Erica met her misfortune when her car hydroplaned causing it to spin uncontrollably into oncoming traffic. Her vehicle spun directly under a semi-truck, decapitating her instantly and as her head broke from her body, it fell at her side. Her long red locks of gorgeous hair seemed to still flow in the sunlight as the rays captured each strand of her beautiful red hair.
Tara met her untimely death when she fell off a balcony in New Orleans after being chased by a would-be rapist. A passerby found her laying on the sidewalk below twisted and broken like a child’s doll. The blood created a puddle that seemed to run into the street and down into the drain. Each stream was flowing down into a pile of rats that looked to find the blood and began licking it. When they picked up her body, they had to scare away at least 20 large rats that had seemed to find her body in a short succession of time and were gnawing at her fingers.
Ronald died suddenly after a drug overdose in a bathroom inside a concert hall. He still had his violin at his side, and when his friend found him, he was white as snow. His lips were pursed blue and purple, and the light in his eyes seemed to find themselves stargazing into the netherworld. The needle was still inside his arm stiff as though it were nailing him to the bathroom wall.
These are just three ways I have killed people in my stories. They say that writing is a form of possession in a way. I once heard that someone sits down inside of you when you go to write, and from there the stories take on life because they need a soul.
I had created many characters in eight short years, and they had been all best sellers. I’m not bragging by any means, but it was an excellent run for a time, and then something changed. I couldn’t seem to master the ideas to paper anymore.
One snarling critic wrote of my latest novel “All of Miss Hartford’s characters are one in the same, there is nothing new here, may as well read Patterson, at least the endings are better.”
It was devastating. It got so bad that I avoided reading reviews on Amazon because some of the reviews were just mean and hateful.
‘Worst thing I have ever read….’
‘Don’t waste your money…’
I had planned to take an extended break between novels until my agent Andrea called me up one afternoon. “Rachel I have this new venture, and I think you would be perfect. Do you recall the Bentley case?”
I had recalled with vagueness the story of Emily Bentley who was locked inside a small floor closet for six weeks by her next-door neighbor, who called himself Pazuzu after the demon in the Exorcist. He had been a proclaimed Devil worshipper and planned to impregnate poor Emily with the Devil’s seed. They caught him when, Pazuzu, had stolen her purse and used several of her credit cards. He was arrested but later hung himself in jail. It had made the press at the time and was quite the huge deal. Emily Bentley had refused interviews, but now I would be given special permission to interview her if I would take the writing assignment.
“What do you say, Rachel? Maybe writing about something true will give your writing life again! Hey, it is something different but still along the same lines as before. A horror story set in a small town and the perpetrator is someone the main character knows. In this case, it was the neighbor. Look you know I know everyone in publishing, and when they pitched the idea that they were interested in someone that could do the project I thought of you right away!” She said in a hoarse voice coughing a bit in between words.
“I’m not sure if I’m the right person but, I’ll try.”
“Perfect. Can you meet Mrs. Bentley tomorrow over coffee? She is going to be staying at the Hilton downtown. If she likes you, she will work with you.”
I sighed in apprehension taking down the address and time of our meeting and then hanging up. I sat and stared at the small white piece of paper hoping I was making the right decision.
The next day I went to the Hilton and met with Mrs. Bentley. She was nearly an hour late and didn’t even bother to apologize when she sat down. Her hair was a greasy mess and she wore a raincoat the entire time although it was 70 degrees outside. I suspected someone like Mrs. Bentley, who was a severe trauma victim would be a bit off after everything that she had gone through, but this was far worse than I had expected.
We ordered coffee, and she sat slurping it loudly while I asked questions.
“It is nice to meet you, Mrs. Bentley. I want first to say that I appreciate you taking this meeting.”
“You want a story, and so I guess I’ll give it to you. My lawyer said a good way for me to make some money is hiring a writer to tell my story. Says it could be a best seller, and I guess you are one of those or they wouldn’t have sent you.” She had a matter of fact tone about her, and I wasn’t sure if she cared for me or not.
“I have had some success, but mainly as a fiction writer. To be perfectly honest I have never taken on a true crime before, so I think this could be a new learning experience.”
