THE REWARDS

I was at Scituate’s Fair this past Saturday and Woonsocket’s Autumnfest Sunday. Both were great days for me. I really enjoyed the people I met and hope they enjoy the books they bought. What made it extra special was the comment I received about Sister World the Arrival, on facebook, which was also posted as a review on Amazon.

“I just bought the first two of the sister world trilogy on Sunday afternoon. I’m already 30 pages from being done book 1!! Is the third out yet? I’ll need it by Friday at this rate!”

I hope she enjoys The Fight for Earth as much. I am working on the third: Sister World, Back to Terah. I am now highly motivated, though it’s not easy saving a world, even when it doesn’t actually exist. But then who really knows what’s out there.

For someone who waited years to do what she always wanted to do, there is nothing so rewarding as knowing you made someone smile. Let’s continue the journey. It’s a great ride.

UPDATE

I was at the Scituate Fair and Woonsocket’s Autumn festival

I got to meet many new people, and made a lot of book sales. The weather held and the other vendors, food and in Woonsocket, the rides, were a big hit.

I know you do not all live close enough to visit, but if you do, make sure to come to the Lively Literati on October 28th. It’s held at the East Greenwich Hotel, 162 Main Street in East Greenwich, RI. and begins at 6:30. This month I’ll be speaking about my books and reading the scenes I hope will make you shiver. Costumes are welcome but not required. If you’ve read Dark Night of the Soul, you know Gregor is unique and the changes he forced upon Marcus has changed his life in ways even he does not understand. I intend to showcase some of what that means, of course I’ll be a bit dramatic. I hope to see you there.

Chapter 13

The chase was close, the risk had been great, but Marcus could not let the officer die.  Neither could he risk Gregor continuing on to Dr. Abram. He hoped his desire to catch him would give the doctor protection.  Once again he was running.  The water would be colder this time, but it offered the best protection.

The Missouri River, starting from the glaciers and heading for the Mississippi was frigid.  Gregor would not follow, so Marcus dove.  The swift current pulled him far from what Gregor’s sharp eyes could see and Marcus let it take him where it would.  

He could no longer feel his limbs, his breathing was labored and though he didn’t think it would kill him, he was unsure.  His condition did not immune him from pain.

Free of the icy waters, the chill night air did nothing to relieve the pain and Marcus found walking difficult.  He followed the slight scent of blood, hoping it would be close to the warmth he was in desperate need of.

The town was small.  All businesses closed and Marcus looked for an open door.  Any one would do.

The apartment building with its six apartments never locked the entry door and Marcus quickly snuck inside.  Though there was no heat in the hall, it was far warmer than the brisk night air.  Hugging his knees to his chest, he found he could not stop shivering.  It was agony.

“Hey mister…”

She was more interested than scared.  Her dark green eyes narrowed as she tried to get a better look at the man pushing himself further against the wall.  With a perfect complexion, long golden red hair curling on her slender shoulders and wearing no make up, Marcus could not tell her age.  

A Darkness Descending

 “You okay?”

“You should not approach someone you do not know.”  He fought to remain sitting.  “I am not dangerous, but you do not know this.”  He hoped it was true.

A harsh voice spoke out from behind her.  “I would have said the same thing.  What if he was a thief, or worse?  Don’t,” though Marcus could not see, he was sure the man stopped his daughter from arguing.  “Go inside, shut the door.”

When she turned away, Marcus could see she was a young woman.  He looked away.  Once he would have thought her beautiful, now he only thought to keep her far away from what he’d become.  The man stepping forward put himself between Marcus and the door.  He looked very much like his daughter.  His red gold hair was thinning and his green eyes were stormy with anger.  He was slender and in his eyes, Marcus saw hunger.  The clothes hung loosely from a body that had once been larger.

Remembering the many closed businesses and the empty hulk that looked to be a thriving factory, Marcus began to wonder if it wasn’t just the night that closed those doors.  

 Stepping from foot to foot, he stared at Marcus.  There was something in his expression, but Marcus was not sure what it was.  Finally he stopped rocking.  He kept enough distance between them to feel safe.  He did not realize how dangerous his position was. Marcus curled his hands into fists, hiding them behind his back.  Blood began to flow from where he pressed his fingernails into his palms, pain taking his mind off the hunger.

