I Don't Want to Kill You, page 27
‘John Cleaver,’ the demon hissed, Brooke’s hand tight on my ankle. I rolled to the side and saw her crawling towards me, reaching out with her other hand and grasping my leg. Her eyes glared hellishly from behind long tangles of wet, bloody hair. ‘I should have known you’d try to kill me. You never loved Brooke; she’s weak, and stupid. You could never love a stupid blonde nothing like her.’
Her fingers – Brooke’s fingers – dug into my leg like claws, and she pulled herself up further, letting go of my ankle and grabbing my chest. I tried to kick her off but she sat on my legs and slammed her fist into my gut, nearly doubling me over in pain. ‘I should have known I could never be happy as Brooke, but you – you’re something different altogether. Something powerful and driven. You’re passionate.’ She smiled wolfishly, baring her teeth. ‘I love you.’
A drop of burning gas from the roof of the car finally dripped down through the hole, and the interior of the car roared into blazing life. Nobody sat firmly on my hips, pinning me to the ground, and picked up a fragment of glass. It was a small cube of safety glass, but it had a sharp edge.
‘No,’ I said, struggling to push her off. She brought up the glass, gripping it so tightly that her fingers ran red with smears of blood, and pressed it against her forearm. ‘You’ll kill her,’ I croaked, but she smiled.
‘I’m only finishing what you started. Soon we’ll be together, more closely and more perfectly than you could ever be with Brooke. We’ll be one. We’ll be perfect.’
I grabbed her arms, trying to force them apart, but she brought them together with a terrifying, inhuman strength and plunged the glass shard into her arm. She dug it deep into the skin, raking it through muscle and artery and spraying hot red blood across my face. Blood pumped out in great spurts, covering me, and Brooke’s body shook with pain. As the blood poured out she grew weaker, and I knocked the shard out of her hand. I gripped her ragged forearm with both fists, pressing it tightly, trying to stop the hot, sticky flow of blood—
—and then something moved, thick and wet, against the palm of my hand.
I jerked back in an involuntary spasm of revulsion, as a dark black tendril reached out from inside of Brooke’s arm. It was tentative, like a snake’s tongue tasting the air. It grew longer, reaching towards me, and suddenly there were two, then three, then a vast web of black tentacles springing out of Brooke’s body. I covered my face with one arm and flailed against them with the other, trying madly to knock them aside, gritting my teeth against the pain in my damaged wrist. I felt a wave of nausea as the wet tendrils touched my skin, and then they were everywhere – grasping, reaching, sticking. I tried to push them back, tried to free myself and run away, but Brooke’s legs kept me pinned to the dirt while a sea of black tendrils grabbed my arms and forced them aside. Nobody loomed over me, a hideous mix of pain and triumph on Brooke’s half-dead face.
‘I love you, John. I’ve loved you since the day you called me, swearing to destroy us. It’s what I always wanted, but never dared to do – but not you. You can actually do it. You have the strength I never had. Sometimes I wish I could be . . . you.’
Black slime oozed out of Brooke’s jagged wound in great waves, undulating with some kind of hideous life. It seemed to hang in the air, a noxious blob frozen in time, then leaped suddenly at my face like a bolt of black lightning.
I clamped my mouth shut, squeezed my eyes tightly closed, but it was everywhere – in my nose, in my ears, peeling back my lips and pressing in against my teeth. I pulled on my arms and legs, grunting with the effort to free them, trying to push back against the sludge with nothing but my tongue. My mouth was filled with the taste of ash and blood, the feel of grit and slime. It moved repugnantly inside me, pushing past my tongue, crawling up my nose, forcing itself into every crack and crevice. My head throbbed for want of air, my lungs burned; my ears buzzed with the sound of my own wild heartbeat and the sticky creep of sludge. I was blind and deaf, drowning in viscous evil, lost and alone.
I will not be taken, I thought. I will not let this happen! But there was no way to stop it – its grip was too tight, its tendrils too many, its darkness my entire world. I felt my chest bursting and caving in at once, desperate for air, and then abruptly the weight of Brooke’s body fell backwards, its grip loosened, and I wrenched my hands free. My head was surrounded with black tar, warm and slimy, and I scrabbled at it like an animal.
I pulled the thing away from my head and opened my eyes to blinding heat. The entire car was ablaze, the broken window spouting flame like a raging furnace. The sludge was on me, grasping at my hands, crawling back towards my head; Brooke lay on the ground in the spray of broken glass, bleeding and moving feebly. Her body was connected to mine by a black, pulsing web, snared together like flies. Hands were scraping at the sludge on my body, pulling and pushing it away. My hands and other hands, worn and familiar.
My mom loomed over me, teeth bared in a grimace of effort, real and alive, wrestling with the demon like charred, black taffy.
I tore at the sludge in my mouth, spitting it out, clawing it out of my nose and gums. ‘Mom,’ I croaked. My voice was thin and distant; hers was inaudible. I pulled at the sludge in my ears, struggling to free them, and suddenly the world burst with a rush of sound – the aural surface shock after a deepwater dive.
