Bloodlines

Rain assailed the street and concrete, and the lights of the suburban homes flooded into the darkness without. Jamal Epes watched TV alone in his small two-bedroom home. The wind rushed through trees and rattled shutters. At first, he thought it was a phantom sound, a noise so illogical that the only way to explain it was in ghosts, but then the knock came again. Jamal answered. At the door was Marcel, a younger man who Jamal had seen grow up. His jeans were soaked, and the whites of his eyes had completely given over to a rosy red. “What’s goin’ on,” Jamal asked. The grown man wept, tears welled out of his angular black face and added to the rain-flood below.

“I needed someone to talk to,” Marcel responded between sobs, and even though Jamal had let him into his home, Marcel still felt the rain pouring on him. He heard the rain patter on his hood as if it actually still was. He had become so sure of this inside-rain he kept his raincoat on. Marcel told Jamal in laborious detail how he wasn’t supposed to be “Marcel” at all, that he was supposed to be Miesha, and at some point, God had made a mistake. Or else, she added, it was God’s cruel joke.  Jamal comforted the woman before him and asked her permission to call a friend. Within an hour, Miesha was talking to Dr. Vanessa Robbin, a doctor specializing in transgender men and women. She wept often and spoke progressively quieter but by the end of the night Dr. Robbin and Miesha worked out a plan. Within the next couple of weeks, Miesha began her cautious and anxiety-filled first steps to match her body to her brain.

People in the town praised Jamal Epes often. He was an LGBTQ+ ally and activist, a mentor to father-less children, organizer of town social events, and he still had time to work. He was a freelance programmer, often employed by startups in Silicon Valley several hours north of the city. It was because of this impeccable and astonishing amount of social involvement that his name was left in so many people’s mouths, and Jamal understood that just in this town, the name Epes was associated with him and not his brother Quentin Epes. It also happened that it was only this town that didn’t know the name Quentin Epes or of his body of work.

Quentin was a doctor specializing in neuropsychology. He wrote several books that made it to the Times bestseller list, launching him into the national sphere of renown. His books compiled years of research in human potentialities and through them he proved definitively that the next stage of human evolution will be a change in the brain. This next evolution could be incited, he deduced, by training your brain to see all living things not as part of a whole, but as a whole themselves; he suggested to see things as if the entire universe you existed in, existed within the object of perception. In other words, Dr. Epes, on the forefront of human development, demonstrated that the next evolved humans would see things as a completed whole, and that the ever-so human tendency to categorize and pick apart would be left to the underdeveloped.

“Are you gonna do it,” Jamal asked his brother Quentin. He knew what his answer would be.

“No. I don’t think so. You?”

“I’ve been considering it.” Jamal paused. “He really wanted us to do this, I have no idea why. But it would mean a lot to him.”

“Why do you keep talking about him like he’s alive? He’s been gone six months.” Jamal stopped pacing around his home, took a deep breath, and began pacing again.

“I know, but him leaving this in his will has got me messed up. What does it mean if he sincerely wants this?”

“That he’s selfish and wants nothing more than the advancement of his own creations and ideas.”

“Listen to yourself Quentin, that’s not Dad. Wasn’t Dad.”

“So, you’re going to go then?”

“I didn’t say that.”

“You’re going, huh?”

“Yeah… I’m not sure why he left the shop to us both but I’m desperate to find out why.”

Over the next month, Jamal visited every person he had helped. He visited Miesha, who was continuing with her transition despite her family disowning her, and the constant ill-will projected onto her body.  He visited Keisha, Tara, Juanita, Carlos, and James, who had all come to him at the lowest points in their lives, and he was able to help them transition to more real versions of themselves. He visited the Boys and Girls club and said a tear-filled goodbye to Lamar, a thirteen-year-old kid who had lost his dad four years ago. He held his final social event. It wasn’t mourning his leaving, as the people had thought, but instead it was to celebrate the town. It was this moment that Jamal and the citizens of the city collectively realized there would always be a place for him here.

The plane was small enough to still have propellers, and it sat no more than forty people. He spent more time in takeoff and landing than he did in the air. The waterless but sand-filled air reminded Jamal he was home. Southern California’s inland area was known to be both incredibly dry and exceptionally hot. It was the kind of place where all the buildings were the same color, not through intention, but because the sun vaporized the hues eventually turning everything varying shades of brown. In a small neighborhood of three streets, Jamal found his inherited home. It was intentionally brown.

