“Happy Birthday Joey!” was the collective shout.
“I can’t believe he’s finally eighteen, isn’t it wonderful?” said one woman.
“Our littlest has finally grown,” proclaimed another.
Gordon Ross had never been so proud of a child. Throughout all of his years, Joey was the most obedient, selfless, and kind-hearted boy he had ever raised.
Joey continued to resemble his father with every passing year, and this being his eighteenth birthday, the similarities were uncanny. Joey was a miniature Gordon, but still just as handsome. With a hard, defined countenance, steel grey eyes, impeccably clear skin, and a thick mass of black hair, the lineage of beauty in the Ross family failed to disappoint.
Gordon brought out a massive cake to the equally large dining room table and cut perfectly equal sizes with his battle-tested kitchen knife. The table could comfortably sit fourteen people, and it was used to this quota on a daily basis. Among all of the faces, none were more pleased than Joey himself. The most youthful of the group, he had finally reached the age to participate in the most cherished of the group’s activities, and he was eager to begin.
Joey was allowed to sit at the head of the table, typically Gordon’s seat, due to this particularly special birthday. The cake was passed to his sister, Matilda, who was just a year older than himself. It then went to the second family of the group composed of Clark and Nancy Bettelheim, and their twenty-two-year-old triplets, Gregory, Angelina, and Brittney. Next in line were Cindy and Kristoff Binkley, followed by their children, twenty one-year-old Jessica, her younger brother by a year, Ronald, and then Blair, who was nineteen. At the opposite end of the table from Joey was his mother, the equally beautiful, but socially awkward and emotionally devastated Theresa.
Joyous discourse ensued during dessert. Conversation about the proceeding events of the night finalized even the most minute details, and every face glowed with furious anticipation. All except Theresa, that is, but her face was never brighter than the eclipsed sun, so nobody took notice.
“Mrs. Binkley, another flawless birthday treat. I believe you deserve a round of applause!” said Gordon, followed by rigorous cheer from the rest.
“Oh Gordon, you goof, you spoil me. Thank you, everybody.”
“No, no, thank you,” they said, “the pleasure was ours!”
“Father, can I take my hour now? I want to go to the park and play on the swings and look at the moon. Please, father?” begged Joey.
“Alright, alright,” chuckled Gordon, “but you know the rules. It is 8:15 now, and you must be back through these doors no later than 9:15. We will have the preparations finished by then, and you’ll have the best birthday gift of your life, my boy. Go now, but first, Joey, what is the one rule more important than any other?”
“Why, that’d be to say no word or give no thought to any strange man, woman, or child, father.”
“Good boy. Alright, go and play. And to the other children, you are excused to go downstairs to the waiting room. Be safe, Joey, and say nothing to anyone.”
Joey agreed, unlatched the locks on the door, gave a final wave and smile to the group, and began the short trek to the local park. The other children gave their blessings to the parents and went downstairs.
Gordon locked the door behind them.
“Theresa, my dear,” said Gordon, “could you fetch us the wine? It is a most spectacular night, so I think a spectacular wine would only be appropriate.”
Theresa rose, eyes penetrating the floorboards, and crept out silently to the wine cellar.
“The one for thirty rule, my dear Gordon, is absolutely brilliant,” praised Clark. “We keep the children here, safe and sound, and allow them an hour every thirty days to wander about freely, as long as they stick to the rules, and we all know Joey sticks to them flawlessly. Remember our first one after the proposition of the rule, Nancy? Time and time again he just couldn’t obey. It was tough on all of us, but he was amended. It had to be done.”
“It had to be,” agreed Nancy. “But it did get easier to take care of the rest of the disobedient children afterwards.”
“It is quite a lovely rule,” interjected Kristoff. “That way, they can’t complain about not having any freedom. They get an entire hour to themselves every month. In fact, I’d say it is quite a liberal structure, and it sure makes them happy. Little Joey was bursting with pleasure.”
Theresa entered the dining room with the wine and returned again with six glasses for the group.
“Ah, the ’61 Chateau Palmer Margaux, a perfect choice, my love!” said Gordon as he handled the bottle, passing it back to Theresa. She traversed around the table, pouring it into each glass a pinch over half full.
The Palmer Margaux was just one of the many exquisite wines that belonged to the group. Gordon, Clark, and Kristoff had long ago retired from an extremely successful firm where they practiced medicine for many decades in Los Angeles, their hometown, before moving to the more modest Crystal Springs in Illinois. They each carefully invested their rather large inheritances as well, which still proved to be paying off. Nancy always had a wicked eye for the stock market.
