Home Before Dark: The Collected Cedar Hill Stories, Vol. 2 (2005)
A collection by Gary A. Braunbeck

Cover and interior art by
Deena Warner

SYNOPSIS: The series continues...

Longer than GRAVEYARD PEOPLE (Volume 1), HOME BEFORE DARK contains 19 tales, including the long-awaited original novella "Kiss of the Mudman," two classic novellas, excerpts from the Cedar Hill Visitor's Guide, a page from the local newspaper, and much more, with a full-color wraparound dustjacket and over two dozen interior illustrations.

Matching numbers to GRAVEYARD PEOPLE are offered; please forward your GRAVEYARD PEOPLE number with your preorder. (Note that copies of GRAVEYARD PEOPLE are still available.)

Volume 1 was hailed as "absolutely essential reading for anyone who values dark literature...a treasure trove of some of the most emotionally engaging fiction in the horror field" (Cemetery Dance). Without question, HOME BEFORE DARK is a worthy successor that continues collecting some of the finest tales from master storyteller Gary Braunbeck. Two volumes down, one to go...

500 numbered copies, signed by Gary Braunbeck $45
15 lettered traycased copies, signed by Gary Braunbeck and Deena Warner, with an original piece of art from the book


“It’s difficult to know where to begin with reviewing this book. The temptation is to just turn to the entry for ‘marvelous’ in Roget’s and copy out whatever’s printed there; Braunbeck is that good. There’s a maturity here, a depth of feeling and genuine compassion that elevates it above most other genre fiction and on occasion into that rare stratum occupied by genius. One of the strongest collections of short stories I’ve read in some time by a writer whose work reminds me of Harlan Ellison back in the days when he won awards. Buy this book and treat yourself to some of the best-crafted short fiction you will ever read.”

"HOME BEFORE DARK is superb... establishes once again this author as one of the major, current literary voices even beyond the limits of the horror genre."
— Mario Guslandi, EMERALD CITY

"Braunbeck is an extraordinary author of dark literature, not just dark fiction. His style is crystal-clear, polished but straightforward, and his attitude towards his own characters is that of a deep empathy. This is a splendid collection that you shouldn't miss, and praise to Paul Miller's Earthling Publications not only for publishing the book but also for producing a very elegant, attractive, perfect volume."

"[Braunbeck's] Cedar Hill stories are the best example of his inimitable skill. I simply can't get over how utterly true these stories feel; more so than anything I've read in a long time. Very few of the contrivances that often distract from the experience of good writing appear here. The stories in HOME BEFORE DARK are pure, as if they -- to borrow a cliche -- are being told through Braunbeck, and not simply by him. You owe it to yourself to visit Cedar Hill. Just be happy you don't live there."
— Craig's Book Club

Preview story: "Safe"

Author's note: If there is one story that I would point to as being the central piece in the Cedar Hill cycle, it would be "Safe." In one way or another, directly or indirectly, each story in the cycle has a connection to the events depicted in this novella. This may be my most-reprinted story (it's been translated into at least 3 languages), and was the first piece in which the overall character of Cedar Hill--the city itself--made itself known to me. The version you're about to read is the author's preferred version, as it will appear in Home Before Dark: The Collected Cedar Hill Stories, Volume 2.


"'A fine setting for a fit of despair,' it occurred to him,
'if only I were standing here by accident instead of design.'"

Franz Kafka, The Castle


Violence never really ends, no more than a symphony ceases to exist once the orchestra has stopped playing; bloodstains and bullet holes, fragments of shattered glass, knife wounds that never heal properly, nightmarish memories that thrash the heart . . . all fasten themselves like a leech to a person's core and suck their spirit bit by agonized bit until there's nothing left but a shell that looks like it once might have been a human being.

My God, what do you suppose happened to that person?

I heard it was something awful. I guess they never got over it—hell, you can just look at 'em and know that.

Drop a pebble in a pool of water and the vibrations ripple outward in concentric circles. Some physicists claim that the ripples continue even after they can no longer be seen.

Ripples continue.

A symphony does not cease.

And violence never really ends.

It took half my life to learn that.


Three days ago a man named Bruce Dyson walked into an ice cream parlor in the town of Utica, Ohio and opened fire with a semiautomatic rifle, killing nine people and wounding seven others before pulling a Smith & Wesson Ladysmith .38 Special from his coat pocket and shooting himself in the head.

Some will cry, others will rage, many will question, but life will go on for the rest of us until the next Bruce Dyson walks into the next ice cream parlor, or bank, or convenience store, or whatever, and then we'll shake our heads and wring our hands once again and go tsk-tsk and wonder aloud how something so terrible could happen.

Newscasts were quick to mention Cedar Hill, of course, and to draw tenuous parallels between what took place there and what happened in Utica. When one of my students asked me if I was "around" for the Cedar Hill murders I laughednot raucously, mind you, but enough to solicit some worried glances from the class.

"Yes," I said. "I was around. Please excuse my laugh, it's just that no one has ever asked me that before."

At a special teachers' meeting held the previous evening a psychologist had suggested that we try to get our students to talk about the killings; four of the dead and three of the wounded had attended this school.

"Do any of you want to discuss what happened in Utica?"

Listen to their silence after I asked this.

"Look, I don't want to make anyone feel uncomfortable but odds are someone in this room knew at least one of the shooting victims. Believe me when I tell youand I know from experienceyou don't want to keep this to yourself. It's important to talk about what you're thinking and feeling."

Still nothinga nervous shrug, perhaps, a lot of downcast stares, even a quiet tear from someone in the last row of desks, but no one spoke.

I rubbed my eyes and looked toward the back wall where the ghosts of the Cedar Hill dead were assembling.

Go on, they whispered. Remember us to them.

"No one's going to laugh at or judge you. Nine people are dead and some of them were your friends. You have to feel something."

A girl in one of the middle rows slowly raised her hand. "Could you . . . could you maybe tell us about Cedar Hill? How did you deal with it?"

I smiled my thanks to her, as did the ghosts. "In many ways I still am dealing with it. I went back there a while ago, in fact, to find some of the survivors and talk with them. I needed to put certain things to rest andwait a second."

The ghosts of the four dead students joined those from Cedar Hill. All of them smiled at each other like old friends.

I wished I could have known them.

Tell them everything.

Go on.

I nodded my head to them and said to the class: "Let's make a deal. I'll tell you about Cedar Hill only if you agree to talk about Utica. Maybe getting things out in the open will make it easier to live with. How's that sound?"

Another student raised their hand and asked, "Why do you suppose somebody'd do something like that?"

Tell the tale, demanded the ghosts.

Remember us to them . . . .


I've gotten a little ahead of myself.

My name is Geoff Conover. I am thirty-six years old and have been a high school history teacher for the last seven years. I am married to a wonderful woman named Yvonne who is five-and-a-half years my junior and who is about to give birth to our first child, which will be a boy. Yvonne has a six-year-old girl from her previous marriage. Her name is Patricia and I love her very much and she loves me and we both love her mother and are looking forward to having a brand-new member added to our family.

This story is not about me, though I am in it briefly under a different name. It's about a family that no longer exists, a house that no longer stands, and a way of life once called Small Town America that bled to death long before I explained to my students how violence never really ends.

I did go back to Cedar Hill in hopes of answering some questions about the night of the killings. I interviewed witnesses and survivors over the telephone, at their jobs, in their houses, over lunches, and in nursing homes; I dug through dusty files buried in moldy boxes in the basements of various historical society offices; there were decades-old police reports to be found, then sorted through and deciphered; I tracked down over two hundred hours' worth of videotape, and then subjected my family to the foul moods that resulted from my watching those tapes; dozens of old transcribed statements had to be located and copied; and on three occasions I had to bribe a certain seedy individual into letting me glance at a file, listen to a snippet of audio tape, and allow me forty minutes alone with several boxes of aged evidence. There were graves I had to visit, names I needed to learn, individual histories lost among bureaucratic paper trails that I had to assemble, only to find they yielded nothing of useand I would be lying if I said that I did not feel a palpable guilt in deciding that so-and-so's life didn't merit so much as a footnote.

I do not purport to have sorted everything out as a result of my research. In some instances the gaps between facts were too wide and I had to fill them with conjectures and suppositions that, to the best of my knowledge and abilities, provided a rightness to the story that the facts did not. Yvonne says that I did it in an effort to forgive myself for having survived. She may be right. No one asked me to do it; nonetheless, certain ghosts demanded it of meand I say this to you as a man who had never thought of himself as being particularly superstitious.

That afternoon, when my students asked to hear the tale, I once again hoped that its telling would in some way release us all from the shame and anger and guilt that threatened to forever diminish us.

I cleared my throat, smiled at the ghosts in the back of the room, and said, "In order for you to understand . . .


. . . what took place in the small, Midwestern city of Cedar Hill, Ohio, you must first understand the place itself, for it shares some measure of responsibility.

If it is possible to characterize this place by melting down all of its inhabitants and pouring them into a mold so as to produce one definitive citizen, then you will see a person who is, more likely than not, a laborer who never made it past the eleventh grade but who has managed through hard work and good solid horse sense to build the foundation of a decent middle-class existence; who works to keep a roof over his family's head and sets aside a little extra money each month to fix up the house, maybe repair that old back-door screen or add a workroom; who has one or two children who aren't exactly gifted but do well enough in school that their parents don't go to bed at night worrying that they've sired morons.

