A Disturbing Presence
Joy Lee Rutter
? 2003 by Joy Lee Rutter.
All rights reserved.
Dedicated to my late great-uncles, who I never met, Phillip and William. Institutionalized from brain injuries at the hands of their father, during an era when silence was not so golden. May they rest in peace. In addition, I dedicate my book to my late mother, Josephine, and my son Michael (1971-1975), both of whom I dearly miss. Dedication also goes to my father
Raymond, my sister Cheryl, and my brothers Alan and Ron. My husband, Roger, who encouraged me from the beginning, even during my reluctance to continue with what I felt, was a book too extreme to for publication. Last but not least, my children Jason, Darin, Jonathan, Tim and Joel, and my stepchildren, Martina, Derek, Amanda, Brenton, and Hayley.
The stench of musty soil permeated his nostrils while the man cultivated the earth. He turned over the old weeds and withered flowers from the previous year. An elderly woman sat in the shade of the gazebo, and watched, while the man toiled away, turning over the soil. Every year, in May, she started her garden.
He dug up the earth until he began to descend; slowly sinking into the hollow he had created. As he gradually dropped into the pit, the soil began to surround his lower extremities and rise. He tried to climb out of the trench as it rose higher, but his feet held fast. Slowly, the earth entrapped him to his chest and penetrated the air he breathed. The clay enclosed around his neck as he sank deeper; it covered his eyes, blinding him.
A small earthworm slithered about his face, tunneling through the soil that began to suffocate him. The woman talked about her garden with enthusiasm, oblivious of the man‟s
difficulty. The earthworm produced another head and began to tunnel through the man‟s
nostrils. As the worm found its way through his flesh and into his nasal cavity, another worm appeared…and another. The new worms produced a second head, as had the first. Unable to
see, unable to hear, unable to breathe, the man‟s terror intensified while the mutating worms began to remove flesh…
He shook himself awake, drenched in sweat, trembling with fright from the recurring nightmare. Unable to fall back asleep, Eric McDuggal arose from his bed. He picked up the lazy cat, cradling her to his chest while he stooped over to pet a large German shepherd on the head. He spoke words of praise to his animals while he plodded into the kitchen, still holding the cat. Hearing footsteps, he turned around to face his wife of over seven years.
“Eric, it is three in the morning. Why are you up?”
“Go back to bed and leave me be,” he muttered.
She turned away, but did not get far.
Her husband‟s face contorted into a mask of sadness. “It‟s cancer. The doctor found a rare,
invasive form of…cancer.”
“Eric, oh my God. No. Please…”
The man turned away from her and ordered, “Go back to bed and do not display pitiful
emotions in my presence.”
In stunned silence, she turned away from him and retired to her own bedroom, while Mr. McDuggal stroked his elderly cat, Brigette. He watched his wife walk away without another word.
Staring out the kitchen window, he looked toward the ground; once alive with flowers his Grandmother Emma so enjoyed many years ago. Emma loved bright colors, and the garden came alive with the most vibrant hues imaginable. She spent most of her summer days tending the grounds, or sipping tea under the shade of the gazebo.
As the solemn man trudged through the manor with his faithful dog beside him, he glanced upstairs. While his wife walked down the long hallway, he watched her. She stopped when she sensed him looking at her. Their eyes met, and he began to speak, but the words caught in his throat. Without a word, he turned away and entered his private study; his faithful dog lie down beside him as he began his day.
After he tossed a banana peel toward the trash can, and missed by a yard, Ed Simon
mumbled, “I have sunk to a new low.” He sat, feet propped on the desk, killing off hostile
centipedes with continual blasts on his old dinosaur computer. Too bad the old machine crashed. It was useless other than playing old DOS games. Business was slow and the gray mist hanging over the drab September day worsened his apathetic mood. He glanced at the line-up of used Styrofoam cups on his cluttered desk. It‟s time for a new direction.
He stood up, kicked a discarded box out of his way, and walked into the front office. Eric McDuggal had just arrived with a gray cat nestled in his arms. I have met a few oddballs in my
life, but this guy wrote the instruction manual, Ed thought, while he observed the tall lanky
man with red hair and piercing green eyes. McDuggal‟s thin lips and long narrow nose
intensified his morose features. He was not a pleasant person, often described as brusque.
