29 Jan The House God
“The House God”Written by Ryan Harville Edited by Craig Groshek Thumbnail Art by Craig Groshek Narrated by N/A
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🎧 Available Audio Adaptations: None Available
⏰ ESTIMATED READING TIME — 11 minutes
I’m Deputy Carl Hayford, and these are the events of August 28th. The full story, all of it, including what I couldn’t put in my official statement.
It was a slow night. All of the patients were nice and cozy in their rooms, locked behind reinforced doors and windows that looked out into the shared hallway. The smell of antiseptic cleaner and bleach still lingered from the maintenance crew’s weekly scrubbing. It didn’t bother me much. I liked the smell; it made everything feel clean and orderly.
C-Block was where the worst off were kept, the ones that had the highest propensity for violence. The majority of the patients were criminals, or people who had a complete break from reality and posed a threat to themselves or others. Sometimes both. There were twelve cells, eleven occupied by patients, two of which were prone to catatonic states. Before coming to C-Block, I didn’t know there was a difference between comatose and catatonic. I was doing my usual checks; my first stop was almost always George. I walked up to his window and peered in.
George was in his fifties, and his states could last for days at a time, but he was awake for the time being.
I tapped gently on the glass, and George looked up from his drawing and smiled.
“Deputy Hayford,” he said and nodded. “Sorry, about the light. I just woke up this morning, and I’m afraid more sleep may be out of the question tonight.”
Hayford shrugged. “I wasn’t going to hassle you about it. What are you working on?”
George picked up the drawing and laid it flat against the glass. “I had a dream while I was away,” he said. “The hunt continued.”
When he would wake, he would talk about “the hunt”. Said it was like some dream place he went to while he had one of his spells. Then he’d draw pictures, trying to capture whatever he’d seen on paper. What kind of traps could take down a large predator, where to shoot to incapacitate a deer, things like that. He once made a drawing of a trap that would behead a giraffe. I don’t hunt, and I’ve never seen a giraffe outside of a zoo, but it looked like it could actually work.
The newest drawing showed what looked like a man, but reminded me of a beast, his expression was feral and filled with teeth.
I nodded to him. “Looks good.”
“He’s a hunter,” George said gleefully, then dropped his voice near a whisper. “But also prey.”
I returned his smile, mine not nearly as wide, and walked on to Davey’s cell.
Davey’s states would last weeks, but he was never unresponsive. Davey suffered from echopraxia, a fancy way of saying he had a bad habit of copying people’s movements. I know that’s simplifying it, but I’m no doctor. I always felt bad for him; he was only nineteen years old. If you were to walk by his room, he would watch you from the window, and chances were he’d mimic whatever you were doing. If you waved, he’d wave. If you scratched your chin, he’d scratch his chin. You get the idea. When he wasn’t in one of his states, he was mostly normal. Mostly. That kid loved comic books, sci-fi, fantasy. I would bring him books, and he would speed through them. After a few years, we were friends. Well, as much as we could be given our situation.
So yeah, anyway, it was a slow night. After I finished my rounds I went back to the security office, where I spent most of my time, watching the monitors. Two cameras on either end of the hall, and one in each room.
The light above the east exit went red, meaning someone was outside. The monitor showed Officer Jennings, Steve when we weren’t around patients, standing with a man in restraints. As I watched, he picked up the landline phone from its cradle beside the door. I answered my phone before the second ring.
“Steve, what’s happening?” I said, looking at the restrained man. “I wasn’t expecting a new guest this late.”
Steve looked up to the camera as he spoke, his slick hair shining in the light of the hall. “Yeah, sorry about that, Carl. This one had to be kept under the radar, if the press got wind of it, it would’ve made for a much tougher trip over here. Not to mention the death threats.”
The mention of the press unnerved me. I pressed a button to pan the camera to the far end of the hall. There stood four more guards, weapons drawn, and at the low-ready.
“Jesus Christ, Steve, who is that?”
“Have you been living under a rock?” Steve asked. “Let’s get him inside, and then we’ll talk.”
