I got out of my car and surveyed the scenery around me. This was where Harper's Mill Road dead ended. Harper's Mill was one of those narrow wo-lane roads that had probably never seen more than five passing cars on it's busiest of days, and it's busiest of days was long past.
On either side of the road the trees had grown so tall that the hanging branches obscured most of the sunshine on the brightest of days. But this was anything but a bright day. This was one of those dark December ones that demonstrates the merciless cold of winter. The sky was darkly overcast and the wind was howling like a host of angry spirits. It was no wonder that the old pagan tribes of the distant past had envisioned winter as death. This atmosphere evoked a hostile feeling to any mortal that wandered underneath it. Everywhere was the pervading sense of dampness.
My car was parked on the vacant lot where the road ended. A tiny abandoned house was somewhat concealed by growth and trees. Even now, with arms bare of leaves and only skeletal limbs stretching across the front of the house, it was pretty well hidden. There were a couple of other abandoned houses on this road, combined with a few deserted farm fields but it was this place that was of interest to me.
It was difficult to determine what the original size of this place might have once been. But my guess would have been a place with no more than four or five rooms. Most of the roof had fallen in and patches of earth were visible through what remained of the porch. Through the gaping holes that had once been windows and the empty doorframe, I could make out piles of rubble and discarded garbage.
I began to make my way towards the back of the property. What had probably once been a yard, was now patches of yellowing grass, scattered leaves and muddy spots. My boots were making squelching noises beneath my feet. The temperature had not fallen low enough to freeze the moisture that was on the ground. That would probably happen later in the night. Tomorrow morning, when the rising sun peaked over the horizon, the whole place would sparkle like glass and diamonds with the sheets of frosts covering them.
I pushed my way further back onto the property. The dead grass and brush was a lot thicker here. My eyes were scanning that boundary area where the woods began. I knew that the old well was here. I had visited it many times. Quite by mistake, I had discovered this place and this well last spring, and it had never occurred to me that I would need to use them. I shall not go into the details of my previous exploration. They are not important to the telling of this tale. For at the time of this previous exploration, I had not thought that I would need a place to dispose of a murder victim.
I suppose that everyone who has committed a crime has an excuse. I am no different. No doubt, many people have argued that circumstance drove them to do what they have done. That would have been my excuse if one had been required of me. But I am not here to offer a defense of my position. The person that I had murdered had deserved it. He had brutally raped a woman that was dear to me, brutally violated her and then walked away on a technicality. I suppose it sounds like the plot of some action movie, but in my case it is true. I had taken the law into my own hands. There had been satisfaction in the act. When I had pulled the gun upon him, told him why I was there and seen the look of terror upon his face, I had felt intense pleasure at pulling the trigger. It had been messy. It had been horrible. I had thrown up several times afterward. The decision to dispose of the body and the evidence at this place, had come to mind almost immediately afterward.
So here I was, edging closer to the old well. I pulled a tiny flashlight from my pocket and stepped through the cracking branches to it's edge. I had never peered to the bottom of it before, but was certain that it would be deep enough to accomplish my goal. I shined the lone beam of light into the darkness. It took me a few moments to realize what I was seeing.
At first I tried to convince myself that it had to be some sort of trick to the eye, but there was no mistaking the skeletal remains that was at the bottom. I could make out a rib cage, a pelvis, and then my flashlight found the skull. I forgot to breathe. Fear filled me, but my hand remained steady. The jaw of the skull was wide open, laughing up at me, as if I were a victim of some perverse joke that it had carefully constructed. Tattered rags that had once been clothes, were hanging off of its bony remains.
I do not know how long I must have stood there. I had wandered from the boundaries of ordinary life into a world filled with insanity. I do not know what my next move might have been, had it not been for the sudden voice behind me.
"I had always wondered when someone was going to discover my secret,". A deep voice spoke from behind me. "After all these years, I never doubted that it would be found,".
I screamed at the top of my lungs and almost dropped my flashlight. I had not realized how frightened I had become until this moment. I spun around, prepared for confrontation, and faced the owner of this voice.
