John couldn’t think of a single good reason for a severed head to be in his bathtub. Not one. There was no blood to speak of – just a cleanly severed head lying in the center of the tub, staring up at the ceiling.
He struggled with how to react. He thought about vomiting, but the lack of blood failed to create a visceral impact – and he’d never been particularly squeamish to begin with. Screaming didn’t make much sense either. He didn’t feel particularly threatened at the moment, and the head wasn’t staring directly at him, so he didn’t feel challenged by it. His mind examined several other possibilities before he shrugged, said “Huh,” to no one in particular, and drew the curtain on the shower.
John walked back out of the bathroom, past the coat and briefcase that he’d set down not five minutes earlier, and sat down in his large recliner. He reached down, pulled the lever to put his feet up, and sighed. He thought about turning on the television and decided against it.
“I wonder if it’s still there?” he thought to himself.
“I should look.”
“No, I shouldn’t look.”
“I should look.”
“But what if it is still there?”
“Oh God, I can’t look.”
He looked. It was still there. He wasn’t sure if he was comforted or not by the fact that it still existed. On one hand, he clearly wasn’t crazy. On the other hand – well, there was a severed head in his shower. He did notice two things that he’d been too stunned to notice earlier, though.
First, the head was fairly pretty, all things considered. It looked like it had belonged to a young woman with high cheekbones and nice skin. It seemed a shame that it was now no longer attached to a body. He wondered if she’d be the kind of girl he’d talk to in a bar. Maybe she worked in accounting in an office just like his. He shivered involuntarily.
Second, in addition to the lack of blood in the tub, there was a conspicuous lack of dirt. John was a bachelor, and, as was his prerogative, he seldom cleaned his bathroom more than once a month. Now, however, the porcelain, grout and tile positively gleamed at him. They were, he felt, malevolently clean.
He shut the curtain again. “Shit.” He wasn’t sure what he was disturbed by more – that the head was present at all, or that whoever put it there took the time to clean his bathroom first.
“God, what do I do?”
“Call an ambulance? No, that seems silly.”
“Call the police? What do I tell them? What if they think I did it? Shit. Shit. Shit.”
He vacillated for a few minutes before deciding, finally, to call his mother. “Hi, Mom.”
“Yeah, I’m ok. Well, sort of ok. I’ve got a problem.”
“Yes, I know I only call when I have a problem.”
“No, I know I should call more.”
“Yes, Dad told me about his doctor’s appointment last time I called,” he said in exasperation, “Mom, I’ve got a problem.”
“No, I’m sorry. I know I’m not the only one with problems. I care about Dad, too.”
“Yes, I’ll talk to him.”
“No, I’ve never had that done.”
“Ok. I love you, too. Can you put Mom back on?”
“Hi Mom, look, I need to ask your advice.”
“I found a head in my shower.”
“No, a real one.”
“No, just the head.”
“I have no idea where the body is.”
“No – nobody I recognize.”
“No, I haven’t called the police yet. That’s what I wanted to…”
“Ok, ok. I’ll call them right now.”
He hung up, rubbed his hand through his sandy, blonde hair, called the police, and then waited.
“Hrmph. That’s the third one this week,” the officer said as he surveyed the bathtub. He’d shown up within five minutes of the call, which both surprised and pleased John. He didn’t expect a premium to be put on already-severed heads, but he was glad that they took him seriously.
“Third one?” John said, surprised.
“Yeah, it’s been something of an epidemic,” he said, distractedly, as he picked a piece of lint off of his sleeve. “I’ve never seen anything quite like it.”
The officer motioned to the tub, “You normally keep your shower this spotless?”
John had always heard that police, firemen, and surgeons had ways of coping with the horror that confronted them on a daily basis: gallows humor, irony, and the like. It helped them keep their distance and not get overwhelmed by the reality of their jobs – but the question stuck him as unnecessarily callous. “No, not usually. It wasn’t that clean this morning.”
“I see. Well, that certainly fits the pattern.” The officer drew the curtain back across the tub, turned, and smoothed down the front of his uniform.
“Yeah, these types always have a specific pattern. Whether that’s a symptom of their illness or just the method to their madness, it’s hard to say. In this case, it seems that the perpetrator is a real stickler for cleanliness.”
“That seems odd.”
“I suppose,” the officer cocked his head to the side and smiled wanly. “I suppose I should tell you this now,” he paused.
John suddenly felt uncomfortable for the first time. “Go on.”
“There’s more to this killer’s pattern.”
“It seems that whoever finds the head ends up becoming the next victim.”
John blanched. “What?”
“Every time I get a call from someone, I show up, and then the next day someone else is calling about that same person.”
“Oh.” John’s eyes widened as he noticed the officer’s crisply pressed uniform and immaculately polished shoes. The walls of the bathroom suddenly felt far too close together.
“You know,” said the officer, “you’ve got really nice cheekbones – very high. And really nice skin.” He smiled – his teeth a gleaming porcelain white. They were, John felt, almost malevolently clean.
Karen couldn’t understand why there was a severed head in her refrigerator. It was cleanly cut, without a trace of blood to threaten dripping into the bowl of fruit salad below it. What’s more, it looked like the entire fridge had been wiped down – it was spotless.
She closed the refrigerator door, waited a minute, and then opened it again. The head was still there, starting past her out into the kitchen. It was, she noticed, a handsome head – its sandy blonde hair framing high cheekbones and very nice skin – almost like her own.
After a moment of shock, she called the police.