Perhaps this person drinks a few beers on the weekendnot as much as some of their rowdier friends but enough to be social. They've got their eye on some property out past the county line. They hope to buy a new color television set. They usually go to church on Sundays, not because they want to but because, well, you never know, do you?

This is the person you would be facing.

This is the person who would smile at you, shake your hand, and behave in a neighborly fashion.

But never ask them about anything that lies beyond the next paycheck. Take care not to discuss anything more than work or favorite television shows or an article from this morning's paper. Complain about the cost of living, yes; inquire about their family, by all means; ask if they've got time to grab a quick sandwich, sure; but never delve too far beneath the surface, for if you do the smile will fade, that handshake will loosen, and their friendliness will become tinged with caution.

Because this is a person who feels inadequate and does not want you to know it, who for a good long while now has suspected that his life will never be anything more than mediocre. He feels alone, abandoned, insufficient, foolish, and inept, and the only thing that keeps him going sometimes is a thought that makes him both smile and cringe: that maybe one of his children will decide for themselves, Hey, Dad's life isn't so bad, this 'burg isn't such a hole in the ground so, yeah, maybe I'll just stick around here and see what I can make of things.

And what if they do? How long until they start to walk with a workman's stoop, until they're buying beer by the case and watching their skin turn into one big nicotine stain? How long until they start using the same excuses he's used on himself to justify a mediocre life?

Bills, you know. Not as young as I used to be. Too damn tired all the time. Work'll by—God take it out of you.

Ah, well . . . at least there's that property out past the county line for him to keep his eye on, and there's still that new color television set he might just up and buy . . . .

This is the person who would look back at you, whose expression would betray that they'd gotten a little lost in their own thoughts for a second there.

It happens sometimes.

So they'll blink, apologize for taking up so much of your time, wish you a good day, and head on home because the family will be waiting supper. It was nice talking to you.

Meet Cedar Hill, Ohio.

Let us imagine that it is evening here, a little after ten p.m. on the seventh of July, and that a pair of vivid headlight beams have just drilled into the darkness on Merchant Street. Seen from behind the safety of living room windows, the magnesium-bright strands make one silent, metronome-like sweep, then coalesce into a single lucent beacon that pulls at the vehicle trailing behind.

Imagine that although the houses along Merchant are dark, no one inside them is asleep.

The van, its white finish long faded to a dingy gray, glides toward its destination. It passes under the diffuse glow coning down from the sole streetlight, and the words "DAVIES' JANITORIAL SERVICE" painted on its side can be easily read.

The gleam from the dashboard's gauges reveals the driver to be a tense, sinewy man whose age appears to fall somewhere between a raggedy-ass forty-five and a gee-you-don't-look-it sixty. In his deeply lined face is both resignation and dread.

He was running late, and he was not alone.

A phantom, head half-bowed and tilted slightly to the side, its face obscured by alternating knife-slashes of light and shadow, sat on the passenger side. Three other phantoms rode in the back, none of whom could summon enough nerve to look beyond the night at the end of their nose.

The van came to a stop, the lights were extinguished, the engine grumbled and complained, and with the click of a turned key Merchant Street was again swallowed by the baleful graveyard silence that had recently taken up residence there.

The driver reached down next to his seat and grabbed a large flashlight. He turned and looked at the phantoms, who saw his eyes and understood the wordless command.

The driver climbed out as the phantoms threw open the rear double doors and began unloading the items needed for this job.

Merchant Street began to flicker as neighbors turned on their lights and lifted small corners of their curtains to peek at what was going on, even though no one really wanted to look at the Leonard house, much less live on the same street.

The driver of the van walked up onto the front porch of the Leonard house. His name was Jackson Davies and he owned the small janitorial company that had been hired to scour away the aftermath of four nights earlier when this more-or-less peaceful industrial community of 42,000 had been dragged kicking, screaming, and (most of all) bleeding into the national spotlight.

Davies turned on his flashlight, gliding its beam over the shards of broken glass that littered the front porch. As the shards caught the beam, each glared at him defiantly: Come on, tough guy, big macho Vietnam vet with your bucket and Windex, let's see you take us on.

He shifted his position, moving the beam to his right where it landed squarely on the bay windowwhich, like all the first-floor windows of the Leonard house, was covered by a large sheet of particleboard crisscrossed by two strips of yellow tape. A long, ugly stain covered most of the outside sill, dribbling over the edge in a few places and down onto the porch in thin, jagged streaks. Tipping the beam, Davies followed the streaks to another stain, darker than the mess on the sill and wider by a good fifty percent. Just outside of this stain was a series of receding smears that stretched across the length of the porch and disappeared in front of the railing next to the glider.


Davies shook his head in disgust. Someone had tried to pry loose the board and get inside the house. Judging by the prints, they'd left in one hell of a hurry, running across the porch and vaulting the railscared away, no doubt, by neighbors or a passing police cruiser. Probably a reporter from one of those goddamn tabloids, eager to score a hefty bonus by snapping a few graphic photos of the Scene.

Davies swallowed once, loud and hard, then swung the light over to the front door. Spiderwebbing the frame from every conceivable angle were more strips of yellow tape emblazoned with large, bold, black letters: KEEP OUT BY ORDER OF THE CEDAR HILL POLICE DEPARTMENT. An intimidating, hand-sized padlock held the door securely closed.

As he looked at the padlock, a snippet of Rilke flashed across his mind: Who dies now anywhere in the world, without cause dies in the world, looks at me—

and Jackson Davies, dropout English Lit. major, recent ex-husband, former Vietnam vet, packer of body bags into the cargo holds of planes at Tan Son Nhut, one-time cleaner-upper of the massacre at My Lai 4, hamlet of Son My, Quang Ngai Province (after Lt. William Calley, Jr. and company finished their infamous testosterone tantrum), a man who thought there was no physical remnant of violent death he didn't have the stomach to handlethis same Jackson Davies heard himself muttering, "Goddamn, goddamn, goddamn," and felt a lump dislodge from his groin and bounce up into his throat and was damned if he knew why but suddenly the thought of going into the Leonard house scared the living shit out of him.

Unseen by Davies, the ghosts of Irv and Miriam Leonard sat on the glider a few yards away from him. Irv had his arm around his wife and was good-naturedly scolding her for slipping that bit of poetry into Davies' head.

I can't help it, Miriam said. And even if I could, I wouldn't. Jackson read that poem when he was in Vietnam. It was in a little paperback collection his wife gave to him. He lost that book somewhere over there, you know. He's been trying to remember that poem all these years. Besides, he's lonely for his wife and maybe that poem'll make it seem like part of her's still with him.

Could've just gone to a library, said Irv.

He did but he couldn't remember Rilke's name.

Think he'll remember it now?

I sure do hope so. Look at him, will you? Poor guy, he's so lonely, God love 'im.

Seems nervous, doesn't he?

Wouldn't you be? asked Miriam.

That was really nice of you, hon, giving that poem back to him. You always were one for taking care of your friends.


What can I say? Seems my disposition's improved considerably since I died.

Oh, now, don't go bringing that up. There's not much we can do about it.

How come that doesn't make me feel any better?

Maybe this'll do the trick: Who laughs now anywhere in the night, without cause laughs in the night, laughs at me, said Miriam.

Don't tell me, tell the sensitive poetry soldier over there.

I just did.

They watched Davies for a few more seconds: He rubbed his face, then lit a cigarette and leaned against the porch railing and looked out into the street.

It's not right, said Irv to his wife. What happened to us wasn't fair.

Nothing is, dear. But we're through with all of that, remember?

If you say so.


Yeah, but at least I'm a charming worrier.

Shhh. Did you hear that?

Hear what?

The children are playing in the backyard. Let's go watch.

A moment later, the wind came up and the glider swung back, then forward, once and once only, with a thin-edged screech.

Jackson Davies dropped his cigarette and decided screw this, he was going to go wait down by the van.

He turned and started off the porch and ran smack into a phantom. Davies recoiled slightly. The phantom stepped from the scar of shadow and into the flashlight's beam and became Pete Cooper, one of Davies's crew managers.

Davies, through clenched teeth, said, "It's not a real good idea to sneak up on me like that. I have a tendency to hurt people when that happens."

"Shakin' in my shoes," said Cooper. "You gettin' the jungle jitters again? Smell that napalm in the air?"

"Yeah, right. Whacked-out 'Nam vet doing the flashback boogie, that's me. Was there a reason you came up here or did you just miss my splendid company?"

"I just . . ." Cooper looked over at the van. "Why'd you bring the Brennert kid along?"

"Because he said yes."

"C'mon, fer chrissakes! He was here, you know? When it happened?"

Davies sighed and fished a fresh cigarette from his shirt pocket. "First of all, he wasn't here when it happened, he was here before it happened. Second, of my forty-eight loyal employees, not counting you, only three said they were willing to come out here tonight, and Russ was one of them. Do you find any of this confusing so far? I could start again and talk slower."

"What're you gonna do if he gets in there and sees . . . well . . . everything and freezes up or freaks or something?"

"I talked to him about that already. He says he won't lose it and I believe him. Besides, the plant's going to be laying his dad off in a couple of weeks and his family could use the money."

"Back up," said Cooper. "You're telling me that you couldn't find anyone else who wanted to make three hundred bucks for a couple of hours, work?"

"Not for this house, I couldn't."

"Yeah, well, Brennert's your problem, okay? I'll keep the other guys in line, but Russ is all yours."

"Fine. Anything else? The suspense is doing wonders for my ulcer."

"Just that this seems like an odd hour to be starting."

