I dont want to kill you, p.11

I Don't Want to Kill You, page 11

 

I Don't Want to Kill You
 


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  ‘How could this not be a punishment?’ she asked. ‘Didn’t you hear about the eyes?’

  ‘The eyes?’ This was new.

  ‘Oh damn, that’s not even public yet.’

  ‘Your dad told you something?’ I asked. ‘What was it?’ Something about the word ‘eyes’ was bothering me – niggling at my memory – but I couldn’t put my finger on it.

  ‘Not tonight, John; I can’t do this any more.’

  ‘But this is important! If the manner of the killing has changed then it’s a new clue, or it’s an escalation from the killer. If you’ve got something new you’ve got to tell me.’

  ‘Don’t you even care?’ asked Marci, sitting up. Her face was wet. ‘Somebody died last night, and it was my fault!’

  ‘Of course I care,’ I said. ‘If I didn’t care I wouldn’t be trying to stop her.’

  ‘I’m not talking about her,’ she said, her eyes pleading. ‘I’m talking about me.’

  She started sobbing again, and flopped back down on the bed, curling up on her side.

  I knew I had to say something, but what? I’d felt awkward enough talking to Marci when she was happy, and now that she was sad I had no idea what to do.

  Eyes . . . eyeballs . . . It was right on the tip of my brain.

  Charles Albright, the Eyeball Killer. I stopped abruptly, shocked by the sudden recollection. I’d mentioned Albright to Marci and her dad just a few days ago. I’d mentioned stealing eyeballs to a man who already had a strong reason to hate Mr Coleman, and a few days later Mr Coleman was killed, and his eyes were either damaged or stolen. Was it just a coincidence?

  Or was Officer Jensen the Handyman?

  Obviously it wasn’t the Eyeball Killer himself – Charles Albright was in jail, happily drawing pictures of eyes on the walls of his cell – but it might be a hint or a clue. Maybe it was a message to me: ‘I killed the man you were talking about, in the manner you were talking about. You have to know that it’s me now.’ Was he getting tired of waiting for me to figure it out? Was this little piece of escalation designed to spur me into action?

  But it didn’t fit: if Officer Jensen was a demon, and wanted me dead, why not just kill me? And how had he become a demon? Even if Nobody was a genderless shapeshifter, able to assume a man’s identity as easily as a woman’s, why choose Mr Jensen? Marci and I hadn’t even talked yet when the first victim died . . . I paused, feeling sick. We didn’t talk before the first killing but we talked right afterwards, specifically because Marci’s dad had told her about me. Had he been orchestrating this entire thing, bringing us together and planting these careful crime scenes, all for some purpose of his or her own? What could Nobody possibly be planning?

  There were so many holes in the idea: yes, if Officer Jensen was human he’d have great reason to hate Mr Coleman, because he was harassing his daughter, but a demon masquerading as Officer Jensen wouldn’t hate him at all. There would be no reason to break his pattern and kill Coleman, when the eyes of any other victim would serve just as well. There were too many pieces that didn’t fit at all . . .

  . . . and yet there were other pieces that fit almost too perfectly. Marci’s dad had pushed us together. Marci’s dad had told her the secret of Coleman’s eyeballs, knowing she would tell me. Marci’s dad.

  Marci.

  I looked at Marci again, curled up on her bed, sobbing. Was it her? If Nobody was a shapeshifter then she could be anybody – Marci, Marci’s dad, even my own mother. If Marci was a demon, that could explain why she’d been so friendly to me: she was a smart, popular, beautiful girl who’d never given me the time of day until three weeks ago. What was her plan? What did she want? If she wanted to kill me, why not do it now when she had the chance? Why lie there and pretend to cry?

  The skin of her waist was exposed where her T-shirt had rumpled up away from her waistline; I could see her smooth, pink skin, the soft ridge of her hip, the intoxicating outline of her breasts and backside pressing against her clothes.

  I could kill her now – strike first, before she knew I’d learned her secret. And then with time and the proper tools I could learn all her secrets; I could pry her open and find the demon inside. I could finally understand.

  My hands were shaking, trembling in time to Marci’s sobbing body.

  Get up and leave.

  I shifted in my chair, moving just slightly to see more of her exposed back, but without any conscious decision found myself moving further, turning away from her completely. My rules against looking at girls. I faced the wall, breathing heavily, focusing on the tacks and creases in the corner of an ancient poster.

  I shouldn’t be here. I was acting paranoid, seeing demons everywhere I looked. I was a threat to Marci, and a threat to myself. I had to leave.

  I stood up. ‘I have to go.’

  Marci rolled over. ‘Please don’t go, John. I’m sorry, I’m just a wreck . . .’

  ‘No, I have to go.’ I took a step towards the door as Marci stood up. Her T-shirt cascaded back down around her body, and the desire to stay welled up even stronger, a bursting, violent geyser in the pit of my stomach. I forced myself to look away again; everything I’d thought tonight was stupid and paranoid. I was losing control. ‘I have to go.’

  ‘Why?’