Debra Zannelli

“Do you mind telling me what you’re doing here?”

“No I do not mind.”  He saw the man’s anger grow.  “I can see I did not answer well.  I did not mean to.  I am a traveler.  The bridge was slippery.  I fell into the river.  The door was open.  I could feel the heat.  I thought to warm here.”

His hands relaxed but the expression he wore said he was still weary. “You can stay here, at least for a while.  I’ve got to talk to my wife.”

No reply was expected.  Marcus looked beyond the retreating back to the sun rising behind the closing door.  The man’s expression lingered, a question nagging at the back of his mind.  He stilled his heart and his body grew quiet, tuning into the conversation behind the thin walls of the apartment.

“Why are you letting him stay?”  Her voice was quivering and angry. 

 “Because he’s wanted by the police.”

“That’s…”  Her voice began to rise.

“Quiet.”  It was a hiss.  “You don’t want him to hear us, do you?”

“Of course not.” She whispered.  “Explain.”

“Wait till the gun’s loaded.”

“I’ve always hated your having that thing.  Right now I’m glad.”

“There’s a reward.  Twenty five thousand dollars would go a long way.  Could pay the rent for a few months.  Keep us from being evicted.  So let’s just play nice, keep him here until the police come.”

“I don’t like this, but we do need the money.  Julie,” her voice became a command.”  There was a long pause before her call was answered.  

A Darkness Descending

 “What.  I didn’t get…”

 “Hush.  I want you to take your brother to Ramona’s.  Go out the fire escape.”

“What..”

“For once do what your mother says, and do it right now.”

Marcus could hear angry footsteps, followed by the protesting window.

Once the window closed, the man came back into the hall.

 “My name’s Jeff.”

“I’m Allen.”  Marcus looked away, trying to remember why he’d chosen that name.  There had been a reason, but he could no longer remember it.

“Here’s a blanket.  It’ll help warm you.  If you throw me your clothes, my wife will dry them.”

Marcus hesitated but chose to accept the offer.  The sun was climbing and the warmth was alluring.

“Please,” his grey eyes studied the man.  “I cannot, not when I am not alone, but it would be nice for them to dry.”

Jeff turned around, speaking over his shoulder, the blades protruding from the well-worn shirt.  “I’ll be back in a few.”

Marcus stayed hidden in the blanket, finally throwing the clothes by the door.

Jeff collected the sodden clothes without speaking. 

“If they are not dry before the sun sinks,” Marcus whispered when the door closed, “I will have to get them.”

Once again he balled his hands into fists, hoping he would not have to.

Debra Zannelli

 “It is dangerous for me to be so near, so hungry.  It would be too easy.  I am not a monster.”  He hissed, hearing Gregor’s reply.  “But of course you are.”

Marcus realized he must have been sleeping for the man’s return startled him.  The clothes, dry and warm, were thrown on his lap. 

 “Thank you.” He told the closed door.

The sun was beginning its journey towards the horizon and soon he would be leaving. Having no idea how far he’d come, he could not be sure how much time he had.  Only the descending darkness told him that many hours had passed.

 Marcus heard the police before he could see them.  Jeff, obviously using the fire escape, was greeting them. 

The three officers entering the hall were surprised to see Marcus standing, hands held out before him.

He smiled at their startled expressions.  “I did not kill them.”

Quickly cuffing him, the officer in charge, grinned.  “Tell it to the judge.  We’d been told you were some big bad ass.  Detective Buford made it sound like you took him and two others out.”

“I did.”  Marcus returned the smile.  He turned to Jeffrey.  “Did you get the reward?”

A look of confusion crossed his face and for a moment he could not reply. Finally nodding that he had, he began slowly backing away.  Marcus broke the chains. They dangled from the cuffs, catching the little light of the dirt covered globe lighting the hallway.  

A quick movement and the two younger officers found themselves cuffed together.  They had not seen him reach for them.

A Darkness Descending

Marcus took the outstretched gun, twisting the barrel.  He then returned the useless weapon. 

“I have no intention of hurting you, but I suggest you do not follow.  Thank you,” he turned to Jeffrey, who stood, shaking in the doorway of his home, protecting the woman trying to hide behind him.  “Your children can return now.”