“Learning experience?” She seemed annoyed by my choice of wording, and I thought ‘Oh Great.’
“If you want to learn about real life and what people are capable of maybe you should try locking yourself up for a few weeks, chained, barely food and water with the threat of death or rape hanging over your head, then come to talk to me about life lessons.”
I looked at her and found very little to say. The waitress came back then to take our order, and I declined anything else. Mrs. Bentley had tears in her eyes as she looked at me. We sat in silence until I found the courage to end our meeting.
“You seem nice, don’t get me wrong, but unless you want to tackle this, I’d run like hell.” She said as got up to leave me.
I stood watching cupcakes melt in the sun and women in their Sunday best while the last of the afternoon sun glared upon all of us in my best friend’s backyard. Diana, who I had known since we were three years old, was having her first child at 31 and so there was a lovely Sunday picnic in her honor. Family and friends were all there, and I stood alone at one of the tables in the shade reading text messages from him.
RACHEL, PLEASE DON’T DO THIS TO ME.
I ignored the persisting texts from Jake, who even in vibration tone on my phone had that certain neediness to them. I had ended it a week ago and had decided to work on my marriage with Reginald. I stood reading and then deleting them one by one as I looked out at Reginald standing with a happy sort of grin on his face discussing Literature or something with Diana’s husband, Marlow.
Diana found me and noticed the distraught look on my face. “Want to talk about it?” she asked me.
“It’s fine, just a new project that I’m working on.” I lied.
No one knew about Jake, not even Diana. It had been my secret affair, and I was sorry about it now as I watched my husband. I guess it wasn’t a surprise to me when it started. Jake was one of the personal trainers at my gym. I had begun to feel tired and put on ten pounds since Christmas, and so I asked Reginald for a gym membership. It was one of those fancy places with a spa and a salon. He was more than happy to keep his young wife looking as beautiful as the day he had met her nearly ten years ago now.
I had been one of Reginald’s students in his Literature class where I attended college. Granted it sounds taboo in the retelling of it, but I can assure you it was nothing of the kind. I was 22 when I met Reginald, and he was 40, unmarried, and our relationship began after I had graduated. Like all things, our marriage grew stale after ten years. I wanted more out of our relationship; I wanted to go out more, meet more people. He was content just sitting at home reading or watching a game. We went to the occasional dinner party thrown by one of his colleagues or we went to a movie at the local Indie Theatre. I began hating that quiet life married to an older man. I loved Reginald with all my heart, but there was just something was missing.
That is when I met Jake, he had the most beautiful body, and he was good looking in that Hollywood kind of way. To say that I was attracted was an understatement. I was hot for him in every single way. I found myself doing things with him I never would have done with Reginald. The first time we had sex was in the back of his car, and it didn’t stop there. We met in secret almost daily whether it was on my lunch break or his. We went away for one weekend to Niagara Falls, but I insisted on us only paying cash for everything so that there was no paper trail. We did manage to take photos of us together, but I made it a point to ensure I would delete them after I got home. The last thing I needed was Reginald finding out.
Then things with Jake fizzled out after I found he had secrets of his own. I was laying in the hotel bed that weekend in Niagara Falls when I asked him about why he never invited me over to his house.
“Well, I guess I could ask the same question.” He smirked getting out of bed showing off his naked form to me. Sweat was still dripping down his back.
“You know why; I’m married.”
I don’t know why it shocked me so much hearing him admit he was married. That is when reality hit home. Messing up my marriage was one thing, but messing up two? I realized then how stupid I had been to allow myself to fail my husband in this way. The fantasy was over the fairytale idealism that Jake brought with him ruined in that one second.
I didn’t say much to him as he drove me back to where I left my car, some metro park we often met up at in the middle of the night. I broke it off with him then and there and since he had sent me hundreds of texts. I made up my mind to get rid of the phone and get a new one and a new number as soon as I could.
