The bearded man is whom we seek,
He who kills to sate his greed,
He who hunts the old and the meek,
And uses them when he needs.
The sun had started retreating behind the mountains. The corridors of the medical school, which were usually crowded with students, were now eerily quiet. The dropping temperature, or the deafening silence wasn’t new to Mr Goodwill. True to his name, he was a calm person who led a peaceful life.
He had been working at the med school for ten years, and the job had remained the same—cleaning the apparatus and locking down the place securely. He didn’t complain though. This job paid his bills, and that was all he cared about.
He went into the anatomy lab and removed the skeleton from the glass showcase. It had creeped him out at first, but now it was an old friend. He began working, humming a tune to himself.
A cool breeze floated into the room, ruffling the curtains in the process. Even an innocent noise sounds ominous at night, but Mr Goodwill knew not to let his mind play games. He quickly cleaned the apparatus and put them away.
Finally, he took the skeleton and turned towards the showcase. On the glass door, there was a poem written in red ink.
The bearded man is whom we seek,
He who kills to sate his greed,
He who hunts the old and the meek,
And uses them when he needs.
[wcm_restrict] The words looked fresh. The ink was dripping down the glass, giving it a sinister look. But Goodwill knew better than to be fooled. It wasn’t the first time the students had tried to prank him.
“You can’t fool me all the time boys,” he laughed. “What are you poets doing in a med school?” he murmured, as he wet a rag and started wiping the words on the glass.
After cleaning the glass, he hung the skeleton inside and headed home. That night he couldn’t sleep. The words on the showcase kept flashing before his eyes.
‘The bearded guy is whom we seek’.... ‘Who hunts the old and the meek’..... ‘Uses them when he needs’....
He convinced himself that he was wasting his time on something stupid. Closing his eyes, he decided to talk to the Dean about this the next day.
Next morning, he spoke to the Dean, an indifferent man in his late sixties, who warned the students over the intercom and dismissed the issue.
Goodwill hoped that this would help, and no students will dare to prank him again.
The need for him to visit the lab did not arise for a while after the incident.
However, a week later, he entered the lab again, hoping that the kids would have forgotten about him, and began his routine. He cleaned the skeleton and hung it back in the closet. As he closed the door, words appeared on the glass, right in front of his eyes. It was written with the same red ink, and dripped down.
Our fate that you believe to be a lie,
Is the reason that so many died,
Help us find the sly culprit,
And punish him with what we deem fit.
Goodwill was frozen with fear. His mind refused to believe that what he was seeing was true. He staggered away from the glass and grabbed a wet cloth from the counter. He hastily wiped off the words with shaky hands, but as soon as he erased the words, they reappeared.
The wind was harsh outside and the lights flickered off, leaving the room dark, except for the moonlight. Goodwill couldn’t take it anymore. He grabbed the keys, sprinted out, and locked the room in a hurry.
He ran through the hall, his footsteps echoing in the quiet night. He didn’t stop anywhere on his way home. His hands trembled, and his mind was conjuring images inside his head. Was any of this real? Or was it just a sick game played by the kids? He wasn’t sure.
But how did they manage to make the words reappear? Even the smartest of kids would not be able to pull off something like that.
It took some time for him to calm down. He decided to think about this in the morning.
Goodwill had never been a brave person. His love for a quiet life was one of the reasons he never married; and he never regretted his decision until now. After a long time, he finally fell into a restless sleep.
The next morning Goodwill woke up with a headache. He called the college and took the day off. He sat on his bed, pondering over the events of last night. It all felt like a dream— more like a nightmare. He knew what he saw was real, but the logical side of his mind refused to accept it.
He went to the bathroom and splashed his face with water, looking into the mirror. What he saw next horrified him to the bones... On the mirror there were words written in the familiar red ink, that dripped down the mirror.
We seek your help and not your life,
Help us in our quest, to avenge our unfair death,
For we come begging thee,
Our only hope in punishing the grave thief.
Goodwill was stunned to silence. His mind finally acknowledged the fact that this wasn’t a funny prank by the kids. He was facing his worst fears. The only consolation he had was that he wasn’t the one at fault.
But none of this made sense. What was he doing in the middle of this mess? Who were they? More importantly, what were they?
All this thinking intensified his headache.
‘Who are you?!....Why would you seek my help?!.... How am I involved in this?!....’ he yelled out, frustrated.
As he held his throbbing head, the words on the mirror changed.
