:: Article

Bleach

By Grant Maierhofer.

The killer awoke before dawn, the gray light entering the windows of an abandoned rest stop where he’d taken the life of the second and last night had finished the burning and grinding of his body so that what pieces remained in his possession might be scattered out the door of his car. This was Northern California and he’d come down through Oregon over the past several weeks. He’d lost time and perspective while within his state and this was part of it. He liked large stretches of land and quiet. He liked roads that were no longer used. This part of the country was dense with them, and he embraced it. Whenever he’d communicated with anyone who did what he did via various corners of the internet and codes, they’d always spoken about this area of the country as a sort of paradise. He came here every several years and rearranged his maps across the place, almost always killing men who found some way of offending the killer.

The first had been a loud-mouthed father staying below him in a hotel. He’d heard this father screaming and accosting his children after staying at a number of hotels in a community in southeast Washington state. He’d moved from hotel to hotel crawling for who might come next. He’d almost taken a gas station attendant and beaten him with a bat that hung above the cash register. He’d almost taken a young woman running alone and minding her business. There was no coherency to what he did, he knew that. There wasn’t some attempt at morality or even a story. He simply liked to watch and look. Often the people he took were people with tendencies towards outward displays of emotion, positive or negative it wasn’t exactly important. This father, though, had reminded him of someone, and he knew after sitting there listening through the floor that he’d be next, his first in this trip. He waited until the father had put his children to bed with screams and had gone outside to smoke and drink a bit standing against the railing of his floor. The killer had whispered to him asking if he’d wanted a bit to smoke and he’d come up the stairs where they stood momentarily exchanging their wares. He’d opened the door to his room then and called the father inside where he’d brought a Buck knife to the throat of the man and dragged it over his larynx to thwart a scream and a quick ray of blood shot onto the wrist of the killer. He’d pushed the father forward then and grabbed a length of rebar he’d pulled from a nearby construction site days earlier, admiring its utility. He lifted the metal and brought it down four times in immediate sequence onto the back of the father’s skull and rays of blood shot left and right in small arcs onto the bed and floor. The killer had not set up the room for anything like this and seldom did. The killer needed the ritual of panic in his cleaning and needed his sense of abandon when he took them. He lifted the father’s head to scream in his face briefly as he grabbed the knife and made the small crunch into the back of the father’s neck, his nerves screaming out in waves and the mess of him causing the killer to collapse onto the wet and smile, relaxed and ready to sleep, he laid there for several minutes before rising and shutting the door.

This sort of thing, the process of removing life from a body, creating a corpse, grew in importance with each iteration. The ritual mattered. The peace and quiet mattered. The killer had followed the suggestions of a young man he’d taken under his wing and had enjoyed the freedom to execute matters with a bit of reckless abandon. His preference was to stab key points and feel the body writhe in desperation against him as the muscles tensed and all was let go of in strange twitches. The mess then was considerable but following a certain order to things gave the killer a sense of purpose in all he did and this could not be rushed. He challenged himself by doing no major trips to any local hardware stores prior to the night and used what materials surrounded him first to accomplish as much as possible quickly.

The initial wave of necessities could be handled with everything in the room. The killer hadn’t brought anything with him but could shore up the blood using the shower and scalding water and soap, removing most of what remained in the body and using a number of towels he’d throw away to address everything in the room proper. He worked this way because it allowed for quick and intermittent disposal of the actual corpse and if the police should decide to search the entire hotel they’d only see some stains and a man in and out for errands. Attempting to drain an entire body’s blood using hotel sewerage was unwise but not impossible, so he tended to spread it out over several hours with mixes of his urine, blood, water; via the toilet, the shower’s scald, and the sink. Were he in a rush there’d be an entirely different set of steps and concerns but he tended only to kill when he knew this part of the process could linger as long as it might. About halfway into the first wave of disposal he walked down to the vending machine and grabbed a twenty-ounce bottle of Coke, he walked out to the corner and looked into traffic as well, checked his watch and looked around as if he might be waiting for a date. He returned to the room and drained a fairly large amount of blood via the shower and poured the Coke slowly down the drain so that the mixture was a strange, bubbling mess. He couldn’t begin dismembering the corpse but when he left the room he took the corpse’s materials with him and disposed of them in a meandering route of gutters and dumpsters before circling all the way back and driving then to a hardware store that seemed to cater primarily to contractors working large projects. He went inside and first grabbed a hacksaw with a number of varying blades and large black trash bags. He purchased these and walked to the car and threw them in the trunk. He went then to a small market and purchase a packet of Tide for travelers, a small stick of deodorant, some chips and more Coke and finally a medium-sized container of bleach. He put these in the front of the car and stood outside again looking at the sunset. He got in and started the car and drove back to his hotel, grabbing first the materials from the trunk and then circling to the passenger side to grab the grocery bag, from which he grabbed a bottle of Coke and took a long swig. He looked around again and walked to a bulletin board near the staircase, surveying local events and job listings.

