I’ve always fancied dreams. I did a thesis on Freud’s Theory of Dreams back in college days despite Psychology wasn’t my major (it still isn’t) and I knew next to nothing about it except what Freud said in his 200-something-page book, which I wasn’t sure I got a firm hold of its content. Telling you this isn’t meant to show off what I know; it’s just sometimes my fancy for dreams almost becomes an obsession. I’ve had a lot of dreams, and my dreams more often than not send me extremely bizarre subconscious messages that leave me pondering what the hell they are supposed to mean for the rest of the day. Remember the time when I wrote about having a vampire-killing werewolf dream? Or the time I wrote about being a zombie-killing girl whose boyfriend was a human-cat named Hisoka (yeah, I remember the name)? Or the weirdest and funnies dream of all, the one about Ali, the teenage girl who was also a Valkyrie’s reincarnation?
My dreams are not always crazily strange; sometimes they are plain gory and I’m pretty sure others would call them nightmares. To me they aren’t nightmares; they’re just a little more morbid than a normal dream. One time I dreamed an entire horror (slasher) movie, with me being the protagonist, or the ‘survival girl’. There was some party going at my house and I invited a beggar in, gave her shelter and food. My kindness, like most torture movies, weren’t appreciated: the beggar turned out to be a serial supernatural killer and she murdered the guests, one by one. And unlike most torture movies, I wasn’t a helpless victim, I could fight back because, un-strangely enough, I myself was a supernatural being who could fight her blow for blow. I killed her, chopped her head off, threw it on a garbage heap and went back to other survivors. Something didn’t feel right, and when I came to check, her head was gone. The end. Faded to black.
Then, there was this dream in which I and other victims were shackled and led into a slaughterhouse, where the butchers put human heads and limbs on display like pork. Or the dream with girl wearing a white robe as she walked barefooted on the roof and finally fell down, breaking every bone of her body yet still alive.
In some morbid dreams, I was the hero to save the day, while in others, the sadist villain people hated and feared. My memory of this one dream is quite blurry to me, and the only impression I still have is that I was repeatedly torturing a man because he refused to surrender some secret I wanted. He wasn’t any good man himself; still I ranked much higher on the horrible monster scale.
Those dreams aren’t nightmares; the dream last night is.
I didn’t remember much of the previous part, something happened that led me to an amusement park. I ran through many parts aimlessly and having a lot of fun while at it. I even hopped on an electric toy car and rode with the kids. I met some friends there whose faces were unrecognizable to me – maybe I forgot them, or maybe I’ve never met them in real life. Don’t know. However, there was one face I knew. It belonged to a friend in college, whom I wasn’t exactly closed but on general good terms with. I liked her enough despite we mostly had nothing in common except class and major. We chit-chatted for a while and parted – she went into the water park while I took another aimless walk. It wasn’t long before I saw people rushing to the water park’s direction, gasping as they halted at the entrance, a horror look plastered on their faces. Curious, I came inside, and witnessed my friend with her wide eyes staring straight at me. Her body poked out of a small hole, and the blue water was being dyed red. The staff said the land on which this park was built was cursed and people died every now and then (why the hell didn’t they close it already?). There was a meat grinder (for lack of better word to describe that small, deadly hole) under the pool, which had sucked my friend in and the rest was a true gore fest. I remember the pain and horror upon seeing her body, or what remained of it. I wept for her, and the grief I had for her untimely gruesome death continued to haunt me for the rest of the dream, which is just a mundane sequence of everyday activities, and even after I woke up. Strangely enough, I had forgotten to set the alarm on and thus, my mother had to come upstairs and woke me. I had never felt so grateful for being released from the strong grip of my dream.
You see, my nightmares aren’t the ones that I play the hero or villain (sometimes both); my nightmares are those dreams which involve the death of someone I know. Death haunts me as much as dreams do, only not in the delightful way. Death generally scares me and if I think about it, or more precisely, think about whom it could take from me, my heart begins racing and I can have a panic attack. Earlier I wasn’t afraid of death that could befall me; I was appalled by the deaths that could befall people around me. Now I am horrified by the death of my own as much as those of others. It terrifies the hell out of me when I think how those closed to me would be devastated by my death, because I can always imagine how devastated I would be if it happened.
So naturally, being so scared of death, I was panic when I drew the Death card. My Tarot decks reflect much of my unconscious mind, since they have little to no connection to other minds except mine. This is one aspect of Tarot that I find fascinating. Besides telling me about the future, Tarot tells me much more about myself, my desires, my fears, my light, my darkness. It turned out the deck was just foreseeing my nightmare, as there was nothing else related to the Death card that happened during the day.
There are times that I think, nearly believe, that dreams are fragments of our other lives, lives that we never get to truly live out, always interrupted, cut short because we have to wake up and start another day of this life we are living. This is where I got the inspiration for the short story Remnants, where all the ‘ghosts’ (C.C., Slashy, Toasty and Drippy) are fragments from the dreams of the protagonist ‘I’.
Disclaimer : Characters belong to their respectful owners
Fandom : Penny Dreadful (2014)
Rating : M
Pairing : Victor Frankenstein x Dorian Gray
Genre : fanfiction,
Characters : Victor Frankenstein, Dorian Gray, The Creature/Caliban
Summary : This is an aborted idea I had for a Victor x Dorian smut. Sadly my inspiration has run out before I have the chance to finish it. To not waste a few words I’ve written, I will leave it here. Feel free to use it if you want to, just give me a few words, OK? The plot is that The Creature wants Dorian Gray as his mate and implies to kill him so that Victor will resurrect him (it’s a bit dark at first). Then they both learn a disturbing truth that some people just don’t die when they are killed.
“He’s out of your league!” Victor Frankenstein hissed at his Creature, who, together with him, were lurking in the shadows and peering at the opposite coffee shop. “He’s no common folk, perhaps a lord’s son, a nobleman, a person of wealth and status. Drill some common sense into your head: should he go missing, his family could turn the city inside out to find him…”
He barely finished his sentence when his throat was seized with cold, vice-like fingers and his body was slammed against the damp wall, knocking the air out of his lungs. He clawed at the hand that sought to crush his windpipes but it was of no avail, the steeled grip did not loosen. His vision was blotted and his eyes bulging, Victor could feel the foul breath of Death very close to his face.
“How is a corpse ‘out of my league’, Creator? Does it matter whose son he is or what status or property he possesses once Death puts the veil over his pretty eyes? Oh, how fair and just Death is to us all: that he would treat a nobleman and a bastard the same, stripping them off their status and their gold, and leaving them a naked, undignified rigid cadaver.”
The Creature growled, baring his teeth in his widening grin as he lectured his creator. Victor could not bear to look at him.
“It’s different…” he retorted weakly. “He…he’s still living, he has not..”
“What is the difference? Was I human once, and living? Was my brother the same? We died of whatever cause we could not remember, and were revived by your hands. Did it matter to you at that time that you chose to give this corpse life and not the other next to him? Does it matter now that you work your magic once again on yet another corpse?”
Victor’s face crumpled in a grimace, his face purple with the lack of air. The Creature went on, voice softer and languid, “What matters is that I want him, Creator, have wanted him since the moment I saw him, closing his eyes as he inhaled the sweet perfume of the Rothchild’s Slipper. I have yearned for him as I yearned for your care and guidance when you made me, as I have yearned for release from this miserable fate of eternal loneliness and you will oblige me. Make him mine, Creator, and you have my word that we will go far away, out of your sight and your life. You want peace, don’t you? Do it for me and you will have it.”
Then The Creature released him and Victor gasped for air like a fish out of water. Every intake of breath was a painful stab to his lungs: his sight blurred with the hot tears that gathered at the corners of his eyes. “Fine…” he wheezed, clutching his throat, where he did not doubt would have five ugly purple bruises for days to come. Unconsciously he fixed his crumpled collar and cravat; he was not prepared to answer the torrent of questions from Sir Murray and Mr. Chandler lest they saw his neck. “But let me be clean of it, of this hideous crime of yours. I will have no part in your cold-blooded murder.”
