I dont want to kill you, p.17

I Don't Want to Kill You, page 17

 

I Don't Want to Kill You
 


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  I turned away from the door, saw the wall too close, and punched it in rage. ‘Why!’ My scream devolved into a roar, loud and harsh until it scratched my throat and raked it raw.

  ‘I’m so sorry to be the one to tell you,’ said Brooke, standing in the doorway. ‘I knew you were spending a lot of time with her lately, and I thought I’d better come see if there was anything I could . . . I’m so sorry, John.’

  ‘Why do they keep killing themselves?’ I demanded. ‘Everything we do, everything we risk, is just . . . meaningless! It’s like we never even stopped the killers; it’s like they’re all still out there, killing anyone they want, and we can’t do anything about it. I don’t know why we even try!’ I threw myself down on the stairs, hurting myself as I sat, and I relished the bright focus on pain. I gritted my teeth and punched the wall again, hammering it over and over until my hand throbbed red. Brooke put her hands in her pockets, then took them out again.

  ‘You want to talk?’ she asked.

  ‘Doesn’t matter if I do, since nobody ever listens.’

  ‘I’ll listen.’

  I looked up, watching her framed in the doorway. ‘You think I’m a freak.’

  She shrugged awkwardly. ‘Even freaks need to talk sometimes. I wouldn’t mind talking about it myself, to be honest.’

  I stood up slowly, rubbing my hand, waving weakly at the wall as if to say that was nothing; just forget it ever happened. ‘Come on up, then,’ I said. ‘My cereal’s getting soggy.’ I walked back up the stairs and she followed. I sat down to eat, and pointed in the general direction of the cupboard.

  ‘Bowls are in there if you want some.’

  ‘Thanks.’ She poured a bowl of cereal and sat down across from me, pressing the flakes down into the milk with her spoon. ‘Did you know Rachel well?’

  ‘I don’t think I know anyone well.’ I took a mouthful, chewed and swallowed. ‘She’s Marci’s best friend, I guess, but we never really did much with her.’

  Brooke said, ‘I kind of think you’re Marci’s best friend now.’ She smiled, then winced. ‘I mean, even before her other best friend died. I’m sorry, that sounded totally bad.’

  I shrugged. ‘It’s hard to make a suicide sound worse than it is. Say whatever you want.’

  ‘I don’t know if I have a best friend,’ said Brooke, staring at her cereal. She hadn’t eaten any yet. ‘I knew Rachel pretty well, though; we always got along.’ She looked up. ‘I remember this one time when we had a slumber party at her house, in seventh grade, and we dared each other to call the boys we liked. She called Brad.’ She looked down again. ‘I’m glad they got to go to the dance, even just once, before she died.’

  I scowled. ‘She didn’t just die – it’s not like she was hit by a meteor or something. This wasn’t an act of nature, or an attack, or an accident: she killed herself. She was sitting there, perfectly alive, and said, “You know what? I’m going to end my own life”, and now she’s gone. What makes a person do that?’

  Brooke shook her head. ‘I don’t know.’

  ‘Mom talked about leaving,’ I said. ‘We can’t, obviously, because scary, dangerous times are the only times we make any money in this pit. We have to take care of the dead; we’ll have to take care of Rachel, now. But sometimes I just want to get out. I just want to get out on the highway and drive and drive until I can’t even remember this place. Until I get somewhere good.’ I laughed without humour. ‘I guess everywhere sucks, though.’

  Brooke stared at nothing, her eyes wet.

  I played with my cereal, tapping the spoon against the bowl, then set it down. ‘I thought I could stop it.’

  Brooke looked up.

  ‘I thought I could wave a magic wand,’ I continued, ‘or a knife, or whatever, and make all the killing stop; make all the sadness stop; and no one would ever have to die again. No one would ever go away. But that doesn’t happen. People always go away, and it doesn’t matter if they’re shot or stabbed or hit by a truck or killed by cancer or worn out by old age; it’ll never stop.’

  ‘Everybody dies,’ said Brooke. ‘It’s just that not everybody dies when they’re supposed to.’

  ‘How do you know when they’re supposed to?’

  She shrugged. ‘You don’t. I think you just try to help everyone as much as you can, and even if you only give them one more day, then that’s one more day they didn’t have before.’

  ‘And you think one more day is going to change anything?’

  ‘I don’t know. You can do a lot in one day, I guess, but I think the real people it changes are the ones who do the helping. You know? When you help somebody, even if it’s only for one day, then that means you’re the kind of person who helps people.’ She looked back up. ‘I think the world needs more people like that.’

  The outside door banged loudly, muffled by the intervening walls, followed by footsteps on the stairs and then another bang as the inner door opened and Mom came in, arms full of groceries.

  ‘John, can you help me with—Oh, Brooke.’ She froze in place, mouth open, ‘I didn’t know you were here. What’s up?’

  Brooke wiped her eyes with the tips of her sleeves. ‘Hi, Mrs Cleaver, we were just talking. Do you need help with the groceries?’

  Mom pushed past us to the counter, looking back and forth between us, still surprised. ‘No, that’s fine, I can manage.’ She set her bags on the counter. ‘Is everything okay? You’ve been crying.’ She stepped forward. ‘You’ve both been crying.’

