He emptied the box of photos on to the kitchen counter. Saturday morning garage sales were rarely this fruitful. He sifted through the treasure trove of old snapshots. Patinaed with the sepia glow of history, this collection of arbitrary memories would work perfectly for his next project.
He flipped through the photographs so quickly that he almost missed the black and white image of a burned down lot. It seemed out of place with the rest of the box’s contents.
Lucy sauntered in from the backyard. “Hey, did you find anything super-duper good at old man Oberholzer’s?” The monochromatic photo caught her eye.
“You know what this is, babe? It’s the first Oberholzer house in a pile of ashes. They say he burned it down to cover up the stabbings of his wife and kid. No one could ever prove it.”
“He rebuilt the house and stayed cooped up in there until he passed away. Talking to himself, mostly. They say,” Lucy giggled.
She flipped the photograph like a fan in an absent motion. “This”, she pointed the edge of the image in a punctuated fashion, “is history, babe.”
He had a prickly distaste of Lucy’s liberal use of the word ‘babe’ peppered into casual conversation. He snapped the photo from her hand and put it down on the far end of the counter. A blur of motion sneaked into his peripheral vision. With a jolt, his head swung back in the direction of the photo. That was weird bubbled into his mind. Did he see smoke float from that picture? He promptly chucked the photo back into the shoebox.
Lucy bopped and shimmied through the kitchen making haste of the evening’s dinner. Pork chops and apples sauce suited him just fine. He idled through the meal and blocked out Lucy’s incessant droning on about the price of pickles skyrocketing.
He rubbed the inside crock of his hand between the thumb and index finger. A sharp sting throbbed in its wake. He noted that he should take a pain pill for that. Might even help to dull the pain of Lucy and her tired train of thoughts.
Settled into the peace and quiet of his study, he resumed his foraging through the box of photos. The burned lot image repeatedly floated to the top of the stack. It was curious to him how often the photo appeared even after his large hands scooped and shoved the contents of the box around. Just kept popping up on top when the photos came to rest. Curious indeed.
He pivoted to his laptop and used the hunt and peck method to type in O-B-E-R-H-O-L and the rest auto filled. Apparently, Lucy was not just passing off an urban legend as fact. He pressed his index finger to the touch screen monitor and selected the first link on the page – Fire Takes Lives of Three in the Homestead Area – at the website, Chronicle News.
He continued to read – In the early hours of March 17th, fire destroyed a home at 517 Somerset Lane taking the lives of a Newberry woman, Diane Oberholzer and her teenage daughter, 15-year-old Jean. The fire caused smoke damage to a trailer on an adjacent lot, but no injuries were reported. Fire Chief Donald Moore said the fire was called in at 7:15 a.m. by a passing motorist. The father, Reg Oberholzer, was taken to a nearby hospital for smoke inhalation but is expected to make a full recovery. Fire investigators are continuing the search for evidence of how the fire started.
He leaned in, navigated back to the search page, and the last entry caught his attention – Coroner Finds Stab Wounds on Victims of The Oberholzer Fire, State Agencies Investigating Incident as Suspicious. He poked the article that would take him to the sordid details. Except there were no real details.
Fire marshal suspected the father of setting the fire and brutal stabbing his wife and daughter. Neither the police or any agency could definitively state if Reg Oberholzer had anything to do with the stabbings or the fire. Was he a victim or a mastermind? No one could say.
Old man Oberholzer groused to the media about being left alone to grieve and insinuated harassment by the authorities. Nothing more came of the investigation. They all stayed away, the old man shut down, a recluse for the duration of his years. Case gone cold.
Um, he thought. Well that explained nothing in his mind. He fell down the rabbit hole of internet searches on the Oberholzer fire and came up for air about an hour later with nothing to show for it.
After he soothed his wandering mind with a highball of aged scotch splashed over three angular cut ice cubes, he chastised his curiosity for costing him so much time on the task at hand. He mentally sorted through the trajectory of his project and lined up photographs accordingly.
He reached over to the printer, pressed the green button, and listened to the whir as the machine came to life. He turned back to the collage of images arranged in a neat row and jumped from his swivel chair knocking it over behind him. His heart raced; his meaty right hand ruffled through his dark neatly clipped hair then over his 5 o’clock shadow. The picture, THAT picture of the burnt Oberholzer home sat effortlessly in the middle of his project trajectory. He didn’t put it there. It was still in the box, he assumed.
He silently feared that his sanity had taken a permanent vacation. Lucy meandered outside the office door. “Hey, babe, you want some ice cream?”
Both hands rested on the desk as he lumbered over it, legs spread apart in an apparent effort to hold himself up. Head down, his thoughts became fuzzy. That darned woman and her cheeky ‘babe’ he stewed. I should burn her down too, floated into his head. But it wasn’t his thought. He knew that.
He heard Lucy down the hall in the kitchen as she caused a commotion for a simple bowl of ice cream. His skull felt scrambled and tart. His legs led him towards her in fits and starts as he tried to stop them.
Lucy reached inside the freezer and pulled out a square box of mint chocolate chip ice cream. As she flipped the lid open, he entered the kitchen, one foot dragged by inertia behind him, eyes glazed and detached.
“Do you want one scoop or two, babe?” Lucy asked without a single glance in his direction.
He gripped the knife from the butcher block before he knew what he was about to do. His last thoughts were of terror as old man Oberholzer’s presence pushed him out of existence.