“Fine. Taking life is my part as creating new life is yours. In three days I will come back, and I will have my beautiful mate. Do not fail me this time, Father.”
He retreated to the darkness faster than human eyes could follow, leaving Victor with a tornado of angst and guilt churning in his stomach as if a hungry mechanical monster. He wanted to throw up, despite he had not had much in his stomach since morning, and it was not entirely due to the violent treatment he had suffered at the hands of his ‘child’ or the putrid smell coming heavily from the open trench nearby. He braced himself to look up and found the young man had not left his place. The world is changed because you are made of ivory and gold. The curves of your lips rewrite history. Lines from a recently read novel sprang up in his mind. Such a beautiful creature and vividly alive. Yet Victor could envision that sculpted body, nude, pallid and lifeless, lying on his operation table, that his scalpel would mar that flawless skin with grotesque scars and stitches. He was no longer able to hold it back; he threw up violently on the pavement, toxic acid burning his mouth and tongue.
Through a veil of tears Victor saw that the young man was staring at him from his place across the street.
He returned, with a goodnight kiss and promise of bedtime stories
He returned the next night, when the grandfather clock struck twelve, and did so the night after, and all the nights that followed. Exactly at midnight, never a second late. I knew because after the fourth night, I began counting every remaining minute while telling myself the butterflies in my stomach didn’t come from the anxiety and anticipation of cigarette smell blending in the air. Didn’t come from him. And when the time came and I turned my head, I would see a deceptively young man sitting cross-legged on my creaking bed, a half-burnt fag between his fingers. With his fine tailored suit, his slightly wavy locks slick with brilliantine, his polished Italian leather boots and expensive fags, Death posed sharply as a privileged fop most welcomed in every casinos or red-light districts. He might be one when he was not on his “deadly” business. Yet, instead of being there, he was here, sitting on a low, tiny bed that would probably get his long limbs cramp. Instead of having voluptuous pretty girls on his lap, he was in the company of a scrawny kid who was debating whether to grudgingly welcome him or just shove him out of the door. “Good evening,” he would say, and thus our nightly tête-à-tête began.
He was the first I hoped and the last I expected to see upon turning the brass doorknob of my attic room the second night he paid me a visit.
The grandfather clock was chiming its ominous tune as though welcoming him.
It had been a long day indeed. Rushing back and forth between the East and West ends of the town gave my soles blisters that would not heal in a week or two and my leg and thigh muscles a burning soreness that numbed whatever kinks Lord Abner tried on me later in the evening. Having been instructed a handful of new “pleasure” plays from an exotic trader, he was more than eager to try, as my mother had been more than eager to pick the golden coins from his heavy pocket. But I had been a disappointment, he remarked furiously. Lying impassively on his four-poster red satin bed like a bloody dead log. Had he known beforehand, he would have just paid for a pretty cadaver to be delivered to his mansion – corpses were far cheaper, especially in this town where peasants died like flies every day. Where was the youthful and rigorous passion he had expected after paying an absurd sum for one pleasure night? Cheated! Conned! He roared and finally resorted to the old trick of leather bindings, masks and crop. Venting out the frustration in the familiar way he knew all too well. At least in the end, he was generally satiated; otherwise Mother and I would have been in great trouble.
I staggered step by step on the wooden stair, a basin of water and a spotted, worn cloth in my hands, to the door of my room. Mother were already sleeping in her room, probably stone-drunk on the better-than-average whiskey her ample payment tonight had allowed and never aware that her child might have lost her yet a generous client. My sporadic footsteps woke only Janek, who was the unfortunate light sleeper in this house of nocturnal creatures. Glaring at me with bleary eyes, he muttered gibberish before covering his crinkly head with his faded, patched blanket – its foul smell reached even where I was standing. Sweet dreams, I mouthed, and ascended the rest of the stair to my room.
For a moment I had imagined Death behind the door, grinning at me when I came in. It gave my heart a jolt to step in and see the real one.
“Good evening.” A greeting that would sound much mechanical and pretentious were it not coming from Death. He uncrossed his legs and shifted to the edge to allow me the most space should I need to lie down, and I nodded in brief acknowledgement. Jumbled by his unexpected appearance, my mind failed to find its voice. What to do now that he was in my room just as I had wished? Honestly I didn’t know. I could greet him with the same cliché. Maybe not. Or perhaps I could go on doing whatever I had intended to do, never mind his presence. Though I had hoped (against all hope) for his return, I wouldn’t imagine myself giving his company a warming welcome. Death didn’t seem to mind though; he might have picked it up from my mind already.
I laid the basin on the table and opened the window, facing the streets and a row of cypress trees. It had been drizzling for hours and the moon was shy; all I had was the dim, yellow lamplight that could be put out in any minute. Since I had displeased the lord, I hadn’t earned the extra coins that I might have used to purchase some candles and oil. Forget them. The state my legs was wouldn’t have allowed me another few more streets.
The rough fabric rubbed against my back. I grimaced at the first taste of pain, which would last for a couple of days if I were lucky to have no client, and tried to be less haste and more gentle. As soon as I stripped off my soiled clothes and put them away in a small heap by the bed to be washed tomorrow morning, I felt Death’s gaze on me, rolling slowly down my spine like small fireballs. Made my skin crawl just a little. Still, I didn’t begrudge his staring; my back and backside must be a sight to behold now, as was the skin of my thighs and legs. Lord Abner had been fervently determined to get his reimbursement. I supposed I deserved all these nasty slashes, as mother would later chastise me once she found out about my “terrible service”. The thickheaded child that refused to learn, that was I.
“The water was cold.”
I turned around at his voice, perplexed by his sudden statement. Did he mean the water in the basin? Of course it was cold. Warm water at this late hour cost three pence and I simply wouldn’t want to risk mother’s fury. Besides, I only needed something to cleanse myself so that I could have a better sleep. Cold water served the purpose just fine.
I soon understood as I turned to basin. Steam was rising from the surface and for a moment I stood still, allowing the moisture to wash over my face. Pleasure, the warmth and moist on my cold skin. And the scent of fresh, clean water passing through my nose was much purer than the variety of oriental perfumes Lord Abner arranged on shelf after shelf of ivory in his lavish pleasure chamber.
Thank you. I found my voice at last. Dipping the cloth in the water, I began to dab at my skin. First were the wounds. A sharp sting. Though I had anticipated the pain, I still could not feign nonchalance in the face of its sharp bite. Mother once said I was blessed with skin that was never plagued with scars, something she envied and would trade all she got to possess. But I wished for the exact opposite: had my skin become calloused and thickened then I might not have to endure much pain every time it was torn open.
The steady gaze of Death’s eyes appeared to heighten my sensitivity. No one had watched me the way he was doing at present: persistent, scathing yet devoid of lust. Lust I knew well, having dealt with it since my first “client”, but this I had never; this was foreign, alien; this confused me. My usual pace reduced; what would normally take a few minutes felt like hours.
I took in a deep breath, and briefly prepared myself for the final part. Cold air filled my lungs, barely sufficient to cool the shimmering heat within my stomach. Most injuries had been cleaned, leaving only one remained. I felt a ridiculous need to turn my head around, and decided against it. Perhaps I was petrified to meet the vivid color of his eyes. Red like the burning fire ready to wash away all the unclean.
I had not been ashamed to present him with the hideous details of my life. However, showing him the memory was one thing, letting him see was an entirely different matter. It wasn’t shame that fanned the boiling in my stomach; it was something worse, something I couldn’t name yet.
I swallowed the rock in my throat and spread my legs, bring the cloth between them. Lord Abner’s remnants clung stubbornly onto the raw, swollen flesh. I scrubbed at it and hissed audibly with the burning pain, squeezing my eyes shut. I felt warm dampness on my cheeks; the unmistakable scent of nicotine swam in my nasal passages.
He kept mum the entire length, letting only the smell of cigarette to speak of his presence. I was grateful for his grave silence. I couldn’t have known what to say if he had asked.
Again, he did not need to ask really.
I put on my nightshirt, taking time to do each button and to unravel the knots in my stomach. The water was dirtied, the sight of which caused me to wince. Leaving the basin on the table, I closed the window, fastened the rusty bolt and climbed on my bed.
