By Colin Arden
Late in the fall of 2007, the talk of the town centered around the events evidenced in news clippings and online video reports regarding the moderately-sized town of Butte, Arizona – small enough to not be shown in bold on roadmaps, but large enough to attract necessary businesses. Police investigations turned up little fact, and were left as missing persons reports rather than homicides or kidnappings despite the sensationalism provided by media coverage and that peculiar human desire to tell a story more impressive than the one told.
Ignorant of the pervading popular wisdom, the curious story of the widower Will Pentland unfolded; the unfortunate had taken up residence in Butte, in an apartment on Apache street. His movement into the city itself was not as much a concern to the locals as was the particular building he chose to reside in. Indeed, the building of his new residence was feared by locals to such an extreme that the apartment complex manager – a portly, balding, and generally unpleasant man by the name of Cort – was forced to lease the apartments for $300 less then the rest of the buildings in the apartment complex – and few people stayed long enough to recollect their security deposit. As such, that particular building had become somewhat dilapidated; and at the time of the solitary Pentland’s arrival, the only other tenants in the 12-apartment building were Mr. Rosenthal, an ancient-looking man who had adopted the habit of sitting out in a lawn chair with his equally ancient-looking dog at the closing of the day; and Mrs. Pabri, a widow who seemed to be slipping in her old age, as she would spend her days wandering Butte and mumbling her shopping list for that particular day, which always included cat food and crucifixes.
Mr. Pentland was able to secure employment as a nighttime security guard at St. Stephen’s Hospital in Butte, after his wife had left him for another realm. Being a clergyman, the sad situation had done its due on the poor man’s faith, and he was eager to move away as quickly as possible from his hometown of Stafford. The position at St. Stephen’s was suggested to him by his brother, a successful medical practitioner in Phoenix, who made it a point to maintain friendships with his colleagues from medical school. The good brother hoped that it would give the aggrieved less to think about, and a chance to stand back up on his own. It didn’t take long, however, for the widower Pentland to fall into a ritual of arriving home after work with a brown bag of his favorite poison, turning on the TV, and attempting to self-medicate away the pain, embarrassment, and humiliation of the past six months.
It wasn’t long until Mr. Pentland heard the local talk of the apartment building – that four people had gone missing from the bargain tenements. All former residents of the same building, their belongings left behind in their entirety, and no phone call, email, or even note left behind stating where they were going. The case was the gossip of town. Naturally, family of the missing had been concerned, but there were no indications of foul play.
Mr. Pentland, however, being a man of reason as well as nigh-waned faith, dismissed it in his mind as purely unfortunate coincidence. Nonetheless, he could not deny the existence of unexplainable occurrences in our world, and while mentally dismissing the stories, a part of him rebelled against the logic. Thinking it a great story to tell his friends – what few remained – that he had lived in a haunted building, he jotted down a few notes from the internet, bits of information here and there, and built for himself a great and expansive story in his imagination of demonic vampires and Native American burial grounds underneath the foundation. Sluicing his research with alcohol, his discoveries became more erratic, and his notes more barbaric and chaotic as time grew longer.
As the fall crept into winter and the nights grew longer and colder, he would spend hours simply staring out through the back sliding glass door and out onto the twilight outline of the far mesas, drinking by himself and imagining that maybe – just maybe – tomorrow his life would take a new turn, and save him from what he knew to be self-destructive behavior. As the dates passed, his self-imposed isolation became an issue of discussion with the gossipers and idle persons of his place of work, and the town itself.
It was a cold night in January when Mr. Pentland woke up from an all-too-common drunken napping, and upon rousing his mind and eyesight to comprehensiveness, saw the silhouette of a figure against the stars, standing on his balcony patio – tall and lanky, arms disturbingly long and disproportionate to his body, one side of him unsettlingly tilted off. Next to the man sat a great dog, black as midnight, and also stringy, but with eyes burning of hunger and red in color. Soon as the great beast saw Mr. Pentland rouse, it stood and smiled an awful, canine-predatory smile with a mouth that stretched in width more similar to an alligator than a dog, though the horror of this revealing was trivial compared to the man’s smile – cheekbone to cheekbone, the same sharp-toothed, canine-predatory smile as his hell-pet.
The police were immediately called by a passerby who heard the report of the gunshot, and were at the residence mere moments later. As the first car pulled up, the sun had just begun to hint at its imminent arrival over the mountains in the distance, and it was high overhead by the time the police left. Confidential only in theory, the news of William Pentland’s disappearance and the details surrounding it quickly spread by word of mouth and internet discussion boards. The police findings were somehow made known, though not intellectually satisfying: Will Pentland’s gun was found lying near his chair, one bullet discharged. The sliding glass door had a bullet hole cracking through a little lower than midway up, yet the stucco balcony behind it had no ballistic damage. The investigators were forced to determine that, despite no showing of blood, Mr. Pentland had indeed hit whatever he had been aiming at, though still puzzled as to his whereabouts thereafter.
Thus, it came to be that once again, the only residents of that apartment building were the old Mrs. Pabri, who folks say increased her mumblings and purchases of crucifixes; and old Mr. Rosenthal, staring out in the evening at the mountains in his low-pulled baseball cap – and of course, Mr. Rosenthal’s ever-present dog, who, after that day, had only its right eye, and a mess of scar tissue over the socket of its left.
Colin Arden resides in Arizona. After two combat tours to Iraq, he worked overseas, traveling and collecting stories from people more interesting than himself all over the world. He enjoys a good adventure, a well-told tale, and cold beer.