I left the office and walked to the door, picking my keys on the way. Two key turns and the press of a button later, I was standing face to face with a beast.
The man was bald, with scars crisscrossing over his scalp, and a patchy beard on his face. Normal enough, but his eyes were just…just blank. No light, no humanity. That’s as close as I can explain.
Steve waved the other guards in behind him. “Where do you want him, Carl?”
I pointed to the cell across from Davey. It had been empty the longest.
Steve led the man in, and removed the restraints. The man went over to the bed and sat, staring ahead at a blank wall.
“Thank God that’s over,” Steve said. “Come on, we’ll talk in your office.”
We went in and I shut the door behind us, leaving the guards in the hall. “What is going on here, Steve? It’s damn near twenty-two hundred, and you’re bringing me a surprise guest that needs that many guards?”
He sat down in my chair, hard, causing the springs to squeak in protest. “I know, I know, I know. I’m sorry, okay? This wasn’t my call. And as long as he’s in a cell, he’s fine. Besides, did you see his eyes? He’s sedated, and won’t be causing any trouble for at least eight hours.”
“Well, who the hell is he?”
Steve raised an eyebrow at me, incredulous. “You seriously don’t recognize him?”
“If I knew, then I wouldn’t have asked.”
“That,” he pointed to the man’s image on the screen, “is Titus Corso, who the media in their infinite empathy dubbed ‘Killer Counselor’.”
The name hit me like a hammer. Corso used to be a family counselor, and had killed two entire families. A grand total of two men, two women, and seven children.
“Christ,” I said.
“He would separate the mother from the father,” Steve said. “And put them in different rooms, each with one or two of the kids. He would then convince each of the parents that the other would be let go, children included, if they would kill the children in the room with them.”
I remembered. “Yeah,” I said. “The father would kill the children, then be shown into the other room where the mother had killed the other children, neither of them knowing. Both cases ended with the father killing the mother, and then himself.”
Steve laughed. “That’s the very definition of ‘fucked up’ right there.”
“Why are you laughing?” I said, my anger rising. “That, that thing in there needs to be put down, not hospitalized!”
Steve smoothed his moustache with a free hand. “I’m not arguing with that. Shit, if I could get away with it I’d walk in there and off him myself. But this is only temporary. He’s going upstate, to Linwood. But we’ve had protesters along the route, grandparents swearing vengeance, media vultures hovering overhead. We just needed somewhere to stash him for the night and get the route clear. He doesn’t get the luxury of being lynched. He’s going into general population at Linwood. Hopefully, a bigger animal will kill him slowly and save us some tax dollars.”
I took a couple of deep breaths, trying to calm myself. “How long ‘til he’s gone?”
“Tomorrow morning,” Steve said. “Seven sharp. I’ll call you from the hotel when I’m heading this way.”
I looked at the monitor showing Corso’s room. He just sat there, staring ahead. I turned back to Steve.
“Make sure you are,” I said. “I don’t want him here any longer than he has to be.”
An hour passed and Corso hadn’t moved at all.
I walked the hall, holding my notepad and filling out the nightly log. As I passed Davey’s cell, he approached his window, miming me, holding an imaginary notepad of his own. I smiled and nodded, knowing it didn’t mean anything to him right then.
I turned to the opposite side, and looked in on George. He was showering, his bathroom curtain closed and steam rising to the ceiling. I was about to go on my way, until I noticed the shadows.
There were two shadows behind the curtain. One was obviously George, who had managed to keep his belly even after years of confinement. The other was a much larger man standing behind him.
I immediately pounded on the window as I got my keys out with my other hand. By the time I turned my key and punched in my code, George had opened the curtain. He stood there staring at me, wrapped in a towel and dripping onto the floor.
“Deputy Hayford?” he asked, color rising in his cheeks. “What is going on?”
I swung the door open hard enough for it to thump against the wall. My hand was on the butt of my pistol, ready.
“Where is he?” I asked, trying to remain calm. “There was someone else in here, where is he?”