We are many, not one,
But we were reduced to none,
We seek you, for you are our friend,
Who preserves us even after our mortal end.
The words did nothing to clear his doubts. He was a very private person with very few friends. And none of them were dead yet. And the fact that these ‘friends’ were speaking in riddles was not helping him at all.
He decided that he needed his coffee more than anything. The thought that these ‘friends’ weren’t going to harm him, put him more at ease.
He went into the kitchen and prepared a strong cup. With the steaming cup in his hand, he sat on the sofa, took an old paper that lay before him, and wrote all the poems that he’d seen.
After reading the lines many times, he only knew that these people were killed by a bearded guy who hunts weak people for money, and that they want to avenge their death.
But how can I find the particular bearded guy in this town? he thought. Hell, even I’m a man with a beard, for the love of God!
As he stared at the paper in deep thought, the familiar red words reappeared on the paper.
He’s someone with whom you work,
Behind a respectable veil he lurks;
Waiting for his next kill,
To trap and turn them into dollar bills.
Associated with my work? So, is this person someone I know? Is that why I’m being haunted by these people?
He quickly turned the paper and wrote the names of the bearded people he knew at work.
All of them were respectable people of the society. And they were all filthy rich. Why would they kill for money?
He began thinking about all the conversations he had had with them. All of them were as normal as he himself was. No matter how hard he thought, he couldn’t come up with any answers.
After a long day, he collapsed on his bed, yearning for a good night’s sleep.
Goodwill was shocked! Did Caviler have a partner?
The next day, he went to work early, looking at every bearded person he saw with suspicion; but he couldn’t accuse anyone of murder, when he himself didn’t know what the whole issue was. So he resorted to silently observing everyone. He strained his senses for any clues, with no avail.
He was getting ready to leave for home and that’s when he saw him – Dr Caviler.
Dr Caviler was a shy and bitter person. He seldom spoke to anyone and found everything annoying. He lacked social skills and was always in a sour mood. And most specifically, he had a BEARD!
Goodwill couldn’t believe he had forgotten Dr Caviler when he was making a list!
The more he thought, the more convinced he became that Caviler could be a criminal;. the only thing left to do, was to confirm it.
Goodwill decided to follow Caviler instead of going home. Following an expensive and well-maintained car is tough when all you have is a seven-year old bike, but Goodwill managed to do it.
Caviler went straight home, only stopping at the grocery store on his way.
Goodwill wasn’t ready to give up. He decided to watch him. He parked his old bike behind a large car and waited, watching Caviler’s house from behind the car. He watched his house for hours, and Caviler didn’t seem to be doing anything suspicious.
The sun had retired to its home behind the mountains, and the winter air was starting to bite. Goodwill’s thin sweater didn’t help him. He had to light a cigarette to keep himself warm.
The street lights kept him company, and Goodwill thought back to the events that took place in the past couple of days. He didn’t even know why he was doing it, but he was too far in to back out now. Doing this felt right. If there was a serial killer around, then he should do something about it. God forbid, he might be the next victim.
He was forced to wake from his reverie by Caviler, who seemed to be in a hurry as he locked the door of his house. Caviler staggered to his car, almost as if he were drunk. Before getting into the car, he looked around as if to check whether he was being watched.
Goodwill promptly moved out of his sight. He waited till he heard the car door close and looked again. Sure enough Caviler had gotten into his car.
He immediately started his bike and waited for Caviler to move, before following him at a safe distance.
The city they lived in wasn’t very huge, but it was overpopulated. The public places were seldom free, except during the nights.
After a short ten-minute drive, Goodwill saw Caviler park his car right in front of the city’s graveyard.
How ironic, Goodwill thought. The killer at the graveyard..... Is this where he killed his victims?
Goodwill drove his bike up the footpath, and parked it behind a large tree, which hid him well while simultaneously giving him a clear view. He watched as Caviler got out of his car, walked towards the graveyard, and opened the gate with a key.
How does a medical professor have the key to the city’s graveyard?!
Caviler went inside the graveyard, and locked the gate from inside.
Goodwill deciding to follow him looked for a way to go inside. He noticed that the wall was pretty short and decided to jump over it. Right when he was about to jump, he saw another car entering the street. He quickly hid behind the tree and waited for the car to pass.
However, instead of passing, the car parked right behind Caviler’s, and a man got out. He was tall and wore a long coat with a hat that hid his face from view.
As Goodwill watched, the mystery man walked down towards the graveyard and opened the lock with a key, just like Caviler had done.