An old man was standing some distance away from me. He had long white hair that protruded from underneath his hat and a beard to match it. From what little that I could see in that fading winter light was a haggard face, drawn with lines, and from underneath his coat was an emaciated figure. He looked like a man that was suffering from a frightfully malignant disease. His eyes were very bloodshot and a network of purple veins was visible around his cheeks and nose. He reached into his coat and took out a bottle of bourbon. He drank deeply. All the while, he never once took his eyes off of me.
He had one of the hardest expressions on his face that I have ever seen on a human being.
I know all about you. His eyes seemed to say. I have seen people like you. I have seen much, much worse than you could ever begin to imagine.
"That secret of mine has been hiding at the bottom of that well for almost thirty years,". The man said. "Just as well that someone knows about it now, cause I ain't seen a moment's peace since the day it all happened,".
"You killed whomever is in the bottom of that well,". I whispered.
"You killed whomever that is that is in the trunk of your car,". He answered. " You probably should not have left your trunk open. Leaving tell tale signs of a serious crime are not a good idea if you are planning on getting away with it,".
I had no answer to this. He studied my face for a moment longer and then nodded his head. He seemed to have reached some sort of conclusion in his thoughts.
"Don't worry son,". He said. "I ain't going to turn you in. I am sure that you had your reasons, same as I did. But it didn't matter, I was still eat up with guilt and worry. Guilt over whether or not I had done the right thing, worry over whether or not I was going to get caught, worry over what people would think of me if they knew, worry over whether or not the police was going to come to my door, just a miserable existence in general,".
He took another swig from the bottle before he decided to continue.
"It just got worse,". He said. "It never got any easier. I couldn't hardly sleep, I couldn't hardly eat, got so paranoid that I could not hold down a job, and lost my family and home. It just grew and grew, like a parasite that could not be fed,".
"Why are you telling me all of this ?,". I whispered. "What do you want of me ?,".
"Nothing,". He answered. "I ain't wanted nothing but peace for a long time and there is none to be found. The law would say that I got away with murder that day. But the law would be dead wrong. My whole life was destroyed that day. The punishment for my wicked act began the moment that I dropped that body down that well. I never saw another moment that the bastard's dead face was not in my mind,".
He walked by me and peered down the well. I knew that he would not be able to see the bottom without a light, but he did not ask me for one. I was pretty sure that he had peered to the bottom of this well enough that the picture was firmly implanted in his mind without the aid of further visualization.
"I have come here every year,". The man said. "Every year I come here and I stare at this. I come here every year, hoping for some sort of answer, hoping for some sort of way to figure out a redemption that does not involve prison. But none of it has done me any good. You might have a chance, son. You might actually still have time to do the right thing. It may not be too late for you. Otherwise, the outcome of your situation is probably going to be like mine,".
He began to walk away from me, heading in the direction that I guessed he had come from.
"DO THE RIGHT THING !,". I suddenly screamed. " HOW THE FUCK IS TURNING MYSELF IN THE RIGHT THING ? WHY SHOULD I SIT IN PRISON FOR THE REST OF MY LIFE FOR RIDDING THE EARTH OF THIS SCUM ? HOW THE HELL CAN THAT BE THE RIGHT THING ? THE FUCKER DESERVED TO DIE ! ,".
The old man stopped and turned. He looked at me for a few moments
"What you do with your life is certainly none of my business,". He answered. "But tell me one thing, how is your conscious feeling about all of this ?,".
"MY CONSCIOUS IS FINE !,". I screamed at him. " I FEEL FINE ! THERE IS NO FUCKING GUILT ! I AM DUMPING THIS BODY AND IT IS GOING TO BE OVER ! DO YOU HEAR ME ? DO YOU ? DO YOU ?,".
The old man walked away. I screamed after him. I shouted every vile obscenity that I could think of. I grabbed bits of muddy ground and flung them in the direction from which he left. I screamed until my throat felt damaged and then I screamed some more.
I sank to my knees. I did not realize how eaten up with guilt and remorse that I had become until that moment. I sat back, breathing hard, and tried to think about my next move. I tried to decide how I would proceed.
I have been sitting here for an hour. I am still sitting here. I have yet to actually do anything. But I am aware of one thing, my conscious is starting to bother me, it is starting to bother me quite a bit.