I Don't Want to Kill You, page 5
‘We have Sheriff Meier with us,’ the reporter said, and the camera zoomed out and panned over to reveal the Sheriff standing stiffly on the reporter’s left. ‘Sheriff Meier, what can you tell us about this attack on the Mayor?’
Mom gasped. ‘The Mayor!’
‘It appears to have happened late last night,’ said the Sheriff. He looked tired, and I guessed that he’d been up for several hours already. ‘The Mayor and one of his aides were the only ones in the building at the time, and both were attacked; the aide received a blow to the head but was otherwise unharmed, and he’s on his way to the hospital now.’
‘The Handyman typically attacks his victims in their homes,’ said the reporter. ‘Do you have any idea why he might have attacked the Mayor here, in his office?’
The Sheriff bristled at that, as he so often did with the press. ‘This case bears remarkable similarity to the Handyman killings, yes, but we want to stress that the connection is still conjecture. We are investigating any and all evidence, and if it turns out that this is the real Handyman and not a copycat, we will proceed from there.’
‘Besides,’ I added, talking to the screen, ‘the Handyman kills people at home and at work – he killed a police officer in his car once. This reporter doesn’t know what she’s talking about.’
Mom shook her head. ‘I can’t believe this is happening. The Mayor.’
I whistled. ‘She’s mad, all right.’
‘No,’ I said, ‘the demon.’
‘Then God help us all.’ Mom stood up and walked back to the bathroom.
The reporter nodded solemnly. ‘Thank you very much for your time.’
‘You’re welcome,’ said the Sheriff, looking a bit impatient, and he left to walk back towards the crime scene. The reporter turned back to the camera, which zoomed in until she filled the screen.
‘We also want to mention that City Hall and the adjoining courthouse will be closed throughout the day while police and other investigators look for evidence,’ she said. ‘Some county employees have been given the day off, others are being questioned, but there are still no solid leads as to the evidence of Clayton County’s newest killer. This is Carrie Walsh, Five Live News.’
‘City Hall is closed?’ asked Mom. She was standing behind me, curling a new part of her hair. ‘We have a meeting there today.’
‘Not any more,’ I said.
‘Then why am I curling my hair?’
‘Because if you stop halfway through you’ll look like an idiot.’
‘That was a rhetorical question, John.’ She walked back to the bathroom and shouted: ‘What is wrong with our town?’
‘We’re being hunted by—’
‘I know,’ she said, coming back into the room. ‘I know it’s a demon, okay? I know it, and I admit it, and it scares the living hell out of me. But what are we supposed to do? How can we just carry on? How can we stay here and do this job, for the love of . . . I feel like a war profiteer, getting rich while everyone dies.’
‘We’re not supposed to just carry on,’ I said. ‘We’re supposed to stop it.’
‘No, we’re not!’ she told me, her voice rising. ‘The police are supposed to stop it, and you are not the police. You’re not trained, you’re not armed – you’re not even old enough to vote!’
‘Young or old, I am the only one who knows anything about this.’
‘There has to be someone else,’ she said, rushing forward to grab my arm. ‘If they’re really real, and really out there, there have to be other people that know about them. Maybe we can talk to them.’
‘What, like some kind of conspiracy freaks off the Internet?’
‘No,’ she said, staring at the floor and rubbing her mouth with her hand. Her other hand kept a vice-like grip on my arm. ‘Not other civilians, but trained people. Government people. They’ve got to know, right? There’s probably a branch of the government designed just for this, some secret group that nobody knows about.’
‘And if nobody knows about them,’ I said, ‘how are we ever possibly going to find them? What are we going to say? If we call the police right now and tell them we want to speak with the Special Demon Unit, no one would believe us.’
‘We don’t have to find them; we just make an official report and they’ll find us.’
‘We already reported it when Crowley died, remember?’ I said. ‘That put us in touch with the FBI, which put us in touch with Forman, who turned out to be another demon. Last time I trusted the FBI I ended up drinking my own urine in a hole under some guy’s house. We’re on our own for this.’
‘You can’t say that,’ Mom objected. ‘I will not let you do this.’
‘So you’re just going to ignore it while everybody dies around you?’
‘What do you think you’re going to do, John?’ she demanded, putting her hands on her hips. ‘What? Help me understand.’
‘That’s what I want,’ I said. ‘I want to understand.’
‘You want to kill them.’
‘If it comes to that, yes,’ I said, ‘but first we have to understand them. Doesn’t it make you curious at all? Even a little bit? Don’t you want to know who they are and why they’re here and why they’re killing everybody? Why does everyone insist on shutting their eyes to this?’
‘Life is too short,’ my mom said, folding her arms and leaning against the wall. ‘It’s too precious. We have to live in this world, but we don’t have to wallow in it. We don’t have to fill our lives with all of this darkness.’