“This wine is almost as delicious as the Elixir itself,” said Cindy.
“Speaking of, how does Blair seem to be fairing?” inquired Gordon.
“Quite perfectly, even better than last year, I’d say. I was a little worried about her going for two years in a row right from the beginning, but us ladies have all done it, isn’t that right girls?” said Cindy, getting a laugh and a cheers from Nancy and a silent gaze from Theresa. “I even felt it kicking just yesterday.”
“That girl always delights me so,” bragged Kristoff.
“Well, she will delight us all tonight, my friend. Now, a toast to the Elixir. Semper iuvenis!” proclaimed Gordon.
“Semper iuvenis!” echoed the rest.
“I got a possible perp for the shoplifter on Lochwood at Walkup Woods Park. White male, no older than 20, about six foot, long brown hair. He’s behaving oddly, just standing by the swing set and looking at the sky, requesting backup,” radioed Officer Braxton to dispatch.
“Kinsler is in the area, he should be there in about two minutes,” responded dispatch.
“Got it, I’m going to approach the suspect now.”
Braxton was never one to wait for backup, coming in well over six feet himself, and over two hundred pounds of muscle. Besides, it was as clear as a night as one could hope for with the illumination provided by the moon.
As Braxton exited his cruiser, the suspect began to walk quickly away.
“Police! Don’t fucking move, kid!”
The suspect froze, turned around, and stood, visibly trembling.
Braxton felt the overt fear coming from the suspect and approached him carefully, eying him up and down, concluding the suspect, although physically fit, was no match for himself, and he eased his tension. He got within arm’s reach of the suspect who was busy doing everything in his power to avoid eye contact.
“What are you up to out here, buddy?” Braxton said in a calm, amiable tone.
“I’m—I can’t talk to strangers, mister,” said the trembling suspect.
“Mister? Who says that? Anyways, kid, I’m a cop. You have to talk to me.”
“But father has told me not to talk to anybody, especially police officers, mist—I mean, sir.”
Well, thought Braxton, if that ain’t suspicious, I don’t know what is.
Before he could come up with a reply, Kinsler pulled up and started casually walking towards the scene. He was just as tall as Braxton, but only half his weight. On this moonlight night, he looked like a skeleton waltzing about in a cemetery.
“Wait right here, alright kid? I’m going to have a quick chat with my partner. Try to calm down a bit, too.”
The kid, still avoiding eye contact, gave a weak nod.
“This the suspect?” asked Kinsler, motioning his chin to the shaking youth.
“Not a chance in hell. This kid’s too scared to even walk into a store, let alone steal something. But guess what he says to me? I’m talking to him, nice as I can be—“
“So not very nice,” interjected Kinsler.
“Shut up, man. So he says he’s not supposed to talk to strangers cause his father told him not to, like a goddamn seven-year-old would, but I say I’m a cop, you gotta talk to me. Then, get this: he says his father said explicitly not to talk to cops. What do you think?”
“Shit, something’s going on, that’s for sure.”
“Yeah, I picked up on that one Sherlock. Go see if you can charm him a little, I think I intimidated him already.”
“I’m on it, Watson.”
“I’m not your fucking sidekick, Kinsler,” chuckled Braxton.
“Hey there, kid,” said Kinsler, with the comforting voice of a Disney character. “My name is Jackson Kinsler. I know you aren’t supposed to talk to anybody, but we just want to make sure you’re not in any trouble,”
“Trouble?!” ejaculated the frightened suspect. “No, I’ve never been in any trouble, please, you have to believe me! You can ask my father!” he pleaded.
Kinsler knew he had him.
“No, we didn’t mean that you were in trouble for something you did, we just meant that there are troublemakers out and about tonight, and we wanted to keep you safe. That is our job, you know. Me and my buddy over here, Officer Braxton, we’re just worried about you is all. Now, I consider you my friend, but I can’t really be your friend if I don’t even know your name, so come on buddy, can you tell me what it is?”
“My father told me that you must always be honest with your friends, but he also said all of my friends were the people I lived with. I didn’t know I had other friends outside of the people from home. Are you really my friend?”
“Why, of course I am! That’s why it’s so silly that I don’t know your name,” insisted Kinsler.
The suspect grew calm, almost even excited, and a radiance of ease consumed his recently timid aura.