He walked upstairs then and reentered the room. First he took the less-soaked towel to the bathroom and ran it under the shower’s scalding water with soap until it was a fair pink and almost wholly white. He squeezed it as much as he could then poured a cup or so of bleach and let it soak thoroughly into the towel. He walked into the room and poured bleach on the larger stains and used the towel to mop them slightly. He brought the towel into the bathroom and wrapped it around the corpse’s head tightly, setting down the hacksaw on the toilet lid and returning to the room where he poured another cup of bleach and wiped everything with two fresh white towels then bound everything up in the comforter and top sheet which he carried back into the bathroom. Surveying everything there were no prominent stains and he wasn’t leaving the hotel for some time and thus he grabbed the spare bedding from the closet and dresser and remade the bed. He went into the bathroom then and put the bedding in a black plastic bag. He used the hacksaw as the shower ran to cut slowly through the neck of the corpse and this took the most time. He drank from the Coke and wiped his forehead with a small washcloth as the room steamed up and used two and a half blades in the hacksaw to get fully through the neck. He tied the towel tight in a knot around the head and put this in the bag that contained the bedding. He then hoisted the body up so that the remaining blood would drain from the neck and poured the rest of his Coke on top of it along with another small cup of bleach. He made his way through the two shoulders at the joint and put these into their own black bag which he then took into the room. They fit awkwardly into the grocery bag and the black plastic stuck out well over the top but for his purposes it would do. He bagged up the body then and affixed a temporary locking mechanism to the bathroom door and then lifted the larger bag over his right shoulder, holding the grocery bag to his body as he made his way to the car. This was the most worrisome part of the night but thankfully it was quite late and everybody was drunk or drugged or crazy. He put everything into the passenger seat and drove thirty miles outside of town to a rest stop where he then threw the laundry into a dumpster, carrying the head in the bag as he walked well into the woods and dug a hole as far down as he could with his hands. It needn’t be wide which helped, and he made his way down a good four or five feet then set the head face down into the hole, pushing hard then hoisting himself out of the hole and pouring bleach onto the head, then covering everything with all the dirt, mud and leaves he could grab from nearby and packed it all down hard with his boots.

The remainder of disposal took place over the following day and a half and involved more bleach, a lake, a pond, digging up the corpse’s skull and a swampy area in a large park, and more bleach. The situation was strange but not exactly anxiety inducing. It just became a question of internal conviction, and once he’d decided he wouldn’t be arrested it wasn’t difficult to speak with the detectives and patrol officers when they wanted to question him. He’d drunk a bit that second night and ordered two pizzas for the smell and left the boxes on a table so it overwhelmed the room. He sat in the bath drinking vodka mixed with cranberry juice that he left open along with several sliced limes he had in a cup of ice water that he kept refilling via the ice machine down the hall. One night he called for an escort and she came over to play card games with him and watch a film and then they walked around the neighborhood together holding hands. He left the hotel a week and a half after the death had occurred and left a mixture of smells and messes to overwhelm anything that remained and then left a large tip for the two housekeepers who’d been so kind to him all this time.

 

***

 

This in-between space was the most important in his life. Leaving the state after spending more time would almost certainly delay and typically entirely stop the process of being hunted, and his eventual plans would make that a fuller certainty. It was in those moments that he felt as close to a human being as he ever did, especially when the killing had a clear grounding in a sort of reason—at the very least he had been angry, and his anger was released on the man, and released in the process of disposal, and quieted by the time he had finished up. He drank a bit and chewed tobacco to relax but mostly he ate large meals in various restaurants and felt as though he could fully enjoy them for the first time in months. It was fleeting, but it was real enough to hold close and embrace, and thus he did. He left the state after some days of this and went to a Walmart to buy camping equipment to settle in for a few weeks on the Oregon coast where he could swim. He purchased some beer and cans of food, some chewing tobacco and pornography, a small portable DVD player and a handful of five dollar movies and a large pack of batteries. He got a new tent and sleeping bag, some toiletries and recent newspapers, issues of Time, Newsweek, as well as a local posting for various odd jobs listed and requested, and he made his way to a campground far from where he’d been in Washington state, that first night drinking four beers and eating a can of beans before masturbating, walking out into the ocean with a large wad of tobacco jammed into his bottom lip as he lay flat in the cool water staring up at what seemed thousands of stars. He stayed up late watching modern movies and snacking on the remnants of his can of beans as a small fire burned outside of his tent and the summer calm warmed everything.