‘But somebody has to,’ I said. ‘Somebody has to take the hit and deal with the darkness, or it will never go away.’
A fierce look came into her eyes. ‘But that somebody does not have to be my son.’ She stared at me a moment, her eyes wet with tears. ‘You’re all I have left.’
She turned and went back into the bathroom, and for a moment I watched the empty space where she had been. I wasn’t really all she had left. I was the only one left at home, sure, with Dad eight years gone and my sister Lauren barely on speaking terms with her, but she had Margaret, and she had . . . Well, she had to have somebody else – right? And things with Lauren were better than they’d been in years, so that was something.
I turned back to the TV. The news was cutting to a commercial, but the signout footage was a quick shot of the courthouse lawn, probably taken earlier that morning when the Mayor’s body was first found. There was an indistinct shape on the grass, presumably the body, and rising up from its back were two long poles, just like with the pastor. Caught on the poles, or perhaps hung there, were two wide sheets of ripped plastic, flowing in the breeze and splashed with dirty red blood. They flapped in the wind like artificial wings, and then the screen fell to black.
Brooke’s house was just two doors down from mine, a two-storey tract home that followed the same basic layout as every other house in the neighbourhood – except ours, of course, which was just an apartment over the mortuary. I sat in my car, parked innocuously on the kerb, and catalogued Brooke’s house in my head: there was the front porch, with the door right in the centre; this led back into a long hallway that stretched to the rear of the house. On the left was the living room, small but cosy, with a large picture window, and on the right was a dining room that turned into a kitchen at the back; this had a large sliding glass door that led out to their backyard. The back corner on the left side was a bathroom and a large pantry.
The first floor I didn’t know nearly as well, having never been up there, but I’d been in the Crowleys’ house so I could guess where everything was. The staircase led up to a master bedroom – presumably her parents – at the top on the front right corner. I could see the windows from my seat in the car: white lace curtains and a couple of cutesy knick-knacks. Across the hall was a smaller bedroom which was probably her brother Ethan’s. The back left corner was Brooke’s room, with a wide view of the woods beyond. This I knew for certain, because I us
Well, obviously not much better.
I don’t know why I was watching her house. It’s not like I needed the companionship – if I wanted to do something, I could just call my friend Max. I wasn’t peeping into Brooke’s windows, and I wasn’t stalking her, I was just . . . thinking about her. I wondered if she ever thought about me.
It was late August, with just enough breeze to keep the heat from being oppressive. My windows were rolled down, and I hung my arm out the side, feeling it bake in the sun. Somewhere a lawnmower droned. I watched Brooke’s house with a blank mind. The world was hollow, like a bell.
A few minutes later the lawnmower shut off, and a minute or two after that Brooke herself came into view, walking out from the backyard pushing a lawnmower. She lined it up on a corner of the front lawn and leaned down to grab the starter cord, ripping it up and back. The mower roared to life and she pushed it forward, carving a long, straight swathe into the grass. She was so different from Marci – taller, thinner, less curvy and more . . . willowy? That was a stupid word. Brooke was elegant, long and slender. Her hair was golden, and today she had pulled it back into a ponytail that hung past her shoulders. She moved simply and gracefully.
She reached the edge of the lawn and turned around, coming back towards me as she cut the second row. I slumped down in the car so she wouldn’t see me, but her eyes were on the grass. When she turned again to go back the other way I got out of my car and walked slowly towards her, coming to a stop in her driveway. She reached the far edge and pulled the mower around again for another pass. She saw me now, and paused a moment. She turned off the mower and pulled a headphone out of her ear.
We stood there, silent. There was so much I wanted to say, but really nothing that I actually could say. Not because the words weren’t there, they just weren’t in any kind of order. Anything I said would be a string of random words: food shoes house, my not floor holding. Everywhere. Sky. Language fell apart, not just for me but for the entire world, from now until the dawn of time.
How did anyone ever talk to anyone else?
She spoke. ‘How you doing?’
She bent back down to grab the starter cord, but I stopped her.
‘Do you think . . .?’ I didn’t even know what I wanted to ask her.
‘John,’ she said, ‘I’m sorry for what I said. But it’s still true. You’re . . . I mean . . . I don’t know what I mean.’ She sighed. ‘We talked about this already, right? I can’t just forget everything. I can’t just look at your eyes and see the person I used to see. I’ve seen . . . .’ She bit her lip. ‘I don’t know what I’ve seen. More than I wanted to.’ She braced herself to pull, hand on the cord, but I stopped her again.
She closed her eyes. ‘Did Marci ask you out?’ she asked.
I nodded. ‘How’d you know?’
‘She asked me if she could. Like I had any say in it. You’re not my . . . anything. I mean, we only went on two dates, right?’
