Excerpt “Grimm Woods” by D. Melhoff
July 7th, 5:44 a.m.
One hacksaw. One hammer, six boxes of nails. Twelve Mason jars, four hunting knives, two pairs of handcuffs. Fifteen gallons of gasoline divided evenly among three dented jerry cans.
A work glove hovered over the table where the objects were laid out side by side and began ticking the air as though marking off an invisible checklist. The chamber reeked of mildew, and the walls had no windows or electrical sockets—no lamps, no wires, no switch covers. A single red candle provided the only light, its crimson wax dripping down its shaft like blood.
The hand picked up a piece of paper from the table and slipped it into a blank envelope. Below, a beetle scuttled across the floorboards. The insect—its gangly antennae tuned to some foul frequency in the gloom—raced past the sole of a giant boot just as a drop of liquid fell through the air and struck it dead center, engulfing its body in a hot, gelatinous blob that filled its orifices and burned it from the inside out. Another droplet tumbled from the candle, plopping onto the envelope this time, and then a brass stamp came down and pressed the wax into a hardened seal.
Drawing in heavier, raspier breaths, the figure held the envelope up to a corkboard that was bolted to the wall. More than a dozen pictures of young men and women were tacked to the panel by their throats and foreheads, smiling in the shadows.
The figure pinned the envelope to the board and stepped back to take in the room again.
The table and the switchblade.
The book of matches.
The iron rods, the hatchet, the .22 Smith & Wesson.
The smiling faces.
Now, the figure mused, watching the photographs flicker in the bloodred light. Who’s the nicest, who’s the worst, who wants to hear a story first?