The next morning he woke up and before he opened his eyes he took ten slow breaths, attempting to fill up the whole of his body as the sun warmed the tent. He exited and surveyed the small beach amid a stand of trees high and imposing. He was alone. He removed his clothing and walked slowly into the water. He felt the sun on his back and noted the apparent lateness of the morning. The heat felt good and pure against him. The sun felt like a sort of home and he closed his eyes facing toward it. He walked fully into the water and stared out floating at a massive rock several hundred feet ahead of him. He began swimming slowly scooping the water away from him and kicking froglike against the cold around him. He kept swimming and began a forward crawl and as he moved faster he could look back and see larger stretches of beach where families looked out and he wasn’t sure they’d see him. The massive rock seemed impossible to reach but he persisted. He felt as though he made no progress as burps of beer and last night’s dinner crept up and he felt himself consumed by the water, entirely awake. He swam forward hard eventually closing his eyes in determination to reach the rock and after wearing himself down he began feeling the outside contours of the stone. He looked for a place to climb up and found a split with growths and roots that seemed sturdy. He climbed the massive rock and looked back at the families on the shore and found a place to lay there in the sun and feeling the warmth against him he laid down flat on his back facing the heat and fell slowly to sleep as the waters lapped against the stone and he heard bickerings on the beach.

 

***

 

His next stalk began after three weeks of spending time in the sun and allowing his mind to change and slow down in the face of what he’d done. One day, randomly, he got up and went into the first city with any real pulse and went to a coffee shop that would allow for him to sit outside and drink coffee eating a large pastry all morning. He sat there and watched people walking by, drinking coffee and slowly filling up with a sense of the day’s promise. He could feel a set or two of eyes on him but did his best to ignore them. Eventually a man approached the restaurant across the street and the way he carried himself—confident and strutting, comfortable and sure—made it difficult to entirely avert his gaze for the killer. He was calm in the sunlight drinking a sugary cup of coffee and sat there watching as the man ate a large meal, made conversation on his cellphone and scrolled through it intermittently. When he went to the bathroom at one point the killer stood up and surveyed as much as he could of the table with a brief pass across the street. He made his way around and back to the coffee shop, tossing out some trash as he did so then went into the bathroom himself in the shop. He took his time and made conversation with the barista. He bought a small keychain with the town’s name on it and sat back down to drink more coffee and watch as people walked by and the man settled up and slugged the remains of his beer and began to walk.

The killer waited until the man was almost entirely out of sight then began to follow. He didn’t notice the set of eyes watching him and didn’t speed up with the man turned a corner. He needed to know the make and license of the car the man drove, that was all. Everything else could wait. He walked and didn’t notice the person walking a hundred feet back or so and focused until he saw the man drive away in a Subaru and wrote down his license plate number, noting the direction of the man as he continued walking to his car and went to Walmart. The person following him stopped after this and went in their own direction.

As he sat down later in a park to watch birds and think over what would come next, he felt a strange pull in his head as if another consciousness was tearing in. The world was light and dark, the days were light and dark. He entered into a state of pure dark when he worked and when he’d lain on the rock amid the sea a pure light grabbed him. He could feel each pulling at his skull and he could hear suggestions of unwanted thoughts nagging at him as he stared around the small park and read over the information he’d assembled about the man.

Typically he’d buy a cheap TracFone or something similar at Walmart then use public WiFi to gather information before tossing it. He’d purchased one at Walmart then gone into the family bathroom where he’d wept and shit in anxiety as he attempted to turn on the machine. He needed to leave and so put the phone in his pocket and walked until the sun had again grabbed him and finally sat on the steps of a library using their internet to find out more about the man. He’d left and it had been three paranoid hours since he’d first arrived at Walmart and now he sat in the park staring off. Having the information was typically the first step in a series of steps that brought excitement. His mental lapses, though, and this sense of a loss of control, changed things. He felt as though there might be eyes on him and didn’t bother looking around. He could feel the heat and this was enough. He knew he couldn’t work with someone watching him and attempting to think his way through any number of problems this might be. Someone wanting to fuck him, to arrest him, to take revenge, he wasn’t sure. Nothing good, however, and thus he tried to drown it from his mind, and sat there in the park thinking of what he might do.

