As Curators, we provide information in an attempt at unearthing truths. On rare occasions we ourselves are posed with the question to believe in the existence or truth behind such stories. Many of these fall short of the criteria we insist upon, but this one has stood its ground. Although the researcher, whom we can’t qualify, is limited with substantiating details we find ourselves in a curious state, and await potential developments.
Beyond a shadow of a doubt, this is the most incredible thing I’ve ever experienced.
Incredible for its content. Incredible for what that content portends. Incredible because, for the first time in my professional life, I’m writing something anonymously. Circumstances have forced me into anonymity in order to tell the truth about a very real man.
But before I can tell you the tale, a little background is in order. Here is the article that, for me, started it all.
As I read that story, it was the trio of murders referenced at the beginning that caught my attention. Everyone knows about the violent death of that famous-for-being-famous party girl. Anyone and everyone whose sense of humor is remotely twisted can and has turned that particular crime into a bit of droll social satire. That Darren Bauer jumped on that particular bandwagon was nothing in and of itself.
What did cause me to do a double-take was the connection I found between that murder and the banker and the “abusive alcoholic redneck.” I dug through my database and found what I was looking for — that these cases had actually happened. Not just in Bauer’s comic strip. In real life.
Further investigation — hours of it — brought me to one inescapable conclusion: A frighteningly high percentage of deaths at the hands of Mort in the comic strip that bears his name are remarkably similar to a series of gruesome murders that have taken place throughout the United States and Canada.
As coincidences go, these are astounding, and far too numerous to let go without question. But the alternative was something horrifying, awful, and maybe just a touch ridiculous. And while the coincidental similarities between Mort’s murders and their apparent real-life counterparts were remarkable, I couldn’t find them remarkable enough to call them more than coincidence. Not definitively. These things required further clarification.
So I resolved to question the man himself. Darren Bauer: That elusive comic artist who pulled a disappearing act and made money out of silly cartoonish murder.
In retrospect, it was a foolhardy idea. I had some money. I could afford this, for a little while, at least. What was foolish about the whole notion, to the point of lunacy, was that I would have no backup. No one would be with me. I was setting out on a self-imposed mission, the purpose of which was to hunt down a nomadic manic depressive alcoholic artist who may or may not be a serial killer.
It took me longer than I’d hoped, and I racked up some frequent-flier miles in the process. I thought I saw him duck into a cab in Baton Rouge, and I missed him by a day in Austin. I never found any evidence that he was even in the vicinity of a handful of other murders (other than notable similarities to those killings in the “Mort” strip).
But, eventually, I did track down Darren Bauer. I can honestly tell you that I don’t know which of us was more surprised by my success.
I’m not sure what I expected. I’d been able to dig up the last known photo of Bauer, taken before his descent into the nomadic existence he’d chosen. Bearded and bespectacled, his hair a bit untamed, and his apparel overly casual without being sloppy, he certainly didn’t fit what I would call the image of a killer. But then, I thought, what exactly does a killer look like?
I introduced myself to Bauer, explaining that I was a writer and a fan of his work. I told him I’d like the opportunity to discuss his career and his recent unconventional path to success. I have to admit that I was a bit surprised when he agreed.
In short order we were seated on the patio of a trendy bar/restaurant. Bauer was imbibing. He looked oddly right at home. He was all words and I was all ears. He spoke of his wife and of Sibling Rivalry and Mort and all that I already knew.
Eventually all of his words degenerated into this sort of white noise in my ears. The “interview” had, in my mind, descended into this sort of evaluation of the man in front of me. I was sizing him up and I knew it, trying to appropriate this unassuming, drunken artist in front of me with the facts that I’d uncovered. I’d reached a crossroads in my pursuit of the story I’d uncovered.
Where did Bauer fit? Which road had he gone down? Was he some absurd victim of an appalling series of violent coincidences? Or was he the cause of everything, a quiet, darkly violent creature whose presence should have me running, screaming, for the nearest exit?
The white noise of his testimonial faded, and the sudden silence jarred me back to reality. Bauer was looking at me patiently. I was lost. Had he asked me something? Or was he merely waiting for me to ask him something?
And so I laid it all out for him. I showed him my research, the connections between the various killings and their unbelievably coincidental similarities to several of his Mort comic strips.
Bauer grew increasingly still as I spoke. His eyes lost focus, and he stared right through me for the duration of my speech. When I finished, he lowered his head into his hands for several seconds before righting himself and drawing his fingers through his hair. Pausing for a deep breath, he spoke.
“You have to understand,” he said. “The comic is all that I know. I mean that literally, and in more ways than one.”
I asked him to elaborate. And never in my life, ever, have I regretted so much the asking of a simple question.
“Firstly,” Bauer said, “comics in general are all that I know. It’s how I communicate things. Some people have an idea, they put it on Facebook, or they write an e-mail, or a poem, or even a screenplay. That’s how they communicate. Me? I write comics, and draw them, and that’s how I tell the world what I think of it.”
He paused again to watch and listen as a striking, stylish woman with long, auburn hair verbally berated a trio of children for inadvertently splashing her Prada bag with water from a nearby fountain. His eyes were dark with contempt. Still staring at the scene at the fountain, he continued.
“But it’s also all that I know about him … about Mort,” Bauer said. “It’s not metaphorical, and it’s not satire. It’s meant to be taken quite literally.”
Something was congealing at the back of my throat. I swallowed. I suddenly remembered my grandfather’s dusty pistol, at home, hidden. It never crossed my mind to bring it, until this very moment. But what would it have mattered? Even if it were within reach, would I have been able to act quickly enough before Bauer snapped my neck like a twig?
Too late now, I told myself. Again, I asked him to elaborate. To this day, I wish I’d simply risen from my chair and walked out.
Bauer’s gaze returned to me. “Mort is real,” he said. “He’s very real, my friend, and in every sense of the word. Real in that he exists. Real in that he kills, mercilessly, often, and without passion. Just like he did to her. To my wife.”
He leaned toward me then, his eyes savage, bright, intent. His next words will never leave me.
“He does these things because he must,” Bauer said. “Because these are the things that the undead do. He kills. He feeds. Indiscriminately. And he roams until he can kill and feed again. And I?” He smiles. “I follow him. I’m his nemesis, and he is mine.”
I’d never fully understood, until that moment, what it meant to have one’s blood run cold. What response is there to that sort of revelation? My heart hammered in my chest, and my lungs struggled for air. I had followed Darren Bauer for miles and miles in a search for truth. My research had brought me to a crossroads — one answer or the other was all I sought. That crossroads insisted that this man was either a killer or a victim of the most extraordinary series of coincidences I’d come across in my years as a journalist.
Instead, this doomed artist had taken me here, a place I’d not considered, that I didn’t dare consider, and would have previously been incapable of conceiving.
Bauer smiled at me sympathetically as he rose to leave, draining his glass of wine. I watched him walk away, aching for him to come back and tell me anything — anything but the truth he claimed was real.