July 22nd: At two a.m. the home security system at 319 Dallas Street went mad; the shrill beeps of the smoke detector, the piercing wail of the burglar alarm and flat chirp of the carbon dioxide alert rising up at once in a mad chorus. The noise sent Bobby Dooley tumbling out of bed, his head aching and his heart trying to tear its way from his chest. Not a good way for a man his age and weight to be awoken. He blundered around in the dark, trying to find the wall pad that would disable the noise but just as he got his bearings in the darkened room the television blared to life. Blinded, he miss-stepped and cracked his toe on the corner of his dresser. The sound of his agonized cursing set the dog barking downstairs.
And that was a real problem because Bobby Dooley didn't have a dog.
He grabbed the phone with one hand and a golf club with the other. When he dialed 911 he got a message that the number was not in service. The barking was getting louder. Long-nailed paws clicked on the stairs. How was there a dog in the house? Had one of the doors been left open and some stray wandered inside? Had some pet-loving thug decided to bring Rover along while doing a home invasion?
The barks dwindled to a long, ugly growl. A low canine shadow stretched across the floor. Bobby dropped the phone and gripped the five iron with both hands. The dog entered the room.
The animal was like something out of a veterinarian’s nightmare. Long-bodied but short-legged with eyes the color of milk and teeth the color of rotten wood. It had no fur, just leprous, exposed skin that crawled with bloated parasites. When it saw Bobby its growl took on a leering quality. Its tail began to wag and with each wag it sprayed rivulets of shit along the walls. The ID tag on its collar was large and instead of a name it had an engraving of a cruel-looking owl.
I can't be sure but I like to imagine Bobby thought something along the lines of No Fucking Way before he brought the golf club down hard onto the dog, splitting it's skull with a sound that reminded him of an overfull garbage bag splitting open.
Once he was sure the animal was dead Bobby ran past it and headed for the stairs. Whatever was happening around here he'd feel safer dealing with it from a distance. All his family pictures had been turned upside down. Now he was panicked and sad, this was a five bedroom house but he lived here alone. The Marines had taught Bobby Dooley that respect was more important than love but his wife and children never quite understood the lesson.
Things were even louder on the first floor, the blender was running, the microwave was beeping, the dishwasher door was open and water was gurgling out. He grabbed his car keys and turned to go but then he saw the TV was on in the parlor. The sight of it stopped Bobby in his tracks because somehow his copy of the Kim Kardashian sex tape was playing but impossibly at the same time so was the Barney the Dinosaur DVD he kept on hand for when his grandkids came to visit. Old Barney was really giving it to Kim, thrust after joyful purple-hued thrust.
A growl startled Bobby. The dog came bounding down the stairs, brains and loose teeth spilling from its head. Bobby screamed and ran, slamming the door closed behind him. His heart was pounding in his chest, his vision was marked with white dots.
Bobby got into his sports car. The dog came crashing through the front window of the house. (Just like I would weeks later.) Bobby gunned the engine and screeched out of his driveway.
The dog gave chase but quickly began to lag behind.
The neighborhood of Tate’s Corners was quiet and dark, Bobby hoped someone would see him and do something but everyone was probably in bed. He glanced into his rear-view mirror to see that he had lost his pursuer.
He must have wondered if he was going crazy, he had to think that the strain of the Homeowner’s Association, the constant arguments and court orders, had driven him mad. He’d let dealing with Tom Palmer consume his time and money, was his sanity next? He decided to keep driving until he got to his ex-wife’s house. What would he say then? He didn’t know.
The sports car turned onto the ramp that led to the overpass that connected with the Northway. The hammering in his chest started to fade.
That was when the dog in the back seat started barking. Bobby Dooley swerved in panic and went right off the side of the overpass.
You might dismiss the fact that a trailer towing a heavy duty construction shredder had stalled out directly below the overpass as mere coincidence. You might even suggest the way the shredder turned itself on at the moment Bobby Dooley’s sports car landed in it as a mechanical failure. But how dear reader, how would you explain the dog collar the police found mixed in with the tatters of metal and flesh?
I know what you're thinking. You're thinking Foster how could you know all that? What you just read was a combination of witness interviews, traffic camera images, police and accident reports, footage stolen from Bobby Dooley's own security system and in, some cases, complete and utter bullshit.
