To the naked eye, Leonard Stone was a normal man. He was twenty-four, unmarried, no children, and as far as the citizens of Hillsburg, England knew, unemployed. Leonard was new to the neighborhood, having moved into town about three weeks ago and ever since he had come to reside at the old house on Brown Street , people had seen neither hide nor hair of Mr. Stone. The one time he had been seen outside his house was when he had gone to do some shopping at the local grocery store. Looking back on it now, some townsfolk say that they should have told him more than they did about the place he was now calling home.
Jim James saw Leonard for the first time while he was working in the grocery store about two blocks from Leonard's new house. When Jim first laid eyes on Leonard, he wasn't aware that he had been the one to purchase the monstrosity. Oh, he knew that someone had; news like that doesn't go unnoticed in a small town like this, but he didn't know the identity of the buyer. When Jim had finished ringing up his food (and there was a lot of it, as if he planned to stay holed up in that house for months) he asked him, "You don't look like you're from around here, boy. Are you the one that bought that old Billingsley place?"
"I guess," he said. "I don't reckon anyone else has bought it." Smart mouthed kid, Old Jim thought.
"My names Jim. Some call me Old Jim. Other's call me story teller." Leonard didn't seem that interested. He simply grunted and replied, "Leonard. That's all people call me."
"Did you happen to hear about what went on in that Billingsley place, say, 200 years ago?"
"I heard something, but I didn't pay no attention to it. Remind me again what happened?"
Before Jim began his story he scrutinized the kid for a moment. He didn't look like the type to believe in the supernatural. He looked like a level-headed man who had no time for folly. This was completely unlike Old Jim, who knew every ghost story and urban legend ever to be told in this town, and he liked telling them too. He was a hit at little children's birthday parties with his tales. Oh well, couldn't hurt to see what he thinks of the house after I tell him the history. Jim mentally shrugged.
"Well, the story goes that an old man and woman once lived in that house back in the time of Queen Victoria . They seemed like a nice old couple to everyone in town, but the old man was a little strange. There came a time when the old man was about 40 that people would disappear, and every time news of a disappearance would reach the old man, he would lock himself up in the basement for hours." Leonard gave a look as if he was curious, and cocked his head to the side. "Why would he do that?"
"I'm getting there young'n," Jim quipped. "Anyway, the wife never suspected anything was up with him. She thought that he liked to build things down in his basement. He never let her down there, of course, and she took that as him wanting his privacy. Over time, there came to be more people going missing and the old man was spending more and more time down in that basement. Slowly the wife began to suspect something was up, so one day when the old man went into town for supplies, she snuck down into the basement and found the most gruesome thing she'd ever seen in her life."
Leonard looked shocked, and he knew what was coming, but he just had to ask, "What was it?"
Old Jim loved this part. "Bodies," he whispered. "All kinds, fresh killed ones, old rotted ones, and some of the most terrible torture devices one could think of. I take it you haven't looked in the basement yet, have you?"
Leonard shook his head. "The basement was locked and I didn't get a key. Why?"
"Because, boy, all those instruments are still down there. When the constable found him standing over his dead wife's body they carted him off to jail and hanged him days later. None of the other police men were brave enough to go down there and touch those things. They got the bodies out, buried them, then locked the door and didn't touch it again. You're the first person to live in the place since that happened!" Jim then went on to tell him that the house had been kept within the Billingsley family for nearly two hundred years, but no one had ever bothered to live in it. They paid people to keep the place clean, but no one dared stay more than a night in it. When the last person in the family line inherited the house, he decided to sell it for crack money. Leonard looked a little shocked at this.
"I don't believe your story old man. That's too crazy."
"Crazier things have happened kid," He replied. Leonard snorted and walked out of the store carting his groceries along with him. Jim watched Leonard through the window as he shoved all his bags into the back of his pick-up truck and drove off.
When Leonard pulled into his driveway he was still thinking about what the old man had said.
"Crazy old man," he grumbled. "Stupid stories have no meaning whatsoever."
But what about the basement? Some internal voice asked him.
"It's locked, and the key was lost. That is all."
Well why don't you go look? He asked himself. Break the door down or something.
"Maybe I'll do that!" he said, as he slammed a paper bag onto the counter and cans rolled everywhere. He grimaced as he picked them all up and placed them helter-skelter into and empty cabinet.
When he was finished stocking his cabinets completely full of food and supplies he thought to himself, good job, Leonard boy. You won't have to leave your house for weeks with all this stuff. Leonard was planning on staying in his house as much as possible. He didn't like people, and was hoping that with him moving out into the country he could get his well-deserved peace and quiet.
"Crack money," he mumbled. "Bunch of drug using weirdoes." Out of sheer curiosity Leonard looked down the hallway that led to the basement. He wondered briefly if all that stuff the old man said was true. Could it be possible that an insane homicidal maniac had once lived in this very house?