He was gone.

“Get these stupid things off.”

“No.”  He was already running.  “I’m gonna at least see which direction he went. 

Returning, breath steaming in the chill air walking with him, he turned to the others.  “He’s gone.  I don’t think I’ve ever seen anyone move that fast.”

“I think I owe Buford an apology.”  The youngest officer looked away, a slight blush creeping up his cheeks.  “I did a little too much teasing.”

“Apologize later.”  The voice was impatient.  “I’m getting the god damned key.  Have you out in a minute.  He threw it over there.  By the way, if you knew Buford as well as I do, you’d know you are very much going to pay for that.  He’s mean and has a long memory.”

 “You guys okay? Want some coffee or anything.  Molly’s making coffee.”  He peeked out from behind the door.

“Besides my pride, the only thing wounded is my gun.”  He held up the useless weapon.  “A guy that fast and strong enough to do this, could have killed us all.  Keep the chit.  You earned the reward.  It’s not your fault he got away.  I’ll make sure my report says that we lost him.”

Debra Zannelli

Marcus, standing, warm and dry behind the apartment, smiled.  He’d heard enough.  “It was worth the wait.  I helped,” he spoke to Gregor.  “You will never understand this.  Another doll in my collection, though why I see them as dolls having tea, I can no longer remember.” 

“Once, as with so many things, it meant something. I must find her before I forget.”  He stopped for a moment, forcing himself to remember.  “We were farmers in Maine, my family,” he frowned.  “My name is Marcus.  How many in my family I cannot recall.  I was fifteen.  He killed my father, took me. I rescued Jason, Newbie. I think there was a farm, maybe.  I was saved by Dr. Abram.  There was a boy and a tree, though I do not know what they have to do with each other.  When I would not take the girl I killed myself and he made me a monster. I escaped rescuing a young girl on a swing, the girl I was to kill.  Gregor, I do not feel you.  I think I will stay close to the river.  Norwich, Connecticut is where I must go.  I will repeat this to keep it alive within me, I cannot let myself remember only what you have done.”

Growing quiet, he turned to the river following its southward path.  Soon he would turn east, letting the stars direct him as it had once directed all those navigating the uncharted oceans.

Gregor, where are you?”  Marcus sat unmoving, letting his feelings search in the night.  “It has been so long.  Am I truly free?”

Marcus no longer spoke, the words just floated in his mind, even his frequently repeated list of things not to forget were no longer spoken. 

A Darkness Descending

 “I wonder if I can?”  He did not try to answer, afraid of what he might learn.  “If you are killing, I have not heard.  I cannot find you.  Do you know I am still here?  I hope there is no other.”  He looked out to the lake, unable to name it.  “I am almost there.”  Shaking his head, he felt the overlong hair sticking to his shirt.  There was food coming.  He could smell the blood pounding in its veins.  

The dog came charging into the clearing, followed closely by a young boy.

 “Charger, get over here.  It’s dark, we gotta get home.  Come on.”

The dog stopped, a snarling growl escaping as it stared at the man sitting cross-legged on the sand.

Head lowered, Marcus looked to see the boy standing beside the dog, fear frozen on his young face.

Hunger, the animal could smell his hunger and began backing away, it’s growl growing louder.

“Fight it,” Marcus silently told himself.  “It is a dog.  You cannot kill it.”  He turned away.  His voice, barely audible, crawled from him.  “Go.”

Once again alone, Marcus knew he would only grow more dangerous, if he did not feed.  He didn’t remember the path he needed to take.  It was quiet.  He could smell only the boy and the dog and knew he could not follow. 

Turning from the path they’d taken, he once again began to walk.  There was no safe place.  He began telling himself the things he did not want to forget.  

Morning was coming.  It was then he saw the farm.  The rooster strutting around the hens looked promising.

Debra Zannelli

Full, Marcus made his way to the back of the barn.  The rusted tools, hay many months undisturbed told him he could spend his day here. Quietly he removed the knife from its sheath, hacking at his hair.

“Damn coyotes.  Got my chickens.”  Dust swirled around his feet as he kicked the dirt.  “Gonna get my gun.”