He became obsessed with the purity of the ordeal, an opportunity to keep things terribly minimal and thus remove all anxiety, as much human presence as possible. It was in this manner that he stalked the man and assembled rituals of what was done each day and where he might solve things and how he might reach an ending. He listened obsessively to the same music by Ravel as he drove aimlessly during the working days and drank coffee after coffee as he sat there in the light. Stopping once at a gas station to pour himself a large cup of awful stuff he found himself confronted, and it was this that changed the course. A man, a face, a darkness to him like the sunken looks of a drug addled Jim Jones or Hitler, stared at him. He had stopped paying attention to the feeling of paranoia that followed him on his hunt but knew instantly that this must’ve been the man who’d followed him so relentlessly. He stood there, outside of the car, blocking his passage into the driver’s seat and looked down at the ground. The killer looked into the window of the car and noted a strange similarity to both of them standing there, and for a moment couldn’t discern just which reflection was his and which the stranger’s. He wanted to grab the lapels of him and throttle him, scream down into his face and break his hand tearing into the bones of it. He wanted to annihilate the presence of this person. He’d disrupted him while he waited for the man to get off work and he didn’t know what time it was. He knew he’d have enough time to get to the gas station for coffee as he’d been doing it for days but couldn’t guess when the man would leave his work, heading home, perhaps breaking the ritual and understanding the killer had reached.

“What is it?!” he managed as the stranger raised a gloved hand and brought it slowly down to suggest a calming.

“I am here,” the stranger said in a gravelly voice, as if he hadn’t spoken for some weeks.

“Why have you been following me?! What started this?!” he’d lowered his head then like the stranger and tried to gather what items in his vicinity might quickly break an orbital socket or mass of cartilage.

“I’ve been following you, intermittently, for some days,” with this the killer broke from the apparent hold of the stranger and shoved him as hard as he could manage so the stranger fell to the ground. The killer noticed they were almost dressed the same, the stranger’s clothes in shades of gray where his were black and blue. He opened the door to the car and drove off quickly, reeling from a heavy slap the stranger placed on the back window as he adjusted his position.

The killer seldom made a habit of talking to himself. His obsessions were such that vocalizing them was often a slippery slope to suddenly revealing some horrific thought while waiting for clothes to dry and forgetting the world around him. He’d seen therapists intermittently throughout his life and none of them could adequately quiet his skull, but whether hunting or in a period of dormancy, whether in America or in the surrounding world, the better he abstained from speaking aloud—especially when under duress—the better overall he’d be, the less paranoid. This situation, then, rattled him such that he found himself repeating over and over a prayer his mother had recited to him over and over again while a child. He spoke aloud, trying to reassure himself as to who or what the stranger was. He yelled, and screamed, and drank from a bottle of cheap vodka he’d purchased the previous day for an evening’s camp. He tried to be sure nobody followed him and then kept driving, speeding away from the gas station and the city and his campsites and his stalk and the victim and drove on and on until the world around him seemed to finally quiet. He wanted to ditch the car and wander off into the woods and be sure nobody followed him. He wanted to return and kill the victim and kill the stranger and quiet the screaming garbage in his brain. He wanted to finish the drink and fall to sleep on the rock in the sunlight. He wanted to be back at the hotel, dragging the saw over the mass of the father and preparing to dispose of him. He wanted to get away from this world and feel it changed. He drove, and persisted in driving in random directions and taking unexpected turns that threw him off sufficiently that he felt nobody could follow. He stopped eventually parking by a small area for children to play and walked through backyards until he found himself in a place of apparent quiet, and kept walking, his sweat screaming down every limb and the world glaring in his skull like a klaxon. He found no peace and felt only wet.

Realizing this meant he’d need to abandon his stalk he stayed around local motels where it was possible to park strange ways and return indirectly so as to—he thought—thwart the efforts of his stalker. He spent three days wandering out in a sprawling serpentine of a dirty suburb and drank to keep his nerves at bay. The first night in the first motel he shaved off his hair with a pair of clippers and trimmed his beard so he could shave it clean. He closed the door of the bathroom for this and turned on the shower as hot as it would go. He turned on the sink as hot as it would go. He used the toilet and then stood facing the mirror with the clippers in his hand and ran it slowly over the whole of his skull until only a fair amount existed on the top and the remainder of beard would be easier to shave. He did this slowly in a repeated motion from one side of his face to the other, first buzzing at the left temple and progressing slowly upward until he felt he’d covered one hemisphere of skull and then making his way up the other side. He did this three times on each side, then ran the buzzer over the top in alternating directions as the hair fell in the sink and he watched the slow mound of dark build there. Before a final run over his scalp he ran the machine over his beard from five different starting points and the black and gray of it joined the remaining hairs there in the sink. He then grabbed a cheap razor he’d purchased at the front desk from the woman working there and soaped up his face with scalding water. He brought the razor down from each temple and made slow movements downward and in until he reached his chin and blood mixed with the hair and waters in the sink. The process of shaving his face was rougher than the process of cutting his hair because the presence of blood tended to make him react in occasional spasms and gestures which only created yet more blood. It was a pleasure he indulged in every month or more, and it always proved grounding. He dragged out the ritual of shaving as long as he could and took slow pulls from a bottle of vodka he’d bought earlier in the day. The room was steamed over multiple times and when he went to operate the buzzer once more over his scalp he opened the door to avoid any shock. He ran the machine methodically over his scalp until there was no more hair to drop into the sink and and he lifted these hairs after turning off the sink and shower and flushed them into the toilet. He turned off the light and stood there in the quiet and felt his skin where he’d been shorn and slapped the back of his skull and the bleeding fragments of his cheeks and felt awake. He poured some vodka over his skull and felt its burn as it mixed with the blood and stung. He turned on the shower again and once it turned hot he sat in there on the floor idly masturbating in the dark until he felt his mind changed and sat until the water turned cold cleaning himself and preparing to rest and get ready to go back out into the world soon.

