C for Cannibal

      The annual Homeschool Information Session was about to begin. Everything was set up, from computers to flyers. We had planned to hold it in a church, and had in fact stored the necessary materials there. However, about a week before it was to begin, we decided to hold it in a member's house, on the other side of town. I had helped set up, carrying stuff from the church to the house, and arranging booklets on tables. As soon as I was done - that is, no one stopped me - I went outside - if for nothing more than to be out of sight, and therefore calling range, anyone that needed help. They could do without me for a bit.

      A few of my friend's drove up, and I chatted with them a bit. "Hey guys, what's up?" I waved to another friend. "Didn't think you were going to make it!" We didn't have long to talk, though, since most of them had to work inside.

      Bored, I decided to look around. The house was interesting - from the back, all you could see was the roof. Only one side was visible; the other three were under ground. It was a little strange to have to front door and the back door on the same side of the house, but I'm sure it helped with heating and cooling costs.

      A wall separated the rest of the hill the house sat in from the driveway. Just beside the wall was a garden, lined with random pieces of stuff, like an ornate oven door and a decorated wagon wheel. As I was examining the stuff, I noticed something scratched on the door. Hoping the owners didn't mind, I scraped a little paint off.

      C for Cannibal... R. Edward Smith, Dec. 1986

      It was an interesting inscription, to say the least. I wondered who this R. Edward Smith was, anyway... I quickly slid down the wall and managed to get inside to a computer. Once on the Internet, I scanned newspapers for stories about the Mr. Smith. Nothing of interest in December, but the headlines of January 3rd were very interesting, to say the least. "Bottling Baron Robert Edward Smith Found Dead!" It seemed that his friend had found him, his arm torn off and a huge gash in his side. He had tried to give him CPR, but he was too far gone. When the police arrived, Smith was dead. The friend, Curtis Franklin, said that he had no idea what had happened, that he had been walking and heard a groan. Authorities had pursued Curtis as a suspect for a time, but had given up when no evidence was found. It seemed from the wording that the police weren't the only ones who thought he did it - talk about editorializing.

      After reading a little more about Mr. Smith's death, I grabbed a bite to eat. I mentioned the stories I had found to one of my friends. "Oh yeah, I heard about that. The guy used to live here." Now, that was a very interesting fact - it explained the oven door, anyway. I went back outside to show him the inscription, but before I could, his cell phone rang. Shrugging, I walked outside alone. I climbed the small hill beside the house, but when I got to the garden, the door was gone. That was very strange... who would want an oven door?

      I heard Dad from the front door - he wanted me to get a box from the church. Why he didn't think of it sooner, I didn't know, but I sighed and jumped in my car. It wasn't like I had too much to do here. As I pulled out, I noticed another car following me. It wasn't anyone I knew, so I assumed the driver had just showed up for homeschool information. Still in the "detective" mindset, I pulled off on a less traveled road, shrugging when the car drove past. So my imagination was in overdrive... what was wrong with that? When I pulled up at the church, though, I noticed the same car parked in the church garage nearby. Today was a day of surprises, wasn't it. As I got out of the car, something caught my eye. There was something sticking out of his trunk - an oven door, to be exact. With closer inspection, I could see exactly where I had scraped off the paint. Why would a guy want an oven door? Especially that one?

      Shrugging, I walked to the church's side door. A tiny glimmer caught my eye - a quarter lay on the ground by the door. What a great day - first, I find some neat information, then I find a quarter!

      The door opened to the church kitchen, and as soon as my eyes adjusted to the dim light, I noticed a little boy, about three or four, carefully chopping potatoes with a dull knife. "Hello there, what are you doing," I asked, looking over his shoulder. "Cuttin'. Shh. G'way." I smiled. Kids were so funny sometimes. "Are you helping someone?" He nodded, carefully lining up the knife before he whacked it into a potato.

      Suddenly, a hand fell heavily on my shoulder. I whirled, eye to eye with a young man in a brown trench coat. I spied what looked like a police badge on his belt.

      "What are you doing here, kid?"

