It’s important to me that you, whoever you are: detective, medic, neighbor, whoever is unlucky enough to find my corpse; it’s important to me that you know why this happened. Also important: I’m not a murderer, that plastic bag with my bloody clothes sitting on the table beside me or the bodies, including my wife, buried in the crawlspace under this apartment building, notwithstanding. But explaining how I’m not a cold-blooded killer, also means admitting I’ve killed more times than any serial killer on record, or at least on Wikipedia, a topic my browser history will show I’ve researched…a lot. I’m being purposely contradictory here, I’m delaying the point of departure, because once I start, I’ll finish, and when I finish there’s really nothing left but the bullet in the gun. I don’t want to die, I’m not a suicide, just like I’m not a murderer.
I think the best way to start is by setting a base line, a standard example by which to judge. Thinking back over my marriage to Maddy, I’ll pick our tenth wedding anniversary. That night I killed her for the fifty-fifth time. How do I know the exact number, you’re probably asking (among other things)? I have a journal, the same one I’m writing this letter in, and I’ve kept running tallies of all my kills. Each person gets a page and on that page I keep lists of dates, places, and manner of death. By far, Maddy has the most pages. Some have only one date, with the name listed as John or Jane Doe, a random stranger that was rude to me on a particularly difficult day and ended with my knife in their neck outside my favorite bar. Others have many more entries, supervisors over the years and various ex-girlfriends, but Maddy was the cornerstone, my most faithful victim.
Usually, I wouldn’t kill her on our anniversary, my own secret yearly gift, but that was a rough day. First off, I forgot it WAS our anniversary, bad; then my dick-of-a-boss forced me to stay late, worse; then said dick-of-a-boss left early himself which I didn’t discover until I burst into his office with a carefully selected brick from the construction site next door, worst; and to top it all off I walk in the front door, empty handed, to a pissed-off wife, balloons, thoughtful gifts and a lovingly prepared meal, so…fuck my life. I panicked a little.
Over the years it’s fair to say I’ve built up an aversion to handling problems in an appropriate manner. Instead, I picked up a steak knife from one of the carefully arranged place-settings and stuck it between her ribs into her heart. It was a quick death but not a painless one. I held her as she crumpled to the ground, the same look of disbelief on her face I’ve seen dozens of times. “Candy or ice cream?” I asked her while laying her head on the dining room floor. Through her pain I could see her trying to puzzle out what I was asking. “When I come home,” I repeated, “would you like candy or some ice cream?” Her head fell limp to the side and her eyes closed, she mouthed something I couldn’t make out.
Standing over her body, I unbuttoned my bloody shirt and stuffed it into a ziplock bag. I’d discovered early on, to bring them back, I only needed to wash my clothes. Before I walked out the door I checked to make sure I wasn’t forgetting anything. No matter how many times I’ve killed, I’m sure that’s the time something goes wrong.
I’m also sure that, at this point, nothing I’m saying makes much sense, and I get that. I really do. These are the ramblings of a madman. But it all leads somewhere. To a laundromat actually. The laundromat. My laundromat. Not mine in the sense that I own it or it’s in my neighborhood. In fact it’s on the other side of town from our apartment. I drive past several identical laundromats on the way to mine. No, it’s mine the way a favorite childhood toy is always yours. The way the place where your mom lives will always be home. It’s mine because my heart is there.
How does a utilitarian place like a laundromat become so loved? The air is humid, there are weird smells, and weirder people. Others might enjoy puzzling out the psychology behind such a passion but I’m not that person and this isn’t that time. Dad left when I was eight, Mom was forced to move us into a shitty apartment building that didn’t have washer hook-ups, which forced her to lug me and my little sister, and our dirty clothes in her on-the-verge-of-breakdown Caprice to the nearest laundromat…which became my laundromat.