‘Get off of him,’ Mom raged, but it was no use. The demon had recovered from whatever initial attack had knocked it away, and it had adapted to face a new opponent. With a sweep of its tendrils it knocked Mom’s feet out from under her, thick whips of black pinning her arms so she couldn’t catch herself. She landed heavily, grunting with the impact, and the black sludge swarmed back to me like a mass of hungry worms.
‘You can never stop us,’ hissed Brooke’s voice. Her eyes were closed, and she lay in a limp knot like a discarded puppet. The black sludge forced my arms to the sides and oozed slowly up my body to my head. Brooke’s mouth moved unnaturally, as if independently of her body.
‘John and I are one; I am John now, and we will never be apart.’
‘Shut up,’ I snarled, but it was a threatless cry; I was immobile and helpless.
‘Get away from him, whatever you are.’ The sludge was flowing away from Mom to focus on me, and she struggled free of its grip.
‘I love him,’ whispered Brooke’s voice, ‘and he loves me.’ The sludge was up to my neck, hot and vile on my skin.
‘Never,’ said Mom, diving back towards the sludge. ‘Brooke maybe, but never you.’
‘He does,’ said the voice, and the ashy black tendrils reached up to my face, prying at my mouth. I pressed my lips tightly together, flexing every muscle in my face, but still it started to open them, to crawl back inside.
Mom looked at me in desperation, her eyes wet with tears, her hands clawing at the flowing black sludge. She screamed helplessly and staggered back.
‘John hates himself,’ she said loudly, looking back and forth between Brooke and me as if unsure where to direct her voice. ‘Become a part of him and he’ll hate you too. He always will.’
The sludge slowed, tendrils pausing in mid-air. What are you doing? I thought.
Mom swallowed and went on, ‘He didn’t love Brooke either, or Marci, or anyone else, and they didn’t love him.’ She looked at me, eyes pleading. She’s sorry, I thought. I know that face; I know her better than anyone in the world. Why is she saying these things if she’s sorry about them? There was another look there, too, hidden behind the other. What is she doing?
‘There’s only one person he’s ever loved,’ she said, ‘and only one person who’s ever loved him back.’
The look in her eyes became clear, and suddenly I knew she was saying goodbye. Don’t do it! I screamed, but my mouth was full of ash and I couldn’t make a sound.
Mom stared into my eyes, intense and terrified. ‘Me.’
The sludge stopped moving completely.
‘Who’s been with him through everything
No! I shouted again, but it was too late; the demon was sliding off, oozing back, shooting out lines to Mom.
‘I knew you were coming here,’ she said, watching me as the demon surged up her legs, ‘and I knew why.’ It wrapped itself hungrily around her chest, dropping me painfully on the ground as it raced upwards to her face. ‘I knew what you were planning, but I couldn’t let you do it. I—’ and then it was around her face and flowing into every orifice, her mouth, her nose, her ears, her eyes.
I struggled to my feet and dashed towards her, but a black tentacle jerked my leg to the side and I fell, landing on my hurt wrist again and crying out as it snapped audibly. I rolled on the ground, screaming, then forced myself to my knees and looked at Mom. The demon was on her fully now, an amorphous blob no longer connected to me or to Brooke. Her body stiffened as the ooze flowed in, the last black tendril disappearing inside just as I reached her.
‘Mom,’ I said. ‘Fight it.’ I grasped uselessly at her ears and mouth, as if I could pull the sludge back out by force of will. ‘Fight back!’ I shouted. ‘Push it out! We can save you!’
Mom staggered to the side. I put out a hand to steady her, but she stumbled away. She grunted with effort: ‘Not . . . in control . . . yet. Still . . . me.’ She paused and fell to one knee, barely catching herself; she moved stiffly, like a mannequin coming to life. I tried to help her up, searching for anything I could do to save her, but she lurched away. I looked up, traced her path, and cried out.
She was moving directly towards the burning car.
‘The only . . . way . . .’ She stopped abruptly, her head cranking harshly to the side; I leaped forward to pull her back, but she raised a stiff arm and managed to bat my broken wrist. I screamed and fell to my knees, my vision blurring with the pain.
She fell against the side of the burning car, then rolled to the side to look me in the face. ‘I love you, John.’ Her voice was thick and layered, in harmony with itself – two voices in one. I stood up, reaching for her, but she ducked into the raging fire of the broken side window. She howled in pain, flinching back and crawling forwards all at once, and then she was through the window and falling onto the floor of the car. The flames leaped wildly around her, dancing and roaring.
I stood in shock, staring at the fire, watching numbly as her body rose up in the midst of the flames, writhing and screaming, black tendrils fighting their way out of her body only to shrivel in the superheated air and burn against the scalding roof and windows. She struggled and flailed; she blackened and died; the human and the demon fuelling the fire until it sang with joy.
