CONTENT WARNING: This update contains vivid descriptions of self-injury and gore.
The cell they put him in is covered in layers of dust from disuse. Landis gets the feeling that there isn’t usually much need for people to be locked up like this in Antlers - from the little he’s seen of it while stopping in on supply runs, it seems like every other sleepy Midwestern town. He almost wishes they had left him in the interrogation room, because here in the cell, he doesn’t have anything to anticipate. Without the looming threat of another conversation with a deputy, he’s just left to stare at the wall and imagine what’s going to happen to him. Did whoever they sent to the lake get dragged in?
Landis doesn’t have to wait long for an answer. The clicking of shoes on the shiny tiled floor heralds the arrival of someone new, a woman he caught a brief glimpse of while being ushered into the interrogation room. Her name tag reads MAXWELL, and with the way she carries herself, she must have some authority around here. That’s right. The officer from before said there was a Sheriff Maxwell.
The Sheriff’s eyes are steely as she fixes them on Landis. “I just got off the phone with one of my consultants. He’s at your lake house right now.”
Not dead, then. Landis swallows. “And?”
“He tells me you were lying about having a dog to feed.” The sheriff steps closer to the cell. Her whole demeanor is composed and unreadable, and it makes Landis’s stomach twist into a tight knot. “He also says it’s likely that you’ve killed at least eight people in the past four years.”
“Oh, they’re good,” Mal murmurs from the corner of the cell, where he’s been silent up until this point. “You might as well confess now and save yourself the trouble.”
“What?” Landis sputters at the sheriff, trying very hard to ignore Mal. “That’s impossible. I haven’t killed anyone.”
“My consultant advised me to look up the members of your old band. Paper Museum? It’s interesting how there have been missing persons reports filed on every other band member but yourself, Mr. Holliday.”
Landis feels like a bug with pins stuck through its wings as he squirms under Sheriff Maxwell’s gaze. He can feel cold sweat beading on his arms and the back of his neck, and his heart is threatening to batter through his ribcage and leap right out of his chest. Maybe he’ll faint. It would be a temporary out at least, but he’d still wake up right here, in this cell.
“I-I don’t know anything about that,” Landis stammers. “I haven’t talked to any of them in years.”
Sheriff Maxwell gives him a wry smile. “Is that so?”
“We broke up.”
“Well,” Sheriff Maxwell says, in a tone of voice that indicates she knows Landis is lying, “my consultant and I have reason to believe that if we drag the bottom of the lake next to your property, it will turn up the bones of Malcolm Baker, Danton Van Spall, Jeremy Pope, Wesley Noone, and possibly others.”
“If the bones are still there,” Mal says dryly.
“How do you know that?” Landis asks. There’s no way that anyone else would be able to know about the bodies in the lake. Not unless they can also see the ghosts in the lake house, but Landis is pretty sure only he can do that. Mal follows him around just about everywhere these days, and no one has acknowledged it yet, aside from a few people complaining of a chill when they get too close or pass through Mal.
“My consultant is good at what he does, Mr. Holliday.” The sheriff turns her back on him and walks away, the clicking of her shoes on the floor echoing even as she turns the corner and disappears from sight.
Mal barks out a laugh. “Well, this couldn’t have gone worse.”
“Shut up,” Landis snaps.
Landis grinds his teeth together. Think, goddammit. There’s so much going on here. Either the consultant at the lake house is some kind of genius, or he can see the ghosts like Landis can. Either way - the consultant is alive, the lake still needs to be fed, and Landis hasn’t seen what the time is in a while but he’s sure he only has about two hours left to do it. Maybe if he gets there in time he can slit the consultant’s throat and throw him into the lake. Or maybe - maybe there’s a cleaner solution. One that doesn’t involve killing any more people than he already has.
“I’m going back to the lake,” he says abruptly, sealing his decision by saying it out loud.
“Are you?” Mal laughs again. “To do what? Feed it? They’re just going to come after you and arrest you again.”
“I’m going to throw myself in.” Landis’ voice waivers but he barely thinks about the words as they come out of his mouth. It feels right. He’s creating a closed circle.
“You’re - oh.” Mal pauses. “How are you going to get out of here?”
Landis already has half an idea. He scans the cell for anything he can use and comes up empty - it’s largely barren except for the hard cot he’s been using as a seat. But that’s alright. He can make do with what he has.
Wrists? No. Too messy. Too easy to fuck it up and die. Don’t want to bleed out on the way to the lake. Landis surveys his own body, taking a silent inventory. Nothing below the knees - can’t impair movement. Too many major arteries in the neck. Tongue - painful, maybe? It’ll have to do.
If he thinks too hard about what he’s doing to himself, he might back out, so Landis clamps his teeth down on his tongue only half a second after the thought crosses his mind. It’s painful. More painful than he’d thought, even - it hurts hard enough to make him tear up even before his teeth start to slice through it. What’s the chance that all of this is a horrible nightmare? If I die, I wake up, right?
Blood starts to gush out of the jagged hole his teeth are making, hot and thick, filling Landis’s mouth with the taste of pennies. It starts to run down his throat, and he thinks for a brief, hysterical moment that he must be drowning. He’s going to fill his own lungs with blood and drown right here in this dusty jail cell.
“Jesus,” Mal whispers.
Landis’s vision is white with pain, and he doesn’t have the energy to scream, so he makes pathetic, whimpering sounds through his clenched teeth. Blood forms in bubbles at the corners of his lips and pops, staining his pale skin red. His jaw muscles are tight as a vise, and it’s a struggle to force them open again before he shears his entire tongue off, or too much to be able to speak. It has to be just enough to look serious. Just enough blood and gore to cause a panic.
His teeth come apart, finally, but his tongue is still burning with pain. Landis flops it around experimentally - it’s still all in one piece, but the gash in it feels huge and yawning, like a mouth of its own. Landis clenches his throat and spits up a mouthful of blood and phlegm onto the floor with an awful, retching noise.
Someone’s coming down the hallway - the tell-tale sound of shoes clicking is around the corner for a third time. It’s Officer Alvarez. He stops a yard away from Landis’s cell, but even from a distance it’s possible to see the color draining out of his face. Landis looks down at the blood all over his shirt and the floor. Maybe he thinks I’m dead already.
He looks at Officer Alvarez and tries to say “help” or “hospital”, but the words won’t come out through all the blood in his throat, and all he can manage is an awful gurgling.
“Shit,” Officer Alvarez says weakly. “Your tongue?” Landis nods, and the officer looks like he might throw up. “Okay. Okay. I’ll get you out of here. Get you some water. Ice? I don’t know.” He turns to yell down the hall, “Someone call an ambulance, god damn it!”
Officer Alvarez fumbles with the keys on his belt, and Landis tries very hard not to smile as he hears one of them click gently in the lock on the cell door.