The bed moaned when I settled myself on the mattress. To my surprise, Death pulled the blanket to my chest.
“I suppose you’re in no mood for a bedtime story,” he said with a tiny hint of smile.
I shook my head slightly. My body was sore all over and my eyes felt heavy as stone. I imagined I could sleep for weeks if I were allowed to have my way.
“Too bad I’ve prepared a few.” He shrugged. “Maybe tomorrow.”
My eyes shot open at the hint. He looked at me, his smile widening to a grin. He patted my head.
“Yes, child, tomorrow, and all the nights after tomorrow. I will be harassing you from now on, whether you like it or not. But now, you will sleep.”
I felt his kiss on my forehead, a quick brush of his lips on my skin. He vanished into thin air the next second, leaving me to debate with myself whether I should be fond of his “harassment”. It didn’t last long as I soon fell into the loving embrace of dreamless sleep.
I awoke before dawn the next morning, feeling full of life and free of pain. The fabric of my nightshirt scratching my skin didn’t pain me, and when I ran my fingers on my shoulders and back, the skin was impossibly smooth.
I noticed something off as I descended the stair, carrying the basin in one hand and my soiled clothes in the other. The flat was eerily quiet; Janek’s usual loud snoring couldn’t be heard.
Curiously, I approached his makeshift bed. Odd. My footsteps didn’t wake him, the old bat. I pulled down his blanket, and poked his shoulder with my forefinger.
My eyebrows knitted. I pinched him.
Normally Janek would jump and yell at me in his thick Southern accent. Not today though. Today he remained still like a log.
I slapped him hard on the shoulder.
Not a stir.
Dubiety rose in me. I placed a finger in front of his nostrils. A jolt ran through my being. There was no breathing.
Dead as a door nail, he was. Unannounced. Quiet. As if Death had swooped down in the night to take his miserable soul to the afterlife, or whatever it was after death. I had to smile as the comparison. It was not without a warning though; Janek had been constantly complaining about a pricking pain in his chest for some time, but no one, including himself, had been paying real attention to his deteriorating health. Not having enough money, he hadn’t seen the doctor. Here was the result.
I stared at his rigid corpse for a good few minutes, uncertain of my own feeling. I supposed there was sadness in me, grief even, for his sudden death. Janek had been the only one in this entire flat to possess the patience to talk to me, a mute child, to teach me bits and bobs of his own knowledge about the world, warped as it was. I supposed he had loved me, as many a time he had caught me in his booze-stinking embrace, whispering to me how I resembled his “precious beautiful child”, who had been lost years and years before to the “wretched old bitch”. I also remembered after each time he had ravished me with kisses so passionate that my lips had been red and swollen for hours later.
I had never told Mother about any of those.
With confidence, I opened his drawer, where I knew he stored all his belongings, however scarce they were. I rummaged through the objects, most of which were as useless to me as to the world, until I found something that caused a satisfied smile to creep on my face. The arsenic he had kept to exterminate the rats – those furry devils from Hell that nested in this shambles. I put the brown packet deep in my pocket, leaving the rest in the drawer.
I stood by his bed and bended down to place a kiss on his wrinkled forehead. Farewell, old Janek. Farewell, Father.
And off I went to wash my clothes.
Mother always complained about how often Janek’s snoring woke her up in the middle of the night. I bet she would be delighted to learn that her sleep was no longer disturbed.
I have no friends. And if I did indeed have one, I would not consider him a “friend”. Friendship is a luxury I cannot afford.
Like me, he does not have a name, and so, “Death” is how I call him.
He never discloses his true name to me. Never speaks of it once. Perhaps he’s not allowed to. Perhaps he has forgotten. Perhaps he doesn’t have one to begin with.
The name I take the liberty of giving him is not inappropriate. Death is what he does. Death is what he is.
And death is the only gift he brings to a human when he stands at their doorstep uninvited.
Death looks nothing like the ghastly image humankind has conjured up since they were conscious of “death”: pit-black robe spanning like the endless night in stark contrast with bone-white, inanimate face that seems only skin and skull. Black and white aren’t his permanent colors, though occasionally he wears either, when he is “in the mood” as he puts it. When he is not, he simply puts on other shades, mostly grim but I have a feeling it is his personal preference rather than an obligation.
As black and white are already a fallacious association, so is scythe as his main choice of weapon. It isn’t. In fact, the only object he seems to carry is his beloved Sterling silver zippo that I have never seen him without. That, and his seemingly unlimited supply of fags. The heaviest smoker I have the non-pleasure to meet. Why bother, he once replied to my curious query while casually dragging out a long, tortuous trail of smoke from his thin lips. For the style, perhaps, I answered. I knew I would have one if I were Death. Carry it around like a proud treasure. He snickered, mocking the idea as he does now and then with every mortal assumption he finds amusing. Why bother carrying a cumbersome weapon, he repeated, while he has no intention to go on a battlefield. If death was war, he would be the all-time victor, no argument.
So, scythe is a no, then what does he reap souls with, you ask. Contrary to common belief, he never does. The very thought of cutting a soul from its flesh nauseates him to no end. Gives him goosebumps, he remarked with disdain. It still baffles him how humans have managed to invent such scurrilous notion of something as beautiful and elegant as death. His business is not that of a gardener but rather of a guide, and he would like to handle it with as much grace and dignity as it certainly deserves.
Sadly, not many a man face death with the same grace and dignity, I told him. Often they tremble, piss themselves or wail like a baby. Sometimes all. He shook his head ruefully in agreement.
I found that gesture almost too human.
Anyway, if you have a rich imagination of how “deadly” and macabre Death should appear, once you meet the actual Death – sooner or later – you will be thoroughly disappointed.
As I were in our first encounter.
When I turned the doorknob and stepped inside the shadows of my attic room, he was the first thing I saw with the light from my candle.
“Huh? You are not afraid of me?”
Death’s voice straddled the line between a purr and a whisper, with a hint of semi-lisp. His accent was exotic and dripped with seduction; I found it more amusing than offending.
I shook my head.
Shake again. And Death smiled.
Another wrong assumption humans have about Death is that Death constantly wears a stoic, grim and dead-like expression on his bony face. Neither is Death’s face bony nor are his facial expressions anywhere close to their imagination. As if flashing his perfect gleaming white teeth will somehow lessens his deadly presence – if he has any, Death smiles a great deal. He even grins, more often than proper.
Oh, did I forget to mention “proper” never exists in his dictionary, whatever the connotations?
“How utterly failed I am!”exclaimed Death rather dramatically, one hand clutching his chest in mock pain.
Was he having a heart there? If yes, would he feel pain when it got pricked ?
“Not even scare a little child!”
I wasn’t afraid of death, truth be told. I wasn’t afraid when I crouched into the narrow attic I called my bedroom to find, on my rusty bed, a perfect stranger sitting cross-legged. With a fag I knew cost more than Mother’s weekly income tucked between his lips, he flashed me a smile many others would describe as “predatory”. Who he was and how he had gotten in here was a mystery; what he wanted in this flat that was just a little better than the slums down the street, god knew! The worst scenario was he would kill me, a defenseless child, and dump the body down the gutter. Or he would rape me and do the same. Didn’t matter. No one would bat an eye at the sight of ravenous mongrels gnawing the putrefying remains of some nameless corpse. Deaths in such manner happened every day in this godforsaken part of the town, why should I be afraid of becoming yet another victim?
“Because, you know, witnessing others’ death is not the same at being in its presence yourself,” he elucidated. “It is so far human’s greatest fear. Unrivaled.”
Suddenly I heard his voice while his lips remained tight. No, it wasn’t ventriloquism. Janek downstairs used to be a ventriloquist (now a stinking drunkard that neglected his rent on regular basis) and from him I had learned that even the best ventriloquist could not produce such clarity and effect this voice had. It was as if he wasn’t merely speaking to me but rather punching each syllable on the surface of my brain.
I let out a sigh, finding a little comfort in the fact that he was not a lunatic loafer trying to mess with a child.