Davies made a quick, sweeping gesture with his arm that drew Cooper's attention to the street. "Look around us, Pete. Tell me what you don't see."

"I'm too tired for your goddamn riddles."

"You never were any fun. What you don't see are any reporters or any trace of their nauseating three-ring circus that blew into this miserable burg a few nights back. The county is paying us, and the county decided that our chances of being accosted by reporters would be practically nil if we came out late in the evening. So here we are, and I'm no happier about it than you are. Despite what people say, I do have a life. Admittedly, it isn't much of one since my wife decided that we get along better living in separate states, but it's a life, nonetheless. I just thank God she left me the cats and the Mitch Miller sing-along records or I'd be a sorry specimen right about now. To top it all off, I seem to have developed a retroactive case of the willies, which is why I'm prattling on like this. Please tell me to be quiet."

"But it's so entertaining."

"Of course. It wouldn't be a traffic accident without innocent bystanders."

They watched as a police cruiser pulled up behind the van.

"Ah," said Davies. "That would be the keys to the kingdom of the dead."

"You plan to keep up the joking?"

Davies's face turned into a slab of granite and his voice dropped to a deadly whisper. "You bet your ass I do, Pete. And I'm going to keep on making jokes until we're finished with this job and loading things up to go home. The sicker and more tasteless I can make them, the better. Don't worry if I make jokes; worry when I stop."

They went to meet the police officers, unaware that as they came down from the porch and started across the lawn they walked right through the ghost of Andy Leonard, who stood looking at the house where he'd spent his entire, sad, brief, and ultimately tragic life.


On July fourth of that year Irv Leonard and his wife were hosting a family reunion at their home at 182 Merchant Street. All fifteen members of their immediate family were present and several neighbors stopped by, at the Leonard's invitation, to visit, watch some football, enjoy a hearty lunch from the ample buffet Miriam had been preparing since early in the week, and to see Irv's newly acquired pearl-handled antique Colt Army .45 revolvers.

Irv, a retired steel worker and lifelong gun enthusiast, had been collecting firearms since his early twenties and was purported to have one of the five most valuable collections in the state.

Neighbors later remarked that the atmosphere in the house was as pleasant as you could hope for, though a few did notice that Andyhe youngest of the four Leonard children and the only one still living at homeseemed a bit "distracted."

Around 8:45 that evening Russell Brennert, a friend of Andy's from Cedar Hill High School, came by after getting off work from his part-time job. Witnesses described Andy as being "abrupt" with Russell, as if he didn't want him to be there. Some speculated that the two might have had an argument recently that Andy was still sore about. In any case, Andy excused himself and went upstairs to "check on something."

Russell started to leave but Miriam insisted he fix himself a sandwich first. A few minutes later Andyapparently no longer upsetreappeared and asked if Russell would mind driving Mary Alice Hubert, Miriam's mother and Andy's grandmother, back to her house. The 73-year-old Mrs. Hubert, a widow of ten years, was still recovering from a mild heart attack in December and had forgotten to bring her medication. The eighteen-year-old Brennert offered to take Mary Alice's house key and drive over by himself for the medicine but Andy insisted Mrs. Hubert go along.

"I thought it seemed kind of odd," said Bill Gardner, a neighbor who was present at the time, "Andy being so bound and determined to get the two of them out of there before the fireworks started. Poor Miriam didn't know what to make of it all. I mean, I was on my way out and didn't think it was any of my business, but you'd think somebody would've said . . . I don't know . . . said something about it. Andy started getting outright rude. If he'd been my kid I'd've snatched him bald-headed, acting that way. And after his mom'd gone to all that fuss to make everything so nice."

Mrs. Hubert prevented things from getting out of hand by saying it would be best if she went with Russell; after all, she was an "old broad," set in her ways, and everything in an old broad's house had to be just so . . . besides, there were so many medicine containers in her cabinet Russell might just "bust his brain right open" trying to figure out which was the right one.

As the two were on their way out, Andy stopped them at the door to give Mrs. Hubert a hug.

According to her, Andy seemed ". . . really sorry about something. He's a strong boy, an athlete, and I don't care what anyone says, he should've got that scholarship. Okay, maybe he wasn't as bright as some kids, but he was a fine athlete and them college people should've let that count for something. It was terrible, listening to him talk about how he was maybe gonna have to go to work at the factory to earn his college money . . . everybody knows where that leads. I'm sorry, I got off the track, didn't I? You asked about him hugging me when we left that night . . . well, he was always real careful when he hugged me never to squeeze too hardthese old bones can't take it . . . but when he hugged me then I thought he was going to break my ribs. I just figured it was on account he felt bad about the argument. I didn't mean to create such a bother, I thought I had the medicine with me but I . . . forget things sometimes.

"He kissed me on the cheek and said 'Bye, Grandma. I love you.' It wasn't so much the words, he always said that same thing to me every time I left . . . it was the way he said them. I remember thinking he was going to cry, that's how those words sounded, so I said, 'Don't worry about it. Your mom knows you didn't mean to be so surly.' I told him that when I got back we'd watch the rest of the fireworks and then make some popcorn and maybe see a movie on the TV. He used to like doing that with me when he was littler.

"He smiled and touched my cheek with two of his fingershe'd never done that beforeand he looked at Russ like maybe he wanted to give him a hug, too, but boys that age don't hug each other, they think it makes them look like queers or something, but I could see it in Andy's eyes that he wanted to hug Russ.

"Then he said the strangest thing. He looked at Russ and kind of . . . slapped the side of Russ's shoulderfriendly, you know, like men'll do with each other when they feel too silly to hug? Anyway, he, uh, did that shoulder thing, then looked at Russ and said, 'The end is courage.' I figured it was a line from some movie they'd seen together. They love their movies, those two, always quoting lines to each other like some kind of secret codelike in Citizen Kane with 'Rosebud.' That kind of thing.

"It wasn't until we were almost to my house that Russ asked me if I knew what the heck Andy meant when he said that.

"I knew right then that something was wrong, terribly wrong. Oh Lord, when I think of it now . . . the . . . the pain a soul would have to be in to do something . . . like that . . . ."

Russell Brennert and Mary Alice Hubert left the Leonard house at 9:05. As soon as he saw Brennert's car turn the corner at the end of the street, Andy immediately went back upstairs and did not come down until the locally sponsored Kiwanis Club fireworks display began at 9:15.

Several factors contributed to the neighbors' initial failure to react to what happened. Firstly, there was the thunderous noise of the fireworks themselves. Since White's Field, the site of the fireworks display, was less than one mile away, the resounding boom of the cannons was, as one person described, ". . . damn near loud enough to rupture your eardrums. Some folks was even stuffing cotton into their ears."

Secondly, music from a pair of concert hall speakers that Bill Gardner had set up in his front yard compounded the glass-rattling noise and vibrations of the cannons. "Every Fourth of July," said Gardner, "WLCB (a local low-wattage FM radio station) plays music to go along with the fireworks. You know, 'America the Beautiful,' 'Stars and Stripes Forever,' Charlie Daniels's 'In America,' stuff like that, and every year I tune 'em in and set my speakers out and let fly. Folks on this street want me to do it, they all like it.

"How the fuck was I supposed to know Andy was gonna flip out?"

Third and lastly, there were innumerable firecrackers being set off by neighborhood children. This not only added to the general racket but also accounted for the neighbors ignoring certain visual clues once Andy moved outside. "You have to understand," said one detective, "that everywhere around these people, up and down the street, kids were setting off all different kinds of things: firecrackers, sparklers, bottle-rockets, M-80s, for godssake! Is it any wonder it took them so long to tell the difference between the flash of a firecracker and the muzzle-flash from a gun?

"Andy Leonard had to've been planning this for a long time. He knew there'd be noise and explosions and lights and a hundred other things to distract everyone from what he was doing."

At exactly 9:15 p.m. Andy Leonard walked calmly downstairs carrying three semiautomatic pistolsa Walther P.38 9mm Perabellum, a Mauser Luger 7.65mm, and a Coonan .357 Magnumand a Heckler & Koch HK53 5.56mm assault rifle which he laid across the top of the dining room table. He had taken the weapons from his father's massive oak gun cabinet upstairs after forcing open one of its doors with a crowbar.

Of the thirteen other family members present at that time, fiveincluding Irv Leonard, 62, and his oldest son, Chet, 25were outside watching the fireworks. Andy's two older sistersJessica, 29, and Elizabeth, 34 (both of whose husbands were also outside)-were in the kitchen hurriedly helping their mother put away the buffet leftovers so they could join the men on the front lawn.

Jessica's three childrenRandy, age 7; Theresa, 4; and Joseph, 9-1/2 monthswere in the living room. Randy and his sister were just finishing changing their baby brother's diaper and were in a hurry to get out and see the fireworks, so they paid no attention to their uncle. They were strapping Joseph into his safety seat. The infant thought they were playing with him and giggled a lot.

Elizabeth's two childrenIan, 12, and Lori, 9were thought to be already outside but were upstairs in the "toy room"which contained, among other items, a pool table and a 27-inch color television for use with Andy's extensive video game collection.

By the time Andy walked downstairs at 9:15, Ian and Lori were already dead, their skulls crushed by repeated blows with, first, a gun butt, then a pool cue, and, at the last, with billiard balls that were crammed into their mouths after their jaws were wrenched loose.