The thing is Bobby Dooley's death wasn't the only one in Tate’s Corners, there had been all kinds of crazy deaths, all accidents, all gruesome and in every case a dog collar was found near the body. A dog collar with an owl engraved on it. There was one more coincidence tying all these deaths together, all the victims had been members of the local Homeowners Association.
How could I resist a story like that?
It didn't take much digging for me to find out that the five fatalities of Tate Corners had all come into conflict with one man; Tom Palmer. More research led to some even more troubling conclusions, apparently Mr. Palmer had been seen in the company of one Ashley Fowler, she of the red hair and men's suits. I only know Ms. Fowler by reputation, and the reputation is that she's beautiful, rich and she thinks she's the Devil.
Around 7:30 at night I was sitting in my car about a block from the Palmer residence; I was eating a kind of trail mix that had far too much candy in it to pass for healthy, and waiting for my cousin Roy to show up. I know getting him involved breaks my number one rule of preternatural investigation but he asks all the damn time and truthfully I still feel guilty about punching him in the mouth. Yes, it was years ago and yes he had tried to kiss me but that's no excuse.
So, anyway I sent Cousin Roy to Hobby Lobby to pick up some insurance for tonight but he was either taking his time or my debit card was maxed out.
It was around about the time I was debating wasting gas and battery power so I could listen to the radio when a knock at the window startled me.
Tom Palmer was there, dressed in sweats and smiling pleasantly. He wore glasses and his hair was pulled back into an anemic looking ponytail. “Mr. Foster?” he said through the window, “I think we should talk.”
Sheepishly I got out of my car and followed him. What else could I do?
His house was a generic two story job with a big picture window in the front; the colors were tasteful and subdued, the landscaping was meticulous. It was the kind of place I was sure I would ever be able to afford. As he opened the door to lead me inside I saw he had something in his right hand. It was an empty dog collar.
“Did your pooch get away?” I asked.
He smiled thinly, “Please do come in.”
The inside of his house was as tasteful as the outside. Tom Palmer had no wife or kids, which meant the place was quiet. That also meant no witnesses if things got out of hand. He gave me a full tour of the place showing me every room and every toy he had. Then he brought me into his study; it had lots of books, a kick-ass sound system and autographed pictures of celebrities hanging on every wall. He threw the collar aside and sat down behind his wide oak desk. He gestured for me to sit down in the comfortable looking seat in front of it. We looked at each other for a moment, then I started talking, “I guess you know I'm something of a freelance reporter.”
“I know what you are,” he replied.
“I am working on an article about the pros and cons of Homeowners Associations,” I explained “and yours has been in the news a lot these days...”
“Those incidents have been blown out of proportion by a scandal hungry media,” he said.
“Are you saying you didn't fine Bobby Dooley multiple times for having a Marine Corps sticker on his car?”
He bristled, “That wasn't an ordinary sticker. It took up the entire rear window and as per the HOA bylaws it constituted an advertisement.”
I shrugged, “That seems kind of nitpicky.”
“What’s the point of rules if they’re not enforced?”
“Then of course there was the incident with Amanda Ward...”
“Her lawn statuary was in violation of the bylaws,” he threw up his hands, “I don’t see what’s so difficult to understand about this.”
I replied, “According to her she was singled out because her statuary was of a religious nature.”
“She ‘had’ a martyr complex,” Tom Palmer seemed to enjoy putting a particular emphasis on the word had. They were still trying to find out how she got caught in the gears of the pin reset machine of the Palladium Bowling Center.
“You couldn’t have been happy that she and Bobby Dooley were trying to unseat you from your position as leader of the HOA.”
“I would have abided by the vote of the committee, but it didn’t come to that did it?” He smirked.
I smirked back, “There are... Or should I say were, people that accused you of pushing an agenda.”
“My only interest is in making Tate’s Corners a thriving progressive community.”
“I thought the only thing Homeowners Associations were for was keeping the property values up.”
“I think the two go hand in hand and I am of the belief that glorifying post-modern Dominionist attitudes and the military industrial complex encourage attitudes and behaviors that attract the wrong elements. Even a lowly homeowner’s association can be a platform for change.” He stood up and crossed the room. There was a tall oak armoire against the left wall, “But enough chit chat, lets talk about you Mr. Foster. Let’s talk about your future.”