      "I just came to get some stuff for the homeschool thing. We stored it here." He shrugged. "Ok. Can you keep an eye on this kid here? His mom had to get something and just left - she'll be back in a minute or so, probably." I nodded - I had no intention of staying right beside the kid, but I wouldn't leave the church until the boy's mom came back. It wasn't like he would wander off, or that someone would kidnap him. The cop nodded and stepped out the door.

      Suddenly, the man who had followed me ran past, nearly knocking over the tenchcoat guy. "What the-!" He left his statement unfinished, drawing his gun as he chased the man. I scrambled after, wondering what was going on. As I rounded the side of the church, I could see the two men - the cop was holstering his gun, standing over the man. He looked up when he head my footsteps. "Sorry you had to get involved in this, kid. Try to keep out of the way." Recalling the oven door, I wondered to myself if the cop was working on the 15 year old case. I must have said it out loud, because the man gave me a very strange look. "How...? What did you just say?" When I repeated it, he crossed his arms and asked for a deeper explanation. I shrugged, explaining everything that had happened, including the oven door in the guy's car. That seemed to get his attention - he turned towards it with a rather brisk pace. I hurried to catch up.

      There was little of interest in the garage, except the car - and a dozen new dents along one wall. The cop studied the oven door for a moment, then turned to look at the wall. "Well, what have we here..." The cop kneeled, looking closer at one section. It had been pulled slightly apart, and behind it, I glimpsed what looked like a bent can - names written on it. The only word I could really make out was "cannibals._ Suddenly, out of the corner of my eye, I saw a flash - a can slammed into the cop, throwing him to the ground! As fast as I could, I bolted out the back of the garage - right into a tall, burly man. "Hey, where you think you're going?" He dragged me towards the church - as we rounded the corner, I glanced back to see blood seeping along the ground in the garage.

      He pulled my arm, leading me towards the church, and though I tried to shake him off, it was like I was in slow motion, while the rest of the world sped by. I prayed that the kid would stay quiet, that the man wouldn't hear him. Thankfully, we went around to the front door, on the other side. He pushed me onto a sofa, glaring at me. Another man came up behind him, pulling blood stained gloves from his hands. The first man - the taller of the two - leaned against a wall, nodding to me. "You know kid, you stumbled onto something you should have stayed out of.� The other man nodded. "We're a packing company. Guess what we pack?" He gave a very disturbing grin. I gulped. I knew exactly what these men packed, and it sure wasn't beef stew. "Um, turkey?" They laughed. "We can soup, kid. Or should I say, we can kid soup." He nudged the man holding my arm. "You get to grease everything up, for the next big batch. There's a big party going on, nobody's going to come looking for the old drunks until too late." He explained how they kept everything going all year, until the New Year's Eve party. Every New Year's they kidnapped people, drunks and elderly mostly, to chop up into soup, steaks, or other disgusting food. Finally, the boss shrugged. "Well, time to get choppin'." He grinned at his pun, pulling off his shirt - not a pretty sight - and reached for a meat cleaver.

      As he leaned towards me, I hit him as hard as I could. He just laughed. "If it makes you feel better kid, go ahead." I kept punching him, then stopped for breath. I looked him in the eyes. "You know what happens when someone hits you? Nerves deaden, expecting another blow, ready to ignore it. You can't feel a thing after a little while..." I hit him again, and he shook his head. "Kid, you're funny." The other guy shook his head, looking away. I punched as hard as I could, sliding a fingernail across his stomach. "Yeah, with those nerves dead, you can't feel a thing... like a razor in your gut!" I held up my hand, empty but for the quarter. Seeing the sharp flash of metal, the man's eyes widened, and he took a fast step backwards, grabbing for his wide belly and the other man's arm at the same time. Of course, he soon realized that his guts weren't airborne, but that was enough time for me to start running. I'm not a great runner, but I'm quick, and I knew the church very well from playing hide and go seek in it all my life. I led them around the entire building, finally ending up where I had started - just where I wanted to be. Near the sofa was a box that I had seen earlier. The label read, "DANGER, High Voltage!"

