Some time ago, a friend slipped me a few xeroxed pages from True Detective magazine from the '60s. "Happened around here," she said. "You'll like it."
I slid it into my bag. More or less forgot about it until this Friday, when I was looking for some bathroom literature, some Excremeditatory Text.
Turns out that in 1943, on a particular road on the outskirts of Purcellville, Virginia -- that is to say, about 10 miles from my house -- a horrific five-victim mass murder took place. The xeroxed article, contrary to expectations, was surprisingly well researched, with references to local geography that were quite accurate when tested against an older local map.
The article recounted the murder of five residents of a farm near Purcellville. The farmer, one Morris Love, was beaten to death with a croquet mallet. His wife and son were also brutally murdered -- shot to death -- and a tenant farmer and his wife likewise slaughtered. The murderer, a resentful debtor named Thomas Clatterbuck, was eventually caught some days later on the strength of the discovery of part of a discarded shotgun on the side of Route 9 west of Hillsboro. He was executed later that year.
This Sunday, running errands in town, we decided to try to find the Murder House. We analyzed the text closely, with maps, and narrowed our search down to a patch of land south of Purcellville that would have been farmland 60 years ago, but that now hosts a newish elementary school.
As we drove around the outskirts of Purcellville, Wonder Woman began working on a Conceit -- that the Murder House, like a character in a very bad horror movie, was summoning us by whispering extrasensorially, on the wind:
This is the house where the Murder happened... This is the house you're looking for....
"Ah! Can't you hear it?" she whispered excitedly. "The house wants us to know where it is!"
I was perfectly willing to let her posit a talking psychic house on this lazy, gas-wasting Sunday, but thought that it was quite unfair to the other houses: OK, so the Murder House had a horrible, deadly crime attached to it, but why would that imbue it with ESP? If the Murder House can whisper its secrets, can't the other houses as well?
So, following this logic, we began to speculate what voices the different houses might have. The Murder House would of course be ghostly and solemn and reverberant, but that brick-fronted, vinyl-sided piece of Toll Brothers crap with the Lawyer Foyer and the three-Hummer garage on 287 ("Five bedrooms from the low $900s! Start vacuuming now!") would be a high-level project manager from Unisys with absolutely nothing interesting to say at all -- "How 'bout them Hokies?"
Psychic houses might be competitive, you never know: "Well, old Murder-Britches up the road might have had a quintuple slaughter, but I had a nasty argument last week that nearly came to blows! They're still not talking!" "Oh! That's nothing! Mom gets mouthy when she drinks! Nyaaah!"
And what if the houses are lying?
What if they're all trying to impress us with their histories -- which, after all, would naturally be the key to a Psychic House's self-worth -- to the point where they trample the truth to impress? What if, among Psychic Houses, the prestige accorded by having hosted a quintuple murder is so great that they'd tell baldfaced stretchers to receptive passersby?
At this point, it was only one more step to hysterical, quaking laughter: Why limit it to houses? Why not all buildings, in fact all inanimate objects?
This is the Costco parking lot where the murders happened!
No! This is the Medical Arts Building where the murders happened!
Don't listen to her! This is the storm sewer where the murders happened!
No! This is the self-checkout lane at Giant where the murders happened!
Liar! This is the Comedy section of Blockbuster where the murders happened!
We did that all day.
PS: The xeroxed True Detective story included a small part of a different story from the same issue, entitled, "Murder Became Part of the Dwarf's Sex Life!" It contains, among many intriguing if incomplete things, this graf: "Katzensteiner broke into tears. 'Ma!' he sobbed. 'Ma! It was all my own fault! I brought that bastard of a garden dwarf into the house! I left him alone with her! It's my own fault! I've killed my own mother!'"