“It’s so nice to meet another friend. Well, I am Joey Ross. Do you know my father, Gordon?”
“Of course I know Gordon!” was the blatant lie. “Tell me, what has he been up to lately? It sure has been awhile.”
“Oh, well, he’s been focusing on preparing this year’s Elixir lately. It takes up all of his time, as usual. I wish he had more time to play with me, but he’s so busy. It’s okay though, I understand.”
Braxton grew curious at this, but before he could inquire further, Kinsler shot him a cool, easy glare to let him know not to interfere. Watson let Sherlock continue the interrogation.
“The Elixir is such a pain to get ready. Would you say going through all of that trouble is worth it?”
“Absolutely!” claimed Joey. “How else would we live as youth forever? I always think it’s so silly when I see an elderly person walk by through my window. Their skin is so disgusting and they are extremely feeble. It is much better to just make the Elixir and avoid the trouble. Also, since tonight is my eighteenth birthday, I can finally consume the Elixir instead of just watching. It’s gonna be the best present ever!”
Again, Braxton wished to interject with “What the fuck are you talking about, kid?” before Kinsler gave him another look, but this time not so calm. Kinsler was concerned, and his intuitions were always accurate. Braxton sighed, and continued to observe quietly.
“Right, right, I certainly agree,” Kinsler said passively. “So Joey, what are you doing out in the park so late? It’s almost ten to nine; there isn’t much exciting going on here.”
“Already?” shouted Joey. “Rats, I have to run home, if I leave now I can make it in time. This was my one for thirty, and I just wanted to look at the moon since I can never see it from my window. Isn’t that exciting? Anyway, I really do have to run. Come over and visit soon, I’m sure father would love to see another friend stop by. You’re the only one I know of that doesn’t live with us, he’s probably very worried.”
Joey turned away and began running home when Kinsler intervened.
“Wait, Joey, let me drive you home! That way we will have plenty of time. If I recall, it is a short drive, isn’t it?” It was a wild guess, but he assumed nobody would go on a very long hike just to look at the moon at such a measly park.
Joey gave a sigh of relief, and eagerly agreed, saying that it would only be a five minute drive to his house at Talisman Court. He gave the officers the address, and Braxton assured him he knew how to get there.
“Oh, but before we go, Joey,” said Kinsler, “as you remember, it has been such a long time since I’ve seen your father, and I haven’t even made the Elixir since then. Could you just remind me what it is? My memory is such an unreliable thing.”
Joey gave the most innocent chuckle to ever enter the ears of the officers.
“Boy, you sure are a funny friend. The Elixir, as father says, is the key to eternal life. It also keeps the body young. He says it’s because of the ingredients and how they are specially prepared from special people.”
“Well of course I know all of that; I’m not that old Joey. I simply forgot what the Elixir is made of.”
“Oh, you forgot that? It’s quite simple, really. You just need to drain the blood of a matured fetus, you know, so you can drink it.”
He looked the police officers dead in the eyes with no indications of lying. No flinching movements in the eyes themselves, no scratching his head, no pulling on his fingers, nothing. Joey was as serious as the officers had ever seen anybody who just confessed to participating in a murder.
This time, he couldn’t help himself.
“What the fuck are you talking about?” gasped Braxton.
“Good enough for me. Turn around, kid, you’re under arrest,” said Kinsler as he grabbed the now panicking Joey.
Braxton wrestled Joey to the ground with ease, pinning him under his massive bulk of a frame. He applied cuffs and dragged Joey to the cruiser as he squirmed in terror.
“What are you arresting me for? What is going on?” shrieked Joey.
“Fuck if I know, but there’s gotta be something,” was Kinsler’s reply.
“I have to be home before my hour is up or father will be furious. Nobody has broken the one for thirty rule and gotten away with it. Please, you have to talk to my father, he’s your friend, so you will trust him when he tells you I’ve done nothing wrong! Please!”
“Oh, we’re gonna have a nice chat alright,” assured Braxton. “I’ll drive and call for backup. You call Judge Matheson and tell him we need a warrant ASAP. He’ll sign it over the phone.”
“Way ahead of you,” said Kinsler as he began dialing his phone.
There was a loud knock on Gordon’s door precisely at ten after nine.
“What a lad, he’s even early. You taught that boy well,” praised Kristoff.
“He’s probably excited for the festivities, can you blame the boy for being early?” said Gordon as he approached the door. “Welcome home Joey!” he yelled, as he began working the first lock.
“Police! Open the door now, we have a warrant!”