“Hello, Mr. McDuggal.” Ed had not seen McDuggal in ten years.
Eric returned the greeting with a nod, looked down at his cat, and then averted his eyes.
Ed motioned Eric toward the door. “Please bring your cat this way.”
Eric followed Ed into the next room. While Mr. Simon walked ahead to his lab, McDuggal wandered about, looking at pictures of Ed‟s past work. He was speaking to his cat
Brigette, in whispered tones.
Ed requested that he bring her to the table. He did so with reluctance. His eyes met Mr. Simon‟s for the first time while he put the cat on the table. McDuggal was not an easy man to get to know.
This was about to change for Ed Simon.
Eric took a deep breath, and then said, “I am terminally ill, Ed. It is cancer.” He paused, a
despondent look shrouding his face, and then continued, “I…have a rare type. It is too far
advanced and no hope for a cure.” McDuggal‟s curt manner was unnerving.
“Jesus. I am very sorry to hear that.” It was an awkward moment. Unable to speak further,
Ed turned his attention to the cat. He positioned her, examining her body shape.
“I have to arrange for my passing. I detest the tradition of burial.” Eric had a strange way
“Cremation is the usual choice, I suppose.”
Eric shook his head in an awkward sideways motion. “No. I will not be incinerated and
turned into ash.” Looking at his cat, his stance erect, he crossed his arms and added, “I want to
be freeze-dried after my death, just as you have done with my pets.”
Ed Simon is a taxidermist. Brigette had died two days ago and McDuggal brought in the body so Ed could freeze-dry her, a procedure that takes several weeks.
His reaction to this unusual request was stunned silence. It stopped Ed in his tracks. He looked up at McDuggal, and said, “I mount hunting trophies, fish, fowl, and the occasional pets. Your request for human preservation is unthinkable, Mr. McDuggal.”
Ed began measuring the cat, hiding the disgust he felt over this lunatic‟s request.
Eric watched Ed work with his cat, and then said, “I have given it some thought. I have a
chair that is part of my grandmother‟s estate. That is where I wish to be displayed after my death.”
Ed looked at the man, focusing on his cold steely eyes. He noticed the way McDuggal‟s
thin lips formed a straight line. There was not a hint of a smile or a frown. “Have you
considered a mortician? I do not embalm, freeze-dry or preserve people sitting, standing or
lying down. Subject closed. I‟m sorry.”
“The mortician will have to be involved. The laws and such...” Eric displayed impatience
while he added, “I am prepared to pay generously and in advance.”
Ed shook his head in disbelief. “Sorry, but still no.”
“Think about it. I am contacting my lawyer and the mortician regardless of your decision. Your work is the best in New England, and we go back. Your grandfather preserved my childhood pets and you have taken over…and mounted some over the past few years. I trust
you. Please, do not refuse my request hastily. The amount of money I am offering will persuade you to preserve my remains, with the assistance of an experienced mortician.”
Ed looked squarely at the man with the high cheekbones, and sharp features, exhaled, and said, “Eric, preserving a human corpse is unethical and I‟m sure, illegal.”
“I will not accept no for an answer,” McDuggal abruptly said and then turned to leave
with a wave of his long narrow hand.
His stride along the sidewalks of the quaint New England town, Mt. Chocorua, was brisk. He seemed to have purpose; more so than when he came in that morning with the frozen corpse of his cat.
Amazing that he walks the streets among normal civilization, Ed thought as he watched
McDuggal walk away.
Ignoring the Private sign on the door, Eric McDuggal barged into Jonathan Wallbrook‟s
office, and said, “Hello. Are you the mortician?”
“Yes, I am. May I help you?”
The man‟s lack of charm matched his unattractive features. Standing across from the
mortician, he said, “My name is Eric McDuggal. I would like to make my arrangements.”
Jonathan sat down at his desk, and pointing to a chair in front of him said, “Sit down,
please. What do you mean by your arrangements?”
Eric sat down. “After my passing.”
“Ahh, I see. You are planning your own funeral.”
Eric‟s cold steely eyes studied the man, and then he said, “Yes, but not quite. Who is in
charge of embalming?”
