Hystoria County Dispatch
Thursday, July 19th, 1879
Tragedy struck a local family in the township of Hystoria. A fire claimed the lives of four children in the family barn. The Ellis family home was the site of the incident according to the local magistrate. The father was injured in an attempted rescue, leaving a deep wound in his arm. Unfortunately all four children perished in the blaze.
It is believed that the fire was an accident, sparked by dry straw and an overturned oil lamp. The straw in the barn caught fire causing multiple bales to fall, blocking the only exit.
The family’s four children, 11 year old Michela, 10 year old Thomas, and 6 year old twins, Timothy and Ursula, all perished. It is believed the deaths came from smoke inhalation while trapped in the barn, although their bodies were unable to be recovered.
The Ellis children are survived by their parents Mitchell and Gretchen Ellis, both longtime residents of Hystoria County. The family will be receiving visitors and condolences at the family home Saturday at noon.
The newspaper article was all lies of course. A story told is sometimes just that, a story. In this case, the truth is far more wicked.
Thomas always had a black ring around his soul. It was as if he crossed under the devil’s shadow when he was born. One minute his demeanor was all sunshine and smiles, and the next he was full of hatred; spewing venom with his eyes bulging out of their sockets. Rage built in that boy from a young age.
At age three, he started smashing bugs in the yard.
By four, he used a stick to torture their family dog.
By age nine, Thomas had killed most animals that dared to stray on to the farm. A few years back, he poisoned a pig the family was raising for food. The pig turned sick and died unexpectedly; well unexpectedly to his parents. Thomas was seeing what chemicals from his Pa’s shed he could get the pig to eat. The idea that anyone in the family may join the pig by eating it excited him, but his parents decided against cooking it, not knowing why it died and all.
Of all the vagrant animals, Thomas disliked cats the most. Strays were always wandering in his yard. A cat once sprayed his leg while he was pumping water from the well. It took Thomas thirty minutes to get his hands on the beast; not even squeezing through the narrow boards of the fence near the prickly bushes stopped him. His vengeance was swift and cruel, removing handfuls of fur at a time before becoming bored and ending the creature.
Thomas considered himself creative with how he disposed of his prey. Burying them neck deep in the ground and seeing how long they lived with only their heads exposed, that was his particular favorite. He fancied himself a scientist of sorts, running experiments making mental notes of what havoc he reaped. Serves them right for scratching him when he caught them, they shouldn’t have been in his yard to begin with, Thomas rationalized.
Thomas believed the animals knew what was coming. The entire vagrant cat society knew what they were in for when they dared entered his domain. Like small children know which house in the neighborhood to avoid, you know, the one that children would rather abandon a beloved toy in front of rather than venture too close. Basically to Thomas’s twisted mind, the cats were volunteering, it was a contract signed in their blood.
A few months back, Thomas watched as a thunderhead approached from the west. A storm was coming, and a big one at that! He gathered up a half dozen not so willing volunteers. Thomas buried the six cats in a low spot of the back yard and watched from his bedroom window as the water level rose to a puddle. Soon there were no orange or black heads visible. Thomas had his answer and looked forward to seeing the aftermath once the storm had passed.
Thomas was no fool, of course, and buried the evidence of all his experiments; except for the six cats. The rain storm turned out to be pretty severe, so the mud buried them completely. He thought about digging them up again, but quickly lost interest as his attention wandered elsewhere.
In public, Thomas gave the appearance he was the perfect child. Thomas offered an image both clever and exceedingly polite. Those who barely knew the boy loved this clever little shell he presented; his porcelain façade shallowly held out to the world.
“This one’s a charmer,” one elderly woman in town told his parents. She pinched his cheek, giving it a little shake as she did. Thomas deplored being touched, especially by the old. However, he eagerly accepted the praise and admiration he felt he deserved. He would wipe her flakey touch off his cheek when they parted; wouldn’t want to pull away and risk losing his attention.
Thomas was a handsome lad, in most respects. He stood taller than most boys his age, with a muscular physique. Thomas’s wavy brown hair brushed back off his face naturally, as if he was constantly facing in to the wind. He held a Caesar-like profile to match the aura of confidence he possessed.
On the surface he was a remarkable young man; on the surface alone that is.
It was difficult for his parents to come to terms with what they thought of Thomas; to accept him for what they deep down believed him to be. They thought maybe he would grow out of this phase and become normal, that hopefully he would grow up to be a good man.