He shook his head. “There’s no one else here,” he said. “I’ve been told I’m crazy, but I’m not blind.”
I walked around her and pulled the curtain all the way back, bunching it up against the wall.
It didn’t make any sense. I knew what I had seen.
George must’ve noticed my expression. “Don’t worry, Deputy. Hallucinations happen to the best of us,” he said.
I averted my eyes from him. “No, I guess it was my mistake, I thought…well, I don’t know what I thought. I’ll get out of here, and let you get back to what you were doing.”
I could feel him watching me as I left in a daze.
As I walked back to my office, I passed Corso’s room.
He was staring at me, his brow furrowed in anger, but his mouth showed a wide smile. He got up from his bed, and hurriedly walked to the window, where he stood, looking me in the eyes.
“You interrupted my fun,” he said. His voice sounded like his throat was full of gravel. “Can’t a person have a little ‘me-time’ without having an armed guard pounding on the door?”
What he was insinuating was absurd. That he was somehow able to…I don’t know.
“Get away from the window,” I said, as calmly as I could.
Corso smiled wider, and headbutted the glass. It shook in its frame, and a red welt immediately appeared on his forehead.
I pointed my finger at his face. “Stop. Stop it now, or you’ll be cuffed again.”
He slammed his head forward again. Blood splashed across the glass.
“I can do this all day,” Corso said, looking past me, and over my shoulder. “But I don’t know how much he can take.”
I turned to see Davey standing there at his own window, blood pouring down his face. He rammed the glass once more before I could stop him.
“Davey, no!” I screamed. But he was in a state, and paid no attention to me. I ran to his door, fumbling for my keys.
Corso struck the glass again, and Davey echoed the movement.
The pin pad shook as I slammed down on the buttons.
Their heads collided with the glass once more in unison.
I threw the door open just as Davey collapsed. His head struck the floor with a sickening thud, and I slid the last few feet on my knees. With a quick pull on his shirt I turned him on his side so he wouldn’t choke on his blood. He began to convulse.
As I tried in vain to keep him steady, I grabbed my radio and thumbed the button.
“This is Deputy Carl Hayford, C-Block! I need emergency medical personnel down here, now!”
A singsong voice came through the speaker.
“Little baby in the dark house,
You have seen the sun rise.
Why are you crying?
Why are you screaming?
You have disturbed the house god.”
Davey was still. His last breath was a blood bubble on his lips that slowly shrunk back into his mouth.
I stood, then looked through the glass at Corso.
I could barely make out his features through the blood. His smile disappeared, and he slammed his face against the glass, smashing it like putty. There was an audible crunch as his nose broke, and fresh blood spattered across the glass as he screamed.
“Who has disturbed me?!”
The lights went out in his room and he was gone within the dark.
I drew my pistol and stepped across the hallway, aiming at Corso’s window.
Nearby, George spoke from behind his door. “Don’t, Carl. He wants you to enter, he wants to trap you. You’re prey.”
My eyes didn’t move from the window. “Go away from the door, George. Get towards the back of your room. It’ll be safer there.”
“Carl, listen,” George said. “Don’t let him talk to you! If you see him, shoot. Don’t hesitate.”
As I approached Corso’s door, it opened on its own. My hands shook as I slowly stepped into the shadows.
And then I was in my house. Not the apartment I’d been living in for the past few years, but the house I had shared with my family. Bright sunlight streamed through the windows over the kitchen sink, and everything smelled just as it always had. Fresh flowers. Jaclyn always loved fresh flowers.
I could hear her in the bedroom, our bedroom, crying. Then I realized what day this was.
“It was the day that she left you,” Corso said. He was sitting on my old couch, blood still running from his face. I wheeled towards him and released the pistol’s safety.
“It’s so sad,” he continued. “Losing a child so young.”
“Don’t,” I said. “Just shut the fuck up.”