Reginald found me just after Diana had and he placed his arm around the waist of my dress and kissed my neck. “Hey, beautiful. You almost ready to go?” I thought how different he felt compared to Jake. Reginald was softer with the way he caressed me and there was a poetry in his touch and patience that came with a man his age. I looked at my husband who had salt and pepper hair and wore clear glasses. He was handsome in his way. I turned my phone off and tossed it in my purse.
We drove home holding hands, and when we got home I thought we would fool around a bit, only he was tired and quickly found himself asleep in the bed beside me. I sat up that night thinking and unsure how to proceed with both Jake and with Mrs. Bentley. I had not heard anything from Andrea about the meeting, so I wasn’t sure if things were going to go in my favor after the way Mrs. Bentley had treated me.
I sent Jake one last text message that night I’M SORRY JAKE; THIS HAS TO BE OVER. I LOVE MY HUSBAND. GOODBYE. I blocked the number and deleted all evidence. Tomorrow I would get rid of my phone for good and move on with my life, or so I thought.
I spoke to Andrea and was given the green light to continue my interviews with Mrs. Bentley. Something kept nagging at me, and that was the last critique I had received that I wasn’t “authentic enough or realistic enough.” What if I failed again in my latest writing endeavor?
I stayed up and then I finally fell asleep clutching my phone. I had strange nightmarish dreams that night. I was being held against my will and the person holding me captive had me blindfolded and tied up. I kept feeling as though I was having issues breathing and I awoke with a start. I nearly fell out of my bed screaming, and when I did I looked around the room I realized I was entirely alone. Reginald had already gone to work, and I looked down to see I was still clutching my cellular phone. I powered it on and sat up in bed half expecting to see 80 text messages from Jake, but I recalled I had blocked his number. With relief there were no messages, so I got up and showered. While I stood there letting the hot water run down my naked form, I couldn’t stop thinking about that dream because it gave me insight into the mind of Mrs. Bentley and the ordeal she had suffered. That must have been how she felt, but to recapture that feeling. I would give anything to be the best writer in the world. I would think at this moment if there were a way to sell my soul to the Devil I would to be back at the top of my writing game again.
Then it hit me like a literal lightbulb going off over my head. What if I could live that nightmare even just for a day. I could document all my feelings and worst fears in real time so that as I wrote Mrs. Bentley’s ordeal, I would have first knowledge of that.
Was it crazy? I supposed it was and yet I didn’t care as I was desperate.
Later that evening when Reginald came home from work I proposed the idea to him. He looked at me as though I had lost all my marbles entirely and wouldn’t even talk to me at dinner.
“You are mad! I think you need a vacation.” He said to me.
“But it would only be for a day or two, just long enough to allow me to grasp the sheer terror Mrs. Bentley felt in those moments. It is no different than a method actor why can’t writers go method?” I begged him over my pesto chicken.
“Because it is ridiculous.”
“It isn’t really, all you have to do is lock me in the cellar in the basement.”
“Fine,” I said standing up and tossing my dinner in the garbage and then as I stood pouting in the kitchen he came up behind me and hugged me. “Don’t.”
“What would people say? What if someone found out? It could be my reputation and yours.”
“How would they find out? It’s just for the weekend, and you would be here each step of the way. If it gets too much, I’ll bang on the door, and you can let me out.”
He sighed rolling his eyes. “You can’t just watch some horror movies like everyone else or read some Stephen King books?”
“I could, but I want my own experience. I want to try something new.”
He finally agreed even if he felt it was crazy. I had it all mapped out how it would be for those two days and nights locked in the cellar. There would be no food, only a bit of water and a bucket to do my business, much like the way Emily Bentley endured. I had the next few days to prepare such as a noise barrier so that no one could hear my screams from outside the house. That was on Reginald’s suggestion, although looking back that may not have been the wisest idea.
The morning of the “faux” kidnapping I mainly ate breakfast over my coffee as generally as I could and then around 5 o’clock sharp he led me down to our cellar. All the supplies were there I would need which were very few. I was barefoot wearing my pajama pants and a white tank top. As he looked at me, he seemed to have this worried look on his face.
“Are you sure you want to do this?”
“Yes, make sure you come at exactly ten Sunday morning. Be scary if you want like make sounds too so I can get the full effect!”