The morning he met the man the world was dark. There was no light. He left the motel early and felt a sense of duty. He wanted to return to his stalk and couldn’t. He drove out of town and didn’t stop until the lights showed behind him on the horizon a mile or so back in a stretch of mountains. He was driving back to where he’d come from and he wanted to feel the ocean on him pressing. He drove until the car came close and let the stranger occupy the same stretch of road as the world slowly warmed in light and he did not know where to drive. He continued thus until he saw a scattered stretch of farmland and what seemed an abandoned house and continued on a gnarled scrap of road until the trees surrounded them. He continued and he drank at the bottle of vodka he’d left in the front seat and eventually the two of them were parked in line and the two of their cars looked similar in the starting light. He waited there in the driver’s seat and saw the hair of the man behind him through the mirrors and sat until the heft of the moment weighed down on his chest and the two of them exited their cars in sequence.

“Who are you?!”

“I have come to you. I have come to ruin your life.”

“Did you see me with them? Is that what all of this is for?”

“I only want to wreck everything.”

“Are you a fed? Is this some larger thing?”

“God sent me.”

The stranger approached with open arms and held the killer in his weight as the sun began to shine around them and the world was slowly warmed over. He held him there and the killer noted the paired angles of their hands, their wrists, and held him. He watched the stranger walk to the back of his car and the killer turned. He entered the building behind them and ran his hands along the brick as the stranger called after him, anxious. He found a place with low light and metallic surfaces and sat on the ground there awaiting the stranger. He sat until the man entered and stuck out his hand to grab the meat of the stranger’s calf. He pinched his nerve and stood up yanking the stranger to the ground. The stranger mirrored his looks and held a knife clenched in a dirty fist and the killer reached down and pressed his hand onto the blade and held it as he beat down upon the face of the stranger with repeated pulpy shots of his forehead into the eyes of him and didn’t stop until the mass of his face was an incomprehensible soup and he raised the bloodied hand and held it to him as the blade had gone through and he raised the knife and brought it down in angry thrusts into the bone and marrow of his chest, stabbing until the blood stopped pumping to the heart and the moaning hulk of him was silent.

When time had slowed and he had calmed himself a bit after the stranger expired there on the floor the killer was able to stand up and get his bearings. He was free in this place and there was nothing to worry about nearby besides his car so he took the stranger’s car and drove it to an empty country road awhile away from a gas station where he stopped for oil and liquor and bleach and a lighter and walked all the way back to this building he’d discovered and walked back inside and began dismembering the stranger and burning small fires to dispose of things piece by piece.

In the light of the next day he saw the form laid out in sprawls around the room. The place smelled of old piss and it surrounded him. The body was mounds of crusty blood and dust and jutted fragments of bone and it was this he’d slowly air out the windows of the car as he made his way to Florida. The double of him had been eaten away somehow and there were rats in the place and he could only drink at the vodka and douse it all in bleach as he made his way to his knees and wiped the bulk of it up and found an old spigot to run water into the room after he’d leave and the smell overwhelmed him as he stepped outside into the early light and the whole world seemed to bubble up inside his chest in a massive question and he knew to return to his work and make quick time of it. He stood upon the rocks. He looked up into the sun. He put his boots on.

 

ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Grant Maierhofer is the author of PeripatetDrain SongsClog and others. A collection of his early writings, Works, is forthcoming from 11:11 Press in June 2020. Other information can be found at grantmaierhofer.fail.

 

First published in 3:AM Magazine: Tuesday, March 31st, 2020.