The building itself, squat, glass-walled, and glowing inside from an over-abundance of fluorescent lights hanging from the ceiling, was set back off the road in a recess of pine trees, a gaudy glass diamond in a turned-gold setting. All the washing machines sat in regimented lines down the middle of the building, looking like Cold War-era relics, surrounded by dryers built into deep, cob-webbed alcoves along the back walls. The glass in their loading doors thick as port windows on a naval ship, giving the suds and clothes inside a convex, distorted appearance. Every machine was affixed with a metal plate below the window reading: National Laundry Equipment. One of them on the very end of the line, farthest from the door, had a leak on its side, near the top, where water had dripped from a loose bolt over the years and left a rusted trail down the entire length of the machine, an occluded eye crying bloody tears.
When I turned sixteen and got my first job, it was at the laundromat. The owner did most of the clean-up himself at the three separate places he owned around Nashville, but he was getting old and he needed help. So he gave me a part-time job in the evening driving to each one in that same old caprice, mopping floors, wiping down machines, making small repairs if needed, making sure the detergent dispensers and snack machines were full, and on and on. It was mindless but I loved it.
A few weeks after I started, the washing machine with the weeping eye broke down. Mr. Lawrence, the property manager, had given me brief lessons on their inner workings and a basic toolbox. I’d seen a repairman walking out just as I arrived for a shift the week before, the owner rarely paid for repairs, so I figured it was bad broken. I had noticed he was carrying a leather bound book in one arm and his toolbox dangled from his other hand, which I thought was a strange. I called the owner to ask if that was the machine the repairman had worked on but he apparently forgot he hired someone because he had no idea who I was talking about and made clear it was my problem to fix.
I’d removed the bottom panel along the floor and was in the process of tightening the drive belt, my arm about halfway under the machine in a blind maneuver, working by feel. The wrench slipped during a hard pull and I sliced the top of my hand on a jutting piece of metal hidden in the dark underneath. The cut was deep, it bled a lot, and left a splattered trail on the white linoleum floor. I wrapped the cut in my work shirt and ran for the first aid kit in the back office.
Once I’d disinfected and wrapped my hand in gauze, I took the bloody shirt to the washer next to the crying machine I’d been working on. I fished some quarters out of my pocket and dropped them into the slot, there was hungry metallic clunk when you pushed the coins into the receiver. I watched the small black and white t.v. in the back office while the cycle ran, my hand was killing me but it had at least stopped bleeding and the bandage already looked crusted and dark after just a few minutes.
It wasn’t until I heard the washer buzz to signal the end of its cycle, breaking me away from a static-laced movie about a backwoods killer, that I realized my hand didn’t hurt anymore. Then I saw the bandage was completely white, no bleed-through, like it was new. I unwound it and my cut was gone…completely gone. No scar, no blood, no pain. Just…gone. There was confusion and some rationalization at this point. The pain of the scrape must have made me exaggerate the cut to myself. In fact, maybe I barely scraped it. That seemed right. Just a little pain-induced panic.
I knew I’d grabbed a wad of paper towels to staunch the bleeding once my shirt had soaked through; I’d emptied the dispenser in fact. But when I checked, it was full, the tissue paper stack neatly folded in the tray. Maybe I had replaced them and forgot. My tools were still sitting by the open panel on the floor but the blood trail I distinctly remembered was gone, but maybe I had mopped it up and forgot. The washer buzzed a second time in the silence, crackling like meat on an overheated skillet.
Janie was the first human being I ever murdered. I met her one night at the laundromat and we just…clicked. You know what I mean? I mean hopefully you know what I mean, when I say, you know what I mean? I mean her chemicals and mine had a beat we could dance to. I obviously didn’t kill her right away or anything, that was weeks later, enough time for her to realize that my charming quirkiness was actually deep-seated neurosis with dangerous implications – basically she eventually saw me for who I was. When she tried to break up with me as I filled a vending machine full of miniature detergent boxes, I paused, looked over at her, grabbed the screwdriver in my back pocket, and jammed it into her left eye. Fortunate for me, the building was empty at that point, so that initial impulsive act went unseen even in the bright fish-tank of the laundromat. I dragged her back to the office while she was still spasming, dropping her several times on the way, cracking her head against the hard tile.
