You might not know who that is. I didn’t. I had to Google him.
There was some stuff in my file too.
Back in the 1980s, he murdered seventeen people. It was a pretty big deal because of the way he did it. Look up the gory details yourself if you want. I’m not getting into any of that here.
Most adults, I’ve learned, seem to know the name pretty well because Dahmer got famous in the news and became the go-to guy for the term of the hour: SERIAL KILLER.
Male. White. Higher IQ. Underachiever. Bad wiring. Troubled childhood. Started collecting dead animals as a kid. Jump next to adulthood and the quiet Loner-Next-Door-Who-Never-Caused-a-Problem until the neighbors couldn’t ignore the strange smells. Twisted murders. Pervert stuff. Über body-count. The ultimate cliché. Perfect for an easy joke or a quick name-drop on some lame cop show.
In 1992, Jeffrey Dahmer was found guilty on fifteen counts of murder and got sentenced to a separate life term for each and every one. Almost a thousand years in prison. Hard-core. Most people can’t even imagine one.
Didn’t matter anyway.
Two years in, another prisoner beat Dahmer to death with a broom handle, Dahmer’s head and face beaten so badly that the guards at first couldn’t figure out who’d been killed.
The guy who did it claimed God had told him to. Could be.
Other reports say Dahmer arranged the killing himself as some kind of suicide.
Again, could be. That wouldn’t surprise me.
Most of this happened more than twenty years before I was born.
Before they made me in that lab. Before they made us.
It’s all still very confusing. You’ll understand more soon.
This is a story about blood.
The blood of family. And of science.
• • •
Everyone’s always so interested in “telling the truth.” The virtue of TRUTH. Getting to the bottom of it. Being honest. Etc. The whole world imposes this principle on you right from the start. And it’s all such absolute bullshit, really. It’s, ironically, a gigantic fat lie.
If everyone told the truth, even half the time, we’d probably all jump off a bridge.
Because we’d finally really know how terrible everyone else is. What we really thought about each other. All the disgusting things we’d really done that day. And so on.
It’s only the lies that keep everything going.
I know I was perfectly fine with the ones I’d been told.
• • •
I was told and believed my name was Jeff Jacobson and that I was born on April 18 sixteen years ago.
I was told and believed my mother and I were in a bad car accident when I was just five and this is why (a) I don’t have a mother, and (b) I can’t remember some things too well, and (c) my speech is a little off sometimes.
I was told and believed that the pretty dark-haired woman in the three photos throughout our house was my mother and that she’d loved me very much.
I was told and believed that my father was, well, my father. And that he also loved me.
Then that changed.
All of it. In a single night. Less, really. Fifteen, maybe twenty, minutes. The time it takes for a round of Call of Duty. It can happen that fast.
My dad—the eminent geneticist Dr. Gregory Jacobson, my fake father, the madman, Killer, Dr. Ripper; whatever we’re calling him now, whatever history will settle on—he comes into my room one night. And in that one simple everyday move, all those magnificent unspoiled lies went away and I got my first real fistfuls of Truth.
Pow! Wham! WTF?
I was told I’d been constructed in a laboratory just TEN years ago.
I was told I was a clone made from the DNA of some other guy.
I was told that other guy was a famous serial killer.
I was told this was all part of some top-secret science project to help make weapons for the United States government and that the government now probably wanted me dead.
I was told that I’d never had a mother beyond some Ukrainian girl paid to carry my fetus in her womb for only four months. (Even the egg had been genetically manufactured in a lab.) After that, I’d grown synthetically—brought to the physical/physiological maturity of an eight-year-old child in a little more than a year—in some sort of ultramodern tank.
I was told that there were others like me. Other clones. Some made from other killers. And also a few made from the same guy I’d been made from.
Finally, I was told that I was, therefore, a KILLER at the very core of my being.
And—my dad was quite clear on this part—there was absolutely NOTHING wrong with that.
• • •
This, apparently, was the kind of Truth everyone is so damn excited about.
• • •
After giving me this news, news I hadn’t even begun to process yet, my dad handed me a folder. He’d stopped talking, and the clear inference was I should now check out the papers inside. So I flipped through it while he watched me. I didn’t get so far. There was nothing inside that didn’t add to my total confusion.