They ignored what evidence they saw, making mental excuses for the cats’ tails and bugs with their limbs torn off. It was just a phase, or he already found it that way and was just being curious. His mother fantasized that maybe he would be a doctor one day.
Neither of Thomas’s parents believed he was just going through a phase. What about the look in his eyes when he was caught dissecting the squirrel? It was eagerness, almost a hunger wasn’t it? His parent’s hearts ached for hope, but let indecision hold them from action.
The day started as any other; the girls playing with Timothy, the youngest child by 4 minutes, in the garden. Thomas was off by himself, as usual, out of site but close enough to keep a watch out for prying eyes. He found the shade the oak tree offered almost as comfortable as the cover the tree provided. This was his sanctuary, where he would not be bothered. And if someone did want to pester him, Thomas could see them coming from 50 feet off.
It was typical of the three other children to play by themselves. When Thomas joined in the games became too intense. He made the others nervous, always pushing them to go faster and hurry up for his turn. They better play the way he wanted them to or else! He did not like losing, or not getting his way, so they tried to stay clear of Thomas when they could. Thankfully Thomas was happier on his own, most of the time.
Today, Thomas had stolen his father’s hatchet from the shed. He didn’t really have a reason for taking it, other than that he knew he wasn’t supposed to have it. He leaned back against the oak tree admiring how sharp his father kept the blade.
The afternoon was young, Thomas’s attention was drawn by shrills of excitement coming from his siblings. “This was new, they had been quiet,” he thought to himself. Thomas came out from his perch under the oak tree. He strolled towards his preoccupied sisters and younger brother, intrigued by their enthusiasm.
They huddled around something small, he watched as the children squirmed with anticipation. Every few moments of silent wonder were broken by squeals, followed by momentary jumps backwards away from the object that so captured their attention. What was it that they found so fascinating?
“What is it? Let me see,” Thomas shoved his way in, expanding the size of the circle to four.
Inside a small wooden box, a field mouse tested the sides, looking for an escape route. Each attempted escape sending the children into an excited frenzy; all but Thomas that is. He sat fascinated, staring at the grey mouse in the box. All but forgotten, his father’s hatchet slipped from his fingers. The handle tapped the outside of his calf, as if to remind him of its presence.
Thomas picked the hatchet up again. “I know, we can hit the mouse with this!” he presented the hatchet as if a prized trophy, excepting the others to agree, or at least not get in the way. This was not merely a suggestion from Thomas, but a statement of what was to come. He paid no attention to the others, solely focusing on the fuzzy little creature. The mouse had wondered into the wrong yard, and now he would know it.
Thomas raised the hatchet to his ear and sent it slamming down, ignoring the pleas of the others.
Blood splattered, spraying each of the children in a red mist. Thomas had not expected this much blood as this was not his first field mouse. He moved the hatchet to get a better look at his kill. The field mouse scurried away from the overturned box unharmed.
The mouse briefly attempted to hide under the severed hand on the ground before it, but instead decided it was best to leave the area. It fled through the cabbage in route to safer ground.
All four children sat in wide eyed astonishment staring at Michela’s arm. Moments before a hand had been there, now a stream of red filled her sleeve. Thomas braced for the scream his older sister was sure to let out. Panic held the children in its grip; scarcely a breath was taken for what seemed to be hours, maddening hours.
Michela inhaled deeply. “Here it comes, the scream,” Thomas thought. “This will not do,” again he thought to himself as he lunged for his older sister. His hands pressed around her throat until his fingers turned bone white. Michela put up a feeble struggle with her one remaining hand.
Michela fell limp with Thomas lurched over her like a snarling wolf. Her eyes rolled in the back of her sockets leaving only white globes.
The twins, Ursula and Timothy, stood in stunned silence. Their young minds unable to comprehend what they just witnessed.
Thomas took a moment to compose himself after he released the grasp on his sister’s throat. Taking a deep breath, he slicked the hair back from his face and looked at the twins. He expected that they would run or had already run to the house screaming for mother. Eager to have her protect them for the boogey man, but they hadn’t. Petrified, they stood glassy eyed, staring at the still form of Michela’s body.
He rose to his feet and walked behind them; they dared not move or even look at him. How could they? Their eyes still fixed on all the blood, so much blood.
“What to do?” Thomas said in his sliest voice. His every attempt to keep his voice from cracking failed. “I can’t leave witnesses, can I?” Thomas thought to himself.
