Walter Gallows had left two million dollars each to Peter, Madelyn and Morgan. His will had specified that the rest of what he had was to be given to various charities. To Peter and Madelyn who were already very well off financially, this was a decent sum, but it would not change their already affluent lifestyles a great deal. To Morgan, it seemed like an unbelievable amount of money and he knew that now he could attempt to make some changes and improve his life. The first change would be giving his two-week notice and then quitting his job on the assembly line. Yet, despite knowing that he would be able to somewhat upgrade his living conditions, there was still a part of him that felt bad about even using any of this money for himself. He knew now what Walter Gallows had done. That he had killed many people, and as much as he wished that he could simply push that knowledge away, or pretend that he did not know, he found it impossible to do so. His entire perception of the man who he had known had now changed immensely. Two million dollars given to him by a murderer. Could it be considered 'blood money?' He supposed so.
Later that week there was to be a memorial service where people in the community would pay an added tribute to Walter Gallows. When Peter called and asked Morgan if he was going to be there Morgan told him "I can't make it."
"You can't make it? Are you kidding me? You can't make it to the memorial service to pay tribute to our Dad?"
"I have a lot to do. I'm planning on renovating the house in Richmond Hill."
"And you can't take a few hours away from that to come and pay tribute to the man who gave you that house, and who has always been so good to you? The depth of your ingratitude really is both staggering and disheartening, Morgan."
"We already paid tribute to him at the funeral."
"You really are an asshole," said Peter.
Morgan hung up. He understood his brother's reaction. But maybe if you knew about all those human remains stuffed into that horrible mini-graveyard under the floor in that room, you'd think differently about our Dad.
Dad had told him to keep it to himself. He had asked him not to tell anyone else, and of course it was much more convenient for him if only one person knew about his maniacal actions. He had trusted that Morgan would not tell anyone, and despite his absolute disgust at the horrific actions of his father, he knew that it would be better if he did not tell anyone. They would probably only say he was crazy if he did anyway. He decided that the only way was to handle it on his own. But still, the thought of removing those remains…it was not something that he wanted to do.
A few days later he stood in the forbidden room again. He pulled the rug away and looked down into that thin, dark, black void of decay beneath. Shining the flashlight down there he caught another glimpse of a mouse scurrying away. It darted down into the darker area and he thought he saw it crawl through the cobweb covered ribcage of one of the victims, making its way back up along the narrow plank of an awkwardly twisted skeletal arm and off into the depths beyond. He wondered if the mice had fed on some of the newly dead victims all those years ago when Dad had started to put them down there, the creeping little rodents growing fat and bloated from feeding on the cold, rotten flesh of the dead. The thought sickened him, but he supposed it was realistic.
He went over to the dresser and opened the top drawer. There was a small stack of old, faded Polaroid pictures stacked neatly in a corner. He picked them up and looked at them. The first was one of an attractive young girl who looked to be in her early twenties. Her long brown hair hung limply across her narrow shoulders and her hazel eyes shone with that glint of happiness that could only be seen in those of the young, those with their whole lives ahead of them. There was some messy writing on the back of the picture: Mary, 1970. Looking at the picture was odd, because he felt that he was staring at the face of a ghost, someone who had perished right in this very room, her candle cruelly snuffed out by a man who he had loved and trusted for his whole life, a man who he had always thought incapable of any form of cruelty. Flipping over to the next picture he cringed as he saw the same girl, this time covered in blood, a large wound oozing a horrid crimson flood from the centre of her head. Her eyes were no longer bright and happy, but vacant and white, staring widely in shock and horror, frozen in perpetual disbelief that her young life had been so abruptly stolen. He felt a sudden wave of sickness and revulsion as well as a rising tide of anger toward Walter Gallows. And Peter wanted him to go to a memorial for the man who had done this? If he only knew, if he only knew what kind of a monster they had been raised by, hiding behind a flimsy façade of good deeds to try and somehow do penance for these abominable acts, as if that could ever be possible.
Next to the pictures was a large pile of photo ID's, which Walter had presumably kept from his victims. He found the one for Mary. 'Mary Shelton' was her name. The ID, an old driver's license issued in 1969, showed her smiling sweetly, a look of naïve contentment on her flawlessly unblemished face. Her birth date was listed as March 2, 1949.
He looked at the other pictures. Each of them was of a different woman, and their names, and the dates that he had killed them, had been written on the backs of each picture: April, Denise, Sabrina, Maria…He looked through them all. There were thirty-six pairs of pictures. He had taken one of each of them alive and one of each of them after he had killed them. They ranged from pretty to homely, some looking to be in their early twenties, others perhaps in their mid-fifties. All of them were dead now. All of them were lying in a pitiful mass-grave beneath the very floor upon which he now stood.