Marcus sat up.  “He must have found the dead chickens.” He shook his head, wiping the sleep from his eyes. “Before I would have felt bad for the coyotes.  They did not do the killing.  I think I liked all living things.” 

 “Once there had been a,” the thought floated away and he could not capture the memory.

Listening to the footsteps growing louder, Marcus prepared for the confrontation.  He could not leave.  His options were few.  Still he did not want to hurt him. 

From behind a large piece of rust that must once have been a useful tool, one maybe Marcus, who thought he was once a farmer, should have recognized, he watched him approach.  

The footsteps stilled.  Marcus breathed slowly, repeating in his mind, ‘turn away.’

“Anyone here?  Damn, I didn’t leave the door open.  Show yourself.”

“You do not want this.”  He felt the edginess of his voice, heard the man’s abrupt stop.  “I am asking you to please let me rest here.”

Footsteps retreating, now running and Marcus wondered if he would be left alone, or would he have to defend a life he wanted only to end. 

A Darkness Descending

 He waited.  No one returned to the barn, there were no sirens.  The sunlight leaking through the gaps in the ageing walls showed him that soon he could leave.  “I would pay you for the chickens, but I no longer have the money.”

Leaving the barn, he did not know if his departure was observed.  He moved swiftly, but allowed himself to feel the air around him.  “Not yet,” he told the night.  “Gregor, you are nearer than I thought.”

The city’s sprawl began long before he could see its heart.  Still beating, it had seen hard times.  There were many beautiful buildings restored to former glory.  Many that would take little effort to destroy.  The center, at night was deserted.  He could smell blood, the women selling the only thing they had to sell. 

Turning, he saw the place Gregor would be.  He did not know it’s name, but in his years of travel he had seen many.  They were all the same.  Misery cloaked by compassion, sadness helping pain.  A feeling of shared misery seemed to spread around the building, a palpable scent.   He followed. 

There were plenty of places for a predator to hide and Gregor was not the only one here.  

He saw her.

“Mason.”  Fear jumped from her voice.  The long skirt of her dress began to sway, loudly crackling in the silence.  “How did you …?”

“Find you.”  There was menace in the voice.  “Pretty easily actually.  Had to pay…”

Marcus stepped forward but before he could speak, another stepped from the shadows.

Debra Zannelli

 “Me,” it grinned.  “He paid me.  Take your prize.  We,” he nodded to Marcus, “have unfinished business.”

“You should both go to the shelter.”  Marcus turned to the man.  “Do you really think you are meant to walk away from here?”  He stepped between them, knowing he could not win, but unwilling to watch them die.

“Still saving lives.”  The laugh was a sneer.  

The woman began to run.  Marcus could hear the leaves crackling under her feet.  Gregor laughed.  “You are not fast enough.”

“I am.”

Pushing forward, the speed of his movements caused the trees to sway.  With an angry cry, Gregor turned to the man, who found himself unable to move.  The look, the hunger in those black eyes broke the trance and he rushed forward, heading to the shelter.

 “You won’t be welcome there, little monster.”  Gregor laughed.  He looked back at Marcus who was now standing between him and the shelter. 

“I did not want them.”

“I know.”

 “But still you came?”

 “I told you many times that you would not understand.”  He grinned, jaw hurting with the unusual movement.  “I have a few more dolls.”

With a sudden turn, a movement too fast to avoid, Marcus once again found himself prisoner.  Closing his eyes, not knowing why, he thought of string beans.

Knowing his best chance of regaining his freedom was to appear weak.  Marcus fought with little effort, grunting as if in pain.

A Darkness Descending

 Ignoring the pain of Gregor’s nails as they sliced down the front of his chest, he fell limply against him, hiding this anger.  He felt the blood vessels burst and knew his blood red eyes would tell Gregor more than he wanted him to know.

Night was passing quickly.  As dead weight, he felt Gregor’s anger when he was pulled from the yard. Beyond the woods surrounding the shelter, the car sat.  It was running.  

A man jumped from the vehicle, opening the back door and Marcus was pushed inside.  

In a voice filled with satisfaction, Gregor bragged.  “I’ve been following you.  You have not heard of my feedings.  I have been careful. It did not take long for me to find this place. I knew I could make you feel me, my presence.  I know your weakness.”