  ‘Rachel Farnsworth killed herself,’ I said.

  Mom’s eyes went wide. ‘No.’

  ‘It was last night,’ I said, ‘after the dance, I guess. Brooke just came over to tell me.’

  ‘I’m sorry,’ said Brooke.

  ‘Wasn’t Rachel in your group for the dance?’ asked Mom, sitting down. Her hands were on the table, hovering just above the surface as if she wanted to reach out and hold onto mine; she didn’t. ‘Did she seem okay?’

  ‘She was kind of depressed all night, actually,’ I said. ‘I didn’t really see her after the police showed up. Brad took her home, and then Marci and I got a ride with her dad.’

  ‘Have you talked to Marci?’

  I looked over at Brooke, who grimaced and sucked air through her teeth. I knew that face; it meant she felt guilty.

  I shook my head. ‘Not yet.’

  ‘I should go,’ said Brooke, standing up. ‘I didn’t mean to take all your time. I’ll go so you can call her.’

  ‘Goodbye, Brooke,’ said Mom. ‘Thanks for coming.’

  ‘Yeah,’ said Brooke, and looked at me. I said nothing, and she left.

  ‘Are you sure you’re okay?’ asked Mom. ‘You seem upset, and you don’t usually get upset when people die. Is everything all right?’

  ‘I’m not upset because she’s dead,’ I said, rising up from my chair. ‘I’m upset because there’s nothing I can do about it.’

  I picked up my cereal bowl and carried it to the counter, dumping the dregs into the sink and rinsing it with a burst of water. I held the bowl for a moment, motionless, then placed it carefully on the counter. I set down the spoon next to it, stared at it, then pushed it slightly to the left until it sat parallel to the bowl. It was a perfect table-setting, like a photo from an ad.

  ‘John?’

  ‘It’s not right,’ I said. I adjusted the spoon again, scooting it closer to the bowl.

  ‘The spoon?’

  ‘The suicide. It’s not right. Something’s . . . not right.’

  ‘What isn’t right?’

  ‘Do I look like I know?’ I touched the spoon again, shifting it imperceptibly. I stared beyond it, at everything and nothing. ‘It’s too perfect.’

  ‘Suicide is perfect?’

  ‘She slit her wrists,’ I said. ‘Just like Allison Hill, and just like Jenny Zeller. Why?’

  ‘It’s a really common way to do it,’ said Mom. ‘It doesn’t mean they’re connected.’

  I looked up sharply. ‘But
they are, aren’t they?’

  ‘I never said that.’

  ‘But you know it’s true. We all do, we just haven’t admitted it yet. Too many suicides, and too similar.’ I slammed my hand on the counter, suddenly angry. ‘Dammit! It’s a full-on killing spree right under our noses, and we didn’t even think twice!’

  ‘They’re suicides, John; these girls are killing themselves.’

  ‘No, they’re not,’ I said, my mind suddenly alive and racing with the possibilities. It’s so obvious! ‘We’re supposed to think they’re killing themselves, but they’re not. The Handyman is not the only killer in town.’

  ‘You think the police haven’t already considered that?’ asked Mom. ‘If there’s any evidence of murder in any of these deaths I guarantee they’re following it up.’

  ‘But there’s not any evidence,’ I said, ‘at least not any that the police can recognise. It’s a demon.’

  She stared at me, silent. I felt my heart pounding with a blend of fear and excitement. This has to be it! Last night at the dance I knew there had to be another, I knew it couldn’t be the Handyman – and now here it’s been, right in plain sight all along.

  ‘Don’t tell me you don’t see it,’ I started, but she cut me off.

  ‘I see it,’ she said. Her face was pale. ‘I don’t want to see it, but I do. It’s like an optical illusion: you stare at it and stare at it, and once you finally see it you can’t ever not see it again.’

  ‘We’re the only ones who can stop it,’ I said. ‘We’re the only ones who know enough to do anything about it.’ I ran into the hall. ‘I’ve gotta get dressed and go to Marci’s.’

  ‘Wait!’ shouted Mom. ‘Let’s talk about this.’

  ‘That’s what I’m going to do.’

  ‘No,’ she said, ‘I mean you and me, here, together.’ Mom followed me into the hall. ‘You don’t have to bring Marci into it. I’m trying to help you, and I’m right here.’

  ‘Yeah,’ I said, ‘I know.’ I went into my room and closed the door.

  ‘Marci, John’s here.’

  I was standing in the Jensens’ hallway, while Marci’s mom knocked on her bedroom door. Déjà vu. There was no answer, and her mom knocked again.

  ‘Marci, are you in there?’

  ‘I don’t want to see anyone,’ said Marci. Her voice was cracked and feeble.

  ‘Not even John?’

  ‘Nobody,’ said Marci, and her mom looked at me helplessly.

  ‘I’m sorry, John; she’s been like this all morning. Don’t worry, she’ll come out soon enough. You want a piece of bread?’