  There was something in her voice, but my mind was too muddled to read it. Was she sad? Confused? Sorry? Happy? Angry? I was destroying our friendship; I was abandoning her in her hour of need.

  I was saving her life.

  ‘I’m sorry,’ I said, but my voice sounded stiff and robotic. I tried to think of an excuse, anything to make me look less cruel, less suspicious, less hollow. Nothing came. I put a hand on the doorframe and ground out a final goodbye: ‘Don’t hate me.’ It was the best I could do.

  I walked down the hall, down the stairs, and out the front door, ignoring Mrs Jensen’s confused farewell. I had to think, and I couldn’t do it here. I couldn’t risk any more than I had. But I couldn’t just stop, either. Something had happened to Mr Coleman’s eyes, and I needed to know what it meant. I needed to solve this puzzle and stop this demon – but how? I couldn’t talk to Mom, I couldn’t talk to Brooke, and now I couldn’t talk to Marci, maybe ever again.

  I supposed there was always Max, but that’s not what I needed – another dumb kid with tunnel vision. This was a real demon, not a regular killer, and trying to treat it like a regular killer had gotten me nowhere. Either Mr Coleman’s death literally made no sense, or it made perfect sense within a set of factors I hadn’t considered. I’d missed those factors thus far because I was brainstorming with people who didn’t acknowledge the supernatural, but that had to change. It was time to visit the only person left who I could talk to about demons.

  It was time to visit Father Erikson again.

  Chapter 11

  Father Erikson lived in a ranch-style brick house on the east side of town. He answered the door in a thick cotton bathrobe draped over his regular clothes; it was dark blue, with a Disney logo in the corner.

  ‘Hello?’ he said.

  ‘Hi. Can we talk?’

  ‘And you are . . .?’ He studied me for a second. ‘Wait, I know you. You’re the kid who was asking about demons.’

  ‘Yeah,’ I said. ‘Can we talk?’

  ‘How did you find my home address?’

  ‘It’s called the Internet,’ I said. ‘Now listen. I need to talk, and I need to talk right now. Can I come in?’

  ‘Um, sure, come on in. Do your parents know you’re here?’

  ‘Of course,’ I lied, ‘I never go anywhere without telling Dad all about it.’

  ‘Well, that’s good.’ I wasn’t sure he believed me. He closed the door behind me and pointed to the couch. The TV was showing some kind of soap opera, but I couldn’t understand the words. ‘I’m trying to learn Spanish,’ he said, grabbing a remote and turning it off. I sat on the couch, and he eased himself into a well-worn recliner. ‘Last time we talked, I asked the newspaper about their high-
school intern,’ he said. ‘Apparently your name is Kristen.’

  ‘I’m not really an intern at the paper.’

  ‘So I gathered. What’s your name?’

  I paused. ‘John.’

  ‘Do you want to tell me what you’re doing?’

  ‘Mr Coleman was killed,’ I said. ‘He was a teacher at school.’

  ‘And a member of my congregation,’ said the pastor. ‘It was a terrible tragedy.’

  ‘Why does everyone think it’s such a horrible thing for this guy to be dead?’ I asked. ‘He was a pedophile. He was a horrible person. After he got fired, all anyone could talk about was how terrible he was, and how lucky we were to get him out of the school, and now someone’s taken him out of our lives altogether and that’s a bad thing?’

  ‘I wasn’t talking about his death,’ said the priest, ‘though that was a tragedy too. I was talking about his life.’

  ‘I think you’re overusing the word “tragedy”.’

  ‘Maybe,’ he said, shrugging. ‘But I think you’re overestimating David Coleman’s evil. Yes, he sinned, and yes, that deserves punishment, but he also did a lot of good things that deserve praise. He was a very good teacher, and he was a very good friend. No one is all or nothing.’

  ‘Fine,’ I said, ‘he was a great man. Whatever. That’s not why I’m here. I’m trying to find out who killed him.’

  ‘And, as before, you think a demon did it.’

  I nodded. The priest was taking this all remarkably calmly. He must have dealt with a lot of weirdos at church.

  ‘Why are you bringing all this to me?’ he asked.

  ‘Because I’m trying to find this demon and stop her, and I need help, and you’re the only person I know who admits to a belief in paranormal creatures. And also because you’re a priest, so if I ask you to, you have to keep this conversation confidential.’

  He raised an eyebrow. ‘What makes you say that?’

  ‘Again, it’s called the Internet. Seriously. As Catholic clergy, you are bound by your Church to treat a private conversation as confidentially as possible. It’s not as legally binding as a psychologist, but a good clergyman, as I assume you are, will honour the request anyway in good faith.’

  He sat quietly, watching me, as if sizing me up in his head. ‘You’re a stranger off the street, under-age, obsessed with a killer, and convinced of the reality of mythological monsters. If I’m as good a clergyman as you say, I should probably take you to a counsellor.’

  ‘So you be my counsellor.’

  ‘I’m not equipped to act as a—’

  ‘Listen,’ I said, standing up, ‘swear to secrecy right now or I walk out. You want to help me? This is how you do it.’