I slumped her body onto the office desk, flipped off the lights, and turned out the sign by the road. I kept the power running to the machines which left a legion of unblinking red eyes in the dark. I waited outside in the darkened parking lot while I washed my shirt, which I had laid over her face and imprinted with her blood like the Shroud of Turin. The moon was close to full, but I still couldn’t see anything between the trunks of the trees surrounding the deadened building like rotted teeth. I threw rocks into the black undergrowth until I heard a muffled buzz from inside. I waited for the phantom second buzz that only happened during the blood ritual, as I’d started thinking of it. Janie was my first human but I’d already tried it on several small animals beforehand, experiments to test a delusional hypothesis that ended up being true. I worried about what she might remember, the animals I killed couldn’t tell me about their experience obviously, so this part was new. Although I realized there was not much she could tell the police even if she did remember. What could she say? I stabbed her in the eye with a screwdriver? I killed her? And then brought her back completely healed? I’m no detective but that seemed sketchy at best.
The blood was gone, both on my shirt and the pool under the vending machine where I stabbed her. I waited for the office door to burst open and Janie to stumble out, back from the other side, confused and afraid. Instead, as I stood in the darkened aisle just outside the office, I saw my shadow lengthen on the wall in the headlights of a car pulling into the parking lot, heard a car door open, and a second shadow rise up next to mine as someone walked to the glass doors. I turned, shielded my eyes, and walked into the light. I had no idea who the silhouetted stranger was until Janie yelled at me through the glass: “Dude! Why are the lights out?! Did a fuse blow or something?” I killed her four more times after that.
She never had any memory after. The last time was when I randomly bumped into her at a bar after we broke up, correction, after she dumped me. I tried to get her to take me back but it didn’t go as I hoped, so I waited for her in the parking lot and beat her head in with a tire iron grabbed from my trunk. Last I heard she was living in New York. Every time I killed her is recorded in this journal, which I bought the day after that first time.
What I’ve learned: You don’t have to mess with the body, play it where it lies. Cleaning up the mess is also unnecessary: it always goes away. You don’t have to get every single piece of bloody clothing, that took me a while to realize. In the beginning I’d even cut out the swatch of rug where a body bled, to make sure I got everything.
It wasn’t until I strangled my first roommate in college, that I realized what the machine, the blood ritual required. There was no blood that time, other than some petechia in his eyes, but I still washed everything they were wearing, I came back to our apartment to find a still-very-dead flatmate. An hour or so of panic ensued, lots of cuss words, bug-out bags packed, roadmaps consulted. But once I calmed down I walked through my steps, comparing and contrasting with prior kills, reading through my notebook. It took three days for the obvious to occur to me, just as the body really started to stink. It was the blood. It was the victim’s blood the machine wanted. It had to be. So I pulled his body out of my closet, where it was shoved into a corner, wrapped in plastic, hidden by some long coats. I rolled it over and cut along the pooled blood bruising on his back. A thick, black muck oozed out onto the plastic with something like the consistency of motor oil in deep winter. The electric smell of iron-tinged rotting meat filled the tiny apartment. Retching, I dabbed a towel into the congealed puddle and drove to the laundromat. When I got back my roommate greeted me with a curt “hey” and returned to the book he was reading, none the wiser that he’d been a rotting horror for several days.
So. Back to Maddy. It’s my tenth anniversary and I’ve just murdered my wife for the fifty-fifth time and I’m standing over her corpse, shirt stuffed in a plastic baggie. From my current home it’s a quick drive to the laundromat. I don’t work there anymore of course, it’s been years, but I made sure the shitty apartment my wife and I lived in was near-by. If you marked a map with my apartments over the years I’m sure it would form one of those serial-killer patterns you see in all the cop shows, every tack on the board centered around the laundromat. The building hasn’t changed in the last twenty years. Survived long after many other laundromats around town closed. The washing machine protects its hunting grounds I guess.