The scurrility of the moment did not pass as he led the twins off somewhere more discreet.
The rest of the afternoon came and went. Gretchen Ellis had called for her children to come prepare for supper several times with no success. She walked around the exterior of the house but had not found them. Passing through the garden she saw freshly groomed dirt, but no sign of the children.
It wasn’t like the twins to be far from the house.
Mitchell Ellis returned home early that day, finding his worried wife waiting for him. “Mitchell, I have not seen the children since lunch. They’re missing and…” Mitchell placed his hands on her shoulders and calmed her.
“I am sure they’re fine, but if it will make you happy, I can go round them up.” He set down his coat, placing it on the back of his chair. “You know kids, they probably lost track of time”.
Mitchell stepped on the front porch followed closely by Gretchen. She was busy wringing her hands, sensing something was very wrong. Had she ignored something earlier? Shouldn’t the absence of noise have told her something was wrong? It is never good when children are too quiet.
Thomas slid to the side of the house, watching his parents prepare to come find them, to find him! And what would they find? This isn’t burying a bird or hiding treasures he had stolen. They had to be told something; he could not feign ignorance, not this time.
Thomas felt the tingle of the hairs on the back of his neck rise, as cold hand clasped his shoulder. The grasp, though not physical, was none the less real. Spiky fingers symbolically dug into Thomas’ flesh and a whisper drifted in his ear, or was it just the wind? A moment passed and an idea drifted into Thomas’ head. Could it work? Do I have a choice?
Thomas looked at his dirty, blood soaked clothes dwelling on his situation. He ran his hand through his hair ignoring the bloody streak it created. Yes, this new plan would work if he played it right. Thomas gritted his teeth and slinked away from the house, fleeing back the way he had come.
Mitchell checked the barn. “The kids are hiding in here for sure,” he thought. They were always playing in the barn, but usually they came when they were called. They should know better than to hide from their parents, this had to be Thomas’s idea. None of the others would vex their mother so. “That boy,” Mitchell growled under his breath.
The loft held no children, no toys, not even a trace that anyone has been in there since he loaded the straw the previous week.
Gretchen could not stand waiting on the porch any longer so she followed the sounds of Mitchell in the barn. “Are they in the barn? Do you see them?”
“No, haven’t found them yet. When I do, Thomas will get the strap as I am sure he is leading the others”. Mitchell came out of the barn, scratching the back of his head. He pulled the handkerchief from his pocket and wiped the sweat from his face.
Thomas watched them from a distance. He figured this was the time, no use in waiting any further. A thought crossed his mind that he could run, he could just leave and never come back. Smart kids like him did not really need parents anyway, did they?
No, he would be caught before he reached Tempca or Channing, and everyone would see his running as an admission of guilt. Besides, this was all Michela’s fault, stupid girl pushed over the box and got in the way. She is the reason for all of this and it wasn’t fair that he would have to leave.
Thomas ran to his parents preparing a single word. He bit the side of his cheek to start tears in his eyes. This wasn’t easy, he actually struck blood before tears.
Mitchell and Gretchen watched as their son ran towards them. Gretchen noticed the blood on his clothes first and began to run to her child. Mitchell started late but reached Thomas a step before his wife. “What happened?” He held Thomas away at arm’s length, grasping both of his arms to get a good look at his clothes.
Thomas began to sob looking at the ground before him. Originally he did not plan to sob but his father’s grip was tight.
Thomas raised his head and pointed in the direction he had come from, “Wolves.”
Mitchell let the grip on his son go and Gretchen began to scream, putting her face into Mitchell’s chest. He held her for a second and told her to wait in the house.
Mitchell grabbed the rifle from his bedroom and followed Thomas into the fields, towards the pond.
Thomas tried to give details as he and his father ventured further from the house. He explained that he had brought the hatchet for protection and that he fought off two of the wolves but the others he could not stop.
“Where are your sisters and Timothy?” his father demanded. Thomas only offered a non-committal answer, “I don’t know, I didn’t see.”
Near the shore of the pond, Mitchell found his children, or what was left of them. All three torn to pieces and showing signs they have been chewed upon. Ursula and Michela’s corpses laid lifeless in pieces, several portions of their remains were missing completely. His head swiveled looking for the predators, but found nothing other than his children. Mitchell dropped to his knees sobbing, touching what was left of little Ursula’s forearm.