“According to my High School guidance councilor I don’t have much of one.”
He opened the doors of the armoire to reveal a little altar the centerpiece of which was a bronze statue of a cruel looking owl. “This,” he began, “is Mormo.”
“OK,” I got to my feet, already making calculations about my chances to make a run for the door, “I guess that answers some suspicions of mine.”
“And we shall carry Mormo our king,” he picked a dagger up off the altar, cut his palms and let the blood drip, “scorned by Solomon, bringer of the fortune and wisdom. Sacred Molech. Amen. Amen. Amen.”
“Why...” I paused, letting all this sink in, “Why are you doing all this for control of a local Homeowners Association?”
“If I change the reactionary attitudes of a single neighborhood I might in turn change the world,” he held up his bloodied hands, “Mormo is a means to and end for me. A means for a better, more progressive community.”
“Aren’t you worried about Hell?” Crimson wetness was beading up on the carpet, “Damnation?”
“I don’t believe in all that claptrap,” he said, “I’m an atheist.”
“Then how can you reconcile any of this with your beliefs?”
“Mormo is just another kind of life form, an alien intellect communicating and influencing humanity from afar,” Tom Palmer smiled, “he’s not some devil out of a children’s story.”
Now I was almost feeling sorry for him, “How can you be sure?”
“Because Mormo told me so.”
Suddenly I didn’t feel sorry for him anymore.
“Do you believe in anything Mr. Foster?” He said, “Are you willing to forgo the joys of the here and now on the off chance there might be an afterlife?”
All I could do was shrug, “I’m not sure what I believe these days.”
“Ever since I learned you were poking around I did some investigations of my own.”
“The vorvolaka has marked you. It’s only a matter of time now. I can help you,” he gestured to the altar splattering more blood, “we can help you.”
Vorvolaka. You can’t imagine how much I hate that ridiculous and terrible word. I felt a momentary twinge of temptation and let it pass, “Can I think about it?”
Tom Palmer sighed heavily, “I can tell you’ve already thought about it. Do you know what you are Mr. Foster?”
What I was, was out of there.
I went barreling down the hallway. I wasn’t surprised to find the scurvy-ridden ruin of a dog waiting for me in the foyer. Old texts like the Constantinople Document called these things barghests. It was blocking my way to the door so I ran into the parlor. It snapped at me tearing at the back of my jacket. I threw myself out the picture window.
I hit the ground hard, broken glass landing all around me on the meticulous lawn. As I tried to raise myself up I heard Cousin Roy shouting my name.
The barghest leapt out the gaping window. He would have landed right on me if not for Roy pulling me roughly out of the way. I felt some part of my arm come loose with a pop but didn’t care. All I cared about was him getting me behind the line of statues before the monster could get me.
Yes, statues. Lawn statues to be precise. All the while I had been inside Tom Palmer’s house Roy had been placing over three dozen statues of Jesus and the Virgin Mary in a circle around it in a display I’m sure the late Amanda Ward would have approved of.
And now I was outside that circle and the barghest was inside it. The creature paced back and forth on the front lawn but kept well away from the cheap plaster effigies.
“Holy shit!” Roy said with a kind of wonder, “These things are real! Really real.”
I replied, “I think you really dislocated my shoulder.”
Then Tom Palmer was striding out the front door, the dagger was in his hand and there was no doubt in my mind that he meant to use it, “Oh you have got to be kidding me! Is this what you believe? That God and the angels are going to come down protect you?”
Roy started manhandling me into the street where his car was double parked but he shouldn’t have bothered.
It all came down to a paving stone, just a single loose paving stone. Tom Palmer’s toe caught the edge of it and he landed right on his face.
And his knife.
“Karma’s a bitch.” I said to no one in particular, “That’s what I believe”...
Aldous Huxley once said that "To his dog, every man is Napoleon." If that's the case I am glad to have contributed to Tom Palmer's Waterloo.
The Police found no sign of the Devil dog, just an empty leash. The crazy deaths stopped and the Tate’s Corners Homeowner’s Association voted to disband shortly afterwards.
Did Tom Palmer find oblivion or Hell waiting for him when he died? Your guess is as good as mine all I can say is that in this humble blogger’s opinion he sold his soul very cheaply.
Hopefully, if and when the Vorvolaka comes a-calling, I won’t make the same mistake.