Part 1, Part 2, Part 3, and Part 4.)
September 15, 2015
It was long after midnight when Lisa Styles had gathered enough bleach and plastic sheeting. She went back into the basement to clean everything up, and Jespersen talked to her as she worked. He stood in the stairwell, just out of her sight, and his voice filled the hall.
"It could be anywhere," he said, and it wasn't clear what he was talking about at first. "People travelling to the West burned a thousand places to the ground. They took the names, sometimes. They planted cities and small towns. They covered over everything."
She wrapped Henry Talbot's body, and as she did she inadvertently touched his chest near the place that sometimes pained him. A small, hard, round object was under his shirt. It was on a chain around his neck. She unfastened one of his buttons and discovered a medal of a monk holding an infant. "St. Anthony - Pray For Me" was the inscription. Another secret, she thought, and the guilt and anger turned in her stomach.
"And what did they send back, when they reached the ocean? When they'd pacified their way to the Pacific? They sent back cowboy movies, of course. Like shadows, echoes of everything they'd done on the trail to California. The killers went in one direction, and the images of the killers reflected backwards over the continent like a signal bouncing off the sea."
After she finished enclosing her friend in the sheet she scrubbed everything down to get rid of the evidence. Why did she do it? Did she really think she'd get away? No, she did it, because she knew if she didn't the darkness and the droning sounds and the sick feeling would mount and mount until it cracked her into pieces, and then the museum would swallow her up. And she also knew she was taking on the fault of all of it. She was doing this, cleaning away evidence like a murderer would. Compelled and guilty at the same time.
"The cowboy ghosts came riding through the half-light of theaters all over the country. They haunted us all."
She didn't remember dragging her friend up the stairs. Or walking out the door. But she was standing between the tree rows in Gipper’s Grove. And the gray waste around her flickered once, and she saw a movie set. Again, and she saw the site of an atrocity, burned to the embers. Flicker, flicker. Flicker, flicker. Just like that. The whole country was this way, and she'd always known, because you learned about it, but she'd never thought of it that way, because you also learned to forget.
There was a deep hole here. This was why Henry had been so tired and why his nails were black. He'd knowingly dug his own grave. She’d dig hers too. Soon. Because the beauty of this place is that it could always be worse. So they can make you do anything here.
Andy stood at the edge of the trees. She couldn't see his face clearly, but a sliver of moon snuck through the leaves, and she saw how pale he'd become and tinged with blue.
"I’ll help you, when your time comes," he said.
"Just like always."
And it was at that moment that Lisa Styles did something no one had considered. She unwrapped Henry and touched his face. She held it with a look, took a deep breath, and began walking away from the building. Jespersen watched her from a window, and he saw her stiffen in pain. He saw her touch her ear and it must have felt like someone had put a needle through it. And that would only worsen. She'd feel like she was on fire soon.
"She'll be back, right?" He asked this question out loud to the thing that stood behind him. It was the thing that had always been here at the center of the museum. It was tall and awful, and it gave off heat and shadow, and Jespersen had never looked it directly in the face.
It didn't answer. But Jespersen knew he'd be punished. Terribly. He had other tasks though. Tomorrow was the big night.
There was a knock at the door.
Read Part 6 - Preparation
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