Not every human’s, I conveyed my thought to him, finding it far more convenient than reaching for my wad of paper and pen. My sign language wasn’t developed enough to catch up with my thinking – one huge disadvantage.
“Well, true, I’ve seen a few myself. But I haven’t imagined a little child that doesn’t show the slightest fear looking at my face.”
I’m not a little child. The words blurted out before I realized it was plain childish to say so. And neither was his face any “scary” as he boasted.
“Pardon me?”Death looked me up and down.“You look every bit like one.”
Just the look. Then I unlocked a drawer in my mind and showed him. Pushed away to a far corner in hope it would disappear, my memory, up until now, of burly men pressing me down Mother’s bed, breathing their foul breath into my mouth, taking me, tearing me for their sadistic pleasure. Of aged men forcing me on my knees and thrusting their no longer potent lust down my throat, making me swallow their filth like it was a great delicacy. Of young gentlemen binding my limbs and flagellating me while moaning the name of God.
Some of Mother’s clients had a taste for children. And a child who could not utter a word seemed to turn them on like no other.
Not a child. The first time one of them had touched me, the child had been cannibalized, leaving an empty shell to be paid for and used over and over.
Well, we all have to work our ass off to feed our stomach, Mother’s words. She had shrugged the matter off when I came crying to her and gone for another shot of bourbon.
I hid nothing from Death, no mortification. This body was no longer my own.
Death sat on my bed, still like the timeless stone gargoyle in front of the chapel. Even his countenance looked stony, inanimate; gone was the easygoing smile that had been there mere seconds ago. At this moment he was really dead-like.
Death’s eyes were pale, unlike his hair and his suit. In the room lit only by the ominous moonlight and one feeble candle, I hadn’t been able to determine their true color. Yet I was now. It would be hard not to, considering how Death’s eyes were shining with brilliant light.
I remembered one odd occasion when Mother had taken me to an event held and joined only by the aristocrats – those she often told me to stay far away from. She was dressed in her most beautiful pearl-white gown, her face powdered, her lips rogue, her golden hair meticulously done and she was wearing every bit of jewelry she possessed. She had even dabbed some perfume – not the cheap kind that cost a penny she usually wore but the tiny vial from France she treasured more than her life; once I had tried to lift it from its altar and she had punished me dearly.
“There,” she whispered, hot breath tickling my ear, “that is your father. Can you see him?”
She pointed a long, bony finger at a man in fancy frock coat and silk cravat standing on the stage, and her tone was dripping honey, something I couldn’t remember hearing for years and years. “See how handsome he is! How rich is his voice! He told me he loved me with that voice! See how strong his arms are! He held me with those arms!” She was crooning. Not wanting to disappoint or enrage her, I nodded despite seeing him but not truly seeing him. He was too far and the best I could make out were his outfit and the vague features of his face. Hawk nose, I recalled, a tall, shining forehead and a crown of silvery strands – those were all I could use to describe my own father despite having been staring at him for God-know how long. Mother’s honey had turned to venoms; she was hissing into my ears with a vehement hatred I was not a complete stranger to. Her manicured fingernails dug into my skin, forming painful crescent imprints that I did not feel until much later as she was dragging me to the entrance.
“You see him now! But he doesn’t see you. Never! Never! Never! He doesn’t know you exist. A bastard swimming in a shithole! A worthless child from a belly of a whore!”
I barely heard her, too captivated by the sight of the crystal glass held in his gloved hand. The smooth liquid in its bowel was shining with brilliant red light.
Just like Death’s eyes.
“You must think I’m one of those depraved souls?”
I didn’t need to answer. Death didn’t need to hear.
His expensive fag fell to the floor and was crushed underneath his sole. Death took another out of thin air, tucked it between his lips and lit it with his Sterling silver zippo.
Why was he using a zippo when obviously he didn’t need one? An imitation, perhaps?
As the fag lit up, smoke dulled the light in Death’s eyes until his irises returned to their pale, indistinguishable color.
I sighed inwardly. At least I had gotten to see it. A color so ravishing. A color so… alive.
You can take me.
Even with the fag tucked between his lips, Death still managed to show a formidable portion of teeth when he grinned at me and reached out a hand with lean fingers to muss up my hair.
I flinched but didn’t try to brush his hand away. Briefly I caught a scent from his fingers, faint and clear as water. I found it more preferable than any kinds of eau de parfum.
Yet I had thought Death would smell deadlier, more like fresh blood.
“Not yet, child. Not today. Your day is yet too far.”
I must have stared at him in some way he dubbed “dumb” or even “stupid”, because all of sudden Death burst out laughing. Whatever left of the stoic, solemn air he had managed to put on in the previous moment was shattered pathetically with his outrageous laughter. He even leaked some mirthful tears from his eyes.
“No need to thank me, child. But if you really have to, I won’t mind a hug.”
Death extended his arms as if expected me to launch myself at him in any minute.
I evaded him and climbed on my bed. The bed creaked with my weight – my too-old pal – but it had been silent with Death the whole time.
If you’re not going to take me then stop occupying my bed. I want to sleep. Tomorrow will be a long day. With that I blew off the candle, leaving the moon the only source of light.
His eyebrows drew together. “Not going to embrace me in sheer happiness?”
I made a derisive sound and squeezed myself into the tiny space left of my bed, trying to make myself comfortable with what I was having.
Death moved subtly to the edge until he was almost perching on it. To my surprise, the rusty frame had groaned with my movement but was quiet with Death’s. I might start thinking his body was not corporal.
In mere coincidence, my shoulder brushed his thigh, and I was mildly fascinated by the warmth beside the smooth texture of the fabric. Death felt like human, more pleasant even.
Death either heard my thought or spotted the tiny smile I did not know I’d been having until I saw the hint of mischief in his own.
“A bedtime story, perhaps?”
Pulling the cover up to my chest, I squeezed my eyes shut.
“A goodnight kiss?”
I might have heard a small chuckle before I felt the weight on the bed shifted and vanished. The bed did not make a sound. I was half tempted to open my eyes when a warm, soft sensation brushed the skin on my forehead. It lingered even after the clear scent of water had melted away in the night air. Only by then was I certain I was alone in my room. Only by then was I finally able to drift off to sleep.
I had had my dreamless sleep for years and woke up the next morning to find the wooden floor free of cigarette butts.
Nothing except my memory indicated Death’s presence in this narrow attic the previous night. That might as well be another warped dream of my unlimited stock. What was my unconscious mind trying to tell me this time by introducing a figure such as Death?
Nevertheless, I hoped against hope that he would return.
I feel her cool, pale gaze on my skin, peeking through the spidery cracks on the window. Watching me. Smirking at me – I know she is, always is. Ridiculing me. Her little fun to while away her time. She, the everlasting beauty that rises night after night and I, the short-lived, anonymous mortal that will fall tonight. She, who is loved and revered by men and I, who is hated and loathed by them, provided that they knew my name.
Oh wait, I don’t think I have a name. Never have had. Mother called me whatever she pleased – fancy, aristocratic nouns I didn’t think she fully grasped the meaning when she was euphoric and the trashiest, foulest four-letter words she could come up with when she was hopelessly inebriated on cheap bourbon.
Never mind. Even if I did have a name, I would not tell you, liebe.
Barefooted, I skitter on the hardwood floor, avoiding all the rusty nails that jut out. I know the floor as if I know my palm and its treacherous little booby traps could not steal a single drop from me. I do intend to bleed to night, just not this kind of bleeding. Lame.
With a merciless sweep of my arm, I send the various trinkets off the table, sparing not a glance at them. Useless, superfluous objects that have long outlived their charms. A sense of void satisfaction runs through me as I listen to their wails upon meeting their swift end, a litany of vociferous cries resonating between the four moldy walls. My old, attic room moans for them in its silent way, allowing their tiny voices to be heard, ability shortly, before their descend into silent oblivion.
My eyes are on the two sole survivors – my private treasures: the timeless gramophone and the sheathed silver knife. Moonlight penetrates the fine veil of dust to dance on their brass and silver skin, their luster somewhat dulled by years. I lower my face and exhale all the air in my lungs, loving to watch tiny particles of dust flutter in front of my curious eyes. Dust could pass for miniature snowflakes, Mother once told me, and we could fancy ourselves the same as the noble class, privileged to enjoy winter without fears of starvation and freezing to death the likes of us suffered. Her words I have never doubted.
