“I apologize, Father,” Eddie said, dabbing at his eyes with the heel of his hand. “Dying is something I’ve never had to do before and it don’t come easy.”
The old man looked uncomfortable sitting in that chair. He looked uncomfortable in his skin...fearful even, and as if he was looking for a place to run to.
“I can certainly understand that,” Father Murphy answered from his place behind the desk.
Eddie Kingsley didn’t look well at all. He was gaunt; clearly his health had been declining for some time. His skin was mottled with hues of gray, eyes deeply sunken in with large, dark patches lying beneath them. And he was sweating profusely although it was chilly in the office. Father Murphy could see that he was in a lot of pain.
“Did you want to make a confession, Mr. Kingsley?”
Eddie giggled then, but his laughter took on all the qualities of a guitar string that had been turned umpteen notches too tight.
“That’s just it,” he answered, scratching at his unshaven chin. “I didn’t do anything and that’s the problem. If I’d have done something things might have turned out different. I might have been able to save them kids. This has been eating me alive for years. The doctors want to call it cancer, but I know better.”
The Priest leaned forward in his chair. He knew exactly what Eddie was referring to. Southtown was a very small place; not the sort of place where a double homicide goes unnoticed. The details had been sketchy at the time, and the family had remained tight-lipped about the whole thing for all of these years. The priest felt an odd sense of greed almost, and excitement that he was to be the one who finally knew the truth.
“Go on,” he encouraged, but the anticipation in his voice was louder than his words somehow and fresh pain flashed across Eddie’s face. Father Murphy felt ashamed of his own voyeuristic nature, but this was one fish he did not want to get away.
“Forgive me,” he offered. “I only want to help. And I promise that anything you tell me will be kept confidential. Believe me; I know how to keep things between myself and Him.” He pointed upwards indicating his Lord and savior.
“That’s one of the reasons I came to you,” Eddie said. “I figured if anybody could keep a secret... Well, you have to, don’t you? Whether you want to, or not. You took a vow, right? There’s still the family to think of.”
“I’ve kept more than my share of secrets over the years,” Father Murphy responded, “and I’ll keep this one too, you can be sure of it.” This he meant, and it showed.
Comforted, Eddie settled in to his chair. He drew one deep breath and began rubbing his head, as though he could reach in and pull out the proper place to begin. He spoke haltingly at first, but as the story progressed it rolled off his tongue as though he’d rehearsed it a million times.
“This is...the real story of what happened to Charles Barnes that night back in ’64. You remember him?”
Father Murphy did and said so.
“People said he disappeared. People love to talk, don’t they?”
“They certainly do, Eddie. But he didn’t ‘disappear’, did he?”
“Nah... He got his comeuppance all right, but he never left that farm. And it wasn’t just two murders that happened that night, like everyone thought. I was there and I saw what she done. The thing is, I tried to make it wrong in my head and I just couldn’t. If the bible says, ‘spare the rod and spoil the child’, it also says, ‘an eye for an eye’, and I guess that’s right too. Still...what happened ain’t exactly right either.”
Father Murphy was confused.
“Why don’t you start at the beginning, Eddie, so that I can make sense of this?”
Eddie, however, seemed lost in thought.
“People said that he tortured his children with electricity. Later on, I heard them joking that the reason he used electricity instead of burning them with cigarettes, like in the movies, was because he didn’t smoke.”
Father Murphy was unable to cover the shock he felt at that statement. It must’ve been written all over his face.
“Eddie? The beginning? Tell me what happened.”
“Right. Sorry, Father.”
Eddie shifted in his chair again.
“I worked for Charles Barnes,” Eddie went on. “I hired on when Charles picked the farm up at an estate sale just before he got married. He got it for a song too. I was fresh out of high school myself and went to live with them straight away. And there was something wrong with the place back then. It just felt wrong. It suited Charles to a tee though. I’ve come to believe that bad energy calls to bad energy and that’s probably what was going on there from the beginning.
He said to me, ‘Eddie, my boy, we’ve hit the God-damned mother-lode!’ I remember him clapping me on the back hard enough to send me flying. He was strong, if nothing else.
We may have hit the mother-lode, I thought to myself, but the mother-lode of what?
Even before the Barnes’ moved in there was always a lot of talk around town about that place and I’d heard it all. I grew up in Southtown, just down the road from there. It was a creepy house to begin with. Everyone said it was haunted. It was a couple of hundred years old, for one thing, and a lot of people had lived and died there. But just because the previous owners died, doesn’t mean they ever moved out, does it?”
“Well, yes, I suppose,” Father Murphy agreed, though not at all sure whether he did or not.
Eddie went on as though he’d forgotten that the Priest was even there.
“Charles married Annette back in 1949, in July, I think. They got married in that little, white Methodist church on the other side of town. You know the one? It was a simple ceremony. Annette wore the dress that her mother handed down to her from her own wedding. She was about the prettiest thing that I’ve ever seen.
By four p.m., on the same day, Charles had her in the barn helping with the milking. By a quarter after five, he had already slammed her up against a concrete wall for knocking over a five gallon bucket of milk. I heard her apologizing--said that it was her fault really, and that she should have been more careful. She was as nervous as a long-tailed cat in a room full of rocking chairs! By six thirty, I was already falling in love with her.”
It was Father Murphy’s turn to shift in his chair. But if he felt a little uncomfortable, Eddie didn’t seem to notice.
“Against my better judgment, I moved in with the family. I have to tell you that I was more than a little nervous about that. But I lived in that house for a good many years and never saw nor heard anything I couldn’t explain away. Course soon enough the house was filled with children and there was so darned much going on all of the time, that you wouldn’t have noticed anything if it were there. Now and then you’d get a feeling is all--just a feeling that something wasn’t right or someone was watching you. And then the hair would stand right up on the back of your neck. But like I said, I didn’t actually see anything. Not until that summer anyways. Not until the summer of ’64...”