Thomas stood behind him scanning the remains one last time, trying to make sure nothing pointed to him. He had thought about biting himself as he did the others to show he too was attacked, but he could not bring himself to do it.
Thomas again felt the dark touch, this time placing pressure firmly on both shoulders. A new thought came to him, or was it another whisper? Isn’t that the hatchet next to him? His father had a gun but he could just pick up the hatchet and end this charade right now. He could do it easily. Mom could be manipulated; she would believe that Pa shot himself like Mr. Murphy down the road did after his wife had passed.
All Thomas had to do was hit his father in the head with the axe and the gun could be used to cover the axe mark with a single shot.
Slowly, Thomas bent down until he felt the wooden handle of the hatchet resting in the palm of his hand. He gripped it and began to stand. This time the hatchet felt heavy, as if its weight fit the moment.
Thomas moved closer behind the sobbing man he had known all his life. All Thomas could feel was resentment for the father that punished him so often. His slight fear grew to hatred and disgust as he towered over the meek man before him. Thomas felt powerful with the hatchet in his hand. Thomas mocked his father in his head, “This is the same man who thought himself king of the house? He would be king no more!”
Inside, Thomas felt the dark hand sliding from his shoulders down through his arms like chilled sleeves; they were his no longer. These new arms felt stronger, effortless and the hatchet rose.
Mitchell turned in horror as if someone screamed his name from behind him. Thomas no longer stood there, in his place stood more beast than boy. Thomas cheered from inside his head as a passenger in his own mind, letting the rage overrun his body.
The hatchet head weaved back and forth like a cobra eager to strike. One last upward heave and the hatchet started its frenzied thrust forward.
Mitchell stared sheepishly at the hatchet as it rushed feverishly towards him.
A great thud rang across the field causing the world to pause, even the butterflies stopped flapping their wings. The small, grey field mouse poked his head out from a loose board in the barn where he made his new home. The whole world held its breath.
Thomas dropped to his knees, his eyes full of fire burning at his father. Mitchell was lying on his side with the hatchet buried in his left arm. This was not as he intended. “His head. HIS HEAD! How did I miss?” Thomas screamed to himself as well as the other that was with him, was him.
It took a moment for Thomas to realize he could no longer see out of his right eye as blood rushed from a gaping wound on his forehead. A hot flash of pain seared through the freshly scored flesh.
Gretchen stood over her son with disbelief, not just in her son for what he was about to do, but in herself for what she had done. She let loose the shovel she had found in her garden and put her hand to her mouth, her lips trembling with fear and adrenaline. If Thomas had more time, he would not have left the shovel there after covering up his mess, but time had been preciously short.
The shovel flopped on the ground as Gretchen rushed to her husband’s side. “He was going to kill you!” Her voice a mixture of sob and terror, “I think I killed him, I think I killed our boy.” Gretchen didn’t have experience with death, but she had hit Thomas as hard as she could. She couldn’t fathom that he would be able to survive such a blow to the head.
Mitchell bit hard on the collar of his shirt and pulled the hatchet free. The hate seemed all out of it now, no longer did it hunger for him. What in the world had just happened? What did Thomas do? Casting the hatchet aside, and with the assistance of Gretchen, he rose to his feet.
Thomas laid in a heap, barely breathing and briefly believing he was dead. Consciousness flowed back into him like a rushing bull. Thomas’s eyes no longer worked, he felt the blackened world swirl around him as life painfully pushed back into him. Thomas wailed in agony, “I will kill you. I promise, I will kill you both!” He snarled pulling himself backward in to a crouch like a wounded dog.
He still felt powerful, the other had not abandoned him. There was work to be finished and all his cards are now on the table. He did not recall this being his plan, but felt it must have been and now he was fully committed.
Thomas scrambled for the hatchet, letting out a primal scream, but he never reached it. The boy that Thomas was died when he met his new companion. That boy watched from the back as the other took control. Thomas remembered his grandfather’s stories of spirits that roamed the old county, spirits that tormented the living and were as old as time itself. His grandfather was right.
His hand fell on the hatchet but did not grip it, not this time. The crack of the rifle woke the world and everything began to breathe again.
Mitchell was horrified to find the bite marks on the three younger children were not from wolves, or even dogs. They were that of a boy. What in God’s name did Thomas do?
The couple buried the remains of three of their children with tears, the last one they bound by his hands and his feet. He looked dead enough, but the visage Mitchell had seen standing over him was more than this boy and he did not trust it was through with them.
