Sarah Blackwell

Tragedy Jack is just another ghost story, just another urban legend... isn't he?

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#urban legend #ghost story #tragedy jack
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From the Beginning

"Knock three times on the window,

close your eyes and turn your back,

then stamp your left foot one two three,

and call on Tragedy Jack."

It's one of those legends that's been around as long as anyone remembers. My grandfather told my brothers and me the story when we were kids, to scare us. Tragedy Jack, with his wild hair and staring eyes, with blood running out of his mouth and knives in both his hands. Tragedy Jack who, once called up, will never stop until he's cut a throat. I had nightmares for weeks and my mother wouldn't let us visit my grandparents unsupervised for months. And then I forgot about it, and it was just one of those things that pops into your head now and then, the little rhyme and the faint echo of a thrill of terror from long ago.

I forgot until the day my mother called me, crying hysterically, to tell me that my brother Sam was dead. Murdered. She wanted me to come with her to identify his body.

The people at the morgue had done their best, but even looking through a window from a distance, even with the body covered to the chin with a sheet, there was no way it could look normal. It was in pieces, and the way the sheet sagged in places suggested that they hadn't even found all the pieces. One of Sam's eyes was gone, his mouth had been slit open literally from ear to ear, the bruises had swollen his face almost past the point of recognition... but it was Sam.

The police asked us over and over if we knew anything, anything at all. Had he had any enemies. Had he ever used or dealt drugs. Did he have ties to organised crime. I wanted to punch the detectives - it was almost like they were blaming Sam, trying to find some reason it was his fault that he was dead, that he'd been mutilated, as if he was a rape victim being quizzed on what she'd been wearing. That was how it felt, even though I knew they had no choice. They hadn't seen the MO before. They hadn't found prints or other evidence. All they had to go on was Sam. If he hadn't known his killer, they had nothing.

After months of no news, the detective who'd asked the most questions came back one more time. My mother couldn't even look at him without crying any more, so I sent her upstairs and made him a cup of coffee in the kitchen. White, two sugars - I knew by now how he liked it.

"Between you and me," he said quietly, when we were both sitting at the table, "we've hit a wall. We've got no prints, no DNA, no witness, and no other deaths anything like his. We've got nothing." Then he made a sour face. "Well, almost nothing. Nothing substantial enough to follow up."

"But you've got something insubstantial?"

He shrugged. "Just a suggestion that our killer might be into urban legends. You know, Bloody Mary and Slenderman and that kind of thing." Then he blinked and leaned towards me. "Hey, you okay?"

I must have gone pale or something. I know it wasn't something I said, because I couldn't say anything. I just stared at him, suddenly feeling icy cold all over, with a roaring noise in my ears and my vision blurred. It wasn't until the detective actually put his hand on my shoulder and shook me a little that I snapped out of it. "Sorry." My voice was hoarse in my own ears. "Sorry. It was just... a shock."

"Why?" His concerned expression shifted into sudden alertness. "Ringing a bell?"

"Yeah. Sam was really into urban legends and ghost stories. Ever since we were kids." I swallowed hard, trying to pull myself together. "When I was... I don't know, eight or nine... our grandfather told us this really creepy one. I had nightmares for weeks, but Sam was hooked."

He fished in his pocket for his notebook. "How hooked?"

I laughed shakily. "Enough that you can't have looked too hard at his browser history. He checked that creepy pasta site like it was the daily news."

"You'd be surprised how many people do. Really." The detective - he'd told me to call him Tom a few times, but I still thought of him as 'the detective' - leans forward again. "What was the story your grandfather told you?"

"Tragedy Jack." He looked blank. "You haven't heard that one?"

"Enlighten me. Ghost story or urban legend?"

"A little of both." I took a mouthful of cooling coffee to try to steady my nerves. Somehow, thinking of Sam's dismembered body, the story seemed sadder and scarier than it had in a long time. "Okay. Tragedy Jack. According to what my grandfather told me, it happened in England - you know, back when they had highwaymen and redcoats and all that crap? Jack was travelling with his sister when the coach was stopped by highwaymen. Jack tried to put up a fight, and they cut his throat and took the sister with them. Someone else... his brother or a friend of his, I forget... went looking for him and found the coach and the bodies of Jack and the coachman, but no girl. The next night, the friend was eating dinner at this inn when he heard a tapping on the window."

The detective nodded. "And let me guess... saw the dead Jack?"

I managed a weak smile. "Yeah. Real or not, the guy had balls - he supposedly loaded his pistols and went out to see what Jack wanted. Story goes that Jack couldn't say anything, with his throat cut, but he kept gesturing for his friend or brother to follow him. They walked for miles until they got to this little hut in the middle of nowhere. The other guy opens the door and finds the body of the girl, obviously raped and murdered, and the bodies of all four highwaymen... every one with his throat cut and a terrified expression."

