Night of the Flying Knives

Copyright 2020 Jack Sutter

 

There are reasons why certain dates and certain hours are held in awe and dread by innumerable peoples throughout the ages.  For the pagan Celts it was Samhain.  For their Christian successors, it was the Triduum of All Hallows.  For latter day Irish pranksters it was Devil’s Night.  For Mexicans it became Día de Muertos.  And today, for most Americans it is merely Halloween.  But regardless of the particulars, the fact remains that for countless generations the Men of the West recognized that something noteworthy occurred on or about the 31st of October.  

The reports of a haunted house on Thorngrove Drive were not taken seriously by anyone but the History Channel (and that came only many years later).  The reporter sent by the local news station at the time did her best to keep a straight face as she stood in front of the old but otherwise unremarkable Victorian mansion said to be the epicenter of the event.  The news anchors were a touch less diplomatic, one of them smugly commenting that the old woman who had raised the alarm surely “knew who to call”.  Even the self described psychic brought on the air for her purported expertise was cautious in her assessment.  

It all started when the venerable Mrs. Alice Kirby, ninety-seven years of age, thrust her way past the desk sergeant at the local police precinct at Eleven Fifty-five on the night of October 29th.  At first, her story was dismissed as a case of aggravated senility.  However, the woman clearly had her wits about her in all other matters, and it was sufficient that a patrol car was at last dispatched to the old house at Number 34, Thorngrove Drive, arriving shortly after Two.  And to everyone’s surprise, the report filed the next morning listed a number of unaccountable curiosities.  First, there was the odor.  It had been vague and hard to define, and the best the responding officers could do was to say it was somewhere between the scent of ozone, burnt gunpowder, and a musty old chest of drawers.  Second, there were the marks of the floor.  It looked as though a rather large dog had padded around the house, leaving muddy, hairy, oversized paw prints behind.  But the marks had a peculiarly sticky feel to them like a viscous solvent, and here the odor was at its strongest.  Third was the knife.  It was an ordinary kitchen knife, presumably one of the missing members of an empty wooden block which was found in a corner of the kitchen.  What made the knife remarkable was the fact that it was sticking out of the disused iron stove which stood in the same corner.  The blade had been driven straight into the wrought iron belly of the stove, and no amount of force had proven sufficient to dislodge it.

None of this, however, was sufficient to convince the police of Mrs. Kirby’s story.  Not in its entirety.  Nobody could say that she had imagined the low moans which had preceded the encounter, but it was clear to any sensible person that she must have been hearing the wind whistling through some gap or other in one of the old window frames.  However, everyone was quite certain that the old woman had imagined the words she then heard, spoken as though someone were pressing clammy lips into both her ears at once.  Then the shrieking, the wailing that had come afterward, well perhaps that had been the television, or even the woman herself crying out in her fright.  And that moment when the wooden block of knives had suddenly hurtled into the air of its own accord, the knives shooting out of their slots and flying through the air like of swarm of mad bats…..well, that was surely the product of an agitated, senile imagination.  No doubt inspired by the admittedly odd condition of the old iron stove with a knife stuck in it.

Before the officer’s had departed the scene, the now thoroughly distraught Mrs. Kirby had shown them a letter, which she claimed to have received in the mail that very morning.  This, of course, was untrue.  For the paper of both the letter and the envelope were yellow and crumbling with age.  The postage stamp was many decades old, and the circular black ink image stamped beside it indicated that the letter had been processed by the US Army postal service on May 8th, 1946.  Though the contents of the letter were thoroughly intriguing, nonetheless the police had little to say on the matter, save to suggest that the old woman find a better way to preserve such a unique historical curiosity.  Mrs. Kirby was escorted to the house of a friend, who volunteered to take the terrified woman in for the remainder of the night.  Little more would have been said on the matter, had it not been for the ever vigilant nose of the media, keen to dig up some entertaining material befitting the season.

