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Thriller

It’s been five years, but I can still remember exactly where I was when I heard about Logan. Everyone in my town does. I was sitting in my senior year history class. My mom was in line at the grocery store. My best friend Callie was skipping class to eat breakfast with her boyfriend at the diner down the street.


She was the one that heard it first. We weren’t allowed to have phones in class, but back then, teachers hadn’t quite caught on to all of the ways that kids would sneak in phones. I’d spent most of second period with my phone tucked between my history book and my desk, texting. I was pissed. Logan was supposed to pick me up for school that morning, like he had every morning since we’d started dating almost two years earlier.


Not only had he not showed- he hadn’t even texted me. Callie skipped class all the time, but Logan got anxious when he was more than a minute late. It wasn’t like him to just not show up. It didn’t occur to me that something was wrong, though. For as prompt as Logan was, he was also absent-minded, so I figured he’d had a doctor’s appointment or a meeting for student council and just forgot to tell me.


But he still hadn’t texted me back, and with every passing moment I was getting more and more annoyed, alternately double, triple, and quadruple texting him while complaining to Callie. Saying that this was it, if he couldn’t even remember to pick me up then clearly he didn’t love me, blah blah blah.


Looking back now, I hate myself for that.


I was really getting into my rant, pounding my fingers against the phone screen, when I got the text that stopped me in my tracks. Callie had just heard it on the news at the diner. Logan was dead.


I don’t remember much after that. Even now, that fact bothers me. I can recall with great detail every thought, every emotion, leading up to that text, but nothing about how I felt after.


I’m told that I screamed. Right in the middle of Mr. Tiller’s lecture on the war of 1812, I screamed. Jenny Carlton at the desk in front of me almost fell out of her chair, it was so sudden. And then I just got up and left. Walked right out, leaving my books and my backpack and even my phone right there on the desk. At least, that’s what I’m told.


It’s been five years, but people still talk about it all the time. For most of them, it’s become more of a story than a memory. Probably because it happened to fall on Halloween, and it was just such a freak thing, it naturally lends itself to a spooky story. In future generations, they might not even realize that Logan was a real person.


It’ll just be another campfire story, told through the flickering flames, with pregnant pauses and loud whispers. The story about the boy who was found dead in his basement on Halloween. The story about the boy who was the latest victim of Trudy Rutger’s axe.


It all started as a story, so it’s only natural that he’ll become a part of it. I hate that his death will become folklore. I hate that this is what he’ll be remembered for.


Logan was our class vice president. He was the best pitcher our high school baseball team had seen in generations- he planned on going pro someday. He gave me flowers on our first date, and brought me coffee and a donut every single Friday. He volunteered at an animal shelter, he baked cookies with his grandma, he helped his teammates with their math homework. His blonde hair always stuck up a little bit in the back, no matter how hard he tried to smooth it down. He snorted a little bit every time he laughed.


Logan was real, and already, he’s being reduced to little more than a part of a stupid scary story. The boy that I loved, used as fodder to make folklore seem like reality.


The story of Trudy Rutger has been around for longer than I have. It started as a scary story in my parents generation, or maybe even their parents. But the story I knew didn’t have any real-life victims. It was all made-up, names with just enough facts to make them seem realistic.  


There was no source or written version, so some of the details varied, depending on who told the story. My next door neighbor used to say that you could actually summon Trudy Rutger the night before Halloween, and in my uncle’s telling, Trudy killed her own baby. But most of the details are so consistent, they’re basically seen as truth.


The story goes that way back in the early 1900s, a girl named Trudy had married a local lawyer, Thomas Rutger. They’d lived in a big house over on East Main Street, though by the time the story was told over campfires, the house was long-gone, demolished to make room for a strip mall. Now, a coffee shop stood in its place, and rumor has it, freaky stuff starts happening there around Halloween. Logan loved that place.


Anyway, back in Thomas and Trudy’s day, the house was one of the nicest in town, so it’s safe to say that Thomas was considered a catch. Trudy had some competition. Even after they’d gotten married and had their first baby, Thomas was not the most loyal husband, and naturally, his wife found out about it.


One year, on October 31st, Trudy had finally had enough. She walked in on Thomas with another woman, killed them both with an axe, then hung herself. No one knows for sure what happened to the baby.


It was a small town back then- still is, actually- and a double-murder-suicide was enough to keep the town talking for quite some time. But even so, by the next fall, a new scandal had come up, and the gossip about Trudy Rutger had started to die down. It was a year to the day from Thomas and Trudy’s death when a local woman was walking down the street and saw something peculiar.


She saw Thomas Rutger. Alive and in the flesh, staring up at the dress shop that had once been his law office. The woman shrieked, but Thomas didn’t turn around. She approached him, called his name, stepped right in front of him, but he ignored her, continuing to just gaze at the building with a vacant look in his eye. It wasn’t until she tapped him on the shoulder that he finally acknowledged it, jumping a bit at the contact, then turning to look at her.


But where she expected a reaction, recognition, at least, she got… nothing. It was like he looked right through her. Without saying a word, he turned and walked away.