Like the building, my ritual doesn’t change. I wait in my car until it empty outs. I stop first at the coin machine, drachmas to offer the hateful god, the bloody clothes go into the machine, feed it the coins and hit the glowing, red button marked “Start Cycle.” There’s a sharp thump and a whoosh of water like an unchaining. Then I sit in the pew of vac-u-form plastic chair across the aisle to watch the window fill with soapy water, tinged red from the blood. A few years back I timed the buzzer when it was a regular load of clothes versus bloody ones. The first buzzing sound was consistently two seconds longer after I fed it, and like I said, the second one was only after blood.
On the way home from washing Maddy’s things, I stopped in at the market and grabbed a pint of her favorite ice cream. I walked in the door to the same cold dinner and angry wife, balloons, presents, but this time I’ve got a card and ice cream and all was forgiven. Which left one step to complete the ritual. All sorts of people feel the urge to collect, to amass, or hold some symbol of their achievement. I’m one of those people and that’s why I’ve got my notebook. Our apartment is tiny and secrets were hard to keep, but I had it well hidden. I opened the door to the linen closet after Maddy fell asleep and carefully pulled out some boxes stored below the bottom shelf. Behind a loose baseboard in the back was a small cubbyhole where I kept this book.
My handwriting evolves as I turn the pages, the early entries are printed in a teenager’s heavy-hand on the edge of discovery, the later entries start resembling the mindless reports I submit at work. I turned to Maddy’s most recent page and made my note for the day:
You’re almost caught up now and I need to get on with this. I don’t want to keep writing just to delay the inevitable. My next-to-last kill was three weeks ago. I beheaded Maddy with an axe I’d just bought from the hardware store. I hadn’t actually killed anyone for a few months, had been trying to moderate after a really heavy killing spree and I guess I was pent up and went a little overboard. It was the first time I’d ever beheaded someone. The machine would gets its throat choked with blood this time.
I drove to the laundromat like usual, no worries, feeling fine. Until I crested the hill into the parking lot, which I saw was empty. I got there late, but on a Saturday night, even at that time, I’d usually have to wait out a straggler or two, some beat-down single mom with kids in tow, before pulling whatever bloody clothes I had out of their bag. But that night…nada. Nothing. The building itself was only a black shadow in other shadows. Lights were off. The red eyes of the washing machines were closed. Pitch black nothing.
I pulled straight up to the window, my headlights flowered inside. It was as empty as the parking lot and not just of people. It was an empty husk. No vending machines. No laundry carts. Even the change machine had been ripped off the wall. No washing machine with a rusty, bloody tear. The only things left were bouquets of dismembered pipes and limp cords jutting from the floor where the washers used to be and deep voids in the wall where the dryers had kept barren secrets, empty grottos without idols. I pounded on the glass, cracked it into a spider’s web, yanked at the locked doors, screamed through the cracks. Static flashes of Maddy’s headless body interrupted the loud drone of white noise panic that sounded an awful lot like the world-ending buzzer of Revelations.
I moved in fuzzy, intermittent satellite-signal chunks. I was back home. It was early morning now. Maddy was still dead. I moved her pieces. Collected them in the tub. Laid her gape-mouthed head on her soft abdomen.
I bleached everything in the kitchen, where I’d landed my first axe blow on her neck while she stirred some mac and cheese in a pot. Then back to the bathroom and wrapped each piece of her in trash bags. Then moved those bags a couple at a time into a crawl-space under our apartment building. Maddy had discovered it after following a feral mama-cat to her hidden litter. I dug a hole deep enough to hide her body with a spade she used to turn over the dirt in her little window garden, racing to finish before the neighbors started heading out to their cars for work. Then I stuffed both our gore-covered clothes in the cabinet under the bathroom sink wound into the shower curtain ripped off its rings. I was going to fix this.
