Death in the Alley

Death+in+the+Alley

Kai Basseches, Staff Writer

Uncle Fred was in jail. We all thought he was a good guy, but things changed after the police knocked on our door on Christmas. I ran to the door, in anticipation of my delivery of premium meat crackers – one of my favorite presents.

“Good morning,” said the woman in front. There were two other officers behind her. “Is Fredrick Watson here?”

“Yes,” I said, disappointed that standing in front of me was not boxes of crackers.

“Please bring him to the door,” she said to me. 

I ran inside to Uncle Fred, unrolled on the couch. He was watching some nonsense show. His favorite shows usually involved exploding helicopters in some form.

“The police are here, Uncle. They want to see you.” Fred is short and chubby, like our Christmas tree this year. I also like to compare him to an elf. Between him and the tree, a sizable portion of the living room was taken up. 

“Alright, sonny, I’ll be right there.” He stayed glued to the screen for another few seconds until a series of explosions ended. Then he got up and stumbled to the door.

“You are under arrest for first-degree murder,” the officer in front said to Fred. I looked over at him. My uncle looked a little off and a crazed expression was on his face.

“Come on,” he said to the policewoman. “My show was just getting good!” 

“Give me your hands, please,” she said sternly. Fred obliged. She put him in handcuffs and the next time we saw Fred, he was behind bars.

 

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At the dinner table the same day, after visiting Fred, my family is talking like a legion of weed whackers. I think of my older brother. If he was here, this dinner would be much more entertaining. This would be a prime time to conspire about a prank on the family or to even pull one off. Since the holidays five years ago, things have become much duller.

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In our town, Polenta, an enduring tradition is the Christmas parade. A fleet of saint balloons and carriages disguised as sleighs go down Main Street every year on December 26. Almost the whole town goes. 

In 2016, my brother and I were sitting on a bench watching the parade go by with our Aunt Kelly’s supervision. Uncle Fred was there, but he had gone off to buy something at the store. I don’t think he is very interested in parades. My brother suddenly stood up and ran into the crowd.

My aunt didn’t notice, being glued to her phone. 

“Lucas!” I called into the crowd. There was no response. “Aunt, can I buy something at the bookstore?” I said to her as an excuse to follow him.

“Sure,” she said semi-consciously. She wasn’t paying attention. 

I plunged into the crowd to find my brother. I jumped to see over the tops of heads, but I couldn’t find him. I followed the division in the crowd, assuming Lucas and his prey had bisected the crowd in this way. When the density of people decreased and I could look far ahead, I still didn’t see him. He must have been going fast. Where there were practically no people, and I was breathing heavily, I heard a scream coming from Salmon Street. I turned and saw movement behind the corner. I was terrified, but I ran at full speed to the street. I ignored common sense telling me to turn and run back and get help. But I knew by then it might be too late.

“Help!”

This was coming from down the road, behind another corner, about 40 feet away. It was definitely Lucas’s voice. I stopped running and walked silently to the corner. I leaned against the brick wall and listened. I could hear breathing. I leaned my ear out. There were two breaths I could hear: one was fast and loud, another was deep and calm. Lucas and someone else. 

“Aaaaah!”

I pushed my eyes shut at Lucas’s shrill scream. I had to get help. If someone was attacking Lucas, I couldn’t do anything myself. I speed-walked to Main Street, and once I was on its sidewalk, I ran as fast I could. I ran for about a minute, but each step felt like a minute of agony. On every step, Lucas screamed twice as loud in my head.

When I got to a policeman, I was being deafened by screams. “Come with me!” I spluttered. “My brother was shouting ‘Help!’ He’s in danger!” 

The policeman looked at me suspiciously, but he followed. We ran to Salmon Street. There were no cars or people except me or the policeman. The echoes of the parade were as distant as ghosts.

We treaded more slowly and silently as we neared the corner. I leaned against the brick wall and pointed around the corner. The officer jumped around the corner with his gun in front of him. What was he seeing? The wall blocked my view, and his expression betrayed no emotional reaction. I didn’t dare move to see what was happening. 

“There’s nothing here, kid,” he said. “Are you sure you—” He stopped as he turned towards me. I could feel his terror as he focused on the wall directly around the corner. I jumped closer to him so I could see the Ledge Road side of the wall. 