The dust disappears between cracks on the floor, the little show over. Grabbing the knife, I put the needle down and turn the gramophone on for another.
The aging machine comes to life. Smooth as new.
“No longer mourn for me when I am dead
Then you shall hear the surly sullen bell…”
In Herr Makaber’s mellifluous tenor singing his magnum opus inspired by a Shakespeare’s sonnet, I unsheathe the knife, holding it out to inspect the blade. Flawless. Beautiful. I place a soft, moist kiss on its gleaming edge nearest to the hilt. A crimson drop fills the delicate carvings along the blade to its tip. Still sharp as a lover’s chastising, my dearest friend time cannot tame.
“…Give warning to the world that I am fled
From this vile world, with vilest worms to dwell…”
My hand glides the tongue down the row of buttons on my flannel nightshirt. Slowly. Carefully. Why need to rush, love?
“Nay, if you read this line, remember not
The hand that writ it; for I love you so…”
The buttons make pearly sounds when they hit the floor beneath my soles. The fabric slips from my skin like warm spring water and I stand naked as the blade in my hand.
A gush of euphoria fills me from head to toe. My legs ache terribly with the urge to dance.
“…That I in your sweet thoughts would be forgot
If thinking on me then should make you woe…”
I go on tiptoe and stretch out my arms as though holding a partner to my chest. I take the lead – always trust the born dancer in me – and together we move, twirling gracefully around and around in the little space my room offers. Never mind the pitiable remains of those I swept off the table moments ago being crushed under our steps.
“…O, if, I say, you look upon this verse
When I perhaps compounded am with clay…”
When the back of my knees touch the edge of the bed, I sink heavily down the straw mattress like my partner has suddenly abandoned me – a marionette without strings – and hear the rusty frame groan with my weight. I smile a sheepish smile, stroking the bed sheet. Just indulge this naughty child for a little while, old friend, and soon you’ll be free of me.
“…Do not so much as my poor name rehearse.
But let your love even with my life decay…”
The blade’s tongue casts a flickering metallic gleam on my skin as I meticulously draw a straight red line along my body, from my abdomen to my chest, and point the tip at the hollow of my throat. All I have to do is press down…
…Not the time yet. I smile, laying down the knife.
“…Lest the wise world should look into your moan
And mock you with me after I am gone…”
The song reaches an end. A short pause before a new, same song begins. This peculiar vinyl record of mine plays one song and one song only.
“No longer mourn for me when I am dead…”
The grandfather clock on the wall tick-tocks, tick-tocks. When it strikes twelve, I know he will come. Like he has done so for the last fifteen years. With absolute accuracy. Without fail.
That should be the time.
It is twenty to midnight still, thus I close my eyes, submerge myself in the haunting, angelic melody and wait…
The very first time Wesley had seen that man, he had not looked like this.
If ‘this’ was to be put into words (which Wesley really didn’t want to), it would be ‘like a dog’.
A stray dog, dirty, drunken and hunted.
“Counselor,” Sloan spoke to him. “He has shown up in the Loom.”
The Loom weaved the names that would cause deaths to others. Preventing that was their duty.
Killing one to save thousands, killing thousands to save millions – the Fraternity’s code.
Wesley supposed he was a Fraternity now.
“The fuck with that name?”
Sloan was unfazed, being too used to the boy’s snarls and swears. He continues, tone ever serene, as if he was merely discussing dinners.
“Not his real name. Everyone calls him that though.”
“I thought the Loom would show true names, not aliases.”
“Not always. It shows the name everyone around him gets by.”
“Great,” Wesley snorted, “who knows how many fucking ‘Counselors’ there are in this country.”
There were thousands counselors, but ‘Counselor’ – only one.
It turned out finding Counselor wasn’t as hard as Wesley had imagined. Wherever he was, the man stood out from the crowd. The center of attention. The ladies’ choice. The men’s envy.
Wesley did envy him, yes. For even a pair of sunglasses Counselor was donning probably cost twice his monthly paid as an accountant manager. And that was only when he hadn’t taken any sick leave. Nor enraged Janice.
No wonder the Loom had spoken his name. Just the way he’d thrown a pool party this luxurious was big enough a crime.
To envy him was easy, to kill him was hard…
…especially when the man had smiled at Wesley – a wide smile, kind of shark-like – and crossed half the pool to offer him a drink. Scotch – Wesley’s favorite.
…especially when Wesley had grabbed the collar of his polo shirt and pulled him into a rough, bloody smash of lips and teeth, stunning him for a good minute before the man punched Wesley square in the face and stomped off. Gazing at his retreating figure, Wesley licked his split lips and smirked. Counselor had tasted like Scotch – strong and sweet, perfection with only a hint of nicotine to mar.
…especially when that night, Wesley had dreamed about pinning the taller man to the wall, making him moan in all variations of obscenity, and woken up in the middle of the night with a damp patch in his crotch. It was bullshit, Wesley admitted, but Counselor had turned him on more than Cathy or Fox ever had.
To kill him would be extra-hard, especially when Wesley didn’t want to kill him at all.
He would return to the textile mill empty-handed and make up some lie. Sloan would probably see through him and take the cue, sending Fox or someone else instead – he was too wild a card to offend, at least not before he destroyed Cross. As for Wesley, so long as it wasn’t his bullets pulverizing Counselor’s skull he was cool. He wasn’t that sick, thank you; having the desire to fuck and to kill the same man at the same time was definitely not his thing.
Sloan saw through him, as expected; and Wesley could not careless about who the old bastard had sent after Counselor’s head because not long after, Wesley buried the Fraternity with his own hands.
The second time Wesley had seen him, it had occurred on a street of Argentina, a whole year and four months after the first. Though no longer a Fraternity, Wesley could not have returned to his former job as an accountant manager (not after his grandeur ‘farewell party’ on the day he’d quitted). Changing career was a big ‘no’, because Wesley Adam Gibson, besides accounting and killing, had no other degrees that could give him a decent job to survive his ass in Chicago. Fortunately, before he’d downed to his last penny, Pekwarsky had asked him if he would want to ‘succeed’ his father. Wesley had shrugged and sure, why not; he hadn’t had many choices, had he?
So that was how Wesley had ended up in a freelance assassin career and for fuck’s sake, his business was booming.
Wesley’s target this time was an Argentinean drug-dealing mob boss and he’d gain a handsome sum just to load the cartridges into his brain – something Wesley would enjoy even without the pay. Money made it all the more pleasant.
Counselor stood out among the parading crowd like a sore thumb – a solid Caucasian in a sea of colors. Wesley spotted him at once, mildly surprised and thoroughly excited; it seemed a lucky day for him indeed. After forfeiting his ‘mission’, Wesley had never thought he would one day see him again – the man who had had the taste of Scotch. He was certain Counselor had been executed by the Fraternity, probably by Fox or the Butcher; yet here he was, all well despite looking a bit disheveled.
Compared to the first time Wesley had seen in the pool party, Counselor was looking less than his best: his hair tousled, his designer cream-colored suit spotted and there was some grime and dirt on his cheeks, greasy with sweats – the heat in this country was even worse than Chicago at its worst. However, instead of the flush, Counselor was looking unusually pale.
Had he not already on a rented R1 running at insane speed with a covered sniper rifle too conspicuous on his back, Wesley would have come up to him and said hello just to test whether Counselor still remembered the man who had given him probably his first man-kiss. Would he punch him again and run off like a shrinking violet like he had one year and four months ago? Or would Wesley grasp him, ravish his lips and make his own wet dream a reality?
The thought brought a devious grin to Wesley’s face hidden behind the helmet. Maybe next time, thought the assassin with a hint of hope. If there was a second time, the chance of the third wouldn’t be unlikely, would it? And even if there wouldn’t be the third, then Wesley would just make it. If he had been able to hunt down Sloan – with his wits and slyness of an old fox – Wesley didn’t see how he was unable to find a man who didn’t even know he was being tracked.