The mortician was intrigued with this forceful man. He folded his arms on the desk, leaned forward and said, “Well, Mr. McDuggal, that would be me. I am the funeral director,
and I handle all mortuary services.” Wallbrook was an energetic man with a droll appearance. The mortician‟s facade took over when needed, in a somber and, at times, sympathetic
business manner. A throwback from the 1960s Hippie Era, he also carried a nonconformist persona of which some people found unnerving, others endearing.
Eric asked, “What do you use for embalming?”
Wow, this guy‟s riding the edge. “It‟s a mixture of formalin, with alcohol, propylene
Eric interrupted, “How long does it last?”
“I don‟t understand.”
“Tell me what your chemicals do. How long does it keep? I do not want to decompose, Mr.
Jonathan was experienced in keeping his composure as a mortician, but this man was pushing all the buttons. “The embalming fluid will not allow that to happen. You will be
preserved for the viewing, and you will uh…keep for quite a long time-”
“No, I am not interested in being viewed in a casket. I wish to be permanently preserved
and seated, not lying down.”
His mouth fell open. Although Jonathan had received his share of unusual requests more often than he cared to admit, this was, by far, the strangest. “I see. My experience is
embalming, Mr. McDuggal. It is not done as a long-term preservative. Eventually you will…you know—decompose.”
“There is no eventually in my request, Mr. Wallbrook. I am prepared to pay a generous amount to the man willing to preserve my remains. I am terminally ill, and do not have the option of time to wait for it to be ethically acceptable.”
It was too much. Jonathan was dumbfounded. He stood up and looked out the window to conceal his amusement over this man‟s audacity. “Forgive my reluctance, sir, but I‟ve never
gone beyond the traditional techniques of embalming.”
McDuggal stood up and joined Wallbrook near the window. He removed his wallet from his pocket and said, “Pets from my childhood have been dead…some for several years. They
are in my home, displayed beautifully. Here is a picture.”
While Eric pulled out a few pictures of his preserved pets, Jonathan said, “You are talking
about taxidermy, which is limited to animals. Human preservation is not even considered in this country.” While he glanced at the photos that Eric offered, he continued, “You‟re in the wrong building, Mr. McDuggal. Have you spoken to the man that did your pets?”
“Yes. With your experience, and Ed‟s work with freeze-drying, it can be done.”
“So, humor me. Am I to understand that you want a taxidermist and a mortician involved
in preserving your remains?”
Eric took his pictures, and put them back in his wallet. He sat back down and looked directly at Jonathan. “Yes. That would be correct.”
Jonathan shook his head, amazed at the courage of the man. He thought, this man is either
on drugs, or needs to be. He tapped a pencil on the desk, and then said, “I am intrigued, but
not certain if it‟s possible. There are laws that might prohibit your request. What did you say your first name is?”
Pausing, Jonathan sat back down, and said, “Allow me to do some research, Eric. Do you
have a business card, or an e-mail address?”
“I will call you. My wife is unaware of my wishes.”
Jonathan stood up and said, “Whoa there, and hold the phone. Your proposal needs some
major tweaking.” He paused, then added, “When you call me, I‟ll have some answers. In the
meantime, call your attorney for guidance and perhaps some sort of contract.”
Eric stood up with abruptness and said, “Thank you and good day, Mr. Wallbrook.”
“Jonathan. Call me Jonathan.”
“Yes, Jonathan. I will be in touch,” Eric said as he walked out with a slight wave and a
Wallbrook Funeral Home was a beautifully restored late 18th century home with high
ceilings and arched doorways trimmed in carved oak frames. Jonathan owned and operated the home with impeccable business strategy and compassion. He was the sort that would go out of his way to honor a client‟s request, but this was beyond his limits.
Nonetheless, he was intrigued. He sat down at his computer to research the internet for fulfillment of the most bizarre proposal he had ever received.
The next morning, McDuggal walked into the lawyer‟s office, unannounced and without
Seating himself across from Adams, he said, “I need to draw up a will, Mr. Adams.”