He looked down at that wretched hole in the floor and shook his head.
He had thought about beginning the task of removing some of the remains that day, but after seeing all of the pictures he didn't even want to start. He felt like just going away and never returning, leaving the house and that pit of decay within it, to rot. He could not sell it with all of those remains under the floor. If he was to do so, he had to get them out of there. Another part of him wanted to just tell Peter and Madelyn about what Dad had done. If only they knew. And why did he still want to honor the dying man's wishes by keeping this dreadful secret to himself? Was it out of some sense of loyalty? Yes, he supposed that to a large extent that was the reason. Despite the horrible deeds committed by Walter Gallows, he had still been a good father and for the entirety of his life up until just recently, Morgan had thought so highly of him. Could everything be completely blotted out and eclipsed by the dark shadows of these heinous crimes?
No, despite the monstrousness of his secretive actions, Morgan thought that it would be overly simplistic to say that Walter had been simply a monster.
The paradox of who Walter Gallows had really been haunted his son. There was no simple answer. And are there ever simple answers when it comes to summing up a human being in the simple terms of good or evil, saint or monster? No, he did not think so. You could not define an entire life in such black and white terms.
Strangely enough, Morgan had barely even thought about the two-million dollars that was now in his bank account. One would have thought that to someone who had achieved so little in thirty-four years, having this kind of money would have given him some kind of peace of mind. But it did not. Yes, he intended to leave that awful, low-paying job that he had been working, but beyond that he had not made any concrete plans. He remained uncertain, preoccupied with the burden that had been put upon him.
When he arrived home to his small apartment that evening he immediately went to bed. It did not take long to fall asleep. As he slept, he dreamt that he was beneath that hole in the floor attempting to bring the dead out of their resting place when they started to awaken. No longer simply skeletal remains, they had taken on the hideous forms of rotting creatures, with slimy rotten flesh clinging to their brittle bones. They rose up and moved toward him, their empty eyes all staring at him, their hands reaching out for him. He tried to get away, but he was not quick enough. Then they were upon him, biting, clawing at his eyes, tearing at his skin, ripping him to pieces, making him pay for the sins which had been inflicted upon them by his bloodline.
He awoke with a bad headache, the thin, pale reflection of the morning suns' faint light creeping under the bottom of his closed drapes. His alarm had not yet gone off. It was set for six-thirty on weekday mornings and it was only six-fifteen.
As the hours slowly passed, he went through the usual dull repetitions that made up each and every day at work. Each one seemed almost identical to the one that had passed before it. He seldom made conversation with the people who he worked with. He had very little in common with them. Yet, when he looked at their faces, at the tired, weary vacant eyes, the expressions of listless lackadaisical nothingness, he felt sympathy for them. Living each day this way just to make enough of a measly income to pay the rent and eat, but Nothing more. In many ways, his co-workers were like the dead ones lying beneath the floor in the forbidden room: living dead people, whose days consisted of drudgery and whose faces bore the wretched hollowness of a sad decrepitude. They looked old and defeated by life, even though many of them were still young, some only in their mid-twenties. He was glad that he would soon be done working there. He had given his two-week notice and the following Friday would be his last day.
That evening, as he sat alone in his small bachelor apartment and ate a bland microwaved dinner of fried chicken and watery mashes potatoes, Morgan started to think about what things would have been like if his father had actually been caught. Then what would they all have thought of him? Why, they would have loathed him of course, they being everyone outside of the immediate family. For none of his good acts would have ever been enough to atone for the killings, in their eyes. But he wondered about how Peter and Madelyn would have looked upon him. If Walter Gallows had been arrested, pulled out of his home in front of his family in handcuffs, brought to trial and found guilty of over thirty murders, would his brother and sister have been able to forgive him? He did not know. Certainly the shame and humiliation brought upon them by his atrocious actions would have cast an immense cloud over their ardent admiration and love for him, but there was still that old saying that blood is thicker than water.
Of course those thoughts were pointless and purely hypothetical now. He knew this, yet, he could not help wondering how different things would have been if Walter had been caught.
He saw the faces of the dead again in his dreams that night. They cried out for vengeance. They reached for him, demanding retribution. He could not allow himself to flee. To do so would be to dismiss any accountability for the horrid crimes of his father. But why did he feel any sense of responsibility? He had had nothing to do with the murders. He was not at fault, but he was the only one who knew about what Walter had done, and therefore he had to take on the horrendous burden of that knowledge, alone. The task had fallen upon him to look at the horrors beneath the floor in that room alone. And his father had asked him to remove them, to clean up the hideous macabre mess he had left, while everyone else who had known his father celebrated his life and talked about what a wonderful man he had been.