This piece is a throwback! I wrote this in 2009 when I was at sixth-form college – it’s a piece of coursework for my English A-Level. We studied Truman Capote’s In Cold Blood and had to write a creative piece based on the text. I thought long and hard and attempted several different pieces but they didn’t feel quite right and I wanted to submit something original. I can’t remember exactly how I settled upon this idea – to write a piece from the point of view of the house where the murders took place. For those unfamiliar with In Cold Blood, it’s the true story about the brutal murder of the Clutter family in Kansas in the 1950s. Herbert and Bonnie Clutter had two teenage children, Nancy and Kenyon, and the family were murdered one night during a bungled robbery – the thieves believed that the family was wealthy and kept a large amount of cash in the house, but this wasn’t the case. The killers were eventually caught and executed. The house still stands today and the owners have offered tours for a fee in the past. I was, and still am, incredibly pleased with how this piece turned out; I think this is one of my best pieces of writing, which is why I wanted to post it here. It was this piece that gave me the idea for The Yew Tree’s Story.
I liked where I was, I say ‘was’ rather than ‘lived’ because people live in houses; houses don’t really live anywhere, we just are. River Valley Farm was a nice place to be, a little way off the main road on the outskirts of Holcomb, so quiet – it’s not surprising that I was the only one who heard the guns go off all those years ago. After the incident I didn’t like the location much, it was just horribly lonely; just me at the end of that long driveway with only the Chinese Elms for company, and the flashbacks of that evening. The flashbacks run endlessly, like a stuck record, the men driving the car, the footsteps on the stairs, the knife, the gun, the blood, the cloud of dust as the car pulled away, leaving behind four of the most righteous people who ever lived. Slain.
Back then I was one of the finest houses in the neighbourhood- decorative, and spacious, two storeys high! People passing by would point at me, clearly impressed: “What a fine looking house” they’d say. I was designed and built by Herb Clutter. They say paintings are a reflection of the artist, so I felt a part of Herb in me; I was his painting, his design. I felt that part of me go when he died, I was devastated. It’s all different now; my coat of white paint is not so well cared for as it was back then. The ivy has begun to creep up from the ground, gradually choking me, like a disease. The bedrooms have changed; becoming a tourist attraction with the new owners giving guided tours of where the murders happened. The rattle of money changing hands, the clicks of cameras and the monotony of the tour script echoing endlessly: “On your left you will see the corner where Kenyon was found dead- shot through the head of course”. The rooms have been re-painted, concealing the splattered bloodstains, except for one. Despite attempts to remove it, the pale pink bloodstain remains where Herb was killed down in the basement.
I remember that last day so well; it started like any other with the Clutter family. Herb woke before everybody else, silently dressing, drinking a quick glass of milk, donning his hat and going outside, taking his apple with him. It was a perfect morning, an autumn breeze gently rustling the leaves on the trees, a few silvery clouds scudding lazily across the deep-blue sky. That night the full moon shone down from the sky, illuminating my walls and casting my shadow over the drive, so I was the only one who saw the black Chevrolet silently approaching through the darkness.
Every evening, after bidding Goodnight to each other, the Clutters went to their separate rooms, Nancy, Kenyon and Bonnie upstairs, and Herb in the master bedroom downstairs. Nancy’s room was the best; she took such pride in it, her own utopia of pinks, blues and white. Kenyon’s room was always a bit of a mess, littered with the books, and little grey radio he loved so much. The spare room, which had become Bonnie’s, was quite plain. She used to share the master bedroom, but had moved upstairs when depression set in, taking only her Bible, and an assortment of nightgowns and socks with her. After retiring on that fateful evening, Bonnie, Kenyon and Herb went straight to sleep, Nancy didn’t, and she was the only one awake when the men arrived.
I knew this family so well, every act, I had witnessed, Kenyon’s secret smoking, Bonnie’s tears, hidden in shame, Herb’s anxiety as he worked on the accounts, and Nancy’s private telephone conversations. I knew them better than anyone else and no words can describe how inadequate I felt as I watched the Clutters being slaughtered, entirely unable to help them, entirely incapable of comforting them. I wanted to be able to allay Herb’s pain as he tried and failed to scream, instead, he gargled pathetically, blood spurting out of his slit throat. I wanted to reassure Kenyon as he heard this harrowing tumult, aware that he may soon experience such a death. I wanted to soothe Bonnie and Nancy as they lay, tied up in their rooms, helplessly listening to Herb being tortured, and Kenyon being shot, and waiting for their turn. I could do nothing, except watch.
The day after the murders, Nancy’s friends discovered the family’s corpses and ran away screaming. Police and detectives soon arrived, removing the bodies of my dear Clutters and that was the last I ever saw of them. For a long time the investigation yielded nothing. One of the chief detectives, Alvin Dewey, used to borrow the Clutter’s keys from the office and let himself in here. He would wander between the rooms, looking frustrated. His finger tips ran across my walls as he climbed the stairs with the precession of walking on hot coals, the words he wearily muttered were just audible: “If only walls could talk”