Laying the HK53 across on top of the dinner table, Andy stuffed the Mauser and blood-spattered Walther into the waist of his jeans, then walked into the kitchen, raised the .357, and shot his sister Jessica through the back of her head. She was standing with her back to him, in the process of putting some food into the refrigerator. The hollow-point bullet blew out most of her brain and sheared away half of her face. When she dropped she pulled two refrigerator shelves and their contents down with her.

Andy then shot Elizabethonce in the stomach, once in the center of her chestthen turned the gun on his mother, shooting at point-blank range through her right eye.

After that things happened very quickly. Andy left the kitchen and collided with his niece, who was running toward the front door. He caught her by the hair and swung her facefirst into a fifty-inch high cast-iron statue that sat against a wall in the foyer. The statue was a detailed reproduction of the famous photograph of the American flag being raised on Mount Suribachi at Iwo Jima.

Theresa slammed against it with such force that her nose shattered, sending bone fragments shooting backwards down her throat. Still gripping her long strawberry-blonde hair in his fist, Andy lifted her off her feet and impaled her by the throat on the tip of the flagstaff. The blood patterns on the wall behind the statue indicated an erratic arterial spray, leading the on-scene medical examiner to speculate she must have struggled to get free at some point; this, along with the increase in serotonin and free histamine levels in the wound, indicated Theresa had lived at least three minutes after being impaled.

Seven-year-old Randy saw his uncle impale Theresa on the statue, then grabbed the carrying handle of Joseph's safety seat, picked up his infant brother, and ran toward the kitchen. Andy shot him in the back of his right leg. Randy went down, losing his grip on Joseph's safety seat, which skittered across the blood-sopped tile floor and came to a stop inches from Jessica's body. Little Joseph, wide awake, frightened, and helpless in the seat, began to cry.

Randy tried to stand but his leg was useless, so he began moving toward Joseph by kicking out with his left leg and using his elbows and hands to pull himself forward.

Nine feet away, Andy stood at the kitchen entrance watching his nephew's valiant attempt to save the baby.

Then he shot Randy between the shoulders.

And the kid kept moving.

As Andy took aim to fire again, the front door swung open and Keith Shannon, Elizabeth's husband, stuck his head in and shouted for everyone to hurry up and come on.

Shannon saw Theresa's body dangling from the statue and screamed over his shoulder at the other men out on the lawn, then came inside, calling out the names of his wife and children.

He never stopped to see if Theresa was still alive.

Andy stormed across the kitchen and through the second, smaller archway that led into the rooms on the front left side of the house. As a result of taking this shortcut he beat Shannon to the living room by a few seconds, enabling him to take his brother-in-law by surprise. Andy emptied the rest of the Magnum's rounds into Shannon's head and chest. One shot went wild and shattered the large front bay window.

Andy tossed the Magnum aside and pulled both the Mauser and Walther from his jeans, holding one pistol in each hand. He bolted from the living room, through the dining room, and rounded the corner into the foyer just as Irv hit the top step of the porch.

Andy kicked open the front door and for the next fifteen seconds, while the sky ignited and Lee Greenwood sang how God should bless this country he loved, God bless the USA, the front porch of the Leonard house became a shooting gallery as each of the four remaining adult malesat least two of whom were drunkcame up onto the porch one by one and were summarily executed.

Andy fired both pistols simultaneously, killing his father, his uncle Martin, his older brother Chet, and Tom Hamilton, Jessica's husband.

A neighbor across the street, Bess Paymer, saw Irv's pulped body wallop backwards onto the lawn and yelled for her husband, Francis. Francis took one look out the window and said, "Someone's gone crazy." Bess was already dialing the police.

Andy went back into the house and grabbed the rifle from the dining room table, then headed for the kitchen where Randy, still alive, was attempting to drag Joseph through the back door. When he heard his uncle come into the kitchen, Randy reached out and grabbed a carving knife from the scattered contents of the cutlery drawer which Miriam had wrenched loose when she had fallen, then threw himself over his infant brother.

"That was one goddamn brave kid," an investigator said later. "Here he was, in the middle of all these bodies, and he had two bullets in him so we know he was in a lot of pain, and the only thing that mattered to him was protecting his baby brother. An amazing kid. His folks would've been proud. Hell, it makes me proud. If there's one bright spot in all this shit, it's in knowing that that kid loved his brother enough to . . . well . . . ah, hell, I can't talk about it any more."

For some reason Andy did not shoot his nephew a third time. He came across the kitchen floor and raised the butt of the rifle to bludgeon Randy's skull, and that's when Randy, in his last moments, pushed himself forward and jammed the knife in his uncle's calf. Then he died.

Andy dropped to the floor, screaming through clenched teeth, and pulled the knife from his leg. He grabbed his nephew's lifeless body and heaved it over onto its back, then beat its face in with his fists. After that, he loaded fresh clips into the pistols, grabbed Joseph, and stumbled out the back door to the garage and drove away in Irv's brand-new pickup.

At 9:21 p.m. the night duty dispatcher at the Cedar Hill Police Department received Bess Paymer's call. As was SOP, the dispatcher, while believing Bess had heard gunfire, asked if she were certain that someone had been shot. This dispatcher later defended their actions by saying, ". . . every year we get yahoos all over this city who decide that the Kiwanis' fireworks display is the perfect time to go out in their backyard and fire their guns off into the airwell, the Fourth and New Year's Eve, we get a lot of that. We had every unit out that night, just like every holiday, and there were drunks to deal with, bar fights, illegal fireworks being set offM80s and such, traffic accidents . . . holiday's tend to be a bit of mess for us around here. Seems that's when everybody and their brother decides to act like a royal horse's ass.

"The point is, if we get a report of alleged gunfire during the fireworks, we're required to ask the caller if anyone has been hurt. If not, then we get to it as soon as we can. It may take a while but we'll get there. If we had to send a cruiser to check out every report of gunfire that comes in on the Fourth of July, we'd never get anything else done. I didn't do anything wrong. It's not my fault."

It took Bess Paymer and her husband the better part of two minutes to convince the dispatcher that someone had gone crazy over at the Leonard house and shot everyone. The dispatcher agreed to send a cruiser to check it out.

Francis, red-faced with fury at this point, screamed at the dispatcher that they'd better make it fast because he was grabbing his hunting rifle and going over there himself, goddammit.

And he did.

The first cruiser was dispatched at 9:24 p.m.

At 9:27 a call came in from the Leonard house; by noon the next day, that phone call would be heard by most of the nation, courtesy of all six networks, as well as newscasts from hundreds of local stations across the country:

"This is Francis Paymer. My wife and I called you a couple of minutes ago. I'm standing in the . . . the kitchen of the Leonard house . . . that's 182 Merchant Street . . . and I've got somebody's brains stuck to the bottom of my shoe.

"There's been a shooting here. A little girl's hanging in the hallway and there's blood all over the walls and the floors and I can't tell where one person's body ends and the next one begins because everybody's dead. I can still smell the gunpowder and smoke.

"Is that good enough for you to do something? C-could you maybe please if it's not too much trouble send someone out here NOW? It might be a good idea, because the crazy BASTARD WHO DID THIS ISN'T HERE

"and I think he might've took a baby with him."

By 9:30 p.m. Merchant Street was clogged with police cruisers.

And Andy Leonard was halfway to Moundbuilder's Park, where the Second Presbyterian Church was sponsoring Parish Family Night. Over one hundred people had been gathered at the park since five in the afternoon, picnicking, tossing Frisbees, playing checkers or flying kites. A little before nine, the president of the Parish Council had arrived with a truckload of folding chairs that were set up in a clearing at the south end of the park.

By the time Francis Paymer made his famous phone call, 107 parish members were seated in twelve neat little rows watching the fireworks display.

Between leaving his Merchant Street house and arriving at Moundbuilder's Park, Andy Leonard shot and killed six more people as he drove past them. Two were in a car, the other four had been sitting out on their lawns watching the fireworks. In every case, Andy simply kept one hand on the steering wheel while shooting with the other through an open window.

At 9:40 p.m., just as the fireworks kicked into high gear for the grand finale, Andy drove his father's pickup truck at eighty miles per hour through the wooden gate at the northeast side of the park, barreled across the picnic grounds, over the grassy mound that marked the south border, and went straight down into the middle of the spectators.

Three people were killed and eight others injured as the truck plowed into the back row of chairs. Then Andy threw open the door and leapt from the truck and opened fire with the HK53. The parishioners scrambled in panic, many of them falling over chairs. Of the dead and wounded at the park, none was able to get farther than ten yards away before being shot.

Andy stopped only long enough to yank the pistols from the truck. The first barrage with the rifle was to disable; the second, with the pistols, was to finish off anyone who might still be alive.

At 9:45 p.m. Andy Leonard crawled up onto the roof of his father's pickup truck and watched the grand finale of the fireworks display. The truck's radio was tuned in to WLCB. The bombastic finish of "The 1812 Overture" erupted along with the fiery colors in the dark heaven above.

The music and the fireworks ended.

Whirling visibar lights could be seen approaching the park. The howl of sirens hung in the air like a protracted musical chord.

Andy Leonard shoved the barrel of the rifle in his mouth and blew most of his head off. His nearly-decapitated body fell backward on the roof, then slid slowly onto the hood of the truck, smearing a long trail of gore down the center of the windshield.

Twenty minutes later, just as Russell Brennert and Mary Alice Hubert turned onto Merchant Street to find it blocked by police cars and ambulances, one of the officers on the scene at Moundbuilder's Park heard what he thought was the sound of a baby crying. Moments later, he discovered Joseph Hamilton, still alive and still in his safety seat, on the passenger-side floor of the pickup. The infant was clutching a bottle of formula that had been taken from his mother's baby bag.