Goodwill was shocked! Did Caviler have a partner?
The mystery man locked the gate and went in.
Without wasting any more time, Goodwill jumped over the wall and entered the graveyard. As soon as he set foot inside, he felt a chill run down his spine.
If anything went wrong tonight, he would probably end up dead and buried in this same ground, he told himself.
Goodwill forced himself not to think about that and focused on the problem at hand. He scanned the place for the two men.
The graveyard was littered with tomb stones.
At a distance, he spotted the two men shaking hands.
He slowly crept towards them, hiding behind tombs and trying not to make any noise. After a while, he realised he couldn’t hear them, without being caught. So he decided to watch them from a safe distance. He noticed that the mystery man had a beard too.
At first the two men seemed to be having a normal discussion, but soon it appeared to be turning into an argument. Both of them were whispering in an agitated tone. Caviler was shaking his head and waving his hands as if to indicate his displeasure.
Goodwill couldn’t hear what they were arguing about, but Caviler shut up as soon as the mystery man shoved a bundle of cash into his hands.
Money indeed is a universal language.
Goodwill watched the men shake hands in parting and walk towards the gate. He waited for them to leave, and then started towards his home.
On his way back, Goodwill kept thinking about the things he had seen. He wondered about the connection between Caviler and the mystery man.
Why was Caviler killing people?..... How did he make money from that?
All these questions only led to new questions.
As soon as he reached home, Goodwill took a relaxing bath and settled on the sofa with a steaming cup of coffee. He wrote down all the information he had found out, and thought about the various possibilities.
After breaking his head for a long time with no results, Goodwill went to bed. He came to a conclusion that the only way he could gain information was through Caviler.
Goodwill decided to blackmail Caviler into giving information, the next day. With that thought in mind, he fell asleep.
The following day, Goodwill arrived at college as usual. He decided to wait till the end of the day to confront Caviler.
Evening came, and after finishing his work early, Goodwill waited for Caviler in his office. When Caviler returned, he was surprised to see Goodwill in his office.
“What are you doing here, Goodwill? Don’t you know you’re supposed to seek permission before entering a professor’s office?” Caviler asked, bitterly.
This wasn’t new to Goodwill. Everyone knew that Caviler was bitter.
“What were you doing in the graveyard last night?” Goodwill asked, bluntly. No point in beating around the bush, he thought.
“Wh... what?.... what are you..... talking about....??” Caviler stammered.
“There’s no use in trying to lie, Caviler. I know all about it,” Goodwill replied.
“I....don’t know...what you’re talking about. Wh...why would I go to a graveyard? Stop talking nonsense and get out of my office!” Caviler yelled.
Even a blind man could tell he was lying.
“Look, I don’t have the patience to talk to you. You can either tell me the truth now, or you and your friend can say goodbye to life outside prison,” Goodwill said, casually.
“Pr....prison!!... why would I go to prison?!” Caviler stuttered.
“Because you kill people for money,” Goodwill said. He knew he was playing with fire bluffing like that, but he had to scare Caviler into giving him answers.
“H...how do you know that?!” Caviler exclaimed. He was sweating profusely and looked like he would faint any minute.
“Look, if you tell me the truth, I’ll help you through this,” Goodwill tried to coax him. It seemed to be working.
“It isn’t me... I swear! It’s him…Damien! He is the one who kills them!” Caviler broke into tears. He collapsed into the chair behind his desk, and narrated everything to Goodwill.
“I happened to find out by accident. He threatened to kill me if I exposed him! He paid me to be quiet. Please save me from that monster! I’ll do anything you say! I’ll even give you the money!” Caviler wailed. By the time he completed, he was a crying mess.
“How long have you known and how many people has he killed?”
“I’ve known for a year. And as far as I know he’s killed eighteen people,” Caviler continued, crying.
“How does he earn the money? Do people pay him to kill someone?”
“No, no one pays him to kill. He kills the old and homeless people, and separates the bones from the flesh, and sells the bones to medical schools. Since he is the cemetery caretaker, no one doubts him,” Caviler explained.
Suddenly everything made sense to Goodwill.
‘We seek you for you’re our friend....Who preserves us even after our death....’
He was the one who cleaned the skeletons in the lab every week. That is why the spirits thought of him as their friend. That is also why, they asked for his help.
Goodwill felt emotional all of a sudden. He had been lonely for the most part of his life, and liked it that way. Now he realised why people yearned for others. He felt the need to avenge his friends’ death. He turned to Caviler, determinedly.
