I knew, or at least greatly suspected, that there was much more to Charlie Bowers than just a man with a burning desire to stuff his entire family, including himself, into the body of a dead dog. If he was an associate of the woman on the tape, and I was fairly certain that he was, then I had a pretty good idea of what might have driven him into the belly of a beast.
I was going need Jeff again. And I think it was at that point, when the neatly pressed corners of my little mind began to lift up a bit, that I realized that Jeff had always and only been a means to an end: this new, darker enterprise required my full awareness of self, no shadow left unturned. With my realization—clarification—concerning my sometime-paramour, I found manipulating him to be a breeze. My focus was turning my actions automatic, and using Jeff was just a button I needed to push. Whatever barriers he might present to my getting back into the Bower’s house I knew I could overcome, as my heart had finally joined the fight—a particular part of my person that, in its absence, almost always blew a good ruse (as a journalist, lying needs to be an especially polished tool).
I’d like to say that my enthusiasm for the mystery surrounding the “mother” came from a need to see evil fully exposed, but it wasn’t. Not even close. I wanted fame, pure and simple. Unfortunately, my ‘fully realized’ self was still too fragile to confront that dirty little truth.
I’d pulled a few breaking-and-entering gigs, back in the day, as news can be harder to come by than simply waving a microphone in front of someone’s face, so I knew getting into the house wouldn’t be too difficult; but the duplicate house-keys Jeff gave me made the whole thing so much easier.
There was a moment, just before I’d turned the key that unlocked the backdoor of the house, when I knew that my next move cemented my course—there was no turning back after this.
Jeff had told me that the case was being treated as a simple, albeit extremely bizarre, murder-suicide, committed by a deeply disturbed young mind. In short, the clock wasn’t exactly ticking on this case, so I would have all the time I needed to look into things as thoroughly as I saw fit. If I had to, I was prepared to spend the entire night.
I opened the door and walked into the house.
The one thing I’d left out from my home invasion considerations, which became painfully apparent the second I crept into an absolutely icy darkness, was the fear. Much had changed since the last time I’d been to the residence. Without all the moving parts of a crime-scene to obscure the sights, the house was now in full view. I know it’s an odd thing to say, but the place actually seemed more honest at night, as if the darkness somehow stripped the rooms of their middleclass camouflage, allowing some measure of hidden horror to be felt if not directly observed…And I couldn’t resist the urge to grip the handle of the gun in my pocket.
I don’t think the horror of it all would have struck anyone else as profoundly (even if they did know about the whole ‘stuffed dog’ thing), as they wouldn’t have the Rosetta Stone (that horrible video tape) for translating the apparent ordinariness of the two story Colonial into the horror-hatchery I suspected it to be. That awful woman had her hands in this place, and I knew that murder and suicide were nothing but the red waves she left in her wake.
While the rooms were all a little roughed-up from the police trampling over everything, they still managed to look, objectively, disarming and middleclass. But now that I was in the house—alone—I was more certain than ever that the entire Bowers clan was a shady bunch, and most likely deserved considerably worse than a nice warm place inside of a dead dog’s snug belly. I can’t say what it was exactly that made me form that conclusion, but I could definitely feel the residue of something vaguely terrible wandering around, and it was most likely pretty pissed-off that the Bowers were late for whatever crazy s#%t previously went on in the house after it got good and dark.
I didn’t want to linger too long without something to focus on—my anxiety and fear were growing with every unoccupied second, filling the emptiness with all manner of monster and madman—so I engaged my first objective: look for hidden compartments. But after a methodical search of both floors I turned up precisely nothing. I was striking-out fast. My second plan was to investigate the cellar, which I thought was far too obvious a place to bury dirty secrets, but I was running out of house to comb.
When I made for the door that opened to the basement stairs, the air went from cold to humid, like I’d just stepped into a greenhouse. I began to drip with sweat the very instant my hand wrapped around the door-handle. Sheer panic hit me like a fist to the gut as my fingers pressed down on the handle, poising themselves for the turn. And then I knew, with absolute certainty, that if I turned that handle…I was a dead woman. As you can probably guess, I ran as fast as I could for the exit. But just before I closed the door on my way out, I swear to God that I heard, from somewhere deep in the basement, what sounded like a small number of people, maybe no more than five or six…trying to imitate the howl of a large dog.
By the time I got back to my house I had already convinced myself that I hadn’t heard anything, especially not the combined voices of a dead family howling from the bowels of an equally dead dog. But regardless of whatever I did or didn’t hear, I knew what I had to do next: watch the second tape. If the Bowers really were exposed to the influence of that demonic woman, then there might be clues to what they were up to in the video (because there sure as hell weren’t any clues in the house).
The following evening, I awoke to the sounds of claws tapping across hardwood floors, just outside my bedroom door. They were, I imagined, just like the sounds a gigantic dog might make if it were skulking around my house. I was a committed day-sleeper, at this point, and I was just getting up for coffee and infomercials, so I was fully awake. My gun was already in my hand. But like anyone else, I eventually came to the realization—rationalization—that the sounds were just leftovers from a nightmare, and I replaced my gun back inside the nightstand.
After I’d prepared a carafe of coffee for the night’s entertainment, I turned on the VCR, put in the tape, and pressed ‘play.’ I took a seat on the couch as the static washed across the TV screen, hoping my nerves were ready for what was coming. I knew damn well that they weren’t. Then, after darkness soaked through the static, I heard her voice—pure sugar and sinister.
“Be careful, my dear…A trail of shadows can never lead you anywhere but further into the dark.”
Her words just hung there, like smoke on a calm night. Nothing immediately followed the words and darkness, just the occasional crackle of an open microphone. It was as if that horrible creature actually knew I was watching the video for clues! My heart began to play to a familiar and frantic rhythm, and my coffee-less hand went to the arm of the couch for support. But my questing limb discovered something wet before it found something solid—there was slime all over the arm of the sofa. My fear quickly shifted from the TV screen to my extremely well-lit house.
And then it dawned on me: Perhaps the liquid wasn’t something that I spilled on the couch, but rather…the drool of a great big English Mastiff, the kind you might stuff your entire family into…