P.J. Lawton

Most of the people watching the blazing spectacle were clustered around the massive iron front gate. To get a
better view, Thomas walked around to the side fence. Abruptly, the house front and outside walls started to
collapse as giant flames roared into the night sky. Right in the middle of the inferno, sets of small figures
become visible. They weren’t figures exactly, just apparitions. Stealing a quick glance to the front, he sighed
with relief. No one else noticed anything out of the ordinary. It appeared as though she had been right after all.


It was exactly six months from the day the accident took his wife that Thomas first arrived in Taylorville. It had
taken months go get over the lethargy that engulfed him after learning of her death. Sadly, he finally realized
he had to get on with his life. She would have wanted it that way.

Several days later, he first heard the voices.

Taylorville, a small dusty river town about thirty miles south of the Quad-City area had one contributing factor
Thomas’s company wanted when determining where to locate their newest plant. Taylorville had the only bridge
south across the Mississippi River between Iowa and Illinois for over fifty miles.

As regional personnel manager, Thomas was heading the advance team to qualify and hire the new employees.
Spending sixteen to eighteen stressful hours a day in the office helped him forget his loss, but it wasn’t
enough. His guilt was oppressive.

No, he hadn’t had anything to do with the accident, but the mysterious death of his wife left him racked with
guilt. Why her? Why not him? As an elementary school special education teacher, she had been such a
wonderful person, so caring, and completely in tune with the needs of those around her. She always made a
difference in everything she did. Just what did he do that was so special?

Moving on with his life had been extremely hard at first, so to unwind and prepare for each new day he made a
long morning run. During one of these runs, the voices called to him.

That fateful morning, his stress-reducing jog took him along the river bluffs. Someone—he couldn’t really
remember who—told him that the river jogging trail was a safe scenic place where he could really stretch and
get the kinks out. He was almost twenty minutes along the trail when he topped a rise and saw it for the first
time. It was a magnificent mansion built in the southern plantation style, or, at one time, had been a
magnificent mansion. Big, white-painted, now peeling, columns dominated the front and large boarded up
windows graced the three stories. A tall, rusty, wrought iron fence encircled the immense property. Extra
heavy chains and substantial padlocks held the massive gates closed. Signs adorned them saying ‘Private’,
‘Keep Out’, and ‘No Trespassing’.                                                                                        

An eerie feeling stirred Thomas as he stopped to silently stare at the dwelling. Goose bumps formed and a
tremble ran down his spine. An odd sensation told him that something wasn’t quire right about the old derelict
house. It was as he turned to go that he heard the far away voices.

As quiet as ripples on the wind the voices came. “Please, help us.”

Sounds of several children crying out at the same time came forward, “Help us.” “Please free us.”

Thomas stopped in mid-step; he couldn’t move. He quickly looked in all directions. Nothing.  He tried to speak;
no words came. After a moment—which seemed like an eternity—he was able to call out.

Quietly at first then stronger he shouted, “Is someone there? Hello, who are you? Are you there?”  

He stood for several more seconds waiting for a reply. Twice more he shouted; the voices did not return. After
a time he figured it must be a figment of his overworked imagination and started his slow jog back toward
town. As he topped the rise, he ventured one last backward glance.

As he did so, he could swear that he heard it again, “Help us please. Free us.”

Work kept him from going back along the bluffs for some time but he could not shake thoughts of the old house
and what he heard. One day, on impulse, he decided to find out as much as he could about that once
magnificent home. For the most part, his inquiries were met with stony silence. It seemed that no one in town
wanted to talk about it. His curiosity peaked even more. At the small weekly newspaper, searching through the
old files he found the entire gruesome story. It started in the early 1940s.

Jason Taylor was the last survivor of the town founding Taylor family. He was a prodigy. He graduated from
college at fourteen and received a doctorate in genetics at the age of nineteen. However, there was
something very wrong with Jason Taylor. He was a monster. He had absolutely no conscience and some say,
no soul. Ultimately, he died in an institution for the criminally insane. The story unfolded this way.

Jason and Wilson Taylor, twin boys, were born in 1930. Jason was the strong one. Wilson was very sickly and
some thought even mentally retarded. Wilson died at age two. As he grew and his knowledge increased, Jason
became obsessed with genetics, especially the genetic makeup of twins.

At the end of World War II Jason learned of the work of the NAZI criminal Doctor Josef Mengele. Mengele and
other so-called concentration camp doctors would torture Jewish children, Gypsy children and many others.
Their ‘Patients’ were put into pressure chambers, tested with drugs, castrated, frozen to death, and exposed
to various other traumas. Mengele had been especially interested in the genetics of twins. No one knows
exactly how many died by his hands during his gruesome experimentation. With his imagination thoroughly
peaked, Jason determined to secretly carry on Mengele’s work.

During the early 1950’s several sets of twins disappeared. Over a five-year period six sets were abducted in a
four state area. Five sets were never seen or heard of again. The last set was only recovered because of a
chance happening. Driving home from his latest crime, Jason was in a small traffic accident. When the police
arrived they found not only Jason out cold from the collision, but during a further search they found the
children bound and gagged in the trunk of his car. Jason was tried and sentenced to life in an institution for the
criminally insane. He died there.

Nothing was ever found of the other sets of twins. When Jason’s property was investigated the searchers
found a large furnace filled with ash. It was widely believed when the twins died during research their bodies
were burned in the furnace. The Taylor home was boarded up and padlocked. It had been that way for over
forty years.

Over the next several days Thomas thought hard about what he learned. Had he really heard voices at the old
Taylor place? Could the voices have been the cries of the long dead children? Maybe he was just over stressed
and overworked. Was there another answer?