“I work by appointment only. Right now is not a good time, Mr. McDuggal. Please stop
by the receptionist and make an appointment-”
Eric cut in, “I cannot hold off long. I am…ill. Cancer.”
Stunned, Carl said, “I am quite sorry to hear that.” He sat up in his chair, and lowering his
tone, added, “You still need an appointment and we will draw up your will.”
“There is one other matter to discuss. I will need a contract for special services and you may be able to help.”
“Mr. McDuggal, the receptionist-”
“I want an alternative to normal funeral services. I would like my remains preserved and displayed in my home, after my passing, by a mortician and possibly a taxidermist.”
Mr. Adams sat up straight, and with a raised eyebrow, he said, “Are you serious? Your
request is absurd.”
“I am willing to pay a large sum of money.”
“It‟s not the money, Mr. McDuggal. It‟s just not done.”
Eric sat forward, put his elbows on the desk that separated him from the attorney, and
demanded, “Then research the laws and find the loopholes. I will make the appointment, Mr. Adams. Call Jonathan Wallbrook. I have spoken to him and he suggested that I have a contract
drawn up and he will honor my request.”
Adams was not accustomed to the likes of this man. He said with a hint of irritation, “You
are wasting my time, Mr. McDuggal. I am a very busy man. Make an appointment for the will.
We will talk then. Good day.”
As Eric strode out of the attorney‟s office, Carl Adams picked up the phone and called his
brother Phillip. “Hey, remember that bet we had a few years ago?”
“Uh, no, refresh my memory, Carl,” said the voice on the other end.
With a boisterous chuckle, Carl said, “You‟ve had a few strange clients, with outlandish
requests for legal services, right? You bet that I‟d never be able to top that guy that wanted custody of his ex-wife‟s ashes.”
“Oh yeah. Raymond Andrews. He won custody of the ashes. Later, he called me roaring drunk to announce he‟d flushed her down the…”
“Yeah, yeah, I heard. Phil, get out your wallet. I win the bet hands
down. Listen to this…”
McDuggal lived in an exclusive neighborhood. The few people that knew him, described him as eccentric. Children were afraid of his ominous presence. Adults shunned the aloof character. Animals, on the other hand, approached him with a trusting zeal.
The elusive Eric McDuggal sat in his private study with his cocker spaniel, Lucy, lying at his feet. He became preoccupied at his desk, typing up documents of which only he had access. The computer was the only 21st century item Eric allowed in his study. It was a large room, furnished with Grandmother Emma‟s antiques and Eric enjoyed the room as his place of
His favorite chair was a 19th century Victorian parlor rocker. The focal point of the room was a rare late 1800s solid cherry roll-top desk. Items surrounding the computer were from an earlier era; an inkwell, feathered pens, and an antique typewriter. An enormous glass-front bookcase shelved hundreds of books, both old and new. Next to that, there stood an old oak filing cabinet. An Oriental carpet with a red background interwoven in black and yellow partly covered the lustrous hardwood floor. A red velvet French parlor sofa, adorned with a handmade quilt by Emma‟s mother, was against the wall.
Several old photos of Emma sat on the desk, and hung on the walls. Widowed four years before Eric‟s birth, Emma raised Eric from the age of two, after his parents died in an airplane
Her late husband, Stanley McDuggal, was the Mt. Chocorua Bank president and a major stockholder.
He fell in love with the lovely, young Emma when she worked as the bank secretary in 1928. Their marriage produced two sons, David and William.
War took the life of William, leaving David McDuggal as their only son. David married Emily Johaansen shortly after his father died of heart failure, and three years later, Eric was born. The young couple‟s tragic death nearly did Emma in. If it were not for her grandson Eric,
she would have died of heartache.
Eric grew up in the enormous, well-built Victorian manor. Grandma Emma passed away when he reached adulthood and left everything to Eric, including her strong „work ethic‟
Because of Eric‟s appreciation for historic furnishings, he owned an antique shop,
primarily a hobby of which he took great pride. McDuggal lived in the beautiful old manor with his wife of nearly eight years, Leanna.
His wife was an attractive young woman with dark brown hair. Her medium length natural curls hung loose and complemented her oval-shaped face. Leanna McDuggal was a friendly, outgoing person with a ready smile and sparkling blue eyes.