That night, the woman was found dead in her own backyard. She’d been murdered with an axe.


They say that Trudy and her victims come back every year on Halloween, the anniversary of their deaths. Most of the time, you won’t even notice them. They’ll be standing on the sidewalk, walking around town, acting for all intents and purposes like normal people… but they’ll always be alone, and they’ll never say anything. They won’t respond when you address them. They won’t even seem to see you. And that’s exactly how it should be, because they’re not in our world anymore.


There’s not much that can break the barrier between life and death, not even on Halloween. One thing that can, supposedly? Physical touch. If you touch Trudy or any of her victims (there’s rumored to be about a dozen of them now), and they look at you… you’re doomed to the same fate.


It’s a dumb story, just like Bloody Mary or the Slender Man, told over generations to freak kids out. There’s nothing real about it, no actual proof that Trudy murdered Thomas and his lover, that they lived in this town, or even that they existed at all. It’s a myth, plain and simple.


But the thing is… Logan was found in his basement with an axe in his chest.


Even now, saying it, just blurting it out like that… It feels weird. Disrespectful, in a way, like talking about his death in such blunt terms minimizes who he was in life.


That’s the truth, though. He was found dead with an axe in his chest, and there was no evidence. No suspects. No reason for anyone to want to kill him. It turned into a cold case almost immediately, and so far as I know, the case hasn’t been touched since.


“That’s her.”


I was jerked back into the present by a loud stage whisper, the kind that people do when they don’t really care if you hear them or not. I knew they were talking about me. The two girls, probably about 13 or 14, had been sneaking looks at me since I’d entered the coffee shop.


“That’s totally her. She was his girlfriend.” I stared down into my coffee, pointedly ignoring them.


After Logan’s death, the rest of senior year was a blur, and I moved away for college just after graduation. I’d been back home a few times since- a Christmas here, a summer there. I kept expecting that it would get easier. Eventually, I’d be able to pass the football field without thinking about the time that Logan used the entire marching band to ask me to prom. Eventually, I would go to the local grocery store and not automatically reach for the generic-brand Cola- Logan’s favorite.


With every visit home, though, it only got harder, because even though I could recall each moment with vivid clarity… his face was getting further and further away. Instead of time making things easier, it felt worse. So I stopped coming back.


Until now. Two months ago, I’d moved back for good, and at first, it was every bit as hard as I’d remembered. But eventually… eventually it did get easier. It took five years, but being back home, where everything reminded me of Logan, it felt like I was finally starting to grieve.


There were still some places that I avoided. I took the long route to work so I wouldn’t have to pass his house. The bench in the park, which had been one of my favorite places, was now off-limits, because that was where we had our first kiss.


I could go to his favorite coffee shop, though, the one at the site of Trudy Rutger’s old house, without picturing him in his preferred seat. Right by the window, in the corner. He had a reason for picking this seat, just like he had a reason for everything. It was situated in such a position that you had the ideal spot for people-watching on the busy sidewalk, but were far enough from the door that you didn’t get a draft every time it opened. Far enough from the counter that the noise didn’t drive you crazy, but at an optimal angle for that freshly-ground coffee scent.


Sitting here now, I couldn’t help but agree. It truly was the perfect spot. It made me think of Logan, of course, but I was thinking about the good parts- the way that he made the baristas add whipped cream to everything, even, once, iced tea. They had the pumpkin scones today, the ones he loved so much he would order three of them every time he came in, just in case they sold out.


I wasn’t thinking about the gruesome way in which I lost him. At least, not until those two girls came in.


It was Halloween, which meant that the murder was a popular topic of conversation. After spending four Octobers away, it was hard to be back on the anniversary of his death. The news had run a special to discuss the “latest” on the case, which I’d shut off after about two minutes, because there were no actual updates and it was just a recap of the gory details. The high school had run a fundraiser in his honor. The warnings- don’t touch Trudy Rutger and her victims, or you could end up like Logan- were everywhere, from the screams of the kids at my niece’s birthday party last night, to the gossip of the two older men I’d passed that morning.


Logan had always been present to me in this town. But today, of all days, he was top of mind for everyone.


I’d pretended not to notice the pitied looks and whispers that had surrounded me all day, but it was getting to be too much. Grabbing my half-finished coffee- with whipped cream and a pumpkin scone, in Logan’s honor- I buttoned up my coat and headed out the door, carefully avoiding eye contact with the two girls. I didn’t need any more pity.


That’s when I saw him. He was standing just outside the coffee shop- right outside my spot by the window, actually. I don’t know how I could have missed him before. He was looking at my now-empty seat with a small, sad smile. The wind blew, and that little tuft of blonde hair stood up, and that’s when I knew my eyes weren’t deceiving me. This wasn’t a memory. This wasn’t an illusion, called up by the stress and sadness of the day.


It was Logan, and he was real.


I called his name, but the wind had picked up, and he didn’t seem to hear me. I was already running, throwing my arms around him, feeling the solid weight of his body in my arms, when I remembered the number one rule of Halloween in my hometown.


Do not, under any circumstances, touch any of Trudy Rutger’s victims.  

October 31, 2019 16:21

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