The car was moving fast but Marcus did not care.  The sun was rising.  The morning had come. 

“You have forgotten my strength.”  His voice was an ugly sneer.  He kicked the door, feeling the lock break.  As the door swung open, he jumped, hearing Gregor’s scream follow.

A DARKNESS DESCENDING

CHAPTER 12

The day was quiet.  The town sleeping between seasons.  As usual, this far north, the temperature had fallen.  Stepping out into the cloudless night, Marcus saw many people looking his way.  With no coat, shivering, moonlight highlighting his pale face; the police, if they came this way, would have no difficulty knowing he’d been here.  Still he walked, drawn to the shelter by unbreakable threads.

The modern building was larger than Marcus had hoped it would need to be.  Glass doors looked out upon the street.  The vestibule was bright and Marcus could not enter.  Behind the desk facing the doors, the young woman watched him walking back and forth.  He looked in, shading his eyes.  When he saw her, he quickly turned away.

“Dr. Abram.”  Though she spoke quietly, Marcus heard her.  “There’s a man pacing in front of the door.”

Marcus looked at the large brass letters labeling the building.  T.O.I.C.S., smaller print sitting below, explained the meaning of the name, but he could not read the words.

A man in oversized glasses walked to the receptionist.  Even slightly bent, age pulling him to the center of the earth, he towered over her. A hand, mottled with age spots reached up to scratch the silver grey hair circling a high forehead. Through the glass Marcus could see the electric blue eyes that time had not changed.  All four watched the door, waiting for the stranger to once again pass by.

“I thought.”  She began, only to be interrupted.

“You thought my instructions to have you call me if ever a young man standing before our doors was a bit strange?”

She looked away.  “You said he wouldn’t enter.  How did you know?”

Dr. Abram smiled.  “I didn’t know.” 

Marcus passed and Dr. Abram pulled his sweater close around him. 

“Harriet don’t come out into the dark.  I don’t think I’ll need you.  If I do”—he whispered—“it will be too late.  If anything happens to me call the police and stay where it’s brightest.”  He looked at the overly bright lights carefully placed around them.  They filled each room, every night.  The residents had learned to sleep bathed in their glow.

 “Dr.”—she grabbed his arm—“don’t go.  I’m scared.”

 “You probably should be.  There are many things to fear, but I don’t think I need to fear him.”  

The door opened and Marcus turned quickly around.  He remembered those eyes, their kindness and he smiled.

“It is you?”  Dr. Abram stepped out, eyes closing as the door locked behind him.

“Yes Doctor.”

“It’s been a long time.  I tried to save you.  I went to the police, we went back as quickly as we could.”

“We left as soon as it returned.” Marcus looked away.  “I thought you must gotten away, why else would it be so angry, but I could not be sure it was angry with me, for sending you away.”

Dr. Abram closed his eyes picturing the room he’d returned to.  The blood stained mattress, rodent bones collected in the corners.  “It’s cold.  You must be freezing.  Come inside where we can talk.”  He backed away from the pain in Marcus’ eyes.  “You can’t.”

Marcus, turning away from the lights, surprised to see the Dr. still standing beside him. 

“You do not run?”

 “I believe I have nothing to run from.”

“I am glad you are still here.”

“How can it be you?  You should be older.”

“You can ask, but I cannot tell you.  I don’t understand it either.  This is a shelter?”

 “Yes. I opened it as a safe haven for abused children, boys or girls.”

“That is good.  Are there many?”

“Always too many.  You’re welcome here, you always will be.”

“You have given me a warmth I have not felt in a very long time.”  Marcus wrapped his arms across his chest.  “The pain pills, I have always wanted to thank you for them.  I kept them. I used them slowly.  He never understood how I was able to ignore the pain.  It was a small victory.”

“The ribs, arm?”  The doctor searched for signs of previous injuries.  “You healed well, even the thumbs.”

“You did a good job.”  Marcus looked at his hands, the thumbs only slightly misshapen.

“You came back to see me?”