"No," Leonard said firmly, and with that final resonating note, he hauled himself up the stairs and into his new bedroom to think.
Leonard was a rational man who didn't believe in stories that were meant to scare children or anything like that. He liked to look at the logical side of things, and that old man's story just wasn't logical. What were the chances of their being two-hundred-year-old torture devices in his basement? None, that's what. Leonard mentally scolded himself for being the slightest bit disturbed by Old Jim's tale. There is nothing in that locked basement, Leonard told himself. And that's that.
Two days later Leonard had almost completely forgotten about the crazy old man in the grocery store. He was in the attic cleaning up and trying to find some empty place to put his study. He wasn't sure why he needed a study, seeing as he didn't have a job, but he wanted one, and the attic seemed like an ideal place. There wasn't much in the attic, save for a few old boxes which were moldy and smelly. Leonard planned to throw all those out the window. He had just finished dousing the room with air freshener when he stumbled across a small box, about a foot square. Like all the other old trash boxes, this one was musty smelling and dirty, but on the top of it in big fancy letters was written JOURNALS-DO NOT TOUCH. Naturally, upon seeing these words, Leonard's first instinct was indeed to touch it. This is exactly what he did.
When he pulled back the flaps of the box, a puff of dust blew up in his face and a few beetles and silverfish scattered in all different directions. Once his vision had cleared, Leonard could see two neatly packed stacks of old notebooks. He pulled the first one out and looked at it. The first page was dated for November 12, 1804. Leonard read the flowing, cursive script.
I killed another one today. I'm not sure how many it is now. Probably about 13. The basement has become my new home. No one even suspects me; innocent little old Bill Billingsley. I've even been so clever as to hide the deeds from my wife. I don't know why I can't stop the killing. It's like an escape for me. When I kill I feel like God; I can control life and death. It is a truly exhilarating feeling. Oh! And the creative ways I've thought of doing it! You should see all the things I've built to accommodate my hobby. For every three I kill I allow myself to build another device. It's my little reward.
Leonard slammed the book shut with a look of horror on his face. So it was true then? Old Jim wasn't making up the whole story about the murderer? Leonard saw only one way to know for sure. Rummaging around in his box of tools, he pulled out a crowbar. He was going to break down the basement door and see what was in that room.
Slowly Leonard used the crowbar to pry the lock straight off the wood. It made sense that the lock was near rotted anyway, since Old Jim had said that no one had entered the basement since the discovery of the bodies. Leonard was almost afraid to look inside once the door creaked open. He was afraid of what he might really see. Taking a deep breath and bracing himself for the worst, he poked his head into the room while keeping his eyes averted. The first thing he noticed was the smell. It was a terrible smell of mustiness and mold. Such a smell was uncommon in this house, but it was even greater in this room. And Leonard smelled something else too. He smelled death. It wasn't a pleasant smell by any means. By this point Leonard knew that Old Jim had been telling the truth the whole time. How could anyone make up something like that?
Leonard, even though he didn't want to, slowly raised his head so that he could see into the basement. He knew it was coming, but nothing could prepare him for what he saw all over the floor and walls. There were strange machines everywhere. Leonard wouldn't have known what they were used for if Jim had not told him. Even though Leonard didn't know what each machine was used for specifically, he could picture what gruesome things went on down here some 200 years ago. As he looked at each machine in turn, a mental movie played out in his head of people being mercilessly tortured and murdered. As he watched people get their heads cut off, spleens removed, and colons irrigated in the most terrible ways, he realized that he would have to get over this fear of the basement if he ever was to have a decent wine cellar.
Think about it, said that internal voice of his. You've been needing a place to store all that wine for a while. Just because there are things in here doesn't mean that you have to be a baby about it. You have to get over this fear. You need a wine cellar.
"It's true," he responded. "A wine cellar is necessary, but I don't want to have to live with this-"
Deal with it! He was interrupted by his mind. Meekly, Leonard gave in to his inner argument and promptly went upstairs to gather some wine and a rack for his new wine cellar.
When he returned to his basement he was surprised to find that the shock of seeing the machines had worn off. He didn't jump as he had the last time he saw them, and he found himself curious as to how they were used. The old man's diaries! He though. I can read them and learn about this stiff! He was so excited about learning, the he rushed out of the basement without even setting up his wine rack.
Slowly Leonard grew used to the fact that his basement was doubling as a wine cellar and ex-torture chamber. Every day for three weeks he read more of the old man's journals. He learned that the old man killed at least 28 people before his wife found him out. The last entry of all the journals was dated for January 14, 1805. In that entry the old man had killed 28 people. Leonard read on with interest.