The party froze.
“Everyone, go downstairs. Now. If you here them coming, you know what to do,” instructed Gordon as he walked away from the door.
“But Gordon, the Elixir is ready to be made, we can’t just—“
“Be quiet!” he screamed. “Go!”
The Bettelheim’s and Binkley’s immediately proceeded to the basement to join the children. Theresa hesitated.
“Don’t even think of it, you stupid whore,” said Gordon, stabbing at her with his cold stare. She bolted for the door.
“Help! Help me, please!” she screeched, fumbling with the locks.
Gordon picked up the knife that Theresa failed to clear from the table after the cake was served. He rushed to her, thrusting the blade into her spine, staining the residue of the white cake batter with a coat of crimson. He grabbed her hair as she fell, thrusting her head towards him, stabbing more than just stares at her face and neck.
There was a massive impact on the door, then another, and another before it finally smashed, catapulting the door off the hinges and into Gordon. The impact caused the knife blade, which was currently stuck inside the forehead of the battered mush that was Theresa’s skull, to snap off the handle and stay there, like a demonic Excalibur lodged into a crying stone, tempting any who may dare to try and remove it.
Gordon shot to his feet as quickly as a veteran athlete, and used his agility to leap at the two police officers in his doorway. However fast he was, however youthful his body felt, he could not beat out the chorus of Beretta fire that riddled his body. Braxton and Kinsler were two of the department’s deadliest shots.
They rushed into the house, followed by a militia of police with weapons drawn, some leaping over the massacred corpse beneath them, some trampling it. Officers scattered throughout the miniature mansion, ascending the stairs, pillaging the kitchen and lower floor bedrooms. Among the commotion, they heard a familiar bang, like a bird responding to a mating call from just a moment before. The shots continued, one after another, following a precise meter. Braxton thought there had been six, Kinsler knew there had been seven, but there was no time to debate.
A powerful size fourteen boot was offered to the door that separated the officers from the chaos, sending it tumbling down a ragged staircase. Four more shots were fired as Kinsler and Braxton bounded down the stairs before they offered a parade of a dozen of their own bullets into a man with a handgun. There was no resisting or pleading from this man, he just stared at the officers, shot after shot, never with a sign of fear. He died a horrifying death with an even more terrifying sense of calmness.
Kinsler and Braxton led the rush into the massacre. Nine bodies faced the wall in a single file line, slumped over and motionless. There was a leaking hollow in the back of each skull with blood and brain matter painted across the brick wall canvas in front of them, creating a morbid piece of abstract misery. In the center of the room, a young woman was strapped to a table. There was a bullet hole creating a messy pit from one eyeball to the next. Her stomach was bulging, and she was clearly in her late stages of pregnancy. Another gunshot wound was apparent just above her naval.
The following search of the household concluded with nothing abnormal. It was a fine home, a beautiful retirement abode that would have been absolutely flawless if it weren’t for the baker’s dozen of cadavers decorating the residence.
In the backyard, the detectives found a makeshift structure connected to the home from underground, resembling a haphazard bomb shelter. The only piece of equipment in the cramped furrow was a freezer, held firm by an array of locks. After busting the security devices off, they found a row of viles filled with a liquid the color of funeral roses. It was apparent that Joey made no fabrications about the Elixir.
On the days following the slaughter, Braxton and Kinsler were busying themselves by filling out paperwork and investigating the tragedy further.
“I talked to O’Brien this morning. I guess he’s prosecutor for the case. Since Joey’s the only one with relevance to the situation that’s still alive, the State has to try to pin it all on him,” murmured Kinsler in his tired tone. “He’s not all that confident about getting any convictions; says Joey is a prime candidate for insanity, even with the lousiest appointed lawyer in town.”
“As much as I hate to see nobody go down for this mess, I can’t deny the kid is fucked up,” agreed Braxton. “I tried interrogating him the night we took him in, but he just kept calling me a liar, said that I wasn’t his friend so his father wouldn’t let him talk to me. I told him I could take him to see his piece of shit father’s rotting corpse in the morgue, but he just kept denying his pops was dead. In fact, he told me his father couldn’t die, that he would never die.”
The pair continued to busy themselves in their office, with Kinsler hammering away at the keyboard and Braxton trying not to doze off into a chaotic slumber when a man walked in and handed Kinsler a file.
“Braxton, wake the fuck up, man. DNA report just came in from the lab,” said Kinsler, getting an annoyed sigh from Braxton. He scanned the files and froze. “Christ, what the fuck?”