 “Yes, for a while now I have been revisiting, I guess that is what you would say, those that helped me.  I think in my own way I am saying goodbye.  I want you, someone to know I survived, that I am not what he tried to make me.  I thought you might understand, would believe me.  I”—he turned away once again searching among the stars—“have been hiding, fighting him all these years.  The police think I killed four women in a place called Carson City.  I was hiding there.  A woman found me, tried to help. She did not understand the danger.  His voice broke.  “I thought he was further away, but he found me.  He killed her and the others, but I am blamed.  Please do not believe them.”  He stared into the doctor’s eyes, “I have never killed. I only wish for one person to think kindly of me.  Perhaps to mourn.”

Tears were in the doctor’s eyes.  “I will mourn.  I believe you.  I saw your suffering.  I saw the boy doing his best to save someone he didn’t know, had no reason to save.”  He pointed to the sign.  “Do you see what I named the shelter?”

“I see the letters.  The words, I cannot read them.”

“T.O.I.C.S.  It stands for The One I Couldn’t Save.  It is named for you.  I wanted so badly to save you.”

“But you did.  I had given up; thought there was only cruelty.  No reason for me to go on, to not embrace the darkness he wanted for me.  But you, your eyes were kind.  I could see that you cared, though you did not know me, and I knew there was a reason to continue, a reason to resist.  I have saved some lives.  I hide, but then I let him find me, so that he will know I am still here.”

“Why?”  The doctor shivered.

“It is cold.  You should go back inside.”

 “I’m fine. Please continue.”

“He spoke very often of taking another boy prisoner, another one to torture.  He wants to join the Gods he believes in.  To prove himself worthy, he has to show them he was not weak.  Not weaker than anyone would be, even those far older than he had been when his father beat him.  He takes those he feels are strong and keeps them until they beg or cry.”

“But you?”

“I have never begged, never cried.  I do not think it is possible for me to cry now.  So I continue.  I show him that I have not died so that he will chase me and not take another.  But I am so tired.”

The doctor reached out, one arm placed firmly around Marcus’ shoulder.  Frowning, Marcus looked at the hand. “I do not usually let anyone touch me.”

 “I’m your doctor.”  The comment was rewarded with a tentative smile. “How did you escape?”

“I guess you can say I escaped, but in a way I am still a prisoner.”  Marcus pulled down the collar of his shirt.  “I had had enough.  He was going to use me as a reason to kill.  I couldn’t let him do this.  It was then he made me into what I am.  I let him think”—Marcus turned away—“that I loved him for this.  He was to teach me how to kill; I saved the girl and escaped.  I was stronger than he knew.”

“I am sorry for what you must have had to do.”

“That was when I died.” He paused, looking into distant memories.  “There were boys, I helped them escape.  But I do not know if they lived.  I would ask, though you may not know.”

“Ask anything.”

“Years ago, I do not know how many, there was a place boys were used as slaves, young girls sold to old men.  I, Jason, we fought back.  I captured the Master of the camp.  The boys and girls, I told them to run.  We did not know each other’s names.  I have often wondered about them.”

“Why didn’t you go with them?”

“Gregor, that is his name, would have come for me.  If it found me with them, it would kill them all and once again, as with you, nothing would change for me.  I fought their Master to rescue them, not bring about their deaths.”

“Let me think.”  Dr. Abram searched his memories, using key words much like real keys, unlocking the place where the story he’d read many years ago was stored. 

“The farm was in Alabama.  Boys and girls in various stages of illnesses, addictions, and abuse had gone to the police, who then raided the camp.  The guards died, burned inside their barracks.  No one cared to investigate the fire. I think the name of the boy that led them was Jason, but I cannot be certain. Most of them were reunited with their families.  Others were given new homes.  I don’t know how well they fared.  You set them free?”

“It was my plan, but we did it together. The younger boys set fire to the barracks.  They must be forgiven. The guards were cruel.  The Master…”  His voice faded.  “I offered myself to him in place of a weaker boy.  Master was another of the monsters I have seen.  I was too strong for him.  The food in the camp was good and once I was a farm boy.  I left him to Gregor.  He was well punished.”

“Why were you there?”

