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Cabbages and Kings
She was an athletic ash blond with creamy olive skin. Tall and lanky, he wore wire rims and an oversized coat. They sat on "their" bench in Harristown Park, talking of cabbages and kings--and the recent rash of murders near campus. The "Barrel Killer" targeted young women alone, bludgeoned their skulls with what appeared to be a crowbar, and stuffed them in the nearest trash receptacle. He had claimed three victims to date.
"How does he do it?" said Sheila. She stuffed her hands in her jeans pockets. The afternoon was growing chilly but she did not want to leave just yet. This was a new relationship and required special handling.
"Abandonment issues, vagina-envy, sexual confusion." Lionel's explanations were usually Oedipal. He was a psych major, she was studying sociology. They met at a Kid Rock concert on the quad. He watched Scarface every weekend, she loved The Godfather. He liked Rocky's steak burgers, she splurged on Buddy's broiler melts. They thought they might be made for each other.
Lionel was up to her challenge. "Hmm. Well, they're already dead when he puts them into the barrel, or so they're telling us, so he's not asking them to climb in and then--bonk!" He held an imaginary crowbar and smashed it down on a nearby rock. "It's not like you can go up to a girl and say, 'Would you please step into this fifty-five gallon drum?' Especially not now." Sheila thought this one was cute, in a goofy sort of way. She didn't care what her dorm mates said about him.
"They're all petite, aren't they?" Sheila asked. "All the victims have been small." She was below average size herself, although muscular from a routine of jogging and weightlifting. Lionel, too, followed a strict regimen that he kept to himself.
"Kimmi wasn't small," she went on. Kimmi Davis, the last victim, lived in the dorm across from Sheila's.
"Short but heavy," Lionel agreed.
"A good 135 pounds," said Sheila. She was acutely aware of her own size and could peg the weight of another female to within a few pounds.
Lionel had found a trash barrel and was mentally calculating its capacity for holding a small human.
"What are you doing?" Sheila got up and walked over as he peered into it. It was empty except for a fresh plastic liner.
"This one's pretty clean. Get in."
"What?" said Sheila.
"You asked how he does it," he said. "Let's see."
"OK," said Sheila, climbing into the drum. The top came to her waist. "Does it fit?" she laughed. "Oh, I can't sit down. And I'm dead weight, remember?"
"That's right," Lionel said. "Okay, out." She held onto his arm and complied. "Lie down on the ground. You're limp--no rigor yet--but still hard to move." News reports had not revealed if the murderer killed his victim after she was in the trash can, next to it, or dragged her to it and dumped her in.
Sheila obediently lay on the ground and stuck her tongue out. She found herself shaking. This was their first physical contact, and she wondered if Lionel was as nervous as she was. But he scooped her up easily under knees and arms, bridal style, and set her gently inside the barrel. Everything stuck out but her rear end.
"You're not folding properly," he said as he helped her out. He pointed to the ground and Sheila played corpse again.
"Pull your knees to your chest," he ordered.
Sheila didn't move. His partner was not cooperating. "Sheila, come on!"
"I'm a corpse, remember?" she said. "I shouldn't even be talking."
"All right, all right." He knelt next to her and lifted her back with one hand and thrust her knees to her chest with the other.
"Ow!" she yelled. "Easy on the boobs!"
"I thought you were a corpse," he said.
"Very funny," she said. "Just watch it." Sheila's ample chest had come to Lionel's attention before.
He tried again but couldn't keep her knees pressed against her sternum and simultaneously lift her. Then he wrapped her arms around her knees, but all her limbs came loose before he hoisted her a foot off the ground. He got the same result tucking her feet under her knees, bending her over and lifting. Her arms would still be a problem, anyway.
"Itís no good," he said, shaking his head.
"Are you sure he doesn't have an accomplice?" Sheila asked. Some corpse she would make. On the last try she secretly held her arms in place.
"Not according to the news," he said. Then, "You could almost sit down, couldn't you? A minute ago? Let's try that again." He had an idea for arranging her limbs once she was inside.
"What happens when the victim is bigger?" his partner said. She was thinking of Laci Peterson, nine months pregnant when her husband stuffed her into a drum. "Or what if he does somehow get them into the barrel before he kills them?" She was warming up to the subject, impressed by Lionel's passion for it. "But how do you get someone to do that?"
"Tell her you're doing an experiment," he said.
At lunch hour today in a shady corner of University Park, a young man in wire rims and an oversized coat is romancing an office worker from the statehouse. It is their second date, there on the bench where they first met, and they are still discovering many things about each other--she works in the law library, he's a file clerk. She adores Reba, he likes Faith Hill. Her favorite movie is Grand Hotel, his is Dinner at Eight. She tells him her specialty is meatless spaghetti and offers to cook it for him sometime; he makes a mean tortellini, he says. Eventually, he will turn their conversation to the rash of killings--there has been a fourth victim, a sociology major--in nearby Harristown. And eventually, she will play a macabre game with him because there is something different about this one--something special, in a goofy sort of way. She thinks they might be made for each other.
(c) Flo Stanton 2011
In the horror anthology Traps (DarkHart Press) my story "Ephesia" shares space with tales by Stoker, World Fantasy, and Horror Guild winners. (The entire anthology received enthusiastic kudos from Ellen Datlow.) Another crime story with a tinge of horror appeared in the recent Tales of a Woman Scorned (House of Horror). One of my mysteries is featured in the anthology Studies in Scarlet; other stories, poems, and artwork have appeared in Whispers of Wickedness, Static Movement, Yellow Mama, Black Petals, and the website of Futures Mystery Anthology Magazine. Book reviews, literary articles and true crime pieces have appeared in The Indianapolis Star, Castle Rock, Literally, True Police, and others.
I don't need to go far from home to find life-altering horror. My husband John, a local artist and writer, and I became witnesses in a murder trial simply by taking a walk on a golf course, and our next-door neighbor shot his wife dead before killing himself mere feet from our bedroom window. Nevertheless, together we stalk abandoned warehouses, factories, graveyards, and other haunted sites where we find bizarre inspiration for our photographic, audio, and literary creations.