I stopped at this point and took a deep breath, surprised to find that my hands were shaking. I looked to the ghosts and they whispered Courage.

I swallowed once, nodded my head, then said to my students, "That baby was me.

"I have no idea why Andy didn't kill me. I was taken from the carnage and placed in the care of Cedar Hill Children's Services." I opened my briefcase and removed a file filled with photocopies of old newspaper articles and began passing them around the room; I had brought several pieces of my research along that morning in case I'd need them to prompt discussion among my students. "The details of how I came to be adopted by the Conover family of Waynesboro, Virginia are written in these articles. Suffice to say that I was perhaps the most famous baby in the country for the next few months."

One student held up a copy of an article and said, "It says here that the Conovers took you back to Cedar Hill six months after the killings. Says you were treated like a celebrity."

I looked at the photo accompanying the article and shook my head, somewhat sadly. "I have no memory of that at all. At home, in a box I keep in my filing cabinet, are hundreds of cards I received from people who lived in Cedar Hill at that time. Most of them are either dead or have moved away now, and when I went back there a few years ago I could only find a few of them.

"It's odd to think that, somewhere out there, there are dozens, maybe even hundreds, of people, who prayed for me when I was a baby, people I never knew and never will know. For a while I was at the center of their thoughts. I like to believe these people still think of me from time to time. I like to believe it's those thoughts and prayers that keep me safe from harm.

"But as I said in the beginning, this story isn't really about menot yet, at least. Maybe it never will be. Some mysteries interwoven with one's heritage must be confronted even if there is no possible chance of finding an answer, and since I am not arrogant enough to say, 'Listen: I know everything now,' I have little choice but to offer this as something of a folk tale, because that's what it is and always has been to me. I suspect it will be this way until I die. If there is any Great Truth to be discerned, I'm not the one to proclaim what it might be. From the moment that nameless police officer found a squalling baby on the floor of a murderer's truck I ceased to be a part of the story. But it has never stopped being a part of me."


Details were too sketchy for the eleven p.m. news to offer anything concrete about the massacre, but by the time the local network affiliates broadcast their news-at-sunrise programs, the tally was in.

Counting himself, Andy Leonard had murdered 32 people and wounded 36 others, making his spree the largest single mass shooting to date. (Some argued that since the shootings took place in two different locations they should be treated as two separate incidents, while others insisted that since Andy had continuously fired his weapons up until the moment of his death, including the trail of shootings between his house and the park, it was all one single incident. What could not be argued was the body count, which made the rest of it more than a bit superfluous.)

Those victims were what the specter of my uncle was thinking about as Jackson Davies and Pete Cooper walked through him.

Andy's ghost hung its head and sighed, then took one half-step to the right and vanished back into the ages where it would re-live its murderous rampage in perpetuity, always coming back to the moment it stood outside the house and watched as two men passed through it on their way toward a police officer.


Russell Brennert looked at the two other janitors who'd come along tonight and knew without asking that neither one of them wanted him to be here. Of course not; he had known the crazy fucker, he had been Andy Leonard's best friend, his presence made it all just a bit more real than they wanted it to be. Did they think that some part of what had driven Andy to kill all of those people had rubbed off on him, as well?

He finished unloading the last of the wheeled buckets, then filled each one with towels, scrub sponges, one-quart bottles of industrial cleaner concentrate, wax remover, and finish-stripping liquid, a pair of yellow rubber gloves, Fiberglass face masks to protect against chemical fumes, a roll of paper towels, a spray-bottle of Windex, an extra mop head and, of course, a mop. There were five buckets in all, so this took a few minutesduring which neither of his coworkers offered to help, for which Russell was grateful; at least he wouldn't have to stand here and try to make conversation with . . . with . . . .

Christ, he couldn't even remember their names. Not that it was any big deal, mind you. He'd seen these guys around school often enough but never in any kind of a social situation. They passed in the halls during class change, stood in line in the cafeteria, Russell had home room with one of them

hell with it, he thought. Call them Mutt & Jeff and leave it at that. Odds were they wanted even less to do with him than he did with them.

He checked (for the third or fourth time) to make sure each plastic barrel had plenty of extra trash bags. Then Mutt came over and, fighting the smirk trying to sneak onto his face, asked, "Hey, Brennertthat's your name, right?"


"We were just wonderin' if, well, it's true, y'know?"

"If what's true?"

Mutt gave a quick look to Jeff, who turned away and oh-so-subtly covered his mouth with his hand.

Russell dug his fingernails into his palms to keep from getting angry; these guys were going to pull something, or say something, he just knew it.

Mutt sniffed dryly as he turned back to Russell. He'd given up trying to fight back the smirk on his face.

Russell bit his lower lip. Stay cool, you can do it, you need the money . . . .

"We'd just been wonderin'," said Mutt, "if it's true that you and Leonard used to . . . go to the movies together."

Jeff snorted a laugh and tried to cover it up by coughing.

Russell held his breath. "Sometimes, yeah."

"Just the two of you or you guys ever take dates?"

You're doing fine, just fine, he's a mutant, just keep that in mind . . . .

"Sometimes it was just him and me. Sometimes he'd bring Barb along."

"Yeah, yeah . . ." Mutt leaned in, lowering his voice to a mock-conspiratorial whisper. "The thing is, we heard that the two of you went to the drive-in together a couple of days before he shot everybody."

Fine and dandy, yessir. "That's right. Barb was going to come along but she had to babysit her sister at the last minute."

Mutt chewed on his lower lip to bite back a giggle. Russell caught a peripheral glimpse of Davies and Cooper heading back up to the porch with one of the cops.

"How come you and your buddy went to the drive-in all by yourselves?"

"We wanted to see the movie." Jesus, Jackson, get down here, will you?

Russell didn't hear all of the next question because the pulsing of his blood sounded like a jackhammer in his ears.

". . . thigh?"

Russell blinked, exhaled, and dug his nails in a little deeper. "I'm sorry, could you run that by me again?"

"I said, last week after gym when we was all in the showers I noticed you had a sucker-bite on your thigh."


"You sure about that? Seemed to me it looked like a big ol' hickey."

"Stare at my thighs a lot, do you?"

Mutt's face went blank. Jeff jumped to his feet and snarled, "Hey, watch it, motherfucker."

"Watch what?" snapped Russell. "Why don't you feebs just leave me alone? I've got better things to do than be grilled by a couple of redneck homophobes."

"Ha! Homo, huh?" said Mutt. "I always figured the two of you musta been butt-buddies."

"Fagbags," said Jeff, then the two flaming wits high-fived one another.

Russell suddenly realized that one of his hands had reached over and gripped a mop handle. Don't do it, Russ, don't you dare, they're not worth it. "Think whatever you want. I don't care." He turned away from them in time to see a bright blue van pull up behind the police cruiser. A small satellite dish squatted like a gargoyle on top of the van and Russell could see through the windshield that Ms. Tanya Claymore, Channel 9's red-hot newsbabe, was inside.

"Oh shit," he whispered.

One of the reasons he'd agreed to help out tonightthe money asidewas so he wouldn't have to stay at home and hear the phone ring every ten minutes and answer it to find some reporter on the other end asking for Mr. Russell Brennert oh this is him I'm Whatsisname from the In-Your-Face Channel, Central Ohio's News Authority and I wanted to ask you a few questions about Andy Leonard blah-blah-blah.

It had been like that for the last three days. He'd hoped that coming out here tonight would give him a reprieve from everyone's constant questions but it seemed

put the ego in park, Russ. Yeah, maybe they called the house and Mom or Dad told them you'd be out here, but it's just possible they came out in hopes of getting inside the house for a few minutes' worth of video for tomorrow's news.

He thought about it for another second and decided that his second notion was the right one. The police hadn't let any reporters see the inside of the house and had even posted guards to make sure no one tried to sneak in. News vans had police scanners, didn't they? Tanya Claymore and her crew had probably heard the cops in the cruiser radio that they were going over to let the janitors into the house.

"Hey, gay-boy!"

Russell looked down at his hand on the mop handle and smiled but there was not one ounce of humor in it.

Mutt smacked the back of his shoulder much harder than was needed just to get his attention. "Hey, yo! Brennert, I'm talking to you."

"Please leave me alone? Please?"

All along the murky-death membrane that was Merchant Street porch lights snapped on and ghostly forms shuffled out in bathrobes and housecoats, some with curlers in their hair or shoddy slippers on their feet.

Mutt & Jeff both laughed, but not too loudly.

"What's it like to cornhole a psycho, huh?"

"I" Russell swallowed the rest of the sentence and started toward the house but Mutt grabbed his arm, wrenching him backward and spinning him around.

One of the tattered spectres grabbed her husband's arm and pointed from their porch to the three young men by the van: Did it look like there was some trouble?

The ghosts of Irv and Miriam Leonard, accompanied by their grandchildren Ian, Theresa, and Lori, stood off to the side of the house and watched as well. Irv shook his head in disgust and Miriam wiped at her eyes and thought she felt her heart aching for Russell; such a nice boy, he was.

On the porch of the Leonard house, an impatient Jackson Davies waited while the officer ripped down the yellow tape and inserted the key into the lock.

"Jackson?" said Pete Cooper.


Cooper cleared his throat and lowered his voice. "Do you remember what you said about no reporters being around?"