Indeed third time came, as Wesley had expected. What had him surprised instead was the state he found Counselor in.
Like a dog. The words were a sudden lump of bile clotted in his throat, turning the taste of fine Scotch vile and bitter.
A dimly lit bar at a deserted corner of some street was where Nam had picked for their ‘rendezvous’. The talk had been brief since his Asian-rooted handler wasn’t the loquacious type; he had left almost immediately after placing a thick brown envelope in Wesley’s lap. “Enjoy yourself,” the words left his thin lips in haste and the man hurried out of the entrance, his lanky figure quickly melted into the late afternoon’s orange hue.
Enjoyed himself he had, for a man whose pockets stuffed with dollar bills was always a content man. And the Scotch in this dingy looking bar wasn’t half bad at all, which was a plus. Wesley knew he could always trust Nam to have good taste in booze.
He was savoring his Scotch in the least noticed spot when his acute hearing picked up the yelps of the barmaid and the distinctive sound of flesh being punched and kicked – he was too used to mistake it for any other, being the receiver countless times during his training. Normally he would mind his own ass and ignore whatever was occurring in the bar if his too acute hearing (again) did not recognize the soft, barely audible whimpers as acquainted. He jerked his torso around, nearly knocking his Scotch, and was greeted with a overly familiar figure. The cream-colored suit also helped, despite its terribly discolored state, the once expensive fabric smeared with dirt, sweats and a few blotches of brownish stains – others’ or his own Wesley couldn’t tell.
The bulky middle-aged bar owner yelled something in Spanish and raised his hairy arm. Like a bullet Wesley sprang up from his seat and dashed forward barely in time to stop another blow to Counselor’s guts. The barmaid gasped. The man glared at him and jerked his arm forcefully to break free of Wesley’s grip. However, Wesley’s hold was unyielding as his blue eyes bored into the older man’s, a gaze sharp and cold as a killer’s should be. It was only when the older man’s panic and fear were reflected in his own eyes and the bulky wrist in his hand became slick with perspiration did he loosen his grip. Wesley asked the bar owner what had happened for him to start beating the crap out of his customer, to which the man replied in rapid-fire Spanish rendering his own shitty Spanish useless as best. His gaze shifted to the young barmaid, silently demanding an explanation; he had seen her speaking English with a few Western patrons earlier and he knew she was able to manage simple conversations.
“He… he suddenly grab me,” her tone heavily accented and shaking, the brunet was on the verge of tears and Wesley softened his eyes in a pang of guilt for scaring her unnecessarily. “He grab me and call me Laura. Papa saw and got angry…”
Wesley glanced at Counselor, who had curled up in fetal position, saliva mixed with blood formed a little pool on the floor. He winced slightly and looked up to meet the barmaid’s eyes.
“He’s just drunk, that’s all. Here,” Wesley pulled out a wad of dollar notes from his jeans pocket and placed them in the young barmaid’s trembling hand. “For his purchases and mine and your troubles. Sorry about that.”
Apologizing even when it wasn’t really his fault – old habit died hard.
The brunet and her father both shook their heads so violently Wesley was briefly afraid they might snap their necks and erupted in a stream of Spanish that he could only pick out “gracias”. Guess that’s settled then, thought Wesley as he bended down to hook his arms under Counselor’s and lift him up. At close distance, Wesley could tell the man was reeking, a mixture of sweats, dirt, alcohol and puke that burned his nose. He ignored it as he walked them both, slowly, out of the bar.
That was when it hit him that he had no idea where Counselor was staying. Though he doubted Counselor would hear it, Wesley muttered an apology when he let the wall supported his weight while his hand dived into the man’s breast and trousers pockets in a slight hope that he might find something useful, a cell phone, a hotel card, anything to give him a clue. Instead, the only thing he found was a crumpled photo in Counselor’s left breast pocket. The woman in the photo looked comely and nice; Wesley wondered what relationship the woman and Counselor were sharing for him to treat her photo in such contradictive manner.
Wesley smoothed a few creases out of habit before folding it up and returning the photo to its place. Great, he spoke to himself, Wesley Allan Gibson, with his shitty Spanish and a stone-drunk man he’d barely known, out in the middle of an Argentinean street as the night sank in, entirely clueless about where he should go next. Fox would definitely be laughing at him for making a fool out of himself if she was here to witness.
He briefly pondered if Counselor had any acquaintance in this city but when he glanced at the man’s dirtied face, he dismissed the thought. If he had, he would not have been in this bar drunk as a skunk and have had his ass beaten out. And even if he had, which number on Earth should Wesley call?
On the other hand, Wesley could just take Counselor back to his apartment/safe house left to him by his late father. The man could use a rest, maybe a little wash and a change of clothes – though Wesley doubted their sizes matched – until he was sober enough to find his way back on his own. Wesley could not help but laugh a little too loud at his own out-of-the-blue kindness. Saving the guy’s ass was already out of his character; now he even brought him home and intended to take care of him. Who was Counselor to Wesley Gibson after all?
Well, consider it ‘return the favor’.
The walk from the bar to his apartment wasn’t awfully long and Wesley could make it in less than fifteen minutes on foot. Yet today it took him twice the time as he was supporting a dead-drunk grown man. Counselor wasn’t heavy, to be fair; the man was almost skinny and Wesley winced slightly every time his bones accidentally jabbed his side. Weight Wesley didn’t mind but height difference was another problem. The man was fairly taller than Wesley and it took the assassin great effort to keep them both balanced and not tumbling over. Wesley was considering shouldering him like a sack of potatoes for the rest of the way when he heard a retching noise from his side. He reacted quickly and helped the man to a trash heap – thanks God there was one nearby – where he emptied the content of his stomach in a noisy manner. As Wesley half expected, the man probably hadn’t had any proper food for the last forty-eight hours, only burning alcohol to fill up his empty stomach. What had caused him to torture himself so, Wesley wondered while patting Counselor’s hunched back in an awkward fashion. That was when he felt it, a surge so forceful that almost had him off-balanced.
Wesley Gibson couldn’t mind-read; such was his estranged uncle’s ability. It was a piece of information he’d only learnt after Sloan’s death, that he still had a living relative and said living relative was – what the media called it nowadays – a mutant. The man was currently running a private school full of mutants in Westchester and much as Wesley had been impressed by it, he had to admit school life, with superpower teachers and superpower teenagers to boost, wouldn’t suit him. He had turned down the offer the moment it had been projected into his mind. To be honest, he was a little scared to be close to a person who would, literally, read others like a book. Not to mention his current ‘partner’, a man who grazed his nerves as much as Sloan, who could bend bullets far more effortlessly than any Fraternity members ever could; Wesley didn’t want a taste of his medicine, thank you very much.
Though Wesley couldn’t read minds, he was able to catch murderous intents right at the moment they entered his vicinity. The scenario played out in his mind like a video footage fast forwarding at highest speed, showing him how the assailant in question would approach, what sorts of weapon he would use, what moves he would pull and whether Wesley could react fast enough to counter or not. He wasn’t sure if it was a by-product of his training or a hidden factor in his DNAs recently awakened – family legacy and such – yet it had saved his ass a few handful times. Had it not for this mutation, Fox would have blown a hole in his brain that day on the train.
But this time was tad different; it wasn’t his own scenario that came to his vision. In fact, he was watching everything from a third person’s point of view, like a specter removed from reality – their reality. In his vision he saw a man in black hoodie carefully crept out from the dark of the trash-littered alleyway they were standing. He had no guns, knives or anything that came remotely close to a weapon except a small bizarre device Wesley had neither seen or gotten a hold of how it functioned. The hooded man sneaked behind Counselor easily enough, considering how drunken, weak and defenseless the latter was, and looped the funny-looking device around Counselor’s neck with abundant efficiency that Wesley couldn’t think it was his first time. He fled the scene as fast as he had shown up; no further effort was need; the device did its job beautifully.
The sound of clock ticking. Wesley counted.
At first second, the electric motor started.
At third, the noose tightened.
At fourth, the man started feeling something was wrong, despite his intoxicated state. He brought both hands to his neck, frantically trying to loosen the noose.