The following evening, Mrs. Kirby sat in her own kitchen.  The friend she had stayed with the night before had kindly offered to put her up for another night.  But the old woman had refused, insisting instead on returning to her own house.  Likewise she had also declined her friend’s offer to stay with her, however the old woman did promise at length to call immediately should she feel at all insecure.  This, of course, was something of a mild prevarication.  For Mrs. Kirby had been feeling wholly insecure without stop since the preceding morning, despite her assurances to the contrary.

Mrs. Kirby sat at her kitchen table.  Before her lay the letter.  With trembling hands, she took it up again, and read its contents with renewed horror.  Under the header of the official SS stationary was a handwritten message written in perfect English.

“My dear Frau Kirby,

It is with regret that I must inform you of the savage crimes of your late husband.  I was placed in your husband’s custody on April 29th, 1946, while awaiting trial for alleged crimes of which I am wholly without guilt.  I have spent nearly a year in prison for merely obeying my lawful orders, as was my duty.  I do not blame your husband for this injustice, for like myself, he was merely doing his duty, however unpleasant it might be.  Nor do I hold him accountable for the many months of humiliation and gross abuse which I, an honorable soldier, have endured during my captivity.  But for this last, final offense, I must hold your husband wholly responsible.  He was responsible for overseeing the Polish soldiers who guarded my cell block.  And when they discovered my identity, I believe he deliberately looked away on the night they beat me to death in my cell.  The reprimand your husband received was so slight as to be laughable, and the Polish thugs who murdered me also went unpunished.  For this, I am justified in taking my revenge.  Seven-times Seven years I must wait, and quarter century thereafter, for that is the command of my new lord.  But by the time you receive this letter, that time will have come.  By that time, your husband will be dead, and likewise the Poles.  But you, Frau Kirby, you will still be alive.  And it is you who shall receive justice in your husband’s stead.

Heil Hitler!

-Hans Kleinhund, SS-Standartenführer.

With a quiver of terror, Mrs Kirby set down the letter.  Perhaps it was all some unthinkably horrible prank.  But it couldn’t be.  She just knew it.  She knew that after the war her husband had briefly been responsible for overseeing the imprisonment of a number Nazi war criminals.  And she recollected well the letter she had received from him, describing how one such criminal had died in his charge under questionable circumstances while awaiting trial.  He told her of certain terrifying dreams he had had afterwards, and how fearing for his safety he had sought out an old Hungarian priest, and compelled him to confer certain blessings.  And she remembered how ever since her husband had suffered recurring nightmares till the day he died, in which a wolf would come in the night for his wife, and he would be powerless to protect her.  

Outside, the night was tightening its grip on the world, the darkness strangling the light like a black-gloved hand.  Overhead, a lone aircraft passed idly by, it’s engine buzzing like the ghost of an old warplane.  Elsewhere, the silence hung like the silence before a bombardment, the entire world seemingly holding its breath while awaiting the shriek of mortar bombs and the rattle of machine guns.  

And then, from the darkness, the old woman thought she heard a callous laugh.  

She started.  The time seemed to have gone by without her knowledge.  From the hall, a doleful clang of the ancient clock rang out the quarter hour.  It was a quarter past eleven.  Frantically, the old woman ran her fingers through delicate grey strands of her hair.  She was helpless.  No one had believed her.  But what would it matter if they’d had?  Who could protect her from the inmates of Hell itself?  Silently, desperately, she began to pray, her bloodshot eyes rolling heavenwards as she begged for deliverance.

“Take heart, my love!  Seize your fate in your own hands!

Was she talking to herself?  Or had the words manifested in her thoughts from a source other than her own thoughts?

“Go upstairs.  You know what to do.”

Still quivering and shaking, the old woman ascended the creaking old stairs of her house.  She had a vague recollection that there was something up there, waiting for her.  Something important.  