"Yeah, so wha" Then he saw the Channel 9 News van. "Ah, fuck me with a fiddlestick! They plant a homing device on that poor kid or something?" He watched Tanya Claymore slide open the side door and lower one of her too-perfect legs toward the ground like some Hollywood starlet exiting a limo at a movie premiere.

"Dammit, I told you bringing Brennert along would be a mistake."

"Thank you, Mr. Hindsight. Let me worry about it?"

Cooper gestured toward the news van and said, "Aren't you gonna do something?"

"I don't know if I can." Davies directed this remark to the police officer unlocking the door. The officer looked over his shoulder and shrugged, then said, "If she interferes with your crew performing the job you pay them for, you've got every right to tell her to go away."

"Just make sure you get her phone number first," said Cooper.

Davies turned his back to them and stared at Tanya Claymore. If she even so much as looked at Russell, he'd drop on her like a curse from heaven.

Down by the trash barrels and buckets, Mutt was standing less than an inch from Russell's face and saying, "All right, bad-ass, let's get to it. People're sayin' that you maybe knew what Andy was gonna do and didn't say anything."

"I didn't," whispered Russell. "I didn't know."

Some part of him realized that Tanya's cameraman had turned on his light and was taping them but he was backed too far into a corner to care right now.

"Yeah," said Mutt contemptuously. "I'll just bet you didn't."

"I didn't know, all right? He never said . . . a thing to me."

"According to the news, he was in an awful hurry to get you out before he went gonzo."

For a moment Russell found himself back in the car with Mary Alice, turning the corner and being almost blinded by visibar lights, then that cop came over and pounded on the window and said, "This area's restricted for the moment, kid, so you're gonna have to" and Mary Alice shouted, "Is that the Leonard house? Did something happen to my family?" and then the cop shone his flashlight in and asked, "You a relative, ma'am?" and Mary Alice was already in tears and Russell felt something boiling up from his stomach because he saw one of the bodies being covered by a sheet and then Mary Alice screamed and fell against him and a sick cloud of pain descended on their skulls

"I had no idea, okay?" The words fell to the ground in a heap. Russell thought he could almost see them groan before the darkness put them out of their misery. "Do I have to keep on saying that or should I just write it in braille and shove it up"

"you knew, you had to know!" The mean-spirited mockery of earlier was gone from Mutt's voice, replaced by anger with some genuine hurt wrapped around it. "He was your best friend!"

You need the money, Russell.

"Two of 'em was always together," said Jeff, just loud enough for the microphone to get every word. "Everybody figured that Brennert here was gay and was in love with Andy."

Three hundred dollars, Russell. Grocery money for a month or so. Mom and Dad will appreciate it.

It seemed that both of his hands were gripping the mop handle, and somehow that mop was no longer in the bucket.

He heard a chirpy voice go into its popular sing-song mode: "This is Tanya Claymore. I'm standing outside the house of Irving and Miriam Leonard at 182 Merchant Street where"

"You wanna do something about it?" said Mutt, pushing Russell's shoulder. "Think you're man enough to mess with me?"

Russell was only vaguely aware of Davies coming down from the porch and shouting something at the news crew; he was only vaguely aware of the second police officer climbing from the cruiser and making a beeline to Ms. Newsbabe; and he was only vaguely aware of Mutt saying, "How come you came along to help with the clean-up tonight? Idea of seeing all that blood and brains get you hard, does it? You a sick fuck just like Andy?"; but the one thing of which he was fully, almost gleefully aware, was that the mop had become a javelin in his hands and he was going to go for the gold and hurl the thing right into Mutt's great big ugly target of a mouth

—Three hundred dollars should just about cover the emergency room bill—

then a hand clamped down so hard on Mutt's shoulder Russell thought he heard bones crack.

Jackson Davies's smiling face swooped in and hovered between them. "If you're finished with this nerve-tingling display of machismo, we have a house to clean, remember?" Still clutching Mutt's shoulder in a Vulcan death-grip, Davies hauled the boy around and pushed him toward one of the barrels. "Why can't you use your powers for good?"

"Hey, we were just"

"I know what you were just, thank you very much. I'd appreciate it" he gestured toward Jeff "if you and the Boy Wonder here would get off your asses and start carrying supplies inside." Russell reached for a couple of buckets but Davies stopped him. "Not you, Ygor. You stay here with me for a second." Mutt & Jeff stood staring as Ms. Newsbabe came jiggling up to Russell in all of her journalistic glory.

Davies glowered at the two boys and said, "Yes, her bazooba-wobblies are very big and no, you can't touch them. Now get moving before I become unpleasant."

They became a blur of legs and mop buckets. Russell said, "Mr. Davies, I'm sorry but"

"Hold that thought."

Tanya and her cameraman were almost on top of them; a microphone came toward their faces like a projectile.

"Russell?" said Tanya. "Russell, hi. I'm Tanya Claymore and"

"A friend of mine once stepped on a Claymore," said Davies. "Made his sphincter switch places with his eardrums. I was scraping his spleen off my face for a week. Please don't bother any member of my crew, Ms. Claymore."

The reporter's startling green eyes widened. She made a small, quick gesture with her free hand, and her cameraman swung around to get Davies into the frame.

"We'd like to talk to both of you, Mr. Davies"

"Go away." Davies looked at Russell and the two of them grabbed the remaining buckets and barrels and started toward the house.

Tanya Claymore sneered at Davies's back, then turned around and waved to the driver of the news van. He looked over and she mimed talking into a telephone receiver. The driver nodded his head and picked up the cellular phone. Tanya gave her mike to the cameraman and took off after Davies.

"Mr. Davies, please, could youdammit, I'm in heels! Would you wait a second?"

"She wants me." whispered Davies to Russell. Despite everything, Russell gave a little smile. He liked Jackson Davies a lot and was glad this man was his boss.

Tanya stumbled up the incline of the lawn and held out one of her hands for Davies to take hold of and help her.

"Are those fingernails real or press-ons?" asked Davies, not making a move.

Russell put down his supplies and gave her the help she needed. As soon as she reached level ground she offered a sincere smile and squeezed his hand in thanks.

Davies said, "What's it going to take to make you leave us alone?"

Her eyes hardened but the smile remained. "All I want is to talk to the both of you about what you're going to do."

"It's a little obvious, isn't it?"

"Central Ohio would like to know."

"Oh," said Davies. "I see. You're in constant touch with Central Ohio? Champion of the common folk in your fake nails and designer dress and tinted contacts?"

"Does all that just come to you or do you write it down ahead of time and memorize it?"

"You're not being very nice."

"Neither are you."

They both fell silent and stood staring at one another.

Finally, Davies sighed and said, "Could we at least get our stuff inside and get started first? I could come out in a half-hour and talk to you then."

"What about Russell?"

Russell half-raised his hand. "Russell is right here. Please don't talk about me in third person."

"Sorry," said Tanya with a grin. "You haven't talked to any reporters, Russell. I don't know if you remember, but you've hung up on me twice."

"I know. I was gonna send you a card to apologize. We always watch you at my house. My mom thinks you look like a nice girl and my dad's always had a thing for redheads."

Tanya leaned a little closer to him and said, "What about you? Why do you like watching me?"

Russell was glad that it was so dark out because he could feel himself blushing. "I, uh . . .Ilook, Ms. Claymore, I don't know what I could say to you about what happened that you don't already know."

The radio in the police cruiser squawked loudly and the officer down by the vans leaned through the window to grab the mike.

"All right," said Tanya, looking from Davies to Russell, then back to Davies again. "I won't lie to either of you. The news director would really, really prefer that I come back tonight with some tape either of Russell or the inside of the house. I almost had to beg him to let me do this tonight. Don't take this the wrong wayespecially you, Russellbut I'm sick to death of being a talking head. Don't ever repeat that to anyone. If"

"Oh, allow me," said Davies. "If you don't come back tonight with a really boffo piece, you'll be stuck reading Teleprompters and covering new mall openings for the rest of your career, right?"

Tanya said nothing.

Russell looked over at his boss. "Uh, look, Mr. Davies, if this is gonna be a problem I can"

"She's lying, Russ. Her news director is all hot to trot for some shots of the inside of the house and he'll do anything for the exclusive pictures, won't he? Up to and including having his most popular female anchor lay a sob story on us that sounds like it came out of some overbaked 1940s melodrama. Nice try, though. Goddammitit wouldn't surprise me if you and your crew were the ones who tried to break in."

Tanya looked startled. "What? Someone tried to break into the house?"

"Wrong reading, sister. Don't call us, we'll call you."

The hardness in Tanya's eyes now bled down into the rest of her face. "Fine, Mr. Davies. Have it your way."

The officer in the cruiser walked up to his partner on the porch and the two of them whispered for a moment, then came down toward Davies and Tanya.

"Mr. Davies," said the officer who'd unlocked the door, "we just received orders that Ms. Claymore and her cameraman are to be allowed to photograph the inside of the house."

Behind her back, Tanya gave a thumbs-up to the driver of the news van.

"What'd you do," asked Davies, "have your boss call in a few favors or did you just promise to fuck the mayor?"

"Mr. Davies," said one of the officers. The warning in his voice was quite clear. "Ms. Claymore can photograph only the foyer and one other room. You'll all go in at the same time. I will personally escort Ms. Claymore and her cameraman into, through, and out of the house. She can only be inside for ten minutes, no more." He turned toward Tanya. "I'm sorry, Ms. Claymore, those're our orders. If you're inside longer than ten minutes, we're to consider it to be trespassing and are to act accordingly."