I called myself and Maddy out sick from work. Closed the blinds and sat at the dining room table with my notebook in front of me and thought about what to do next. What could I do? What move was possibly left to me? Without the machine Maddy would stay dead. So where was it? I put in calls to the new property manager, whose number was listed on a sheet taped to the glass doors, but his company had no idea that the laundry had been sold. He was surprised as I was and after pressing, he gave me the number to the man who had actually owned the laundromats around town. It was an out of state number and when I called, his daughter answered, and told me her father had been dead for years. Her older brother had been handling the sale of properties after his death, but her brother had also died a while back, and she had no idea who actually handled the sale for the estate, presumably their attorney, and she had no clue who the buyer was.
Which left me nowhere…until I started sketching the machine from memory onto a blank page of my notebook. I concentrated on each detail as I drew and then I got to the small metal plate below the door. And that was it. National Laundry Equipment. Whenever a machine broke, if I couldn’t fix it and if Mr. Lawrence couldn’t fix it, then some guy was called out from National Laundry Equipment to take a look. It was at least a next step I could take. Maybe they kept records of repairs over the years and maybe whoever bought the machines, if they didn’t just scrap them, might have needed them repaired or installed.
This was NINE days after Maddy died. Nine days and counting. Her mom called constantly but I ignored her and eventually turned off both our phones. I changed the outgoing messages to say we we were out of town. Three nights ago, I went down to the crawlspace to take a look. The mound of freshly turned dirt was still there, and still obvious, but looked undisturbed, though the smell was oppressive, even through the garbage bags. I should have tossed some lime onto the grave but I wasn’t really prepared for dealing with a rotting body. Since that one incident with my roommate, I’ve always been quick to bring someone back, before they could start to smell. I couldn’t hide Maddy’s disappearance for much longer and when it came out, it wouldn’t take a brilliant mind to figure out who had done it.
And then, by the design of some murderous god, I happened to walk outside for some air just as the evening star was rising, and I saw the maintenance man opening the lock to the crawlspace. At that point, to steal a phrase, I’d bought the ticket and would now have to take the ride. I ran back inside, grabbed a hammer, and snuck up to him with it held behind my back as he kneeled down and stuck his head inside the crawlspace. I saw him jerk back and knew Maddy’s smell had hit him. He heard me just as I got within arm’s reach and turned on his knees, warning me to stay back, that a possum or raccoon had died under there. I looked around for any open windows, then raised the hammer over my head and cracked it across his temple, giving him just enough time to yell a startled “Hey!” before he crumpled over onto his side with his head falling back inside the crawlspace. I gave a hard shove, pushed him the rest of the way in, and slapped the door closed. I was all in on finding the washing machine, and if I could find it, I could bring him back along with Maddy. Then everything would be ok.
Finding the National Laundry Equipment building was easy enough. It was a gray, windowless box squatting in a decayed, industrial section of town. It looked like a windowless cinder-block smear at the far end of a dead-end street, a blindfolded murder victim on its knees waiting for the final blow. It preceded by several vacant lots of scruffy grass and nameless piles of concrete along both sides of the cul-de-sac. I climbed the three small steps up to the front door. When I knocked, it drifted open on its bitter hinges to reveal a completely empty husk, except for some skewed wooden shelves along the wall. They were littered with esoteric machined pieces. Dullish glints bleared from their empty faces in the rotted-cantaloup sunlight from the open door. I had no idea how long it had been out of business, but it wasn’t recent. A blank wall bisected the shotgun-style building at the halfway point. A wooden door in the wall, the words “No Admittance” painted on it, was just visible in the truncated light. I walked across the empty dark and opened this second door.
But there was only more dust and more cluttered shelves. I clicked on the flashlight I kept in my car and found a third door in the far wall, which couldn’t have been more than a few feet from the exterior back wall. Unlike the other two doors, this one was locked. I searched the shelves and grabbed an unknowably-obscure piece of machined metal which I used to break off the handle with one solid crack.