“You want to get out of this, right?”
Caviler nodded, immediately.
“Then help me trap this guy.”
“But how?” Caviler asked, sceptically.
Goodwill quickly explained how he found out about the killings to Caviler.
“I know this sounds bizarre, but I need you to trust me.” Goodwill told Caviler his plan to trap Damien. They decided to execute the plan at midnight.
The night rolled in. Goodwill was ready to leave. The plan was to lure Damien to the graveyard. Caviler would call him asking to meet him at midnight, claiming to have an emergency, while Goodwill would already be there to welcome him.
He reached the graveyard at 11.30. Caviler had given him a key to the gate, so he didn’t have to jump over the wall this time. He went in expecting to be alone, but he was surprised to see both Caviler and Damien standing there, waiting for him.
“Welcome my friend,” Caviler greeted. “It’s rather nice to have some guests over, isn’t it Damien?” he turned towards his partner.
“Indeed!” Damien exclaimed, cheerily.
It didn’t take a genius to figure out that Caviler had tricked him into coming there.
“You really thought I’d fall for your ghost story, Goodwill?” Caviler laughed. “You should’ve known better. The Dean called me yesterday, and you know what he said Goodwill? He said that a skeleton in the lab had become too old, and he gave me a pretty good deal for a new one. I guess you’ll be replacing your friend.”
Both the men retrieved sharp knives from under their coats.
“Killing isn’t an easy job you know,” Damien began. “You have to be careful about not harming the skeleton. Do you know how we kill our guests, Goodwill?” We stab them in the stomach. Its messy, but enjoyable at the same time!”
Damien twirled the knife in his fingers.
“Don’t worry we’ll make it less painful,” Caviler smiled.
Goodwill had no other choice but to run. He couldn’t take them both at once. He dashed towards the gate with the two men hot on his heels. He was running a race against death.
Goodwill ran as fast as he could. He found hope as he neared the gates.
If I can manage to reach my bike, I’ll be able to escape…
But his hopes were cut short as someone grabbed his ankle from behind. Goodwill fell on the ground with a heavy thud. He had never felt so hopeless in his life.
Caviler twisted Goodwill’s ankle making him turn on his back. The two men looked down at him with sinister smiles. Caviler held Goodwill down, as Damien prepared to kill him.
As he raised his knife to stab him, Goodwill shut his eyes tightly, saying his final prayers. At that moment, a loud thunder struck the dark sky, scaring the three momentarily. Goodwill, who was powerless until then, pushed Caviler off with new-found strength.
Damien, shocked by this, tried to stab him, but realised that the knife was not in his hand. When he looked up again, he saw Goodwill standing in front of him, twirling the knife between his fingers, the same way he had. His irises were dark red, like the blood that seeped out of his victims’ wounds.
Damien realised that the person before him wasn’t Goodwill. They were his sins personified. Beside him, Caviler’s knees buckled in fear, as he fell unconscious. Damien tried to run away from this nightmare, but his body was rooted to the ground. It seemed like nature had chosen this place for his burial and the soil seemed to hold his legs, without letting go.
He watched as Goodwill inched towards him slowly. He ran the knife down Damien’s throat, very much the way he had did with his victims. While doing this, Goodwill opened his mouth, but the words that came out sounded like they were spoken by multiple people. The spirits in him chanted in an ominous tone:
What you sow, so shall you reap,
We’ve come here to charge you for your greed,
Let us avenge our fateful pain,
So none shall suffer ever again…
With these words as a final bidding, Goodwill stabbed Damien in the stomach, pulling his guts out. As Damien fell down, the silhouette of his skeleton appeared on the graveyard walls. Nature had punished him using his own crooked ways.
At that moment, rains poured from the heavens, rejoicing the death of the vile creature. The spirits left Goodwill and ascended to their heavenly abode, thanking their friend.
For a while, Goodwill soaked in the rain, willing it to wash away all the dreadful events from his memory, before heading home to his comforting coffee and welcoming bed.
Sujatha Sugumaran is currently pursuing her bachelor’s in English Literature at Anna Adarsh College for Women, Chennai. She enjoys writing poetry, which she posts on Instagram, and short fiction, which she posts on Wattpad. Her other interests include travelling and painting. She aspires to become a diplomat in the Indian Foreign Service. You can follow her poetry account on Instagram at effulgent_thoughts. You can write to her at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Very nicely written, Sujatha.