He nodded again. "And when the guy turns around, Jack's gone, right?"

"Yup - but when he goes to the church where he left the body the next morning and opens the coffin, Jack's corpse is clutching two bloody knives and smiling." I shrug. "Pretty standard stuff, I guess, but it scared me when I was a kid. The next part was the worst part, though."

"There's a next part?" Tom looked surprised. "That sounded like the end."

"Oh, no. See, years and years later, one of the friend's sons falls in with Spiritualists and decides, hey, contacting the spirit of that guy who murdered four highwaymen more than twenty-four hours after he *died* would be a great idea."

Tom groaned. "That one idiot in the horror movie who opens the book or reads the words or holds a seance in the haunted house."

"Yeah, that guy. Anyway, he tells everyone the story and they hold this seance to try to reach Jack. According to the story, what they get is a dire warning supposedly from the sister, telling them that if they successfully raise Tragedy Jack he'll kill again. Some of the participants freak out and leave, but that one idiot is thrilled that he got a response, rounds up some more idiots and has another seance. They raise Jack - everyone sees him, with his cut throat and the knives in his hands, but he doesn't say anything. The guy's thrilled until they light the lamps again after it's over and find out that two of the other idiots have had their throats cut. When he investigates, he finds out that both of these guys had committed 'wicked acts' - probably rape, although my grandfather didn't go into much detail." I shrug. "Supposedly after that, every time Tragedy Jack gets called up, he murders more sinners. And to this very day, if you're foolish enough to raise the spirit of Tragedy Jack with an unclean conscience, etcetera."

The detective nodded slowly. "Pickier about his victims than most of them, then. I mean, compared to Bloody Mary or the haunted dolls or whatever that just go for whoever wakes them up."

"Yeah. I don't know if that's how the original story went or if Grandpa was just trying to scare us into being good." My coffee was cold by then, but I drank it anyway. "It doesn't match what happened to Sam, anyway. Tragedy Jack just cuts throats, not... not the other stuff."

Tom sighed, rubbing a hand over his face. "Yeah, I know. Sam's murder is a pretty close fit for another one - My Pretty Doll. You know that one?" I shook my head, so he went on. "I won't go into detail, but supposedly this kid gets pissed at his little sister and mutilates her doll. Next morning his parents find him cut up the same way he did to the doll, and any guy who spends a night in that house will die the same way. We found Sam in a warehouse, not in a house, but otherwise it's a pretty close match."

"So it might have been someone even more into scary stories than he was, someone he knew, online or in real life."

"Yeah. It's something, anyway. I'll go over his internet history again, see if there's a connection." He gave my shoulder an encouraging squeeze. "This might be the break we need."

After he left, I couldn't stop thinking about it. About Sam's fascination turning Sam himself into a horror story. And about Tragedy Jack, too. I'd been scared to death of him when I was a kid, lumping him in with all the other monsters that came to kill you in those stories, but Tom was right. Tragedy Jack had an MO, and if you didn't fit his pattern then you were safe. But if you called him up knowing that he'd kill someone, didn't that mean you had committed murder, at least by proxy?

Ethical dilemmas were easier to think about than Sam. I even went online and did some research. Tragedy Jack wasn't as well known as Bloody Mary or Hook Hand or the multitude of Haunted Doll stories or the guy scratching on the car door at night, but the couple of versions of the story I found matched Grandpa's pretty closely. Sometimes it was his wife, not his sister, sometimes he killed the first summoner because he'd committed a murder or something, but it was basically the same story, and they all included variations on the same rhyme for summoning him.

Of course I did it. You know I did it. Who could have resisted? I waited until I was alone in the house and I knocked on the window and I stamped my foot and I shouted 'Tragedy Jack', and then I stood there for a while feeling stupid. I'd never really believed those stories, even when I was a kid and they scared the crap out of me. They were 'what if' scary, not 'really happens' scary, if that makes sense.

Then I turned around and I'm not ashamed to admit that I wet myself a little because there he was. He didn't look like a ghost, he looked real. Really real. I can remember it so clearly, that first look at him. His hair was brown and hanging around his shoulders, little bits of it sticking to his cheeks. He was wearing a blue velvet coat and a lace cravat, and the cravat and the front of the coat were drenched with blood. He had a bloody knife in each hand, just like in the story, but the story hadn't mentioned the way one knife had had the tip snapped off, or that the other had a rusty pommel. It hadn't mentioned the rip in the knee of his breeches or the mud on his shoes. He looked real.