Running down the wall was a sizable bloodstain. It turned the old pale bricks deep red. 

I ran back to the parade to get my aunt and uncle, never so scared in my life. I went significantly slower this time; I was completely fatigued and emotionally drained. I stumbled through the crowd, deflecting irritated glances, getting to my aunt and uncle just before I blacked out. 

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Sitting at the dinner table, I realize something about my uncle’s expression before I blacked out: it was the same as the one he wore this morning when he was arrested. I’m not sure what he was arrested for. No one told me anything. But, now, it seems obvious to me what is really going on.

 

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Even after Lucas went missing, we still attend the parade every year. I ask Aunt Kelly if I could buy something at the store. She is glued to her phone like always. I bet she doesn’t even remember when I had the same excuse in 2016.

“Uh, ok,” she says absentmindedly. 

I abscond down Main Street through the bundle of people. The crowd is small this year, so I don’t have to do any pushing. I turn the corner to Salmon Street through the puddles from yesterday’s rain, flanked by small stores where there are no people. I see the sign that says “Ledge Road” where Salmon Street ends and I turn the corner. The blood has been washed from the wall; the last organic trace we have of Lucas. I stop for a second to catch my breath. I look down the road. There is a brick wall for the length of the road on one side, and on the other, there is a long high white fence. The road is very straight; you can see all the way down it until it gets to the pond, fence and wall framing it. The street runs until it reaches the pond, dropping off into the water. 

The only place Lucas could have been taken was down this street. He wouldn’t have gone down Salmon Street back towards Main Street; it would have taken him, in his injured condition, too long to get to Main Street and across to the next road before I or the officer or someone else saw him. His only option was into the pond. 

I run to the water’s edge and hastily take off my shoes and socks. I realize I am crying. When I dive into the pond, my tears mix with the saltwater and my torment dissolves. I swim into the depths, looking into the sand for any sign of hope. I no longer feel any emotion from desiderium; I feel nothing as I go deeper into the range of brown sludge and large rocks. I am running out of breath. I propel myself to the surface and think about what I am doing. They already did a mediocre investigation of Lucas’s disappearance and had looked thoroughly in the water. There were no signs of him anywhere. But there is one place I am sure they didn’t look.

I take a few short puffs, then a deep one, and plunge back into the water. Out of the uniform green of the pond, a black circle materializes. As I get closer, it appears as a pipe on the side of the pond. We used to play in this pond when we were little, but we were always afraid to go near the pipe. I’m not afraid now. I float into the dark portal. The pipe is large enough for someone to swim comfortably in without brushing the grimy walls. 

It engulfs me and I swim deeper. Lucas and I used to have breath-holding contests, so I can easily hold my breath for 30 seconds underwater.

It gets darker and darker as I go deeper. My heart starts to beat faster. I don’t look back. I swim. I think about Uncle Fred. It wasn’t Fred. He wasn’t wet when I blacked out. Not even slightly moist. And even if he was wearing the same face, I’m sure it was a coincidence; he just has limited facial vocabulary. And I know he wouldn’t do it; he’s a good man. I hope they acquit him.

I hit something in the pipe. I reach my hand out and it touches something soft. My eyes try to focus in the water, and slowly the figure develops. I can see that the form is roughly humanoid. The next step – now I am sure it is a human – the shape of the head and neck and arms and legs are all clearly visible, shining in the black pipe. After a few seconds, I can finally make out the details: gross and slimy with bones peaking through and filth smudging the features.

Lucas lays in front of me in a decayed aquatic clutter. I feel a vacuum clenching my throat and lungs. I have mental vertigo.

Looking up slowly, afraid to look at my eroding brother any longer, I set my eyes on a glimmering figure further down the pipe. It is harder to make out, but the placement of the highlights clues me that it is another human. This one is taller than my brother. Beside it lies a transparent plastic object. I realize it is a snorkel.

It’s too much on my lungs. I know I won’t be able to reach the surface; it’s too far away by now, and I can feel myself collapsing. I don’t want to leave Lucas; I have finally found him. I feel effervescence around me, spreading through my body with calm sleep, until I don’t feel anything.