He grabbed one of our throw pillows and used it to wipe his face, leaving a half-clotted mess on the fabric. “You know she left because of you right? Losing the baby was one thing, but you could’ve had more. But she couldn’t live with you. She couldn’t deal with your grief. It was stifling. She was choking on your depression, like a throatful of black tar.”
“Get up!” I screamed. “Stand up! We’re–”
I didn’t know what to say. What could I do? I didn’t even know what was real.
Corso picked up a picture frame from the end table, looked at it, then put it back down. “How did it feel, Carl? Watching her slip away? You wouldn’t even hold her after the funeral, all wrapped up in your grief. That’s when she knew. The next year was sticking around out of obligation, out of fear. Fear of what you would do to yourself.”
I began to cry. Crying like I hadn’t in years.
“Why are you crying? Making noises like a drunkard who cannot sit still on his stool. You know what to do, Carl.”
I raised the pistol.
“Little baby in the dark house,” he sang.
Placed the barrel in my mouth.
“You have seen the sun rise.”
My finger was tight on the trigger.
I looked to the window, to look at the sunlight, to look out at the yard. What had the view been from that window? Was it the garden? I couldn’t remember.
I couldn’t remember, so there was nothing outside of the window.
I couldn’t remember, so Corso couldn’t know what to project there.
As soon as I pulled the pistol from my mouth, he was on me, throwing me to the ground.
I rolled through the threshold, and then we were grappling on the floor, each of us trying to keep a grip on the pistol.
“Give it to me!” he screamed. “You miserable piece of shit!”
Corso swiftly brought his knee up into my groin. Pain bloomed like fire, and I was immediately sick to my stomach. He dropped like a stone, pushing his elbow into my throat until blackness crept into the edges of my vision.
Suddenly I could breathe, and his weight was off of me.
I turned to my side, retching and gasping.
And there was George.
He had pushed him off of me, and had managed to get his thin, hospital-issued bath towel around Corso’s neck. I flailed blindly for my pistol.
Corso reached behind him, grabbing, and pulled him down by the arm.
“I’m going to fucking kill you,” he hissed. “I’m going to tear at you with my teeth. I am the house god. I–” his hiss turned to a scream as George shoved his thumb into Corso’s eye, his thumbnail popping it like a grape.
Relief washed over me as I grabbed the pistol, and quickly aimed at Corso.
He reared back and away from George, his hands going up to his ruined eye.
I fired, over and over again, the shots deafening in the corridor. Corso looked down at his wounds, then at me.
He smiled, slumped against the wall, and died.
Every breath was fire, and my balls ached terribly. I looked at George, standing tall and now completely naked, his body spattered with blood. I tried to form words as he grabbed his towel and covered himself once more.
“How,” I croaked. “How did you–”
“Get out?” he asked.
“After you barged in, you left the door unlocked.”
I laughed, and it hurt, but I laughed anyway.
“He thought you were prey,” he said.
I nodded. “I was,” I said. “I was just lucky enough to leave the tiger’s cage unlocked.”
George smiled. “It felt nice to hunt,” he said.
The medics showed up a couple of minutes later, and within half an hour Steve showed up, bleary-eyed and half-asleep. I gave my statement, at least the parts that didn’t make me look like I belonged in one of C-Block’s cells.
I can’t explain what exactly happened, or how Corso could do the things he did. Did he really convince those people to murder each other, or did he force them like he tried to force me to eat a bullet from my gun?
I don’t know, just like I don’t know why I’m writing this out. Two nights ago I woke up in a sweaty tangle of sheets, singing Corso’s little song. It happened again last night, and here I am putting all of this on paper and I’m not sure if it was my idea.
I think I have to because I tried to stop and couldn’t. Something wants me to write this, wants to see its name on the page, its lullaby spelled out for everyone to read.
This whole time I’ve been fascinated and afraid of Corso, but I don’t think that’s who I should’ve worried about.
I’ve disturbed the House God, and Lord help me, I don’t know what to do now.
🎧 Available Audio Adaptations: None AvailableRyan Harville Edited by Craig Groshek Thumbnail Art by Craig Groshek Narrated by N/A