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Sunday, September 12, 2010

The Hand Of Death

The devastating horror of mass murder is the epitome of human anguish. We cannot comprehend the torment of such things unless we are directly involved. Such was the case of Joseph X.

Joseph's home town was to him the centre of his universe. It was small, warm & boasted of the friendliest people in the world. It was the ideal place where flowers bloomed  in the gardens, cheerful people spoke to you on the street & front doors were never locked.

It was Sunday night. The day of rest & relaxation. A time for peace or should have been, until the neighbourhood solitude was suddenly shattered by a piercing scream. It seemed to echo through the vacant streets of this haven of rest. This was the night the horror began.
A small box had been found on the front step. No name nor address had been written on it. Just a scrawled formation that spelled out .... 

"To The Next Of Kin."

The reason for the outburst became dangerously apparent, for upon opening the lid, the woman had found the severed hand of her husband. His wedding ring still intact upon his wedding finger. The gruesome act had shocked the little community to life. Fear which had been foreign to them suddenly became their next breath.  

Even friends who had known each other for years began to have second thoughts about getting too close. The dead man had been found three days later floating in the old swamp just a mile from his home.

Joseph lived alone in his small apartment above the candy shop where little children & adults frequented each day. It was a staple in the town & a place to stand around & tell the newest bit of gossip, all innocent of course. Today though was different & as Joseph was preparing his morning meal he heard of shocking events that in his opinion happened to other folks in other towns.

He wasn't a socializer, always keeping to himself. There were some who thought Joseph to be a little strange, a little off the beaten track. Joseph stood alone in the kitchen, mesmerized by the blinding beads of light that reflected from the blade of the butcher knife he was holding. He was a man engulfed in another world as his tightened hand slowly turned the knife back & forth, wondering, watching but for who or what? Only time would tell. 

Weeks passed with the horror of many more murders. It became a time of panic for the murders had extended to other small towns nearby. Never more than one in the same place. Whoever was commiting the crimes certainly knew the area well enough not to get caught. The biggest fear that gripped the residents was the thought & possible the reality that maybe it was one of their own. It was totally unthinkable, but they were quickly learning not to trust even their closet friends.  

Paranoia swept the region like a plague. No one was safe. Doors & windows suddenly started being locked, even in the daytime. Talk of vigilante groups surfaced in every corner. They were out for blood. A witch hunt for who they didn't know. It seemed that anyone & everyone who acted suspicious could be fair game. Justice had failed to procure the monster, leaving the way open to pronounce justice & judgement in the way they saw fit.
Joseph sat alone in his tiny rooms listening & wondering what his future would hold. He was a hopeless little man, self absorbed in his own little world. It was a world that allowed no one to enter. It wasn't that he disliked people, he just didn't feel comfortable around them.

People had started thinking out loud about Joseph & his self imposed solitude. What did he have to hide? In their minds his weasle little attitued sudjested something evil & downright sinister. Judgement was being passed in whispers. Accusations without facts that maybe this mystery man knew something he wasn't willing to tell. 

The only so-called evidence was a report that during the time of one of the murders a witness had seem a dark outline of a small man. Not very conclusive, but enough to start the rumours spreading. People began looking at Joseph with distrust in their eyes. A suspect in the making. A verdict given without trial. Was he the faceless man hell-bent on torture & death? 

Preasure on the local authorities called for action even if it only accomplished that at least someone had been arrested. They needed something, anything to give them peace of mind. It is called by different names but somehow Joseph knew they were coming for him. Were would he go? What would he do? He would be a fugitive from justice. He was a mousy little man  who through himself imposed withdrawal from society was quickly labeling him as a possible murderer. Humans can be too quick to judge without knowing all the facts. The knock on the door signaled that the worse of his fears were about to come true. The time had come for Joseph X to face society on their terms. He was given no choice in the matter, only a command for complete surrender to the law or the masses. 

Joseph's trial was a long, mind boggling & forebodign affair. Months of evidence compiled against the lone man gave him the ever sinking feeling of hopelessness, while the towns people justified in their minds began to feel secure. Nothing would ever again be the same, but at least they could try resume some semblance of normality. One thing at least was good, the murders had stopped after Josephs arrest. No more victims. No more tortured families to deal with more tragedy. Their man had been caught & who would have thought right in their own home town?  

Witness' told how Joseph refused to associate with other members of the town. How he was suspected by them of anything & everything. How his past was a secret, his present a mystery & his future in their hands. Rantings, ravings & unsubstantiated accusations were hurled around every corner. He was their man. Their scape-goat. He was their killer.

Joseph's trial had been moved several times in order for him to at least have a shot at a fair trial. The area of crimes were wide & finding fairness & justice was hard. He had been prejudged & presentenced by most. From where he stood, there was no chance of fairness or freedom ever again. There were days of endless grilling. Questioning about everything from murders to petty theft. " What did he know about them?" " Why was he so secretive in his ways?" Judgement day finally came. The day that all would know the juries verdict. Silence reigned as a jurers reappeared after many hours of deliberation. If he was the killer, they needed to know without a shadow of a doubt. The foreman stood while everyone seemd to hold their breath. Joseph slowly rose to his feet, knees trembling uncontrollably. All eyes were focused on the person about to anounce whether he, in their opinion was guilty or not guilty. The foreman cleared his throat. The waiting was becoming agonizing for everyone. A bad verdict would send a mass murderer back into society to kill again. 

The facts remained that not once had anyone seen Joseph at the crime scenes nor had his finger prints ever been found in the area of the crimes. This was his only defence. He couldn't prove where he had been, for he had been nowhere. Just locked away by himself. There was no one to help him. A reasonable doubt to be sure, but would it be enough to free him from his nightmare? Justice is blind, so they say, & maybe so are most people. One thing was certain, if Joseph was the murderer, his victims all had one thing in common. They had met him at least once. It would be their one & only time.

" We, the jury find Joseph X in the case of mass murder to be.... not guilty by reason of lack of evidence." You could have heard a pin drop. Joseph slumped down into his seat like a man who had been drained of all his emotions & strength. Quietly, the guard escorted him out of the courtroom & down the long hall to the exit. He was a free man, but would remain marked in the eyes of the town's people forever. Joseph was indeed a free man. Innocent of all charges, but he walked with his head bowed low & his shoulders drooped. He was a defeated man.

The killer behind the hand of death remained at large, evading detection. No trial, no more bodies. Nothing has been solved to this day. He is a man of many decisions. The person who the town had relied on for council, guidance & their spiritual leader. The very man who they trusted with their very lives. He was to them the pinnacle of uprightness. Their shepherd whom they were happy to follow to the end of time & possibly give up their lives for. He has a look of innocence about him, but his touch is deadly. Who knows, he may be out there stalking you.

Note: The mystery of this story is to find the killer. See if you know who it is.

Good luck

Dalton Lasher

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