I Don't Want to Kill You, page 6
‘Smelling like a corpse.’
Mom sniffed the air and laughed. ‘You’ll smell like detergent, and most people don’t connect that smell to corpses. Just tell everyone you cleaned the bathroom this morning.’
‘That’s sure to impress them.’
‘Only the ones who appreciates a hardworking man,’ said Mom. ‘Girls will love it.’
I unwrapped the bandages on the wrists, then reached for a bottle of Dis-Spray and froze, my hand stretched into the air. Something on the wrist had caught my eye.
I stepped back to the table and bent down to peer at the wrist more closely. On the first corpse, the wrists had been severed cleanly – no saw marks or serrations, no major tissue trauma – but the Mayor’s left wrist was different. Instead of ending in a clean, indecipherable wall of meat and bone, this wrist was messy. There was a straight cut, yes, but behind it was a smaller cut, coming down through the flesh and glancing diagonally off the big knob of bone on the outside of the wrist. It looked like the demon had tried to sever the hand, missed, then hit home with a second swing.
What did it mean?
I had assumed that the demon used claws, like Mr Crowley’s, and his claws had never been stopped by a bone - they’d been able to cut through anything. I’d seen him dig into the asphalt like it was clay. Did this demon have duller claws, or a weaker swing, or was she doing something else entirely? What if it wasn’t a claw at all, but an axe? But that didn’t make sense. An axe should have been able to slice through a wrist without any problem, and it couldn’t possibly have made the stab wounds on the back.
‘Time to go,’ said Mom.
‘Yeah,’ I said absently, grabbing the body’s shoulder to roll it over. ‘I need to look at something.’
‘You need to go to school,’ she said, pushing the shoulder gently back down. ‘That was the deal.’
‘But look at this wrist,’ I said, pointing at it.
‘That was mentioned in Ron’s report,’ she said calmly, steering me away from the table.
‘Does it say what made it?’
‘Go to school,’ she repeated.
‘But I need to know!’ I shouted, shrugging her violently off of my arm. I was breathing heavily, my teeth clenched. She stepped back, eyes wide, and I stepped back the other way, as if away from an electric shock. Where had that come from?
I took a deep breath. ‘I’m sorry.’ I hadn’t had any kind of angry outbursts, physical or otherwise, in weeks. ‘I’ll go now.’
Mom regained her composure and nodded. ‘What do we say?’
I paused. It had been a while since we’d bothered with this, but it was another little ritual we had – a mantra we used to say whenever I left the house, to help me remember my rules. I didn’t want to start it again.
But it was better than the alternative.
‘Today I will smile all day, and think good thoughts about everyone I meet.’ Mom said it with me. It scared me, and I think it scared her, to know how quickly we both went back to the same preventative measure.
I took off my apron and mask, threw away my gloves and washed my hands in the restroom on the way out.
In hindsight, it was stupid of me to stop at Brooke’s house on the way to school. Ever since I got my licence last year I’d driven her to and from school every day; I got to see her, talk to her, and smell the clean, soft scent that followed her everywhere. I cherished those car rides, and now, through force of habit and a powerful sense of delusion, I was right back at it on the first day of the new school year. Of course she wasn’t speaking to me, but she still needed to get to school, right? We’d never officially cut off the driving arrangement, so technically it was still on, and even if I drove her to school it didn’t mean she had to talk to me. But over time we were sure to start talking again anyway – meaningless small talk at first, then more and more, until everything would be just like it had always been.
I waited by her kerb for three minutes, trying to get up the nerve to go knock on her door – she’d always come out on her own before – but it was stupid. I knew it was stupid even to come here, I knew it before I did it. It was just . . . well, it was worth a try, anyway. I put the car in gear and drove away.
I passed Brooke several blocks later, waiting at the bus stop. She didn’t wave, and I drove by without slowing.
I’d never really liked school. I liked learning, but I liked a very specific learning environment. Noisy classrooms with yellowed floor tiles, fluorescent lights and a few hundred kids who thought I was a freak were, unsurprisingly, not a part of the environment I preferred. Give me a good library, an Internet connection and some educational TV, and I could sit and ‘learn’ for hours, as long as I enjoyed the subject; I’d venture to say that I knew more about serial killers and criminal profiling than almost anybody in town, up to and including the FBI team that had come to investigate the Handyman killings. But I was also a realist, and I recognised organised education as a necessary evil. I wanted to become a real mortician when I grew up, and that meant I needed college, and that meant I needed high school. If I could sit through just two more years of broken desks, social cliques and school spirit, I’d be in the clear.
I parked in the back lot. It was the end of August, and the weather was warm but cooling rapidly. Scattered groups of kids were shouting to each other cheerfully, leaning on their cars or strolling slowly towards the various buildings. Our school had three: the main building, the tech building (which was fairly low tech, despite its name), and the gym. I saw a couple of sophomores wandering about in a daze, still daunted by their first day in a real high school. They probably couldn’t read their class schedules.