“What?” questioned Braxton, finally shaking off the onslaught of sleep that was oppressing him.
“The DNA report, it says that they were all related. They were a family, Braxton, a fucking family.”
“Let me see that,” said Braxton, snatching it from Kinsler’s stiff hands.
“Christ,” he said.
As Braxton tried to make any sense of the report, Kinsler began searching deeper into the web of law enforcement databases, starting with Gordon Ross. The initial preliminary searches were null, just as the days before, until he used some of the outdated engines.
“Those other guys,” said Kinsler, “the ones in the basement, what were the names we found on their licenses?”
“Clark Bettelheim and Kristoff Binkley.”
“I don’t know what to make of this, but I found an incident from a while ago. Apparently, they owned a medicinal firm in Los Angeles and got busted for fraud. They beat the case, but it looks like it cost them their reputation and their business. I guess the report wasn’t lying; the firm was titled Ross Brother’s Medicine.”
“So they moved here and each changed their names except Gordon. I guess that’s the move I would do too if I wanted a fresh start,” said Braxton.
“They had three sisters, too.”
“Three sisters? Where are they now? We need to question them.”
“As of now, they’re dead.”
“Oh. Christ, don’t tell me—“
“Yep,” said Kinsler, “Theresa, Nancy, and Cindy Ross. They married their fucking sisters.”
Braxton sighed, thinking this was way out of his league as far as detective work goes.
“When did they get busted for fraud?” he asked.
“That’s the thing,” said Kinsler, “I don’t know what to make of this. I cross checked the prints from when they were busted for that and the prints we got from the bodies, it’s a perfect match.”
“What are you getting at?”
“They got arrested for fraud in 1896.”
“See for yourself,” insisted Kinsler.
Braxton checked it out, thinking Kinsler meant 1996, but as always, Kinsler wasn’t mistaken.
“That would have made Gordon thirty two at the time, Kirstoff at thirty, and Clark at twenty nine,” said Kinsler.
“But none of them looked like they could be past forty,” said Braxton, who was once again tired from the new found confusion. “What about the kids?”
“That’s just what they were; they were kids. Joey, the youngest, is eighteen, and the triplets were the oldest at twenty two.
“It seems they weren’t the only kids in all of these years. Here, look at these places they have lived: Boston, New Orleans, Stanford, Richmond, Traverse City. That’s not even all of them. They would have a batch of kids in each city and interbred them until they became infertile. Look, in Boston, each couple had two kids; in New Orleans, they all had more, and the pattern continued. The death records of each kid all say suicide or unknown. They would kill their own kids when they didn’t have any more use of them and stage their deaths to avoid blame, then pack up and ship out to the next location to do it all again.”
“So the Elixir, that liquid that we found in the freezer, everything Joey told us…”
“It was all true,” confirmed Kinsler.
They both sat in silence. They were lost in the infinite cycle of what and why, of who and how.
“Why do you think Gordon never changed his name like the others did?” finally asked Braxton.
“He had found the key to eternal youth. He had done what Herodotus had told about; he had found what León never could. He wanted everyone to know just how intelligent he was. He was proud of what he did.”
“Proud of forcing his children to breed for his own purposes for over a century? Proud of enslaving his own blood and treating them like livestock, only to exterminate them when they couldn’t do what he pleased anymore? He was proud of that?”
“Pride is considered a deadly sin for a good reason. It contorts the mind and inflates the ego, allowing someone to do the most atrocious things imaginable with no consequence to their own morality. After all, haven’t people been proud of worse?”
Braxton thought the question over. He pondered about all the terrible people he had heard about in school, all of the people he had seen on the news who had down wicked things to others, he thought about himself.
“Yeah, I guess they have,” he said.
Nicholas Alti is the self proclaimed Pride of Punk Rock in the small, universally unheard of and unacknowledged town called Stevensville, located in Michigan. He enjoys causing minor disturbances wherever he can simply to bring amusement to himself and hopefully those around him. When he is not bothering strangers to let him play with their dogs, he can be found either somewhere in the wilderness contemplating his peculiar thoughts or bastioned in his room reading literature or watching horror films. With a relatively fresh start on his writing career, he has found small success in the likes of magazines such as The Larcenist and The Show Me Doctrine, but he is eager and hopeful to continue on the path of creativity, and ultimately wants his voice to be heard and his message to be delivered, in whatever bizarre or offbeat way he presents it.