"Well," she said, straightening her jacket and brushing a thick strand of hair from her eye, "it's nice to see that the First Amendment's alive and well and being slowly choked to death in Cedar Hill."

"You should attend one of our cross burnings sometime," said Davies.

"You're a jerk."

"How would you know? You never attend the meetings."

"That's enough, boys and girls," said Officer Lock & Key. "Could we move this along, please?"

"One thing," said Tanya. "Would it be all right if we got some shots of the outside of the house first?"

"You'd better make it fast," said Davies. "I feel a record-time cleaning streak coming on."

"Or I could get them later."

Russell had already walked away from the group and was setting his supplies onto the porch. The front door was open and the overhead light in the foyer had been turned on and he caught sight of a giant red-black spider clinging to the right-side wall

he turned quickly away and took a breath, pressing one of his hands against his stomach.

Mutt & Jeff laughed at him as they walked into the house.

Pete Cooper shook his head and dismissed Russell with a wave of his hand.

The ghosts of the Leonard family surrounded Russell on the porch, Irv placing a reassuring hand on the boy's shoulder while Miriam stroked his hair and the children looked on in silence.

Tanya Claymore's cameraman caught Russell's expression on tape.

It wasn't until Jackson Davies came up and took hold of his hand that Russell snapped out of his fugue and, without saying a word, got to the job.

And all along Merchant Street, shadowy forms in their housecoats and slippers watched from the safety of front porches.


Even more famous than Francis Paynter's phone call is Tanya Claymore's videotape of that night. It ran four-and-a-half minutes and was the featured story on Channel 9's six o'clock news broadcast the following evening. Viewer response was so overwhelming that the tape was broadcast again at seven and eleven p.m., then at six a.m. and noon the next day, then again, re-edited to two minutes, forty-five seconds, at seven and eleven p.m. The story won Tanya a local Emmy Award and caught the attention of a network executive who flew her to Los Angeles later that month for an audition. She was offered a network job and accepted it.

She credited all of her success to the "Clean-up" tape.

It is an extraordinary piece of work, and I showed it to my students that day. I eventually received an official reprimand from the school board for doing itseveral of the students had nightmares about it, compounding those about the Utica killingsbut I thought they needed to see and hear other people, strangers, express what they themselves were feeling.

The ghosts wanted to see it again, as well.

As did Iand why not? In a way it is not so much about the aftermath of a tragedy as it is a chronicle of my birth, a point of reference on the map of my life: This is where I really began.


The tape opens with a shot of the Leonard house, bathed in shadow. Dim figures can be seen moving around its front porch. Sounds of footsteps. A muffled voice. A door being opened. A light coming on. Then another. And another.

Silhouettes appear in an upstairs window. Unmoving.

The camera pulls back slightly. Seen from the street the lights from the house form a pattern of sorts as they slip out from the cracks in the particleboard over the downstairs windows.

It takes a moment, but suddenly the house looks like it's smiling. And it is not a pleasant smile.

All of this takes perhaps five seconds. Then Tanya Claymore's voice chimes softly in as she introduces herself and says, "I'm standing outside the house of Irving and Miriam Leonard at 182 Merchant Street where, as you know, four nights ago their son Andy began a rampage that would leave over thirty people dead and over thirty more wounded."

At that very moment, someone inside the house kicks against the sheet of particleboard over the front bay window and wrenches it loose while a figure on the porch uses the claw end of a hammer to pull it free. The board comes away and a massive beam of light explodes outward, momentarily filling the screen.

The camera smoothly shifts its angle to deflect the light. As it does so, Tanya Claymore resolves into focus like a ghost on the right side of the screen. Whether it was purposefully done this way or not, the effect is an eerie one.

She says, "Just a few moments ago, accompanied by two members of the Cedar Hill Police Department, a team of janitors entered the Leonard house to begin what will most certainly be one of the grimmest and most painful clean-ups in recent memory."

She begins walking up toward the front porch and the camera follows her. "Experts tell us that violence never really ends, no more than a symphony ceases to exist once the orchestra has stopped playing."

As she gets closer to the front door the camera moves left while she moves to the right and says, "And like the musical resonances that linger in the mind after a symphony, the ugliness of violence remains."

By now she has stepped out of camera range and the dark, massive bloodstain on the foyer wall can be clearly seen.

At the opposite end of the foyer, a mop head drenched in foamy soap suds can be seen slapping against the floor.

It makes a wet, sickening sound. The camera slowly zooms in on the mop and focuses on the blood which is mixed in with the suds.

The picture cuts to a well-framed shot of Tanya's head and shoulders. It's clear she's in a different room but which room it might be is hard to tell. When she speaks her voice sounds slightly hollow and her words echo.

"This is the only time that a news camera will be allowed to photograph the interior of the Leonard house. You're about to see the kitchen where Miriam Leonard and her two daughters, Jessica Hamilton and Elizabeth Shannon, spent the last few seconds of their lives, and where seven-year-old Randy Hamilton, with two bullets in his small body, fought to save the life of his infant brother, Joseph.

"The janitors have not been in here yet, so you will be seeing the kitchen just as it was when investigators finished with it."

For a moment it looks as if she might say something else, then she lowers her gaze and steps to the left as the camera moves slightly to the right and the kitchen is revealed.

The sight is numbing.

The kitchen is a slaughterhouse. The contrast between the blood and the off-white walls lunges out at the viewer like a snarling beast escaping from its cage.

The camera pans down to the floor and follows a single splash pattern that quickly grows denser and wider. Smeary heeland footprints can be seen. The camera moves upward: part of a handprint in the center of a lower counter door. The camera moves farther up: the mark of four bloody fingers on the edge of the sink. The camera moves over the top of the sink in a smooth, sweeping motion and stares at a thick, crusty black whirlpool twisting down into the garbage disposal drain.

The camera suddenly jerks up and whips around, blurring everything for a moment, a dizzying effect, then comes to an abrupt halt. Tanya is standing in the doorway of the kitchen with her right arm thrust forward. In her hand is a plastic pistol.

"This is a rough approximation of the last thing Elizabeth Shannon saw before her youngest brother shot her to death."

She remains still for a moment. The viewer cannot help but put themselves in Elizabeth's place.

Tanya slowly lowers the pistol and says, "The question for which there seems to be no answer is, naturally, 'Why did he do it?'

"We put that question to several of the Leonards' neighbors this evening. Here's what some of them had to say about seventeen-year-old Andy, a young man who now holds the hideous distinction of having murdered more people in a single sweep than any killer in this nation's history."

Jump-cut to a quick, complicated series of shots:

Shot #1: An overweight man with obviously dyed hair saying, "I hear they found a tumor in his brain."

Insert shot: Merchant Street as it looked right after the shootings, clogged with police cruisers and ambulances and barricades to keep the ever-growing crowd back.

Shot #2: A middle-aged woman with curlers in her hair: "I'll bet you anything it was his father's fault, him bein' a gun-lover and all. I heard he beat on Andy a lot."

Insert shot: Lights from a visibar rhythmically moving over a sheet-covered body on the front lawn.

Shot #3: An elderly gentleman in a worn and faded smoking jacket: "I read there were all these filthy porno magazines and videotapes stashed under his mattress, movies of women having relations with animals and pictures of babies in these leather sex get-ups . . ."

Insert shot: Two Emergency Medical Technicians carrying a small black body bag down the front porch steps.

Shot #4: A thirtyish woman in an aerobic body leotard: "I felt that he was always a little too nice, you know? He never got . . . angry about anything."

Insert shot: A black & white photograph of Andy taken from a high school yearbook. He's smiling and his hair is neatly combed. He's wearing a tie. The voice of the woman in Shot #4 can still be heard over this photo, saying, "He was always so calm. He never laughed much, but there was this . . . smile on his face all the time . . ."

Shot #5: A little girl of six, most of her hidden behind a parent's leg: ". . . I heard the house was haunted and that ghosts told him to do it . . ."

Insert shot: A recent color photograph of Andy and Russell Brennert at a Halloween party, both of them in costume; Russell is Frankenstein's monster, and Andy, his face painted to resemble a smiling skeleton, wears the black, hooded cloak of the Grim Reaper. He's holding a plastic scythe whose tip is resting on top of Russell's head. The camera moves in on Russell's face until it fills the screen, then abruptly CUTS TO:

A shot of Russell in the foyer of the Leonard house. He's on his knees in front of the massive bloodstain on the wall. He's wearing rubber gloves and is pulling a large sponge from a bucket of soapy water. A caption at the bottom of the screen reads: "RUSSELL BRENNERT, FRIEND OF THE LEONARD FAMILY."

He squeezes the excess water from the sponge and lifts it toward the stain, then freezes just before the sponge touches the wall.

He is trembling but trying very hard not to.

Tanya's shadow can be seen in the lower right-hand corner of the frame. She asks, "How do you feel right now?"

Russell doesn't answer her, only continues to stare at the stain.

Tanya says, "Russell?"

He blinks, shudders slightly, then turns his head and says, "W-what? I'm sorry."

"What were you thinking just then?"

He stares in her direction, then gives a quick glance to the camera. "Does he have to point that damn thing at me like that?"

"You have to talk to a reporter eventually. You might as well do it now."

He bites his lower lip for a second, then exhales and looks back at the stain.

"What're you thinking about, Russell?"

"I remember when Jessie first brought Theresa home from the hospital. Everyone came over here to see the new baby. You should've seen Andy's face."

Brennert's voice begins to quaver. The camera slowly moves in closer to his face. He is oblivious to it.