‘Hey, John,’ said Marci, leaning against one of the flowerboxes in the side lawn. Her best friend, Rachel, was with her. ‘How’s it going?’
I stopped. After our bike-riding date I hadn’t heard from her, and I’d assumed she’d lost interest. Yet here she was, on the first day of school, ignoring everyone else on the lawn and talking to me.
‘Not bad,’ I said. ‘Nothing like the first day of school to get you going in the morning.’
‘Ug,’ said Marci, ‘it’s like a Monday.’
‘It is a Monday.’
‘No, I mean like the Monday to end all Mondays,’ she said. ‘It’s that same depressing “Oh no, the weekend is really over” feeling, magnified a thousand times.’ She grinned mischievously. ‘I’m taking bets on the first person to ditch class.’
‘Counting the whole school?’ I asked. ‘I bet there’s some people that don’t even show up.’
‘That’s what I told her,’ said Rachel.
‘What’s your first period?’ asked Marci.
I looked at my schedule, though I had it memorised. ‘Social Studies with Verner.’
Marci smiled. ‘Sweet – us too. Then here’s the rules: check out everyone in our first-period class, make your pick, and then we’ll watch them for the rest of the day. First one to ditch is the winner.’
‘You mean whoever bets on the first ditcher is the winner,’ said Rachel.
‘That’s debatable,’ Marci replied, standing up. ‘Let’s go grab some seats in the back, so we can get a good view of all our contestants.’
Rachel stood as well, and together they walked over to the nearest door for the main building. After a second of hesitation, I followed them. I’d never walked into school with anybody before, except Max, but that barely counted. He was only my friend because I didn’t have anyone else, and I was only his friend for the same reason. Besides, I hadn’t seen him in weeks, and I was with two very cute girls.
Marci and Rachel waved and smiled and chatted with a dozen or so people on our way through the halls, and I hung behind them like a shadow – not hiding, but not inserting myself into their conversations, either. It seemed like everyone knew them, and they knew just about everyone else. I suppose that’s what ‘popular’ means, and it shouldn’t have surprised me, but it did. I could go a whole week without talk
Mr Verner’s room was the same as always; I don’t think he’d put up any new posters since the 1990s, if that, which seemed weird for a Social Studies teacher. Shouldn’t he have been more on top of current events? The door was in the rear of the room, and Marci went straight to the far wall to claim the back corner seat. Rachel sat in front of her, so I hesitantly took the seat next to Marci on the back row. It’s hard to explain why I felt so strange. It wasn’t because Marci was popular or pretty, though she certainly was; it was more because I’d just never really hung out with anybody before. I felt like I was forgetting something; like I was supposed to do or say something and didn’t know what it was. I couldn’t think of anything, so I just sat down.
‘My next class is with Mr Coleman,’ said Marci. ‘Gag. Do you know how many times he’s tried to look down my shirt?’
‘So wear something else,’ said Rachel. ‘With a shirt like that on, I feel like I should be ogling you too.’
‘He’s a teacher,’ said Marci. ‘It’s completely disgusting.’
‘You should report him,’ I said, glancing at her chest and then looking quickly away. I’d given up my rules against girl-watching, but they were still so ingrained that I hadn’t even noticed her shirt yet – I’d been subconsciously avoiding it. It was a tight black tank top, the same colour as her hair, with a curly green leaf pattern that showed off her curves to perfection. She really was gorgeous . . .
And then I found myself thinking about Brooke. That’s the weirdest thing.
‘I almost did report him last year,’ Marci went on, ‘but when I got to the counsellor’s office he checked me out, too, so I gave up. Obviously I enjoy a little attention, but it amazes me how brazen some people are about it.’
Two more girls wandered into the room, talking and ignoring us. I looked at Marci, keeping my eyes firmly on her face; her eyes were the same green as the vines.
‘You shouldn’t just give up,’ I said. ‘We have a . . .’ I didn’t know what to say, or how to say it: we have a responsibility to stop people from doing bad things. Why was that so hard to say? Everyone I talked to was so complacent. Had people always been like this, and I was just noticing it now?
‘What do we have?’ asked Marci.
‘We have . . .’ Did they really want to talk about this? Most people didn’t care about any of the things I did, and I usually didn’t realise it until I’d already said something insulting, boring, or controversial. I looked around at the classroom. Think, John, I told myself. Find something to talk about. Talking is easy. People do it every day. I saw the two people who’d come in earlier, Kristen and Ashley, and I pointed at them. ‘We have our first two contestants,’ I said. ‘Do you think either of them will be the first ditcher of the day?’
Marci was looking at me out of the corner of her eyes, ignoring my question. What was she thinking?
Rachel laughed. ‘There’s no way Kristen goes first,’ she said. ‘Straight A students don’t ditch.’