‘You told her to ask me out?’
She let go of the cord and straightened up. ‘I didn’t tell her not to.’
‘I thought you were scared of me. Seems like you would’ve warned her or something.’
She shook her head. ‘Please don’t think I hate you, John. You’re a good friend. You saved my life, maybe more than once. But now every time I see you I see him, and I see the smoke, and then I see the way you . . .’ Her voice cracked and I could tell she was trying not to cry. She kept her eyes down, avoiding mine. ‘I see the way you looked at me. The way you looked when you asked him for the knife. I’m not scared any more, I just . . .’ She looked up at the sky. ‘I don’t know. I think it’s because I saw someone else, someone behind your face, like you’d taken off a mask. It was still you, but it wasn’t. And I don’t think that person is going to hurt me, or Marci, or anybody else, but . . . I guess the thing is that I don’t know anything about that person. At all. And that’s what scares me more than anything – that there could be two people, so different, and one of them so secret.’
I looked at her – bright blue eyes, clearer than the sky, wet with tears like drops of rain. I wanted to wipe away those tears, I wanted to run, I wanted to hold her and hit her and scream and disappear. I wanted to melt into a puddle of sludge, like Crowley and Forman before me – gone forever, like a drop of nothing. I wanted to deny it all, and tell her she was crazy, and act as normal as possible, and convince her I was just like everybody else. I should have stayed in my car. I should have stayed in my house.
She bent back to the starter cord, but I stepped forward, my hand held out desperately.
‘Can we talk?’
‘About . . .’ About what? I had nothing to talk about. I had no hobbies, I had no interests, I had no life but the one I could never share with anyone. The only thing I ever thought about. ‘I think Forman was a demon.’
‘I know he was,’ I said, taking another step forward. ‘So was the Clayton Killer.’ No one knew it was Mr Crowley. ‘And I think the new one is too.’
‘A demon?’ said Brooke. ‘Like, a literal demon, like with horns and a tail and all that?’
‘I think that’s a devil,’ I said. ‘I think demons just look like us.’
‘What are you talking about?’
‘That’s not the point – I mean, it’s not a real demon, not technically, but it’s some kind of . . . like a monster, like a real monster. Like in a movie or something.’
She was staring at me, her jaw wide open and her brow furrowed in concern. ‘John, are you okay?’
I shouldn’t have said anything – I was usually so much smarter, so much more careful. Why did I think she would have any idea what I was talking about?
‘Did you see anything when we were in the house with Forman?’ I asked. ‘Did you notice anything weird about him?’ Why did I keep talking?
‘Monsters aren’t real, John,’ she said. She looked worried. ‘Do you need to sit down?’
‘No, I’m fine. Listen, I’m fine, just forget it, okay?’ I felt like I was drowning. ‘That was just a crazy story, you know? Just a . . . just a joke.’ I took a step back. ‘I’ll see you around.’ I turned and walked quickly towards my house.
I ignored her, never turning or slowing or breathing until I made it home and got inside and locked the door behind me.
The Mayor’s body arrived in the mortuary on the first day of school, early in the morning as I was getting ready to leave. Dead bodies keep to their own schedule: a body decays at the same rate every time, no matter who it is, no matter how important it is, no matter how long the FBI studies it for evidence. The Mayor had been dead for a week now, and there wasn’t much time left to embalm it if the family wanted a viewing. When the body showed up early in the morning like this it meant that the Coroners had stayed up all night finishing their autopsy – running final checks, performing a final cleaning, and dotting all the i’s on their paperwork. The funeral was only one day away. We had very little time to work with.
I stayed in the kitchen, wolfing down my breakfast until finally the Coroner left, and then I ran downstairs like a shot. Mom was getting washed up, and I walked over casually to join her.
‘What do you think you’re doing?’ she asked.
‘Not during school hours,’ she said. ‘You’ve got to leave in just a few minutes.’
‘Then I have a few minutes,’ I said. ‘Let me help get you started.’
Mom paused, watching me, then sighed. ‘Did you eat your cereal?’
‘And you washed your bowl?’
‘Yes,’ I lied.
‘Wash your hands, then,’ she said, turning back to the sink. ‘The last thing Mayor Robinson needs is raisin bran in his chest cavity.’
I crowded up next to her and washed eagerly, then pulled on an apron, a mask and a pair of sterile rubber gloves. We unzipped the body bag and pulled it off, catching a powerful whiff of cleansers and disinfectants from the autopsied corpse.
‘Let’s hope the fan doesn’t give out,’ I said.
‘Margaret’s on her way,’ said Mom.
‘I can stay until she gets here,’ I offered, but Mom shook her head and looked at the clock.
‘You can stay for four more minutes, then it’s off to school.’