He rolled his eyes at me again and then held out his hand.
“What is that for?”
“Your phone. I need it if this is going to be authentic. Emily Bentley was under that house for weeks and she didn’t have her phone. If she had she would have escaped a lot sooner.”
I handed it over to him and then he bent down and kissed me.
“Thank you for doing this crazy thing,” I said to him.
“Thank me later.” He said and then reluctantly shut the door locking it from the other side.
I yelled out at him. “I love you.”
I didn’t hear him respond to me I only listened to a loud tap on the door. You really couldn’t hear anything in here with the soundproof walls that Reginald had insisted upon installing. I sat there thinking and then growing bored I took out my diary.
“Day one,” I said allowed as I wrote it down. I thought about the fact I couldn’t hear any sounds outside of this cellar. I only listened to my breathing and the beating of my heart. The basement itself was an 8 foot by 4-foot room that we used as wine storage, but we had no wine in here. I was the only thing in here currently, my diary and the walls.
I sat there and waited there was a small space above that was where the air vent was, but it was so little you couldn’t feel anything. I wasn’t sure how much time had gone by I just sat there thinking. I wondered if Reginald would want to commit me to a mental facility after this and for the time being, he was humoring me until the proper authorities arrived.
I sat thinking about how much I loved Reginald and how badly I felt about the affair. It had been very selfish of me to do that to him. When this was over, I would consider having those babies he had always wanted from me. I had always kept that part of our lives on the back burner with my career at the forefront. Now I realized sitting here with all this time to think just how much this would change, those lessons learned.
Then I heard it, through the air vent I heard something that sounded like something falling. I hoped Reginald hadn’t taken a fall of some sort. I didn’t hear any creaking from anyone walking on the floor above me, but then I listened to the air kick on and what seemed like maybe the television through the air vent. I sighed in relief thinking about him. I had not thought of what if something happened to him while I was down here. How would I hear it? I was slowly beginning to believe that this was a bad idea.
Finally, I could take it no more, and I wanted out of here, this had been a stupid idea. Three or four hours had passed, and I decided it had been long enough. I stood up and began to bang on the door as hard as I could.
“REGINALD!” I yelled as loud as my voice could carry me.
Thanks to the soundproof walls we had made, it was highly doubtful I was getting out of here by merely screaming for it.
I put my mouth up to the air vent to get Reginald’s attention. I realized after some thought that he was not coming for me. I could hear the television still, but it was so faint that chances were, he couldn’t listen to me over it.
I felt the air go out of the room I was in suddenly, and I began to feel hot. Sweat moved down my forehead and the sides of my face. I took a deep breath, but it was hard to catch it as the heat from that summer air had most likely been beating on our house all afternoon.
More time passed and then more before I fell asleep. There was only a small amount of light that snuck in the tiny room I was in, as it kept housed by a small overhead light with a string attached. I couldn’t bear to be in total darkness but then something happened, and I didn’t have a choice.
The power to the house must have gone out as I could feel everything grow quiet then and the light went out just above my head causing me to wake from my slumber on that hard concrete floor. Even the air stopped moving as I could no longer hear the motion of the fan.
I stood up, and then I started to grow worried about Reginald, but perhaps he could now hear me if I yelled for him. I banged on the door as hard as my fist would let me and then waited. After a few moments, I could make out shuffling outside the door.
“Reginald!” I yelled “I don’t want to be in here anymore. I’ve changed my mind! Please open the door!”
There was shuffling, and then I listened to what I thought was someone laughing manically outside the door. I stood with my ear up to the door listening, someone was there. As I did this, someone banged on the door as hard as I had before rattling my eardrum into oblivion. I stood back feeling angry at Reginald. Was he doing what I had asked of him? I had told him that I wanted him to make sounds to help my fear factor.
No, he was doing this to spite me. He was angry at me for this stupid decision to lock myself up to understand how an actual “kidnap” victim would feel. I sighed sitting back on the floor and then panic rose in me.
The photos of Jake were still on my phone. How had I been so stupid? I never deleted them off my phone, and I was sure that if Reginald got curious, he would know it had not been a business trip I was on that weekend. Was this why he was doing this to me now? Was this payback?