She walked past the French doors, and glanced at Eric through the lacy curtains, wondering what was on her husband‟s mind. His back was to her; he did not sense her
watching him. I wish he would break down that damn wall…he has so pushed me away. She
knocked on the glass panel of the door and then walked in. He glanced at her, stopped what he was doing and then looked away into an empty void.
“Is there something you need?”
“Yes, Eric…I need your company, and…to talk. We are so distant.”
“Leanna, please…leave me at peace.” His tone was flat. His eyes cold.
Leanna shook her head with weariness, turned away and left the room.
Accustomed to his detachment from her and his cold manner of speech, she had become callous to it. Other times, it brought about a grim mood she could not dispel.
Looking back at him through the glass door, she stared at the strange way his wavy red hair stayed in place as if trained. Her mind wandered to when she had met Eric McDuggal in his antique shop. Leanna did not attribute friendliness to the shrewd shopkeeper, but her enjoyment of antiques kept her in his shop long enough for her to take notice of him. His demure, eccentricity attracted her and she returned to his shop often. She never walked out empty handed.
One day Leanna told him about a Queen Anne chair she owned and she wanted an appraisal. Mr. McDuggal offered to come by and see it. Three days later, he paid a visit to her modest home. Impressed by her collection of antiques and her flair for decorative talent, he offered her a job in his shop. McDuggal had a strong dislike of what he called „junk store‟
antique shops. His goal was to fashion his business reminiscent of a beautiful and enormous nineteenth-century home. He had a feeling that Leanna would turn his large amount of inventory into an attractive business establishment.
She accepted the offer, and it did not take long for Eric to realize that his hunch was right. Not only did his business flourish with a woman‟s touch, he began to take notice of Leanna
Eric was not a demonstrative man. The courtship was brief. His proposal was equal to that of a business arrangement. Leanna accepted because she fell in love with Eric and she was certain that he loved her, in his own way. McDuggal was thirty-seven and Leanna was twenty-two.
The McDuggal manor was lavishly furnished. He made no changes after Grandmother Emma‟s death. It took a while for Leanna to become used to its impressive size. She felt
overwhelmed by the huge Victorian manor, which stood three stories tall. The housekeeper, Hannah, did her best to acquaint Leanna to her new surroundings.
The pets were a part of Eric‟s life that his bride had to accept. She knew that the German
shepherd Maurice and the puppy Lucy were her husband‟s “first loves.” Maurice was a loner,
much like Eric and remained aloof. He was a devoted one-man dog. Lucy, the cocker spaniel, was an adorable little female that thrived on praise, and chaffed at a scolding. She rarely left Eric‟s side. The Siamese kitten Cynthia and Russian Blue, Brigette, were beautiful felines that enjoyed the utmost of care and affection. Eric later bought the canary, Elias, in 1998. His cage hung in the study, and Elias sang often, more so when Eric was present.
Pets from his past were preserved and displayed throughout the home. Beautifully mounted was the Siberian husky, Gordon, a permanent fixture in the living room. Gordon died of old age a few years before Leanna met Eric. The other dog, a beautiful golden retriever, Jake and the cats Moe, Ringo, Pauletta, and Lady, were also a part of the home‟s decorum. It
took some time for Leanna to adapt to his pets‟ remains in the home, but they were a part of
his past and she gradually learned to accept their presence.
After the first year of their marriage, something changed. Eric became preoccupied. He had shut down most communication with her, with no explanation—he was more attentive
toward the house pets than with Leanna. He had a glum look about him, an ominous presence that made his wife ill at ease.
Leanna felt responsible, often wondering if it was something she did, or did not do.
Her thoughts returned to the present. The couple had been married for nearly eight years by this time. Eric slept in a separate bedroom the past seven years, keeping his distance from his wife. Work at the antique shop was business-like. If customers were present, the couple presented a cordial veneer.
Leanna still loved her husband and, although communication had ended long ago, she chose to maintain the relationship. Living with a detached husband became endurable for Leanna in due course, as she kept busy with the antique shop, and kayaking during her leisure in the summer. In the winter, her source of pleasure was cross-country skiing, snowshoeing, reading or her artwork. Talented with a unique style in oils, her paintings were brilliant.