Three days later, on a cold foggy morning, he again stood at the huge rusted mansion gates. At first he felt or
heard nothing until he reached out and touched the bars. A sudden feeling of unease engrossed him as an
electric quiver coursed through his body.

Quietly at first, then louder, he could again hear the cries, “Please help us. Please set us free.”

Dropping his tingling hands to his sides, he quickly jumped back. Yes, yes he did hear voices; he wasn’t
overworked, stressed or crazy. Okay, now what? He now truly believed that the long dead children were calling
to him. They needed his help to be set free. But how, how was he supposed to help them?

He stood for several minutes deep in thought. After some time he began to second-guess his earlier decision.
After all, long dead children couldn’t possibly be talking to him.

About to turn and leave the area, from out of fog came another voice came to him, a voice he knew so well,

To his right a figure stood in the thick veiled fog. It was a woman; it was his wife. She wasn’t standing exactly,
just floating on the misty cloud. He stared in disbelief as she again spoke.

“Hello my darling. You must help them, the children. Only you can set them free.”

Thomas was at first speechless.

After repeatedly licking his now desert dry lips he was finally able to speak and said, “Judy, is that really you.
How can this be?”

“Yes, it’s me. I have been sent to contact you, to convince you that you must help the children. You are the
chosen one.”

“What do you mean, chosen one? What can I do? How am I to help them?”

“Thomas, to free them you must destroy the house of evil. It must be consumed by fire just as were they.
Then and only then will they be free. I must go now. You have the power to set them free. Use your power.”

“Wait. Judy, don’t go. There is so much I want to ask . . .”

“No my darling, I must go now. I have been given my mission, my undertaking, now you have yours. Goodbye
my love-set the children free.”

As Thomas stared into the rolling mist, the figure quickly dissipated. In less than a second, she was gone. Had
she really been there? Yes, of course she had. He glanced back to the forbidding building. In that instant he
knew what had to be done.

It was almost moonrise on the second night when Thomas returned to the mansion. He slowly drove up the old
road to the rusted gate. After waiting for a full five minutes to make sure no one was around he slid the two
five-gallon gasoline cans underneath the entrance. Then, climbing the fence he lugged the lethal liquid up to
the house.  He pulled on rubber gloves and boots and using a small crowbar pried some boards off a back
window and entered. The interior was as dark and gloomy as he had anticipated it would be. A dank, musty
smell permeated the entire structure. His body stirred with an involuntary shudder. He wasn’t sure if it was from
the cold dampness, or possibly something more.

With the light from his small penlight he quickly located and descended the stairs to the basement. One can of
gasoline he spread over everything stored haphazardly about, then let a pool form in the center of the floor.
Back upstairs; he poured the second can of combustible material over all the old furniture and fixtures. When it
flared, the old house should go up quickly.

The raw gasoline smell was overpowering as moved back to the basement to set the timer. Since several
people in town knew he had been asking questions about the mansion he figured to be well away from here
when the fire started.

For the timer fuse he chose to use two candles and a length of string. One of the candles was the type found
in small glass holders. He made a small string basket to hang the candle about six feet above the concrete
floor.  He ran the string over a rafter and tied it to the bottom of a post. He then set the second candle, a
four-inch standup one, beside the post so that the sting touched it at about midpoint.

It was simple really. All Thomas had to do was light both candles. When the tall candled burned down to where
the string touched it would burn the string. The burned string would then drop the glass candleholder to the
concrete floor and the pooled gasoline. In theory the glass would shatter and the flame would ignite the pooled
gasoline. The old house would blaze quickly and brightly.

Figuring he had an hour, two at most, he put a match to both candles then quickly exited the house. From the
porch he removed the gloves and boots and tossed them back inside the broken window. If the house burned
as he expected, all traces of his handiwork would literally go up in smoke. Without a backward glance he
promptly scaled the fence, jump in his car and headed down the road to town.

Back at his apartment he took a quick shower to rid himself of any leftover gasoline residue or smell. His plan
was to have a couple of drinks and establish an alibi, just in case, so walked a couple of blocks to one of the
local bars.

One hour and fifty minutes later he was on his third beer when he heard the wailing sirens of the local
volunteer Fire Company. Someone ran in and shouted that the old Taylor place was on fire. The entire bar
patronage ran for the door. Everyone in town wanted to see that sight.

Thomas ran to his car he where he left it at his apartment. The trip to the bluff took almost ten minutes. By
then, the house was completely engulfed in gigantic bursting flames and the roof had partially fallen in. The
volunteer fire department truck sat parked at the gates. The firefighters stared helplessly as the old building
burned. No one knew who had the keys the extra heavy padlocks and no one thought to bring bolt cutters.
The firemen were anxiously waiting now for someone to bring some from town. Thomas hadn’t planned on that,
but it made things even better.

After about twenty minutes there wasn’t much remaining of the old house. Thomas stood his silent watch along
the side fence waiting for the last roof beams to fall. Suddenly, one set of figures after another rose from the
smoke and flames and slowly drifted upward. They aren’t really figures he thought, just wisps of smoke
resembling figures. However, as each set floated away he could hear them, the voices from afar.

Over and over he heard, “Thank you. Thank you for setting us free.”

After another ten minutes all the figures disappeared as the remaining walls completely tumbled into the flames.
Nothing recognizable remained of the notorious old house of evil. Thomas stared at what had been for a few
minutes then turned to go. He felt a calm assurance within, the first time in all those months, for he knew he
had done the right thing. Slowly walking away from the smoking ruin, one last quiet voice breached his
consciousness. It was the one voice that would be forever etched in his memory.

The voice simply said, “Thank you my love. You have used you power, you have set the children free.”
Voices from Afar