      As I ran into the room, I powered up the cattle prod, jamming it into the metal clasps. The two men were right behind me, and in the short pause I took to turn the machines on, they caught up. They stood side by side, the taller man holding a gun. "Don't move, kid." I was going to die if I stood still; I was going to die if I ran. I ran - towards them. They didn't expect that, and as they took a step backwards, I kicked the box into them. It hit the taller man first, and when he fell, he knocked the other man into the box. The big man was down; the other man was holding his hand where his gun used to be - it exploded as the electricity hit the shells. I grabbed the box again, shoving it against his leg, and he dropped to the ground, unconscious.

      Remembering the kid, I yelled, "Hey kid, stay where you are! Don't go anywhere!" He called back, "But I broke the knife! It's my mommy's, and I broke it, and I need to get another one!" I sighed. Children were rarely a good asset. "Just use the one beside it!" After thinking about that for a second, he called back, "Ok."

      I searched for something, anything, to tie the two up with, but to no avail. As I ran back to the room, the leader was stirring - another nudge from the box took care of that. Finally, I found some wire and tied the two men, hands and feet. Far away, I could hear approaching sirens; maybe a neighbor had heard the commotion, or the cop had gotten a call off. I ran back to the kid, but he wasn't there - which wasn't a good sign. Outside, I saw a police car rush past - they must not know where we were! It was too late to show the way, though - I had to find that kid.

      I followed a trail of potato peels and greasy footprints through the church - then into the room with the two men. But now, there was only one. The taller man had moved to the top of the cattle prod, and was by all outward appearances dead. I wasn't about to feel his pulse. The other man was nowhere to be found.

      Suddenly, from the basement, I heard a faint cry - the kid! I rushed down, only to be met with a glare from the fat man. I made a 180 degree turn, racing back up the stairs. He thundered after me, fast for a guy that overweight. Once again, I ran around the building, then back to the basement. In the back were two doors into the furnace room - I could hide in there. I scooped up the kid, who was by now crying his eyes out, and pushed through the door. Another door led deeper in; it had always been locked - probably for safety, but I didn't really care at this point. I shoved through, ducked under a bar - then stopped in horror at the sight before me. There were racks of meat - not turkey, I was sure. A machine took up most of one wall, ready to shred whatever was pushed in. This was a human meat-processing factory!

      A noise caused me to turn - behind me stood the big man. "Hey kid. Get over here, or I'll put a bullet through you. It won't be to kill, though... you'll live with it your whole life. In pain." I glared at him, no longer afraid. "Fine, shoot me. See if I care. You lose, fat man." He sneered, reaching behind him for the machine's power switch. I pushed the kid behind a box and ducked the other way, hoping he hadn't seen the kid. He hadn't. As I tripped and stumbled through the maze of wiring, unplugging things as I went, I could hear the crackle of electricity as wires came loose, and the big man, still pursuing. Suddenly, he tripped, falling headlong into a bundle of wires as big around as my wrist. For a moment, he seemed to jump up again, but then his body twisted and writhed as the current ripped through his body, scorching skin and burning hair. His gun exploded, fragments flying, ricocheting off machines. They needed a lot of power to turn those gears, even more to get them started - more than enough to kill a man... ten times over.

      Though I had done little, other than running around, I was considered a hero; I had saved a town from a terrible group of cannibals, not to mention saving the life of a little boy. Only three men had died - one of them, the cop, who turned out to be a hired detective. I had - single handedly, the newspapers claimed - knocked one man senseless, and killed another two with "quick, effective traps" and "incredible heroic prowess." I knew the truth, but it wasn't worth the effort to tell. After a while, everything calmed down, and I could live my life as before - except for one incident.

      As I handed the boy to his mother, reporters and police surrounded them, allowing me to step back and breathe. I could just hear a man on the edge of the crowd as he shook his head, looking towards the building. "It was a pleasure doing business with you boys, but I must run," he whispered as he stepped into his car. As he drove away, his rear window boasted his name:

      Curtis Canning and Bottling Co.

      C for Can - C for Curtis

... and underneath, the oven door was just barely visible...

      C for Cannibal