A few months ago, when Eric told Leanna he was ill, he allowed no further discussion on the subject. She spent a week in her room, engulfed in sorrow.
After Eric had taken the cat to the taxidermist earlier in the week, Leanna sensed something different in his mood. She was uncertain of what it was and did not ask.
Before turning in, she looked in on him and said, “Good night, Eric.”
He did not reply.
The dogs stayed by his side, while the canary sang in his cage. There seemed to be a silent communication between Eric and his animals. She glanced jealously at the little gathering of Eric and his pets.
“Good night, Eric…” she repeated.
Again, Eric did not reply, nor did he glance in his wife‟s direction when she walked away.
With resignation, she left the room and went upstairs.
While brushing her medium length dark brown hair, Leanna thought, Eric, what have I
done wrong? What is wrong with me that you have disconnected? Have I put you off, somehow? I want so much to reach you. She looked in the mirror, and examined her
appearance. She portrayed a woman with inner strength, a lively spirit. She had a youthful
appearance, a warm smile and beautiful blue eyes that glistened and exuded genuine human
Her husband‟s neglect perplexed her, but Leanna McDuggal was determined to fight the
demons of melancholy shadowing her.
“Rita, meet me at the Red Bird Lounge. I hate drinking alone.”
Social outings with her best friend Rita Johnson was her occasional escape from Eric‟s
disconnection and the death pall pervading the house. While September had merged into October, Eric‟s detachment brought about a need for a time out.
Rita sensed the urgency in her tone and replied, “Count me in. Hey, what‟s going on?”
Leanna ignored the question. “I‟m coming by cab, so don‟t look for my BMW.”
“Planning on a good drunk?”
“Just meet me there. We will talk then. Bye.”
When Rita‟s husband had a near tragic boating accident over a year ago, Leanna‟s support
was invaluable. Now, it was Rita‟s turn to reciprocate, and she was worried about her friend.
The Red Bird Lounge had a huge fireplace in the corner that produced a certain New England ambiance. After the two women sat down at the carved oak table, they ordered a martini.
Rita noticed that Leanna appeared drained, her hair was limp and her weight had plummeted. She remained silent while they waited for their drinks.
Leanna exhaled, and then said, “I‟ve already lost him, Rita.”
“Leanna, cancer is a painful and difficult disease and he is facing the fact that he‟s dying-”
“He was distant before the cancer. His illness increased his detachment from me, and I have no idea what I‟ve done wrong.”
Rita pushed her menu aside, and said, “It‟s not you…”
The server brought their drinks and they ordered appetizers.
After she left, Leanna said, “I still love him.”
Rita reached over and took her hand and said, “Hey, remember what you said to me after
Roger was in his boating accident? He fell into a real slump, and you arrived at the house with
those god-awful cookies and said, „Roger‟s gloom is a man‟s defense mechanism. Men are closer to the animal world than we are. They retreat into themselves when they are injured‟.
End of quote. We both knew you pulled that one out of a hat, but it worked. Uh, by the way, you don‟t bake anymore do you?”
Laughing, Leanna replied, “Hell no. I only brought them over to get rid of. Lucy wouldn‟t
even eat them.”
Rita feigned a look of indignation and said, “Good grief. Are you telling me that you
passed off your dog‟s rejects on my family? God. Roger asked me where the hell I got the
hockey pucks in the cookie jar.”
They both laughed.
Leanna then asked, “How is Roger doing these days? I‟ve seen him driving. It‟s great that
he‟s getting so much stronger.”
“Oh, yes it is. He is using a walker and improving every day. Next plan is to get rid of the wheelchair for good.”
The server arrived to refresh their drinks and deliver the appetizers. Rita reached for some
escargot and asked, “So how is Eric feeling lately? Gosh, I saw him a while ago…he looked
“He doesn‟t talk to me much, as you know.” Her voice was flat; she kept her eyes averted from her friend as she filled her plate with shrimp and cocktail sauce.
“So you don‟t know the status of his cancer? Jeez, Leanna, that is pitiful. Call his doctor. He will tell you what is-”
“No, I tried that. Eric was livid when he found out. He said, and I quote,