‘They ditch all the time,’ said Marci. ‘I got straight As in ninth grade, if you’ll remember, and I ditched my math class about once a week.’ She grinned. ‘That’s a twenty per cent ditch rate.’
‘Kristen is not just any straight A student,’ argued Rachel. ‘She’s a straight A student taking every college credit class the school has, and she’s the editor of the school paper. She’s not going to ditch, the first day of term.’
‘She will if we’re counting school paper meetings,’ I said.
‘Leaving normal school to go to voluntary extra school does not count as ditching,’ said Marci. ‘It won’t be Kristen, and I don’t think Ashley will break first either. She’s not a super-nerd or anything, but she’s not all that rebellious. We’re looking for a true wild woman.’
‘How about a wild man?’ I asked, watching as more people drifted into the room. Among them was Rob Anders, who I thought of as a bully though he wasn’t really. He simply knew enough about me to be scared, without knowing enough to be smart about it. He hated me, but like most high-school kids he was completely powerless to hurt me; sticks and stones could break my bones, but Rob was too chicken to go that far. His suspicions about me were just enough to guarantee him a few seconds of ‘I told you so’ fame if anyone ever found out about the two people I’d killed, but between now and then he was just an angry kid. Even now, when he could have come over to taunt me or whatever, he didn’t; he was probably scared off by Marci, actually. No guy in his right mind wanted to look like a jerk in front of her.
Through the door, in the crowded hallway, I caught a quick glimpse of Max walking past – still short, still chubby, still wearing his glasses, but different somehow. His head was down, and he was scowling. And then he was gone.
‘You think Rob?’ Marci asked, following my gaze to where he stood in the doorway. She pondered him a moment, then shook her head. ‘I don’t see it. Punching you at the Bonfire last year was the craziest thing he’s ever done in his life, and I heard he spent the whole summer working it off for his slave-driver mom. He’ll be on his best behaviour today, just to prove he’s changed. We need somebody else.’
‘Hey, guys.’ Brad Nielsen flopped down into the desk in front of me, right next to Rachel. ‘What’s up?’ He was a guy I’d known better as a kid, though we hadn’t really hung out in years. He was nice enough, but I found myself suddenly hating him – hating him passionately, almost violently. Who did he think he was, invading my group and talking to my girls?
This was exactly why I’d stopped hanging around people - I didn’t want to think like this. How quickly had I gone from nervousness to jealousy? He’d done something so little - he had sat down in a chair – and I’d felt myself burning with rage. Why couldn’t I just have a normal relationship, without seeing everyone I met as a possession or a competitor? I breathed deep, counting slowly to ten while he talked, willing myself to calm down.
‘Did you guys hear about Allison?’ His face was grave, and the girls leaned in, frowning.
‘Allison Hill?’ asked Marci.
‘Yeah,’ said Brad. He looked at me. ‘You didn’t hear?’
‘Nothing,’ I said. ‘What happened?’
‘Killed herself,’ said Brad. He swallowed. ‘They found her this morning – wrists slit, just like Jenny Zeller.’
Rachel covered her mouth, her eyes wide, and Marci’s jaw dropped.
‘You’re kidding,’ she said. ‘What the hell?’
‘It came on the radio right as I got to school,’ said Brad.
‘She just called me last night,’ said Rachel, tears welling up in her eyes. ‘She called me five times – I thought she was just being annoying. I had no idea!’
Another suicide. I looked around the room and saw for the first time the worried looks of the other students: the furrowed brows, the pursed lips, the teary eyes. Everyone was talking about it.
Allison Hill had been a pretty normal girl, as far as I could tell: she didn’t have a ton of friends, but she had more than Jenny Zeller. She was in the choir and the dance team; she had two good parents; she had a job at the bookstore. I’d bought a book on Herb Mullin from her just a few weeks ago.
Why did normal people kill themselves?
‘I don’t understand,’ I said.
‘I know,’ said Brad. ‘It’s nuts.’
‘Suicides always go up during periods of trauma,’ I said, ‘and we’ve had plenty of trauma over the past year, but why teenage girls? They’re not in the target demographic of any of the three killers, so it’s not personal fear, and I don’t think either of them have had connections to the other victims. Did the two girls know each other?’
No one answered, and I mentally kicked myself. There I went again, spouting off about the technical details of a crime an
But there was Marci again, looking at me with that same look as before; not judging, and not really studying, just . . . looking. Thinking.
Brad and Rachel were whispering now, locked in some tearful private conversation. All around us the class was involved in a dozen similar hushed conversations, as the other kids struggled to come to terms with their emotions. I watched them blankly, unsure how to react. I wasn’t sad about Allison, I was . . . confused. Angry. Why was I even bothering with these idiots if this was how they valued their lives? I told myself I shouldn’t think like that, but it was hard to think of anything else.
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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