At sixth, he fell to the muddy ground, rolling wildly while yelling.
At eleventh, his yells turned to chocked noises in sync with the motor’s.
At sixteenth, his fingers left him. Blood gushed out like broken pipes, from both his hands and his neck.
At twenty-third, the noose reached zero.
At forty-second, a stray dog went into the scene, sniffing at the motionless body. With a slight nudge of his muzzle, the head left the body. The vision went blank and dissipated.
Whoever had invented this device had to be a genius, a fucking sick one. When Wesley rubbed his eyes – sore from the vision – he wasn’t surprised by the dampness on his fingers. Without much of a second thought, he wiped out his gun from his bell, aimed at the dark and emptied the chamber of its content. The bullets curved around the lamppost before they found their target. He felt the steel penetrate flesh and bones the same time Counselor collapsed. Wesley caught him and finally gave up the thought of walking the unconscious man the rest of the way. He piggybacked the man in a rather ungraceful fashion (unconscious man had no right to complain) and walked over to his victim. He founded the hooded man lying face down under the shadow of the lamppost, paid him only a quarter a second and picked up the strange device in his hand. Nam might know something about it, maybe even able to trace its origin. Wesley’s blood raged at the thought of the device’s inventor, of putting bullets into him and whoever had assisted him.
This was not saving the world or exacting justice or anything. This was just his own aching on the vehement urge of killing. Maybe he had been wrong about it. Maybe killing also had to do with the right person after all.
First thing first, he had to get Counselor to his place. The thought of taking the man back to his own place vanished like smoke; he would be dead the very moment Wesley left him on his own.
Strangely, Wesley didn’t question how Counselor’s safety had become his business.
1) Wesley is a mutant and he’s Charles Xavier’s distant nephew.
Perhaps, even more. Sex had to be with the right people – Wesley admitted deep down he was rather old-fashioned – but killing… well, killing didn’t.
Wesley wouldn’t deny he was every bit a psychopath.
Born to be a killer – bad. Born to enjoy being a killer – worse.
With a playful smirk that didn’t quite match his boyish features, Wesley gave a nudge to the gun in his right hand. The gesture was fairly teasing in nature, except the muzzle of his gun was kissing the other man’s left temple.
The man didn’t flinch, bracing himself against Wesley’s deliberate taunt. He had guts; Wesley was pretty fond of him.
“Why do you want to kill him?”
Perhaps he took Wesley’s sudden interest in conversing as a chance to escape with his life, the man swallowed dryly and opened his mouth.
“Someone wants him dead.”
His answer was brief and to the point. Wesley nodded.
A hired killer. Much like himself. The only difference was…
“Do you like killing?”
“Do you like killing him?”
Wesley was barely able to contain his laughter at the look the other man was giving him.
“That means no, right? Well, too bad, I’ll have to kill you and I’ll fucking enjoy it.”
“Have we met before?”
“Nope,” Wesley grinned, giving the man a show of his perfect white teeth. “First time seeing your unattractive face.”
“Did I kill someone you knew?”
“Nope,” his grin became wry chuckles. “I killed most those I knew.”
He was satisfied when he felt the man flinch.
“Does someone want me dead?”
The man was being rational, Wesley could tell. Unfortunately he was dealing with some sort of a maniac.
“Wrong again. In fact I’ll get no penny out of ganking your sorry ass.”
The other assassin had but a moment to stare at Wesley with disbelief before he swiftly removed the muzzle from the man’s temple to press it into his mouth.
Blood and brain matter splashed over the horrible graffiti on the wall. It could be a good thing now that they would have a reason to erase it, the eyesore. Wesley amused himself with the thought while cleaning bits of blood and brain off his hands and face. He didn’t mind the persistent odor; the stickiness was what really bugged him – one of the two reasons why he loathed jelly. The other was his eavesdropping two cops joking how his mother’s face looked like ‘bad jelly’ after she had had acid poured over it.
Once he was done, Wesley glanced down at the corpse at his feet. His face, or what was remained of it, kind of looked liked jelly now – bad jelly.
“I killed you because I wanted you dead. Simple as that.”
He spared the corpse no other glance as he sauntered leisurely out of the dark alleyway.
“…and because I want him to live.”
This was the third. He wondered how many more would come.
Not that he minded blowing a few more asses to hell.
I dreamed a strange dream the night before. In that dream I wasn’t myself. I was Erik and weirdly, I wasn’t him at the same time. I was Erik in the sense I had his mind, his senses and his body. I saw what he saw, heard what he heard and I spoke with his voice. I could even use his powers. In that world, I was ‘Erik’, the only Erik to exist.
Still, during the whole time I was him, I was fully aware that I wasn’t Erik, that I was myself, with my own identity. As if I was a soul trapped inside Erik’s body while the true ‘Erik’ had gone somewhere else. Trapped in another body? Dead? I didn’t know. What I knew was that I had inherited not only Erik’s powers but also his feelings. For Charles, of course.
And the worst thing was my Charles had died. Murdered by humans and I, even with all Erik’s powers, couldn’t have saved him.
That I fell to the ground, clutching my head and crying at the top of my lungs was my last memory as ‘Erik’. I woke up, dazed and in wonder how a mere dream could be so real and how unreal emotions could be so true.
“Will it ever get to your thick head? WRONG NUMBER!!!”
Shouting at the top of my lung, I slam my phone so hard I think it may snap in two. A muttered curse promptly follows the noise of the impact.
Rolling on his side, David furrows his eyebrows, obviously disturbed by the little show I’ve just created.
I rub my sore eyes, allowing another curse to slip past my lips.
“Fucking annoying! That’s third time already!”
Three times in the middle of the night, when people are sleeping heavily after a hard day’s work.
“Maybe someone really needs help…”
“Then they should call a police instead of some fucking stranger! Wouldn’t dial ‘911’ far easier?”
Clearly David doesn’t share my vexation, despite he himself is also victimized to this midnight disturbance.
“Don’t be so cold…”
“Easy for you to say since you don’t work ten fucking hours every day!”
With an exasperated huff I lie back down, pulling the blanket over my head and shutting my eyes. Those stupid wrong numbers have already taken too much of my precious time and the last thing I want is to loiter about the office like a zombie with two heavy bags under my eyes. Not tomorrow. Not the day I finally gain my long-awaited promotion!
I might have heard David’s sigh but I pay it no mind.
The phone rings again when I’m about to drop off.
“You sick bastard!”
I yell at the phone right after picking it up.
David snatches the phone from my hand none-too-gently before I have the chance to hang it up.
“Hello? Do you need any help? Hello?”
Boiling with silent anger, I lie back down.
“Just hang it up already!”
I snarl at my boyfriend after his fourth “hello”.
“There’s no one. Only some sloppy sounds… like, like rubber boots stamping on puddle. Listen!”
I press my ear to the phone half out of David’s beckon and half out of my own curiosity. There’s indeed some strange noises over the phone but I can make out neither what they are or what is causing them. Heck, those noises may be just a static on the line and not any actual sounds. Damn David and his ridiculous imagination!
“Told you it’s wrong number.”
A sense of triumph eases my earlier annoyance at David as I pull the blanket up to my chin, trying to get back to my sleep.
After a few minutes, I realize I can’t have any sleep if my boyfriend keeps sitting with the phone pressed to his ear and the bed lamp on like that. When I pull the blanket down in a huff, I’m at lost to see David’s handsome face strangely pale under the dim bed lamp and a sheen of sweat coating his forehead.
What has left of my irritation is swept clean by such sight; my hand reaches his face, pushing away a damp sandy lock.
“I, I heard a chuckle. Short, dry and carrying… menace. Then, a voice says, it says ‘wrong number’.”
“Some sicko’s joke. Never mind it.”
Snatching the phone from his hesitated hand, I toss it on the table, turn off the lamp and half push David down the bed. “Sleep!”, I half-command him before wiping the sweat on his forehead with a brief kiss, tasting salt.
The way I deliberately put the phone ensures there is no other wrong-numbers to disturb our sleep. Should have done it earlier.
“See? There’s no news about a psychopath on a killing spree like you’ve imagined.”