I saw the name “JEFFREY DAHMER” for the first time in my life.
• • •
Inside the folder were pictures of a kid who I assumed was me.
But he wasn’t. He just looked like me.
And these were pictures of the kid in places I’d never been and with people I’d never met. Wearing clothes I’d never worn. In some of the pictures, the kid was even older than me.
There were also weird reports with confusing technical notes and charts.
My hands flipped through the pages in mere seconds. Or hours. I don’t know. (That whole night is still kind of a blur.) But I can tell you I didn’t understand what I was looking at. And any time I looked up to question or protest, my dad seemed to be looking right past me.
Not just like I wasn’t in the room anymore. But, worse, like he wasn’t.
I retreated back to the folder and eventually reached the pictures of—if I was to believe my father—dead people my “genetic source” had murdered. There were five faces on the first page alone. And a name beneath each one. My fingers hovering just over the page, tracing along their photos . . .
I slammed the folder closed and then down onto my bed.
My father smiled, something I’d not seen him do in months, and then stood. He first told me a phone number, a new number, and said I could call later if I ever needed to talk. What does that mean? Then he handed me an opened envelope stuffed with money and warned me again to keep away from DSTI (the company he worked for) AND the police. He said they were all working with the US government and I knew what that meant now.
But I had no clue “what that meant now.”
In fact, still nothing he was saying made any sense at all. Didn’t matter. Because that was it. The end of our conversation. Not one word about where he was going or what I was supposed to do.
He was just down the stairs and out the door and into the car and beyond the driveway and so on. Every preposition he could think of to vanish for good. To get away from me. If my dad even noticed me shouting in the driveway or chasing him down our street, I would never know.
I never saw him alive again.
• • •
Back into the house.
I called his cell phone. Nothing.
Tried a hundred times. Called his office. Nothing. Nothing.
Even tried that new phone number he’d just given me.
I checked out the money envelope he’d handed me. There were twenty fifty-dollar bills inside. A thousand dollars?!? I tossed the envelope onto my bed.
I picked up the folder and tried reading its contents again. Other than the pictures, it was just more graphs and dates and numbers and some biographical stuff about this Jeffrey Dahmer guy.
Born 1960. Grew up in Ohio. Dad a chemist. Kicked out of Army 1981.
And so on. Blah, blah, blah. I didn’t get much farther than I had the first time. Honestly, I’d stopped reading after it listed his first murder. (1978, by the way. Dahmer was only eighteen years old.)
I mostly just sat in the house for hours and hours and basically stared at the walls.
It became the world’s longest, most sucky Night of Nothing.
That was right around the time I decided to finally check out my father’s secret room.
That’s where all the Something was.
• • •
Hint: If your father has a secret room, he’s probably lying about all sorts of things.
• • •
This room was on the second floor of our house in a space between the master bedroom and one of the guest rooms. From the outside it looked just like any other wood-paneled wall. Just behind, within, however, was a room the size of a big walk-in closet. The people who lived in the house before us had apparently built it as one of those “panic rooms,” a place to hide when, like, looters or robbers attack.
My dad used it as a second office of sorts. I’d seen him go in more than a dozen times over the three years we’d lived there, but I’d never stepped a foot inside myself. He’d told me it was important stuff for work and then lectured me about privacy and trust. That had been enough to keep me away.
But mostly I kept away because of the way he looked whenever he went into that room or came out. In his face had been something sad and lost. But also something strong. Focused.
I just knew that whatever had come in and out of that room wasn’t entirely my dad anymore.
And that whatever was inside the room was not something I wanted any part of.
(Funny how that turned out, huh?)
Still, I had the key. I’d found a ring of spares one afternoon when my dad had been out, and I’d tried every one until the special panel unlocked. It had taken me, like, twenty minutes just to find the keyhole, it was so well hidden in the paneling. But I kept running my fingers along the wall until I did. I did not, however, go in. I just locked it again and hid the spare key in my own room. Just having it, having the option to enter that room if I ever really wanted, had been enough for me.
Now, I realize completely he always knew I’d taken that spare.
He’d wanted me to have it. Just another one of his little experiments for me. Left it precisely where I’d find it. Wanted me to see all that he’d been up to.
So I guess he got exactly what he wanted.
Because when I opened the door, the very first thing I saw was the dead guy.