  He looked at me, waiting, and finally nodded. ‘To the extent that I do not see you as an immediate threat to anyone’s life, and provided that you let me introduce you to a therapist I know, I won’t tell anyone about this conversation.’

  I stared at him. He stood and offered his hand. ‘You have my solemn promise.’

  I looked at his face: mouth set in a thin line, eyes open, jaw slightly clenched. He was telling the truth. I shook his hand. ‘Thank you.’

  ‘Thank you,’ he said.

  We sat down. ‘All right,’ I said. ‘This demon has thus far followed very strict criteria when choosing her victims. If you look at the first two in Clayton and the seven or eight before that in Georgia, the pattern is remarkably consistent. They’re all men, they’re all older, they’re all married, and they’re all respected members of the community. Pastor Olsen; Mayor Robinson; Steve Diamond, who was a policeman in Athens; Jack Humphrey, who was some kind of religious leader in Macon; and on and on. Everyone fits this pattern but Coleman: he was younger, he was single, he was hated by the community, and he wasn’t even employed at the time. All the other victims had strong, stable jobs.’

  ‘He may have been targeted before he lost his job,’ said Erikson. ‘It’s only been a few days.’

  ‘That’s possible,’ I said, nodding, ‘because she definitely puts a lot of thought into these attacks, and she might not have had time to find a new victim. But there are even more differences. It turns out that this time the demon did something to his eyes – she’s never messed with anybody’s eyes before. There’s no precedent for it, by which I mean there probably is a precedent and we just don’t know enough to see it.’

  The priest frowned. ‘Why do you say that the killer – the demon – is a woman?’

  ‘Force of habit,’ I said. ‘I honestly have no idea what gender this thing is any more. It’s very possible that this demon can change shape and look like anyone, so honestly the person we’re looking for could be male or female, and it could even be someone we know.’

  ‘Demonic possession.’

  ‘In a sense, yeah.’

  The priest scooted forward in his chair, looking me in the eye. ‘This is the part where I start to get nervous, because you’re not just talking about hunting a demon any more – you’re talking about hunting a member of this community.’

  ‘Someone who looks like a member of this community—’

  ‘No,’ said the priest. ‘You can’t think that way. You came to me because you think I’m some kind of demon expert, so listen to me: if a person is possessed by a demon then the original person is still inside. That’s how they work. Demons are supposed to be cast out, not killed, and that’s a very long, very careful process designed to protect the human host.’

  ‘You want to do an exorcism?’

  ‘No, I don’t,’ he said. ‘I’m not trained, and I’m not convinced it’s even necessary. But the point I’m trying to make is that in all likelihood the thing you think is a demon is just another guy, just like you and me, and that there is nothing paranormal going on at all.’

  I laughed drily, remembering Forman melt away into ash. ‘You’ve got to trust me on this one.’

  ‘But I can’t trust you,’ he said. ‘I’ve known you for maybe half an hour total. You haven’t given me a last name, and for all I know, the first name you gave me is a fake. You come in here, you talk about hunting demons, and I have no way of knowing if you’re serious or joking or completely deranged.’

  ‘I need your help.’

  ‘I agree,’ he said, ‘but I’m pretty sure we’re talking about different kinds of help.’

  We stared at each other, silent and intent, my mind seething with rage. Why wouldn’t he just answer my questions? His hands were pressed tightly around the armrests of his chair; his knuckles were white and his arms were trembling - just barely – and I knew that he was scared. He really thought I was dangerous. But he’d confronted me anyway, alone in his home, with no way of defending himself. If I were really as dangerous as he thought I was, I could kill him right here.

  Maybe I should. Maybe he’s the demon.

  Even as I thought it, I knew it was stupid. There was no way he was the demon, just like there was no way Marci was the demon. I was desperate for anything, desperate to stop hunting and just kill something, and I was seeing demons in every shadow, behind every face, looking out from every pair of eyes.

  Eyes. The eyes had to mean something. When a killer changed her methods, it always meant something. But Father Erikson wasn’t going to help me figure it out. No one wanted to help me stop the demons, they just wanted to save me from myself. I am not the biggest threat here!

  But the priest thought I was. And he didn’t know my name.

  I could use that.

  The same thing had happened with my old therapist, Dr Neblin. We had started talking about the bad guy, and we just ended up talking about me. People like Max and Marci were legitimately interested in this kind of stuff, but adults always assumed I was talking about myself- that the scenarios I posed were some kind of convoluted metaphors about my inner feelings. Neblin, the priest, my mom . . . it was the only kind of help they ever wanted to give. So why not let him help me?

  ‘Let’s say I’m as dangerous
as you think I am,’ I said. Stay imposing – even if he’s only talking to stall, at least he’s talking. ‘Let’s say, for the sake of argument, that I am the Handyman.’

  ‘I don’t think you’re the Handyman.’

  ‘Pretend,’ I said. ‘Now: what do you want to say to me?’

  His eyes widened. ‘What?’

  ‘I’ve just killed three people. Why?’

  ‘I . . . don’t know why.’

  ‘I just cut out a man’s eyes, which I have never done before. Why did I do it?’

 
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