I hum triumphantly when I lay out today’s newspaper on the table, beside David’s plate of toast and blueberry jam.
His ocean-blue eyes narrow as they skim through the pages, elegant brows knitting.
“But you have to hear that chuckle. It’s chilling! And those sounds…”
“A sick joke and that’s that.”
“Anyone who chuckles like that is clearly not right in the head.”
“Exactly why we call them a sicko. If you’re so intrigued by it, why not turn it into a script? Some slasher movie about a psycho who allows his victims to make three phone calls before butchering them? It must sell better than your usual chick flicks. Slasher movies are the current trend, you know.”
David remains unresponsive to my quip. When I begin to think he’s offended, a smile suddenly creeps up his lips.
“Maybe that’s not a bad idea at all. Should give it a try.”
I reply with a haughty smirk from behind my coffee mug.
“Will I have a part in it?”
“Maybe there’s a part for the screenwriter’s girlfriend if I speak to the producer. Probably one of the victims. No, the first victim. Makes it special for you.”
“Already planned to kill me, huh? Fuck you.”
I punch his arm, laughing along with him.
“Don’t mind if you do.”
Downing the content of my morning dose of caffeine in one gulp, I leave a coffee-lipstick smear on his cheek before grabbing my coat and stand up.
“Would love to but can’t. I’ll be late tonight. No need to wait for me, OK?”
I turn on my heel and walk out of the door, only to be greeted by a morning chill.
My breath comes out a thin veil of milky fog; I tighten the coat around my frame and hurry my feet.
Work. And more work.
Ten to midnight is when I step out from the pleasant heat of my car into the freezing atmosphere. Knackered and intoxicated, I pull the coat tightly around my body and begin my walk from the parking place to our apartment. About eight hundred meters and a few minutes’ walk and I’m happily united with my soft bed and warm blanket.
And my David, too. By this time he’s probably asleep already. My lazy boy.
Despite the winds scraping my face quite painfully, I inhale a good portion of cold, fresh air. As I exhale, I can feel an amount of alcohol vaporizing from my body, clearing my head just a little so that my steps slightly less falter.
Here I am, standing at the entrance of the urban monster’s filthy intestine, namely the poorly lit and trash-littered alley that leads to my apartment. Owning a rather affordable apartment in this expensive city center means having to endure certain downsides: having no convenient parking place is one; this, another.
I inhale carefully, trying to take the least of the fetid smell that takes permanent residence in this place. David laughs at me every time I wrinkle my nose as we saunter down the alley but my boy doesn’t have the slightest idea of how much it disturbs me. Hypersensitivity can be a bitch sometimes, well, most of the time.
I pull up my scarf around my nose and begin to walk down the goddamn alley. The night is completely mute, save for the echoes of my heels on the puddly ground.
No…, not just the sounds my heels. There are another.
The words suddenly pop out and I feel a sharp chill instantly running along my spine, down to my toes.
For whatever goddamn reason, the joke I made with David this morning is rewinding in my head.
A psycho who allows his victims to make three phone calls before butchering them.
It can’t be this coincidental!
I quicken my steps as much as my heels can manage as I’m battling with the fear that gets amplified with each footstep my ears catch. There’s no need to tell how miserable I’m failing.
My clammy hand reaches into the pocket of my coat, finding my cell phone. I allow myself a brief sense of relief.
The rubber footsteps keep a deliberate distance behind my back, their leisure pace and crystal-clear echoes a blatant taunt.
I let you run for now. But no matter how far you go, I’ll always be right behind you.
I pull out my cell phone, skim the contact list and hit the dial button.
021478269. My home’s phone number. David should be at home right? He’ll come and save me right?
First ring. Second ring.
My heart’s thumping wildly in my chest.
“Help! Someone’s follow…”
I’m abruptly cut short by a none-too-friendly shout, leaving me in bewilderment.
That wasn’t David. Rather than David’s, I heard a female voice.
Did I make a mistake? That can’t be! I’ve saved my home number in my phone in case of urgency and I can be one-hundred percent certain I’ve done it right.
I hit the dial button again.
The female voice again. Louder. Angrier.
Again, wrong number.
Behind my back, the footsteps seem to be picking up pace.
They are approaching me. They are coming to get me!
I shudder at the thought of myself, cut beyond recognition, being carefully placed inside a pitch black body bag, and David’s ghastly pale face.
I kick off my heels and start running. Something I should have done a life-time ago.
Dreadfulness wasn’t so strong a few minutes ago since I was clinging to the hope of David’s saving me.
2 wrong-numbers have faded it drastically.
My feet might be bleeding with the rough macadam beneath my soles. I pay them no mind. My fingers frantically hit the numbers.
0-2-1-4-7-8-2-6-9. This time it can’t be wrong.
“Help me! Please!”
Someone, please. Anyone.
“Will it ever get to your thick head? WRONG NUMBER!!!”
The female voice furiously shouts back at me, following by a violent slam and the line’s cut off.
I couldn’t have been wrong all three times. Could it be… David has taken someone to our home?
Realization and horror come crashing down on me at the same time.
The female voice isn’t unfamiliar. I know it too well. I should have.
Tears swell at the corners of my eyes yet they don’t slow my feet down. I’m running with my fastest speed in my entire life. I’m running for my life.
A few meters from the door. Just a few steps more. Please God, let me make it!
The hooded figure moves like Death-incarnate. His rubber boots create sloppy sounds which echo through the depth of the alley.
He loves those peculiar sounds. He stamps harder and harder on the puddly ground.
On the mess he’s made on the puddly ground.
He picks up the cell phone and examines it under the dim lamplight.
Let’s see. Recent calls. 021478269. Three times.
He hits the dial button and presses it to his ear.
“You sick bastard!”
He smiles at the furious female voice.
“Hello? Do you need any help? Hello?”
The male voice is more pleasant to his ears. His smile broadens.
He hears the female voice again after the male’s fourth “hello”. He grins widely, showing two perfect rows of gleaming white teeth as he stamps on the ground. He knows they are listening.
He hears the triumphant sense in the female voice. And then she’s silent, leaving only the male.
He can even hears his breathing over the phone.
He lets out a short, dry chuckle.
He whispers and hangs up.
With a wide grin etched to his hooded face, he leaves the filthy alley, thinking how big of a ruckus it will cause when his ‘masterpiece’ is discovered tomorrow.
And maybe… just maybe, they’ll make a movie out of it.
That’d be lovely. Maybe he’ll come to the movie theater and watch it.
Mười năm học, tôi hiểu những cốc chè đỗ đen mẹ tôi tự tay nấu không phải để thưởng cho một điểm mười toán mà để tôi tiếp tục ngày hôm sau mang về một điểm mười vật lý, một điểm mười thể dục hay một điểm mười của bất kỳ môn học nào khác... Nó chỉ có nhiệm vụ mang lại cho tôi càng nhiều ca lo càng tốt [...] Mười năm học, tôi hiểu những bộ óc lợn bố tôi xếp hàng từ sáng đến chiều mới mua được không phải để thưởng cho một điểm mười văn mà để tôi tiếp tục ngày hôm sau mang về một điểm mười lịch sử, một điểm mười tập quân sự... Đến bây giờ tôi vẫn nhớ những bộ óc lợn để trong bát nhôm cho vào nồi cơm hấp, bao nhiêu muối vẫn thấy tanh, vẫn phải húp một hơi hết sạch... Chè đỗ đen, óc lợn hấp nồi cơm, tôi có nhiệm vụ chuyển chúng thành những điểm mười, thành những lời khen trong học bạ: xuất sắc, chăm chỉ, chuyên cần, nghiêm túc, rất có tương lai. Rất có tương lai là lời nhận xét bố mẹ tôi tâm đắc nhất. Rất có tương lai có tác dụng giúp bố mẹ tôi ngày hôm sau tiếp tục hoàn thành nhiệm vụ nấu chè đỗ đen và xếp hàng cả ngày mua óc lợn. Cứ như thế một vòng tròn ân cần khép kín. Cứ như thế ba chúng tôi dính chặt lấy nhau bởi chữ nhiệm vụ. (Chinatown - Thuận)