Jamal noticed a black Bentley parked in front of the home. Jamal knew immediately that it wasn’t somebody form the area, because black cars absorb too much heat in the summer that it becomes unbearable to drive at all. It was all around, a miserable color to have on, or on things because of the omnipotence of the summer heat. Still, Jamal couldn’t figure who the owner of the Bentley might be, and it wasn’t until he opened the door that he realized it was Quentin. Waiting for him just beyond the threshold, stood Quentin with his perfect ivory teeth. Avoiding the conversation of why he decided to come after all his prior protesting, Quentin helped Jamal with his bags and then handed him a beer. “You know this isn’t going to be easy, right?”

Jamal took a sip of the dark and murky berverage, winced, then said, “Yeah, we’re both out of our element.”

Jamal and Quentin’s dad, Robert Epes, ran a small café in downtown Palm City. He’d started it out of necessity, coffee and tea were the only things he knew and he needed to make money to raise his kids, but a byproduct of that necessity was city-wide success. Robert’s Café became a hangout for socialites and fringe artists alike and through this common meeting place such disparate people could more easily come to terms on complex issues. Even though its fame was on the wane since its first ten years of operation, Robert’s Café still made enough money to function.

The next day, Jamal found an envelope addressed to both Quentin and himself tucked under a few books. Jamal read it through once and his eyes lit up, and then he ran to find Quentin.

“What is it?”

“I found a letter from dad,” Jamal started, “he says he’s hidden throughout the house the real reason he brought us here.”

“And?”

“Don’t you see? It’s a treasure hunt, there was something he wanted to tell us and the only way he could was through us being here, together.”

“Come on, Jamal, dad has never been that calculating a day in his life. He’s just playing his last joke on us. Getting us to look around for nothing at all.”

Jamal shook his head. “Alright fine, just hear me out. We follow the first hint and we find whatever there is to find. If we don’t find anything, we’ll stop.”

Following the first clue, the two brothers walked down the creaking steps of the basement. Jamal hit the switch for light but it wouldn’t turn on. After replacing the bulb, Jamal and Quentin started searching boxes and boxes of old papers. After thirty minutes of looking with no results Quentin said, “Alright, I’m done. Call me from upstairs if you find anything.” So, Jamal continued alone in his search through boxes of documents that meant nothing. He analyzed old tax records and letters and junk mail and loose to-do list pages hoping to find hidden clues as if it were an elaborate game. After a further hour of searching Jamal sat down and reminisced about the times he had spent with this dad here in the basement. Before the infiltration of boxes, there was a television and a few gaming systems, and at one point even a foosball table. Jamal smiled as he thought about those long irredeemable times. As he returned to the present in front of him, Jamal realized a couple of off-colored bricks laid on the wall. Out of options, Jamal decided to check it out. First, he tried to push on them but they wouldn’t budge, whenever the brick work was done, it was done right. He grabbed a hammer and started smashing away at the bricks. When he liberated a chunk of the brick, a vile stench emanated from within. Jamal called his brother.

Both brothers continued to hack away at the bricks with inadequate hammers until they uncovered the first rancid treasure Robert Epes had left for them to discover. The corpse was near complete in its decomposition. The only things that remotely life like in the flesh covered skeleton were the teeth, the rest of the skeletal woman was as if it had come out of a Halloween prop store. It was emanating the putrid smell of death all of death’s siblings. Jamal choked back vomit. Pinned to the wall within was a note addressed to them both.

Robert Epes was the owner of Robert’s Café, but he was something else, too. Something that in his whole life would never come to light, and now only two others knew his secret. Robert Epes was the Palm City Killer, a once unknown serial Killer who had killed periodically for the last 20 years. There were 5 other bodies hidden within the house. Jamal finally vomited because the stench of death and the collapse of unconditional trust for his father began to mingle and seemed so much the same. When the vomit stopped coming and he could make sense of his surroundings again, Jamal agreed to help Quentin find all the bodies Robert had stashed. One was hidden in the floorboards in the master bedroom, one was buried in the backyard in multiple parts, one was found in a ceramic jar of ashes which Quentin confirmed by sifting through and finding teeth, and the other two were twins who were buried bound together inside Jamal’s old room.

It was midnight by the time they had found the bodies. They squirmed to think of another way to view their dad that wasn’t the grim reality, but there was no other truth more real than this one. They had put on hold and possibly sacrificed their lives for a father who wanted nothing more than to reveal his demonic existence to them, and in doing so possibly destroying their reputations. Prestige or not, being the progeny of a serial killer puts one in a natural state of mistrust. Both men started to cry. Quentin picked up the house phone and called the police. The Palm City Killer had finally been found, and his victims could be put to rest.

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