Washington wasn’t wrong. Rogers’ victims were staged to look like they’d committed suicide to actually linking them to their cause of death was difficult. But 1940s due process wasn’t an exact science and he was put in jail. The night before he was to be sent off to state prison, an inmate opened his cell door and went after Rogers with a makeshift knife.
“Technically it’s a shank,” Washington added.
“I thought it was a shiv?” Joyce asked.
Simmons answered, “Depends. A shiv is when you take something that’s already sharp, like a shaving razor, and a shank is something that has just been made into a stabbing or cutting implement, like a tooth brush handle.”
“The report…” I interrupted, “Said ‘makeshift knife’. Terminology on this one I don’t think is important.”
I continued that Rogers was mutilated by the inmate, receiving severe lacerations and punctures to the lungs, heart, stomach, and face, specifically his eyes. “That’s, not what killed him, though. Rogers was apparently a tough customer and wrestled with the inmate, stabbing him in the eye with his own…” I looked at Simmons “Shank?”
“Stabbing him in the eye with his own shank and both toppled over the railing. Both were killed.”
I handed Simmons a picture of Rogers out of the file. Rogers had pale skin, dark messy hair, and by the time of his mug shot, a ratty beard. He posed with a broad, grotesque smile.
So we had a name to match our method. “What were his motives for his murders?” Detective Washington asked.
That was a great question, as well as how this connected to Joyce’s mother.