Richell prize 2018 winner: read the prologue to Ruth McIver's crime novel I Shot the Devil
31 October 1994
Why me? Why him? I asked the darkness.
Well, hell, because it’s fun,the darkness answered.
At that moment, 31 October 1994, 11.11pm, the darkness had six heads, 12 arms and 12 legs. The woods were all around, already knowing everything and swollen with our secrets.
You know that record Rumours, the one with the gaylord in tights on the cover that everyone’s parents have? Well, that’s how it all started. Someone said something to someone and someone’s mother heard it and then it’s all over the school, the PTA and, later, the news: Satan worship, group sex, animal sacrifice.
West Cypress Road Woods has a soundtrack. In the daytime, it’s all Disney; hummingbirds and redheaded woodpeckers, the light footfall of deer. At night, the deep-bellied hoot of barn owls and nightjars and more sinister rustling, deeper in the dark. There was an occasional homeless guy wandering through, high school kids parking, getting high, fooling around. Wildcats, you think; wolves, you imagine. Another layer of the soundtrack. The noises he made in the dark: gurgles, snorts, moans. Feet shuffling in dirt, the crunching of sticks under boots and canvas sneakers.
Steve said that he’d killed a bear not far from there. He claimed to be a hunter, but all he had for evidence was a bearskin rug that none of us wanted to go near, let alone sit on.
We told Andre we had something for him. It was the only way to get him there that night without arousing his suspicion. Andre knew something was up – he was sweating, his eyes were unfocused but he kept licking his lips and pumping his fist. Still, he came without a fight, slapping a mosquito and drinking a beer too fast, humming what sounded like “You gotta fight for your right.”
“Death’s a lottery,” Ricky Hell once said. Now Andre’s number was up, everyone agreed. That’s why he was smiling, Danny said. He compared Andre to a white cat. Blond as a mouse and blind as a bat. It explained his resting aggression – natural disadvantages that made him both overly willing to please, but also extremely volatile. He wheezed from asthma and wore contacts most days, but sometimes tinted glasses. He had a pear-shaped, near womanly body, he almost always smelled like beer and plant matter; something botanical, earthy, rank.
Sometimes it’s like the movies: a montage of faces, feet and hands, kicking, breaking. The crack in his expression when he knows what’s going to happen and he seems less afraid and even a little sad.
I rewind the tape, the bit where the reel is baggy with wear and warped, the break in Andre’s voice, “Why me?”
You heard it all and you saw and you saw.
The worst bit is remembering before, the bits you can remember. At Wendy’s near the highway, all sharing the same Frosty and french fries at the back booth, before getting kicked out by some junior manager. Danny making devil horns and singing along in that deep growl of his, “blood will rain down”. Carole, still in her Dairy Queen uniform, smelling like Windex and sugar. Carole, grabbing you by your denim jacket, running her fingers down all the badges, like she was ticking boxes – yes, correct. Megadeth. Slayer. Metallica. The Crue. Tick, tick, tick. Getting high in the parking lot in the tray of the short bed Chevy, with the tarp covering us, Hellhammer turned up so loud it was shaking the truck, and smelling dope and menthols and her Bonne Bell lip balm. Smiling at each other. This little moment of belonging before everything breaks.
You didn’t do it, did you? You just saw and you saw and you saw.
Some nights it king hits you and you’re on the ground, tasting blood, hands over your ears; yours, his, you don’t even know. You don’t know what you saw.
You don’t even know if you made this all up. The same way you didn’t feel real while you were in America. Whatever happened there feels like an MTV video clip, you keep editing and editing and then, in the final cut, Andre gets up and walks away.
‘He claimed to be a hunter, but all he had for evidence was a bearskin rug that none of us wanted to go near, let alone sit on.’