And his eyes weren't staring and tormented, when they met mine. They looked... determined. A little angry. Like someone who's made up his mind to do something kind of unpleasant. And that was scarier, somehow. It wasn't mindless, the violence in him, it was deliberate. It was considered.

"Someone murdered my brother," I blurted out, standing there shaking in my damp shoes. "Someone cut him up, tortured him... I don't know who. I don't even know if it was a real person or someone like you, out of a story. There's a story about a little girl who kills that way. But I can't find out who. And if you have to kill me for calling you up to kill other people then... then fine." Pure bravado, that, with my voice wobbling and cracking with sheer terror, but it was too late to back out now. "At least they won't do those things to anyone else."

Tragedy Jack stared at me. Weighed me up and judged me, and what they say about your life flashing before your eyes is kind of true, because I swear I remembered every lousy thing I'd ever done in my whole life in those few seconds. But then he nodded, and he seemed to try to say something. What it was, I couldn't guess - he didn't make a sound. All that came out of his mouth was blood, joining the drying stains on his coat. Then he turned away and vanished.

I didn't even stop to put on dry pants. I bolted out of that house as fast as I could. My mother was at her book club, and I couldn't go there, but my gym was twenty-four hours and there were always people there. It was brightly lit and normal and I could buy a pair of shorts there.

I stayed until two in the morning, working out until I was ready to drop, then showering and going back to loiter around until I was so tired that I didn't dare drive home. I wound up calling a cab, figuring I'd go back and get my car later. I crashed on the couch, not sure I'd ever dare go into my room again.

I was woken up by a fist banging on the door, and just hoped they hadn't heard me scream when the noise woke me. I stumbled over to the door, every muscle aching from the long workout, and pulled it open. It was a cop - not Tom, but a hard-eyed woman with two other cops behind her who told me I was coming in to answer a few questions, and where was I last night?

I told her. Then I got taken down to the police station to tell it again. They wouldn't tell me what had happened, and I was so panicked about what Tragedy Jack might have done, what I might have done, that I probably seemed guilty as all hell. But thanks to my panicked bolt, I had the kind of rock-solid alibi that even the cops couldn't ignore forever. The security cameras, the night staff and several other late-night fitness fanatics all verified that I was exactly where I said I was, and if they didn't believe my story that I'd thought I heard someone trying to get into the house and bolted, there was no way to prove otherwise.

And finally that hard-eyed woman came in again and told me what had happened. Early that morning, someone had found a body sitting in a car, the guy's throat cut from ear to ear. They'd headed for his house, and found his two roommates murdered the same way - and more than enough evidence to connect those three to Sam's murder and at least two more. Pieces, she said, and left it at that.

I asked her why they'd come looking for me. If I'd had any idea who'd killed Sam, I wasn't some kind of lunatic who'd go out to get revenge alone, I told her. I'd told Tom everything I could think of, including the obsession with urban legends. If I'd known more, I'd have told him more.

She told me that they'd tried to call Tom in. When someone finally went around to his house, he was lying on his kitchen floor, his throat cut. No fingerprints, no footprints, no signs of an intruder and the alarm system had been armed and working. But he had written up the story I'd told him, and that had brought them straight to my house. It was just lucky for me, she told me, that my long stint at the gym had covered the M.E.'s window for when the murders could have been committed.

I freaked out, then, and I don't remember much of what came next. I remember the sound of my screams echoing in the interrogation room, I remember voices and hands trying to calm me down, and a sudden blow to my head that came as almost a relief.

When I woke up, I was in a hospital room with a cop sitting by the door, just like on TV. I yelped a bit, and he started reassuring me that I was safe, that I'd just had a concussion, that 'he' wasn't going to get me, that I was under twenty-four hour guard for my own protection. I figured at least my panic attack convinced them that I wasn't the killer.

A while later the woman cop came in. She introduced herself as Detective Wright - again, probably, but I couldn't remember if she'd done it before - and she actually sat down and tried to seem reassuring. They would protect me, she said. They knew I hadn't done it, she said.

They'd found my mother's car in the corner of a parking garage, she said.

The same M.O. as the other murders, she said.

When she was gone, I lay there and remembered that determined look in Tragedy Jack's eyes. He'd done what I asked him to do. He'd found the bastards who'd murdered Sam, and he'd stopped them. And then he found my mother and Tom the detective and he killed them too.

I wonder what they did. 

27 Septembre 2015 00:00:06 2 Rapport Incorporer Suivre l’histoire
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ES Emily Stone
I can’t stop reading your work!!!!!!!
June 11, 2019, 10:02