I absolutely have to stop this immediately. My dear Anna repeatedly inquires about my doings in the basement. I dare not tell her of my hobby. I simply tell her that I am building things. It's not entirely untrue. I am up to 9 machines. Just one more person and I'll be able to add another machine to my collection.
Leonard smiled as he shut the book. If this was the last entry, and the last person he killed, then counting his wife there were 29 people total. Leonard laughed. I bet I could beat that. He chuckled. Raising himself from his chair in the kitchen, Leonard walked to the refrigerator. Glancing inside he noticed that he was running low on food. Looking at the clock he saw that it was only 5:00. Not too late for a trip the to grocery store. Leonard wondered idly if Old Jim would be at the store. He laughed as he pictured the look on Old Jim's face if Leonard told him that he believed the crazy story about the homicidal maniac. Even funnier would be the look on Old Jim's face if he could see the basement for himself. Leonard gave an internal smile as he pulled out of the driveway.
Leonard hoped that he would see Old Jim in the grocery store when he pulled up. He wanted to tell Old Jim his own story about old man Billingsley and the murders in the basement. As he gathered all his food (mainly soda and junk food), he noticed Old Jim stocking shelves of Cheesy Puffs, the hazardously cheesy snack food.
"Hey Old Jim," said Leonard cheerfully. Jim looked up slightly startled.
"Well hello there, young man. How are you? And how is that house of yours?"
"Oh every thing's just fine. I was rather hoping that you would come over to the house later tonight and tell me that story again. The one about the old man and woman. I think there may be some truth in your story and I want to compare what you have to what I've found in the house." Leonard smiled hopefully and waited for the old man to answer.
"Of course, I'd be glad to son," was the old man's reply. "I'll be there at about 6:30."
"Beautiful," remarked Leonard. The only thing left to do now was go home and set up for the surprise.
When 6:30 rolled around, Leonard was more than ready. He knew exactly how he was going to surprise sweet little old Jim. He almost couldn't contain himself when he heard the old man knocking on the big red front door. As he opened the door for the old man he smiled and said, "I hope you brought a good story with you, Jimmy,"
"Always, my boy. I don't go anywhere without one." Leonard forced a laugh at this and asked Old Jim if he would be so kind as to recount the tale of the Billingsleys.
Old Jim was more than happy to, and when he came to the part about the basement, Leonard stopped him. "Why don't we go see for ourselves what's down there in that basement. I'm pretty sure we can break the door down."
"Oh dear Leonard, there's nothing really down there. That whole story's just something made up to scare the children at Halloween."
"Oh I'm sure of that, but I'd really feel better if I knew for sure. What do you say, Jimmy,
will you put a young fool's heart to rest?"
"Well, I suppose. If you really want to ruin a perfectly good door tonight. Why don't you just wait until in the morning and call a locksmith to open it?" Old Jim shrugged. "No point in ruining a good door." Leonard agreed to this, but pointed out that he was a young, impatient, stingy man who would rather do the deed himself than to charge someone else to do the very thing he was perfectly capable of.
"Well, If you say so."
"I do," said Leonard in a good natured way, "so let's go explore."
When the pair reached the basement door, Old Jim noticed that the door lock was already broken. "Say, have you already-" he was cut off with a blow to the back of the head. Leonard smiled as he drug the unconscious man over to one of the machines. Leonard had never used it before, but from looking at the descriptions in Bill Billingsley's journals, he thought he liked this one the best. It was one in which many sharp, pointy objects were pointed at the victim, giving them the illusion that he or she would be stabbed repeatedly, but really a large, blunt object would impale the person in the back of the head when least expected. Leonard laughed as he secured Jim into place. He towered over his victim and cackled as Old Jim came to. He mumbled a little incoherently, but soon realized something was terrible wrong when he saw a knife and an ice pick centimeters from his face. The next thing he saw was Leonard standing above him, arms crossed with a demonic glint in his eyes.
"It's not all tall tales, old man." Leonard whispered. "You're going to help me play a game with old Bill Billingsley. You're gonna help me beat his high score!" Leonard laughed even harder when he heard his victim beg for his life. It was a strangely satisfying feeling, and for once Leonard understood how good Billingsley felt as he played God with his victims. This was a game Leonard was going to enjoy playing.
"And what's even better is once I kill you that brings the body count up to thirty. You know what that means Jimmy-boy?" Leonard knew Old Jim didn't know, but it didn't matter to him. "It means I'm going to build a machine of my own and I'm going to take over where Bill left off!"
Leonard played with Jim's life for a few more moments but when he grew tired of hearing his blubbering and begging, he released the lever that would bring about Jim's death. Leonard had never felt more exhilarated in his life. After he had cleaned up the mess left behind by Old Jim's carcass, he went up to the attic to begin plans for his own creative devices.
"Watch out Billingsley," he joked. "Looks like you've got some competition for your high score."