When He Saw They Were Dead ~ A Short Story by Allen Kopp
His name was Edgar Delong and in 1921 he was fifteen years old. He had an accident in his sleep and they wouldn’t stop laughing at him. They called him baby and said he ought to be ashamed of himself. They kept it up all day. Finally he went and got a shotgun they didn’t know he had and, at seven minutes after four in the afternoon, he shot both of them in the chest, his mother first and then his father. When he saw that they were dead, he went up the stairs in the old house to the attic. He found a rope, climbed up on a table and tied one end of the rope to a rafter and the other end around his own neck. After pulling on the rope to make sure it would hold at both ends, he stepped off the table into the void. As he strangled to death he said, “This is the thing I’ve always wanted.”
It was written up in all the newspapers. People loved talking about it, recounting and embellishing all the details. The house where it happened stood vacant for years and was said to be haunted. Weeds grew up in the yard. Small boys threw rocks at the windows. The front porch began to sag. People claimed to hear demonic laughing coming from the house, gunshots and screams.
Finally a man bought the house and fixed the sagging porch, the broken windows, the missing shingles and the peeling paint. He lived with his large family in the house for more than twenty years. Then there were other families after that to put their imprint on the character of the house. The day would come when the only people who remembered Edgar Delong and what he had done were the superannuated.
Edgar Delong still existed, though, in the world the living cannot see. Every day in the house his mother and father laughed at him and every day he went and got the shotgun they didn’t know he had and, at seven minutes after four in the afternoon, shot both of them to death, first his mother and then his father. Every day he heard the startled cry from his mother right before he shot her and the strangled shout from his father. Every day he climbed the creaking old stairs to the attic, tied a rope around his neck and hanged himself. Every day he relived the whole thing, even though he was dead. Every day the same, the days unending.
More than eighty years after the death of Edgar Delong, a writer named Charles Delong rented the house for the summer. He was the grandson of Edgar Delong’s father’s brother and, so, a cousin of Edgar Delong. He had grown up hearing the stories and, when he began researching and writing a book about sensational murders, he knew he had to include a chapter in the book on the Delong double murder and suicide. He believed that by living in the house, if just for a few weeks, he would feel close to Edgar Delong and would understand him a way that no other living person could.
The house proved a wonderful inspiration to Charles Delong. While he didn’t believe in ghosts, he did believe that something of Edgar Delong remained behind in the house. Using newspaper accounts and photos of the day, along with family reminiscences and his own grandfather’s diary, he wrote an inspired and chilling account of the crime, to which he added a personal slant. “I am related by blood to the murderer,” he wrote, “and am writing about his crime in the house in which it occurred.”
He finished his book ahead of schedule and was sure it would be a success. He sent it off to his publisher and began working on his next book, a novel and a complete departure from crime. He still had a couple of weeks on his lease in the Delong house—which technically hadn’t been the Delong house for decades, although he still thought of it in those terms. He stocked up on groceries and planned to spend a quiet time alone.
Except that he wasn’t alone. Edgar Delong, his murderous young cousin, was there in the house with him, watching him, standing behind him, sometimes touching him on the shoulder or the back of the head. Edgar Delong would make himself known to Charles Delong when he believed the time was right.
The house had a soporific effect on Charles Delong. He took to taking naps on the couch in the afternoon, hearing only the ticking of the clock, the wind outside rustling the trees or the faraway barking of a dog. One afternoon during one of these naps he was made to see the thing that happened every day at seven minutes after four. He thought he was dreaming as he saw Edgar Delong emerge from the back of the house bearing a shotgun and walk with it toward his parents as they sat in the room they called the parlor. His mother drew back instinctively and gave a startled cry when Edgar shot her. His father began to stand up and emitted a strangled shout as the bullet entered his chest.
After he had killed them both, Edgar Delong turned to his cousin Charles Delong and said, “It’s always the same.”
Still believing he was dreaming, Charles Delong said, “I don’t understand.”
“Every day the same. They laugh at me and I keep killing them but I can’t make them stop.”
“None of this is real,” Charles Delong said. “You’re a figment. You don’t exit.”
“Maybe it’s a figment to you. To me it’s real and I can’t stop. I want to stop. I want you to help me to stop.”
“How can I do that?”
“Let me come into your body so I can have the means to leave this house.”
“No, I would never do that! It’s impossible!”
“I can make you see it every day. Live it every day. As I do.”
“No, it’s out of the question!”
“You wanted to know what it was like to be me.”
“You’re a murderer. I don’t want to be you.”
“We’re cousins. We’re the same blood.”
“I’m going up to the attic now and hang myself, as I have thousands of times before. I want you to come along and watch.”
“I think we’ve reached the point where there’s no longer a choice,” Edgar Delong said and raised the gun and shot his cousin Charles Delong squarely in the chest.
The body of Charles Delong wasn’t found for five days. When the police were called in to investigate and were unable to find a murder weapon or a motive, they deduced that the murderer was somebody that Charles Delong knew and had willingly admitted to the house.
And so it continued. Every day at seven minutes after four in the afternoon, Edgar Delong shot and killed first his mother and then his father, after which he climbed the stairs to the attic and hanged himself from a rafter. The only difference now was that he had his cousin Charles Delong there to experience the whole thing with him. Without end and ad infinitum.
Copyright © 2015 by Allen Kopp