  ‘No, thanks,’ I said, being careful not to make a face. ‘Just tell her to . . .’ I paused, desperate to talk about the killers. There’s two! I wanted to shout. There’s been two all along and we didn’t see it! But her mom was right there beside me, so I couldn’t say anything crazy. ‘Marci! We need to talk.’

  ‘Not today, John,’ she called back. ‘Can’t you give it a rest?’

  Her mom smiled at me sadly. ‘I’m sorry, John. You know how she gets.’

  I took a deep breath. ‘Yeah, I know. Tell her to call me. I don’t know.’

  ‘She needs some time alone,’ said her mom, leading me back downstairs, ‘but it won’t be long until she needs you again. Don’t worry; she’ll call you whether I tell her to or not.’ We reached the kitchen, and she picked up a pair of dirty leather gloves. ‘I need to get the compost tilled in before it gets too much colder. You sure you don’t want a snack or a drink or anything?’

  ‘I’m fine,’ I assured her. ‘I can show myself out.’

  She nodded and went out the back door, and I walked slowly down their dark hall towards the front. It was cold enough now that the front door was finally closed – the first time I’d actually seen it shut. I put my hand on the knob, then froze as I heard a burst of static from the nearest room.

  ‘Officer Jensen, you there?’ It was his police radio. I heard the creak of a chair and a rustle of newspaper, then Marci’s dad spoke.

  ‘Yeah, Steph, I’m here.’ Stephanie, I thought, from the police station.

  ‘We just got a call from another searcher, out by the lake. They found another old firepit with some bones in it, and some burned-up gloves – sounds like a bigger glove remnant than we got with Coleman. Moore wants you to go check it out.’

  Interesting, I thought. I crept closer.

  ‘How old?’ asked Officer Jensen.

  ‘Pretty old,’ said Stephanie. ‘More likely Pastor Olsen than the Sheriff, assuming it’s even legit. Anyway, bag it all and bring it, and we’ll see if we get a match.’

  ‘Will do, Steph. See ya.’

  ‘See ya.’

  I heard the faint clink of buckles, probably Officer Jensen pulling on his police belt. I couldn’t open the front door without him hearing, and I didn’t want him to know that I’d been listening, so I slipped out of the hallway and waited in another room, holding my breath. Jensen’s footsteps creaked across the floor, into the hall, and then the front door squealed on its hinges. He stepped outside, and the door slammed shut behind him. I took a breath, waited for several seconds, then went to a window and watched him; he walked to his car, got in, and drove away.

  Why is the Handyman destroying the hands? I wondered.

  I opened the door and walked to my Chevy. It was cold and I shivered, wishing I’d brought a jacket. I turned to look up at Marci’s window, where the blinds were closed tightly. I told Marci that everything was lost, that our whole profile was worthless, but I was wrong. We were right about the religious messages, and we were right about Astrup being next. We just didn’t take it seriously enough – we didn’t realise that the Handyman would fight back when we messed with her plan. Meier didn’t die because we built the wrong profile; he died because the profile was right, and we used it wrong. I turned away from the house, still shivering, and got into my car.

  Two killers: the Handyman and the suicides. I breathed deeply, trying to focus. Two demons; it makes perfect sense for Nobody to bring back-up. I told her I was going to kill her – she’d be stupid to come alone. So instead she grabbed her friend the Handyman and brought him along, so he could distract me while Nobody hunted. Why didn’t I see this before?

  I shook my head. Everything I thought I knew about Nobody – the entire profile – was actually the Handyman. That puts me back to square one on Nobody, but the profile of the Handyman is still good. If I can find him, he’ll lead me to her. I just need to focus.

  The doorbell rang three times before I got up to answer it. I opened the door and froze.

  It was Father Erikson.

  ‘Hello, John.’

  He found me! My heart jumped into my throat, and I looked desperately at the window as if expecting to be tackled by a swarm of police. There was nothing. I took a step back, poised to bolt.

  ‘That was quite a scene at the dance,’ he said. ‘I’m told you saved the day.’

  So that was it: my big show at the dance. The whole school saw me talking to Ashley. Of course it would get out onto the news. I hadn’t even thought to watch it, I was too distracted with Brooke and Rachel and Marci. I glanced at the blank TV, eager to turn it on and see what they were saying, but it was mid-afternoon; the noon show was over, and the evening news wouldn’t be on for a few more hours. I sighed.

  ‘You put that together, huh? There’s a lot of kids named John, you know. It wasn’t necessarily me.’

  ‘Not necessarily,’ he said, ‘but more likely than not. I took a guess and came over.’

  Then he didn’t know for sure until I—

  ‘Don’t worry,’ he said, as if reading my thoughts. ‘I recognised the car outside. I would have known it was you whether you opened the door or not.’

  I nodded, keeping my face calm, but inside I was terrified. If the news story is enough for Erikson to put it together and find me, who else is going to find me? Will Nobody put it together as well? The police have tried so hard to
keep my involvement with Forman quiet. Will this blow my cover?

  I pushed those thoughts away and looked at the Pastor. Deal with him first. ‘What do you want?’

  ‘You lied about talking to a counsellor. There’s only one at the hospital, and she’s never heard of you.’

 
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