Almost without thinking, the old Mrs. Kirby made her way to the bedroom.  There, beside the bed where she and her husband had slept for so many years.  Softly, she made her way to the old, art deco nightstand, and opened the bottom drawer.  Inside, was a worn, yellowed cardboard box.  Her husband had insisted that the box always remain there, without ever explaining why, or what the box might contain.  With a quiver, Mrs. Kirby reached out, and plucked the box from the coffin in which it had lain so long.  

The box was strangely heavy.  With a sense of curiosity, as though awakened after a long sleep, the old woman gently removed the lid of the box.

Inside, nestled in a bed of yellowed newspaper, was the dull grey-green sheen of an old Army pistol.  

Laying atop the pistol was a folded piece of paper.  It crumbled a little as Mrs. Kirby unfolded it’s brittle leaves, and gasped as she saw her husband’s handwriting.

“Dear Alice”, it read.  “I brought this home with me after the war.  I wasn’t supposed to, but I did it anyway.  An old priest blessed it for me, and I knew I couldn’t leave it behind.  I don’t think I will ever need to use it.  But you might.  It is already loaded.  When the time comes, just cock the hammer, and it will be ready.  I love you.”

Gingerly, the woman retrieved the pistol.  Her fragile arms shook as she heaved it’s dead weight out of the box.  The hammer was down.  Terrified of what might happen, she tried to cock the hammer back.  But her old hands were too weak.

Suddenly, she heard a terrible noise.  It was like the howl of a dog, but wilder.  Wilder even than the most ferocious wolf she could imagine.  And the noise had come from downstairs.

Frantically, the old woman ran to the bedroom door, and slammed it shut.  Outside, she could hear the stairs creaking under a terrible weight, along with a faint slavering sound, like the spasmodic breath of some terrible hound.  Her mind whirling with terror, she tried to move the dresser in front of the door.  But it wouldn’t budge.  Desperately, she ran instead to the bed, and with all her might she dragged the old art deco nightstand towards the door.  

Then suddenly, the window beside her shattered.

The woman screamed as a kitchen knife came flying through it from the darkness outside.  With a thunk, the knife embedded itself into the opposite wall.  Then with a swish, another knife came flying through, and then another, until the air was full with flying knives, buzzing in circles through the air like angry hornets.  The woman shrieked and dove for the ground as first one knife and then another grazed past.  

Then there was silence.  

One by one, the knives had stopped moving, having struck one object or another.  Several knives were stuck in the walls, and while others had driven clear through the metal fixtures of the old wall lamp.  

Then, from outside the bedroom door, came an unearthly growl.  Of its own accord, the door suddenly unlocked itself, and swung slowly open.

The old woman screamed.  Standing in the doorway was a great black wolf, its slavering jaws dripping iridescent blood and it’s eyes aflame with the fires of hell itself.  The woman screamed again, and the great beast leapt forward.  But as the black hellhound hurtled through the air, the old woman’s fingers suddenly found the hammer of the pistol still in her hand.  With a click, her fingers suddenly found the strength to pull the hammer back.

Bang!

A shriek.  A howl of rage, the voice of something that used to be a man, the pent up rage of a wretched creature after seventy-four years in hell, only to be hurled back into the abyss with its long awaited vengeance denied.

It was one of the more curious cases of justifiable homicide.  The night before Halloween, a burglar had broken into the house of a certain Mrs. Kirby, who had made the news only the day before after reporting an alleged knife throwing ghost.  There were more knives to be found in the house now, driven with a remarkable amount of force into various objects in the bedroom.  But far more singular was the burglar himself, a middle aged man covered in bruises, curiously attired in the remnants of a Nazi uniform bereft of all honors and insignia.  The identity of the burglar was never firmly established.  However, it was noted that he bore a curious singularity to a grainy black and white photograph dug out of US Military archives, which was the only known picture of a certain Hans Kleinhund, SS-Standartenführer, who was known to have died under questionable circumstances on May 8th, 1946.