"He was so . . . proud of her. You'd have thought she was his daughter."

He reaches out with the hand not holding the sponge and presses it against the stain. "She was so tiny. But she couldn't stop giggling. I remember that she grabbed one of my fingers and started . . . chewing on it, you know, like babies will do? And Andy and I looked at each other and smiled and yelled, 'Uncle Attack!' and he s-started . . . he started kissing her chubby little face and I bent down and put my mouth against her tummy and started blowing real hard, you know, making belly-farts, and it tickled her so much because she started giggling and laughing and squealing and k-kicking her legs . . ."

The cords in his neck are straining. Tears well in his eyes and he grits his teeth in an effort to hold them back.

"The rest of the family was enjoying the hell out of it and Theresa kept squealing . . . that delicate little-baby laugh. Jesus Christ . . . he loved her. Her loved her so much and I thought she was the most precious thing . . . she always called me 'UncleRuss'like it was all one word."

The tears are streaming down his cheeks now but he doesn't seem aware of it.

"I held her against my chest. I helped give her baths in the sink. I changed her diapersand I was a helluva lot better at it than Andy ever was . . . and now I gotta . . . I gotta scrub this off the wall."

He pulls back his hand, then touches the stain with only his index finger, tracing indiscernible patterns in the dried blood.

"This was her. This is all that's . . . that's left of the little girl she was, the baby she was . . . the woman she might have grown up to be. He loved her." is voice cracks and he begins sobbing. "He loved all of them. And he never said anything to me. I didn't know, I swear to Christ I didn't know. This was her. Ioh Goddammit!"

He drops down onto his ass and folds his arms across his knees and lowers his head and weeps.

A few moments later Jackson Davies comes in and sees him and kneels down and takes Russell in his arms and rocks gently back and forth, whispering, "It's all right now, it's okay, it's over, you're safe, hear me? Safe. Just . . . give it to me, kid . . . you're safe . . . that's it . . . give it to me . . . ." Davies looks up into the camera and the expression on his face needs no explaining: Turn that fucking thing off.


Tanya, outside the house again, standing next to the porch steps. On the porch, two janitors are removing the broken bay window. A few jagged shards of glass fall out and shatter on the porch. Another man begins sweeping up the shards and dumping them into a plastic trash barrel.

Tanya says, "Experts tell us that violence never really ends, that the healing process may never be completed, that some of the survivors will carry their pain for the rest of their lives."

A MONTAGE begins at this point, with Tanya's closing comments heard in VOICE-OVER:

The image, in slow motion, of police officers and EMTs moving sheet-covered and black-bagged bodies.

"People around here will say that the important thing is to remove as many physical traces of the violence as possible. Mop up the blood, gather the broken glass fragments into a bag and toss it in the trash, cover the scrapes, cuts, and stitches with bandages, then put your best face forward because it will make the unseen hurt easier to deal with."

The image of the sheet-covered bodies cross-fades into film of a memorial service held at Randy Hamilton's grade school. A small choir of children are gathered in front of a picture of Randy and begin to sing. Underneath Tanya's voice can now be heard a few dozen tiny voices softly singing "Let There Be Peace on Earth."

"But what of that 'unseen hurt'? A bruise will fade, a cut will get better, a scar can be taken off with surgery. Cedar Hill must now concern itself with finding a way to heal the scars that aren't so obvious."

The image of the childrens' choir dissolves into film of Mary Alice Hubert standing in the middle of the chaos outside the Leonard house on the night of the shootings. She is bathed in swirling lights and holds both of her hands pressed against her mouth. Her eyes seem unnaturally wide and are shimmering with tears. Police and EMTs scurry around her but none stops to offer help. As the choir sings, "To take each moment and live each moment in peace e-tern-al-ly," she drops slowly to her knees and lowers her head as if in prayer.

Tanya's voice-over continues: "Maybe tears will help. Maybe grieving in the open will somehow lessen the grip that the pain has on this community. Though we may never know what drove Andy Leonard to commit his horrible crime, the resonances of his slaughter remain."

Mary Alice dissolves into the image of Russell Brennert kneeling before the stain on the foyer wall. He is touching the dried blood with the index finger of his left hand.

The childrens' choir is building to the end of the song as Tanya says, "Perhaps Cedar Hill can find some brief comfort in these lines from a poem by German lyric poet Rainer Maria Rilke: 'Who weeps now anywhere in the world, without cause weeps in the world, weeps over me.'"

The screen fills with the image of Jackson Davies embracing Russell as sobs wrack his body. Davies glares up at the camera, then closes his eyes and lowers his face. kissing the top of Russell's head. This images freezes as the children finish singing their hymn.

Tanya's voice once more; soft and low, no sing-song mode this time, no inflection whatsoever: "For tonight, who weeps anywhere in the world, weeps for Cedar Hill and its wounds that may never heal.

"Tanya Claymore, Channel 9 News."


After the tape had finished playing and the lights in the classroom were turned back on, a student near the back of the roomso near, in fact,.that Irv Leonard's ghost could have touched the boy's head, if he'd chosen toraised his hand and asked, "What happened to those people?"

"Tanya Claymore became a famous network news anchor, had several public affairs with various coworkers, contracted AIDS, became a drug addict, and drove her car off a bridge one night. Jackson Davies remarried his ex-wife and they live in Florida now. He'll turn seventy-one this year. Mary Alice Hubert died of a massive coronary six months after the killings. Most of Cedar Hill turned out for her funeral. Russell Brennert stayed in Cedar Hill and eventually bought into Jackson Davies's janitorial service. When Davies retired, Russell bought him out and now owns and operates the company. He'll turn fifty-two this year, and he looks seventy. He never married. He drinks too much and has the worst smoker's hack I've heard. He lives in a small four-room apartment with only one windowand that looks out on a parking lot. He told me he doesn't sleep well most of the time, but he has pills he can take for that. It still doesn't stop the dreams, though. He doesn't have many friends. It seems most people still believe he must have known what Andy was going to do. They've never forgiven him for that." I looked at the ghosts and smiled.

"He was so happy when I told him who I was. He hugged me like I was his long-lost son. He even wept."

The room was silent for a moment, then a girl near the front, without raising her hand, said, "I knew Ted Gibsonhe was the first person that Dyson shot. He . . . he always wanted me to go to Utica with him to try their ice cream. I was supposed to go with him that day. I couldn't . . . and I don't even remember why. Isn't that terrible?" Her lower lip quivered and a tear slipped down her cheek. "Ted got killed and all I could think of when I heard was I wonder what kind of ice cream he was eating."

That ended my story, and began theirs.

One by one, some more hesitant than others, some angrier, some more confused, my students began talking about their dead or wounded friends, and how they missed them, and how frightened they were that something so terrible could happen to someone they knew, maybe even themselves, had the circumstances been different.

The ghosts of Cedar Hill listened, and cried for my students' pain, and understood.


Before they left that day, someone asked me why I thought Andy had done it. I stopped myself from giving the real answerwhat I perceive to be the real answerand told them, "I think losing out on the scholarship did something to him. I think he looked at his future and saw himself being stuck in a factory job for the rest of his life and he became angryat himself, at his family, at the town where he lived. If he had no future, then why should anyone else?"

"Then why didn't he kill his grandmother and Russell, too? Why didn't he kill you?"

Listen to my silence after he asked this.

Finally, I said, "I wish I knew."

I should have gone with my first answer.

I think it runs much deeper than mere anger. I think when loneliness and fear drive a person too deep inside themselves, faith shrivels into hopelessness; I think when tenderness diminishes and bitterness intensifies, rancor becomes a very sacred thing; and I think when the need for some form of meaningful human contact becomes an affliction, a soul can be tainted with madness and allow violence to rage forth as the only means of genuine relief: a final, grotesque expression of alienation that evokes feeling something in the most immediate and brutal form.

The ghosts of my birth seem to agree with that.

You read the account of the Utica killings in the paper and then move quickly on to news about a train wreck in Iran or a flood in Brazil or riots in India or the NASDAQ figures for the week, and unless you are from the town of Utica or in some way knew one of the victims or the man who killed them, you forget all about it because you can't understand how a person, a normal enough person, a person like you and me, could do such a horrible thing. But he did, and others like him will, and all you can hope for is not to be one of the victims. You pray you will be safe. It is easier by far to understand the complicated financial maneuverings of Wall Street kingpins than an isolated burst of homicidal rage in a small Midwestern city.

They are out there, these souls, and always will be; another Andy Leonard could be bagging your groceries; the next Bruce Dyson might be that fellow who checks your gas meter every month; you just don't knowand there's the rub.

You won't know until it's too late.

I wish you well, and I wish you peace. My penance, if indeed that's what it is, must nearly be paid by now. The ghosts don't come around as much as they used to. The last time I saw them was the night my son was born; they came to the hospital to look at him, and to tell me that I was right, that those prayers spoken by strangers for the baby I once was are still protecting me, and will keep myself and my family safe from harm.

I'll pray, as well. I'll pray that the next Andy Leonard or Bruce Dyson doesn't get that last little push that topples him over the line; I'll pray that these souls go on bagging groceries or checking gas meters or delivering pizzas and never raise a hand to kill, that the police in some other small town will be quick to stop them from getting to you if they ever do cross the line; I'll pray that no one ever picks up a paper and reads your name among the list of victims.

Because that kind of violence never really ends.

I hold my son. I kiss my wife and daughter.

The story is over.

Except for those who survived.

We continue.

Safe from harm, I pray.

Safe . . . .