The body no longer looked like Thomas; he looked at least six years older. Mitchell imagined if he looked in his mouth there would be fangs instead of teeth. The eyelids were closed, but Mitchell was sure beneath them red eyes stared him down. They stared him down as he paced back and forth. Mitchell placed a blanket over the body, he no longer wanted to see the hole in his son’s chest, and he also hoped it would cover those damned eyes.
Mitchell watched as Gretchen somberly entered the barn where they had moved his body. They didn’t get many visitors, but with the gun fire they would not have been surprised to see them.
“We have to burn the body, Gretchen.” She made no movement and uttered no words but she agreed. She did not see the monster Mitchell saw, but she saw enough. This was the closest thing she could get to a final punishment. She did not mourn Thomas now, not after what he did to the others. Her pain was fresh and still ringing. She would not say as much, but part of her hoped Thomas was still alive when they set him on fire.
The bonfire burned deep into the night and Mitchell never left it. Gretchen huddled in the house, not even glancing out the window as tears rolled down her cheeks. She knew she wouldn’t get answers as to why this happened and she wept harder wishing she could punish Thomas more. Had she ever loved him? Really loved him? Or was she filling a role as a parent and nothing more? Gripped in guilt, Gretchen clutched a blanket and wrapped it tight around her.
The following day, Mitchell buried the ashes of what was once his oldest son on the far side of their property. Gretchen would not let him be buried with the others or anywhere close. She also refused to be present while Mitchell buried Thomas’ ashes. She had no desire for closure.
Mitchell thrust his shovel into the hardened dirt multiple times before it broke open, like it was refusing to accept the ashes. The land tried to dissuade him from burying Thomas’s remains here, but no such luck. It should be hard to bury your child, Mitchell thought, even one such as this.
When he was finished, Mitchell and Gretchen sat at the table where the family met for supper every evening. Gretchen broke the silence, “They’re going to talk, you know?” Her voice was low and steady. “They are going to ask questions and why wouldn’t they?”
“Who? What?” He couldn’t get his mind around what she was saying.
“The folks in this town. The neighbors, the Sheriff, and someone will remember the gun shot coming from our property,” her eyes looked up from her tea to meet his. “They will blame us for what Thomas did”. She took a deep breath and exhaled slowly, “His soul in Hell will be laughing because he will kill us after all. We will be hanged for what happened to our children.” Her youthful, cheery face looked haggard and aged. She hadn’t reached her thirty-first year, yet she looked twice that.
Mitchell puzzled over her words. Could this be true? What if they said it was a disease? Small pox or influenza? No, they take longer than a day to kill and the children were seen by at least twenty people just a few days ago.
What if we explain what happened? What about the truth? Who would believe them? Thomas cast such an image in town that no one in their right mind would believe him capable, and what of his body? We feared he was not dead so we burned him? No, that would not…Wait.
Mitchell had let his gaze wander around the room as he thought, but found his gaze looking right out the window at the barn.
The fire lit quickly and soon the entire barn freshly loaded with straw sent smoke that could be seen from the next county.
Everyone in town tried to help put it out but the flames were too strong. “The poor babies,” one woman muttered. “So young and to die in such a way, burned alive! I just can’t believe it,” one of the town elders replied.
Mitchell had injured his arm attempting to rescue the children and had been bandaged by his wife. Falling debris must have cut his shoulder good to have such a gash.
What remained of the Ellis family wept. Others thought it was for the loss of their children alone. But in truth, it was a mixture of grief and relief. Somewhere in their souls they always feared Thomas would not change. Thankfully now they know he can no longer hurt anyone again.
Or so they thought.
Hystoria County Dispatch
Friday, July 26th, 1879
Again, tragedy has struck the Ellis family of Hystoria township. A mere week after losing their children to a fire in the family barn, both Mitchell Ellis and his wife Gretchen Ellis lost their lives. Fire again played a role as the family home burned down while the Ellis’ slept in their second floor bedroom. The fire is believed to be caused by bonfire embers drifting in the wind and landing on the home’s roof.
Our deepest prayers go out to the community as they struggle with not only the loss of the children, but also the loss of an entire family of such high standing.
As it was stated before, sometimes stories are just stories. The truth, to be kept amongst us friends, is that Thomas is no liar and this is his domain. Now that he has his friend, revenge is in order.
Some tales end with the death of a villain; some are started with one…