Tears met my eyes and were now falling down my cheeks as I collapsed to the floor. What if he knew? How would I ever explain myself? I realized then, and there I would have to face the music.
The lights were still off long after I fell back to sleep and I had no idea how long I had been sleeping or how much time had now passed. It was too dark to write in my diary, and it was the last thing I was thinking about now. All that mattered was me getting out of here.
I sat in quiet for a long time listening, but the power never came back on. I was growing hungry, and I was growing restless. I drank the water that Reginald gave me and peed in my bucket, but I had the promise that this would soon be over. Was it a full day that had passed? I had no idea because I had no watch only the glimmer of light that seeped in between the shadows and that was now gone.
Time was passing slowly now and what I was sure was more than two days and nights passed until I had lost track of all time. I know it was longer than expected because I had figured out the meaning of the different shadows in the pitch black even. Through the tiny crack in the door wasn’t covered with soundproofing Styrofoam, I could see the light coming from the outside world. When the light was gone, it was night when it was there even just barely I knew it was still day. By my accounts, nearly four days had passed, and my little project was now turning into a nightmare.
Then something else unsettling began to happen I felt it something dripping on my shoulder and head. Water began to fall from the ceiling at first in drips then in full faucet like flows. I could barely make out how much and again I grew terrified. Where was Reginald? Why was he keeping me here?
I started to bang on the door again, and this time I kicked it and kicked it. I used all my might, but I was tired, and I was starving. The water kept flowing, and I could now feel a puddle grown under my feet, and it was getting slowly deeper. Something was dreadfully wrong, and I began to run horrible scenarios through my mind. The bathroom was just above the cellar and what concerned me was had Reginald taken a fall? Was he bathing and hurt himself? I listened to the outside world, but I heard nothing. I kept trying to break the door down until finally, I felt it budge. I hit it again one final time, and it opened slowly with a loud and long creaking then it hit something and began to come back towards me.
What awaited me was something I had not considered nor expected. Reginald was laying on the ground outside the door with an ax inside his skull. He had a tray of food that he had in his hands, and it was now next to him. The banging sound I had heard must have been him tumbling into the door to his death.
My hands shook, but even as I bent over to check for a pulse, I knew I would not find one. Reginald’s body smelled, and flies were already buzzing around. Terrified I had to find my phone to call the police.
I hadn’t considered that the perpetrator was still at large in my house. As I made my way up the stairs to the house, I began to grow terrified because I could again hear that water. I crept up the back stairs into the kitchen and searched around for a weapon. I grabbed a knife and then I heard it. Someone was walking around, and I quietly walked toward the sound of feet. There was someone in my room. I heard running then coming toward me, and I began to run from the sound of footsteps toward the front door, and that is when I felt it.
A hand reached out toward my shoulder, and I screamed as loud as I could and reached back with the knife I held in my shaking hand. The hand that touched me was one of familiarity, and the feminine grasp on my shoulder met this woman’s eyes.
“Rachel! You’re alive!” Andrea stood back then when she saw the knife.
“Don’t go in there!” She said as my eyes moved toward the bathroom. I didn’t listen to her as my fee slowly walked toward it with trepidation. I was still holding the knife when I saw it. There were wires everywhere, and they all lead to the bathtub which was now overflowing.
Inside it was Jake dead with wires from every electronic available wrapped around his neck. I was afraid to approach it, and when I got closer, I could see a note written with red lipstick on the mirror.
IF I CAN’T HAVE YOU NO ONE CAN
I pieced everything together in the following days, and I never revealed the real reason I was locked in the cellar. I let everyone think it was because of Jake. They assumed he killed Reginald, locked me up and then killed himself.
Andrea had come by after not being able to reach me by phone. The front door was still unlocked from where Jake had broken in.
In the following months I went on to finish my book, and it became a best seller. I titled it “Things you do in the name of the Devil.”
One of the comments that reviewed it I will never forget said; ‘Authentic retelling of such a tragic true story, however does Rachel Hartford do it?”