Inside was what must have been a manager’s office. There was a green metal desk wedged into a space barely deep enough to fit it and allow for a person to sit in the banker’s chair shoved in front of it. A rough bookcase with two blunted shelves was attached to the wall above the desk and a three-ring binder full of newspaper clippings was shoved onto the shelves next to a clutch of hardback books with moss-green, buckram covers. I pulled one down and flipped through it to find page after page of mathematical formulations and geometric diagrams and designs, beyond anything a non-specialist could ever hope to interpret. The other books appeared to be more of the same. Every one of them written by a man named Poitr Ananaba and all copyrighted during the 1950’s. The covers carried no titles and the pages inside had the blue-tint of the mimeograph, the brutish font of a typewriter. If I had to guess, they were self-published. I scooped up the books and the binder and passed back outside through all three doors, which I slammed closed behind me one after the other. The books and papers are all sitting here next to me as I write. Each one real and solid. Proof that, at least some of this, is not all in my head.
I’ve leafed through the clippings in the binder. Some are about scientific discoveries, some are advertisements for new washing machines, some are in foreign languages, possibly Polish, several reference a supernova explosion astronomers discovered decades ago. The dates ranged from as recent as two years ago back to the oldest from the 60s. The most relevant one seemed to be this:
Mark Pope, Crimes Correspondent – The Nashville Banner
POLICE DISCOVER GRUESOME MYSTERY INSIDE LOCAL BUSINESS
A grisly scene was uncovered yesterday by detectives and officers responding to reports of an awful smell emanating from the locked premises of a local business named National Laundry Equipment.
Police were alerted by a customer who had arrived at the business to make a complaint regarding the delay in servicing his laundry machines. Mr. Barlow, who manages several local apartment complexes, stated that he had expected a repairman two days ago, when none showed up and he failed to reach anyone over the phone, he decided to come to the business to complain in person.
“I called and called and no one ever picked up so I came down to tell them off face to face,” Mr Barlow recounted. “I got two machines been down for a week and my tenants are getting real angry. But when I got there, as soon as I walked up to the door…I could smell it.”
What Barlow smelled turned out to be three bodies. According to police, each of the bodies were in vastly different stages of decay. One appeared to be the owner of the business, John Forest. The second body, according to police is that of his wife, Sarah. The third body is yet to be identified, police are apparently having to check dental records due to the advanced state of decay. Detective Mears took time to speak to The Banner about the scene inside. “It seems that Mr. Forest suffered some sort of mental break. It appears preliminarily that this is a murder-suicide in regards to himself and his wife. Mrs. Forest predeceased her husband by at least a week. We don’t know his connection to the third body, which we found in a much more advanced state of decomposition than the other two bodies.”
Several sources within the police department provided our reporters with additional details about the bizarre scene inside National Laundry. First and most shockingly, the third body appears to have been that of a child. We looked into Mr. Forest’s history and discovered that he did have a daughter, but they had died almost two years ago in a car accident. Secondly, the bodies appeared to have been laid out around what one source could only describe as an “altar” of some sort. A circle was drawn in the center of the floor and a washing machine was placed inside the circle. The machine itself was covered in symbols which appeared to our source to have been drawn in blood. Curiously, they described the symbols as mathematical in nature as opposed to occultic.
Our reporters have not been able to otherwise confirm these fantastical and grotesque details. We will continue to report as further information becomes available.
There’s no end to any of this except to put down my pen and load my gun. I’m not a murderer. That’s the truth. I never wanted anyone to stay dead. The books, the article, the washing machine are all as real as the bodies in the crawl space.
David Chad Hindman is a writer and public defender living in Nashville, TN with his wife and two kids. He has been published in Eclectica Magazine, The Chamber Magazine, and an up-coming story in The Carolina Quarterly. Collecting books, VHS, and throwing outrageous Halloween parties, are his true passions outside of writing.