I couldn’t move. I stared at the fire, at the spot in the middle where my mom’s silhouette curled, faded, then disappeared, and couldn’t budge an inch. There were a thousand thoughts in my head, crowding and jostling for attention until they became meaningless white noise, and my head was empty. I was a hole in the world, emptiness given form. I was nothing. I was nobody.
Brooke moved, and my head turned to follow the motion. She was lying on the ground, broken and bleeding. Her leg had twitched; it twitched again. I stooped down and felt her breath on my hand, felt her pulse pumping weakly in her uncut wrist. She’s alive. I stared numbly, too surprised by this to think about anything else. Her leg twitched again, and I started to think, as if it were the first primordial thought, that it would be a good idea to pull her away from the burning car. I grabbed her forearms, raised them over her head, and dragged her to the side. Her cut wrist was still seeping blood, though slower than before, and I looked around for something to bandage it with. There was nothing. I took off my shirt, still soaked in gas and blood, and tied it tightly around the open gash.
Mom’s car was just a few yards away, the engine still running, the door still open; she must have pulled up in a rush and leaped out to save me. She saved me. I straightened up, looked back at the burning car, then down at Brooke. She came to stop me, she saw the demon, and she saved me. I took a step towards the burning car, then Mom’s car, then stopped again. Mom’s dead. The demon’s dead.
She saved me.
Brooke moaned. I need to call an ambulance. I bent down and searched Brooke’s jacket, finding her cellphone in her pocket and pulling it out. I dialed 911, and heard sirens in the distance. That’s too soon. I haven’t called yet. I looked out at the road and saw lights flashing through the trees, red and blue, fire trucks and police cars and ambulances. Officer Jensen was running towards me, and then I was on the ground, kneeling by Brooke, clutching my arm to my chest. What’s wrong with my arm? I think it’s broken.
‘John, are you okay?’
I was surrounded by uniforms – paramedics and police. I found a face that looked familiar and talked to it.
‘My mom is dead.’
‘She’s the one who called us,’ said the face. It was Officer Jensen. ‘She said you were in trouble.’
‘She’s dead. She was in the car.’
‘She killed the girls,’ I said. ‘All the suicides, she killed them all.’
‘No.’ I shook my head, suddenly angry. ‘Nobody.’
The face was pushed away and another face came into view, checking my pulse and probing me with doctors’ implements. ‘We’re taking you to the hospital,’ it said, ‘you’re going into shock. Can you tell us how you feel?’
‘I feel . . .’ What do I feel?
I guess that’s enough.
Brooke woke up late that night, just as the doctor finished setting my wrist in a cast. She asked for me immediately, and when I walked into her hospital room a nurse was setting down a vase of flowers; there were dozens of vases and flowerpots adorning the room. No one got me flowers when I was in here last spring. Is that because I’m a guy, or because no one likes me?
‘Hey, John,’ said Brooke. She was pale and worn, her hair limp and flat against her head. There were deep bags under her eyes, and her arms looked thinner than normal. The nurse left, closing the door behind her, and we were alone. Brooke lifted her bandaged arm. ‘Looks like we’re twins.’
I held up my cast and nodded. ‘Great minds think alike.’
‘And great wrists – I don’t know,’ she said. ‘What happened to yours?’
‘Broken,’ I said. ‘You tripped me, then Mom did. Or I suppose technically the . . . uh . . . demon tripped me twice.’ How much did she know?
‘The demon,’ said Brooke, looking down. ‘Is that what they are?’
So she at least remembers that much. ‘I don’t know,’ I said. ‘Forman called them gods. Crowley hated being one, and Nobody – the one who got you – hated them all.’
‘Crowley,’ whispered Brooke. ‘Was he the first one? The Clayton Killer?’
‘And you killed him?’
I didn’t say anything for a long time, then nodded my head. ‘Yeah.’
Brooke tapped her bandage. ‘And now this.’ She took a breath. ‘It was horrifying, you know. All of it. I remember everything.’
‘I wondered if you would.’
‘It was like our minds merged together, but I didn’t have any control; we saw the same things, and thought the same things, and remembered the same things, but she was in charge and I was just watching.’ She closed her eyes. ‘The things she thought, John. Pure darkness. Nothing good abou
She shook her head. ‘Don’t be. You did what you thought you had to do. If I’d known about them before, I probably would have helped you kill the first two.’ She shuddered. ‘Knowing what I know now, I’d definitely do it.’
I stared at her, and she stared back. ‘What are you saying?’ I asked.
Her voice was calm and even, her gaze unflinching. ‘I’m saying we have to stop them,’ she said. ‘There’s too many, and these three are nothing compared to what else is out there. We have to find them, and we have to stop them.’
‘But I lost Forman’s phone,’ I said. ‘That was our only link. That was the only way we could find them, and track them, and—’
DAN WELLS SERIES:
Other author's books:
- PartialsI Don't Want to Kill YouIsolationThe Devil's Only FriendOnes and ZeroesNext of KinOver Your Dead BodyFragments
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