Charles C Cole
At the time of these events, I lived in the same small Vermont town as the famous author of supernatural stories, William LeRoy. To the locals, he was a favored son. When he shopped, people nodded politely, but they did not confront him or beg for selfies or follow him around. We were respectful and appreciative. Though LeRoy hadn’t struggled alongside us in the paper mill or the tannery, he’d earned his reputation through decades of steady climbing and honest work.
So it shocked me to the core when some crazed stalker from out of state, Ervin Bailey, broke into his mansion, bashed his head in with an award from the mantel (while Leroy sat in his den at his writing desk), then cut off his hands and took them like some kind of trophy.
On his way out, the killer celebrated prematurely by indulging in a generous sampling of alcohol from LeRoy’s private bar. We live in “the sticks,” where even the main routes are narrow and winding. Bailey missed a turn and went off the road, never making it out of the county. The killer lived just long enough to brag to the EMT.
Only thing was, LeRoy’s hands weren’t in the bloody car, nor were they found at the scene of the murder. The cops brought tracking dogs. A bunch of us volunteered to search the nearby woods, shoulder to shoulder, along the edge of the state highway. A psychic was consulted. Nothing. Some seriously considered the involvement of an accomplice from within the community, which was too oulandish to give credence.
To make an extra buck, I met an estate lawyer at the home of the deceased. My job was to take pictures and catalogue anything of value. Oliver Bray, my cousin-in-law, had two cell phones, one for work and one for home. Oliver was expecting his first baby any day. There were two incoming text messages per phone before we got ten feet away from his fancy SUV.
After the last message, Ollie laughed and said, “Duty calls,” tossing me the keys. “I trust you. Don’t let me down.”
As soon as I opened the front door, I heard typing coming from the den. My first thought was another crazed fan had made a posthemorrhagic pilgrimage to our sleepy hollow, maybe initially to pay tribute, but had felt compelled to sit at the legend’s desk and write with the legend’s Smith Corona. I thought of calling the county sheriff, but decided LeRoy didn’t need his name associated with more sensational journalism.
I grabbed a Castleton University umbrella from a coat tree in the foyer and pretended to be brave. “You had better leave now,” I said. “I’m calling the police.”
If they heard me, they were not deterred. As I neared, there was a profound pause, and Jed Perham, the soon-to-retire manager of Lakefront Pharmacy, stepped into the hall, closing the door behind him.
“Hunter Kohl,” I said. “Ken and Lena’s boy.”
“How can I help you?” he asked, though I could see guilt all over his face.
“I’m here for Oliver Bray. With a key. How’d you get inside?”
“Mr. LeRoy had some unfinished business. I’m making sure it gets done.”
“Mr. Perham, you know you’re trespassing, right? I don’t know how you got in, but if you leave now, I promise it’ll stay our secret.”
The typing resumed. Perham sighed. “We’re so close. Maybe you can do what you need to in the rest of the house and come back to this room later.”
“Who’s in there? You’re not, by chance, giving tours? Because that would be ungracious. I’ve seen the picture by your cash register of you buying Mr. LeRoy’s first book. Don’t disrespect him now.” I stepped forward, but Perham wasn’t budging.
“Please,” he asked. “It’s the least I can do. You don’t want to go in there.”
“If you let me take the pictures I need to,” I said, “then Ollie can be assured nothing was taken. I don’t want him to blame me if anything goes missing.”
“Let me explain. After the murder and the car accident, I found the hands.”
“And said nothing?”
“When LeRoy had the scent of a story, sometimes he wouldn’t stop for days, not even to sleep. His conscious mind took a back seat to his muse; it was superhuman.”
“Where are they? I’m sure the police would be grateful. Please don’t tell me you already sold them on the Internet.”
“It’s not like that!” said Perham. “I helped. They were obviously trying to get back. I put them in my trunk and brought them here.”
“And did what with them? Are they in the fridge?”
“They’re in the den.”
“With his awards? Are you posing them for creepy pictures?”
“I replace the blank paper so the process can continue. I’m assisting.”
The typing was loud and distracting. I pushed him aside and opened the door.
The heavy curtains were closed and a single candle burned, so most of the illumination came from behind me, from the front hall. But I could see enough. There before me: the severed hands of the late author William LeRoy were furiously typing!
Feeling nauseous and lightheaded, I quickly closed the door. The typing continued unabated.
“It’s what he would have wanted,” said Perham, comforting me with a pat to my shoulder.
“I’m going to go,” I said, suddenly very tired. “I’ll tell Ollie I was overcome with emotion. Touch nothing else. Promise me. And when they’re done, we are not starting a second novel. This is it! Put them back along the highway somewhere, to be found.”
Perham nodded. When I came back the next day, a rough draft of the novel was stacked neatly. A dogwalker spotted LeRoy’s lifeless hands, apparently discarded along the edge of his property.
I later bumped into Perham at the post office. “Thank you,” he said. “He couldn’t leave it unfinished, you understand. Now he can rest.”