Once again Marcus looked away.  “Gregor did not like a sickly toy and I had stopped eating. Please,” he hurried on, seeing the doctor’s distress.  “This is a good memory.  I must say farewell to you now. I cannot stay here.  He will be looking and I do not want him to find you.”  He grew quiet, letting his feelings search the night.  “He is not close.  I will leave tonight.  I’ll let him find me far from here, so you’ll be safe. But stay, as I see you do, in the light.”

“I have not slept in a dark room since I ran from that cabin, felt him closing in on me, turning away only when I got to the police station and its bright lights.  But wait,” he reached into the pocket of the long grey sweater he wore.  “Take this.  It’s a business card.  I know you can’t read it, but if you ever need me, need to get here, it’ll tell you where I am.”

Marcus took the offered cards, frowning.

“I gave you a few.” The doctor smiled. “Just in case you lose one. Please”—he bent closer looking into grey eyes now the color of the sea with the morning mist rising from it—“don’t lose the cards.”

Marcus remained quiet, carefully placing them deep into the pocket of the dark jeans he wore.

“Where will you go, how will you travel?”

“I have one last goodbye, the first I was to kill.  I do not know the name, but I remember the way.  I travel at night.  I walk. It is not hard.  I walk fast.”

Marcus reached for the satchel tied to his back. “This is for your shelter.  I do not know how much there is.  It was Lenore’s.  I did not steal it.  She gave it to me, but as you can see it does me no good.  It would be much better used to improve the lives of those living here.” 

The satchel changed hands; the doctor not looking inside. 

“There is just one more thing you can do. Please help the man who plays the violin at the bar, Joseph Parri.  He gave me shelter.  I believe with your help he could stop drinking, be a good man again.”

 “No matter what has happened to you, how he changed you, you are a good man.  Marcus.”  He spoke quickly before Marcus could turn away.  “I want you to remember me.”

“I am forgetting Doctor.  I can no longer remember my father, my mother or sister’s faces, names.  I can tell you how my father would have wanted me to act.  I have done my best.”  He looked at the night sky, as if hoping for confirmation.  “I am beginning to forget even those that came after he took me.  That is one of the reasons I’m saying goodbye.  I fear I will forget it all.”

“I can explain why that is happening to you.”  The doctor chewed on his lower lip.  “It’s called psychogenic amnesia.”  He saw Marcus looking around, not knowing that he was trying to feel if Gregor was close.  “You don’t need to know that.  What it means is that people who suffer mental distress, like car accidents, certain diseases and in your case extreme abuse, suffer a loss of self.  You don’t lose your memories, not at first but over time all the memories associated with the person you were, begin to fade.”

“It is good it is slow. Will they return?”

“I cannot say, at least not in your case.”  Abram frowned. “Do you know what you are?”

“I know only that which I can and cannot do.”

“If you find out, if you need help, of any kind no matter what—he chuckled, a bitter sound—“no matter how old you’re not, no matter where this road takes you, contact me.  I’ll always answer.”

“I will try to remember.” 

Far from the state with a face was his journey’s end. Marcus wanted to begin, to turn east, but it was time to look into Gregor’s eyes, to let him know he had not yet won.  He turned back to Carson City, but he did not think he would have to go that far.

Officer Andrea Perkins felt the hairs on her arms stand at attention.  The air around her was suddenly chilly, and the night seemed far too dangerous.  She stood, hesitant to leave the brightly lit doorway.

There was an unnatural darkness to the night. A black shadow not far from where she stood.  She could not tell who or what was hidden there.

She heard a footstep from behind and quickly turned, hand reaching for her weapon.  

“There is no need.”

She turned to Marcus, who stood just beyond the reach of the light.  “They found the girls alive?”

“Yes.  They…”

“What is this?”  Gregor growled, stepping from the shadows that hid him.

“You would not understand.”  Marcus looked away, dismissing him.

“Do you count them?”  Gregor snarled.

Marcus ignored him, keeping his eyes on the policewoman.  She took a step forward.

“Don’t.”  She obeyed Marcus’ command.

 “It has been a long time.”

It was not addressing her, and Andrea felt like she was witnessing something few would see.

“Not long enough, I think.  I thought you should know that I am still here.”

“Aren’t you tired of this game?”  Gregor glanced at Marcus, beginning to grin.

“It is a game I am winning.”

“No.” The reply was a screech.  “I have killed many.  Those four in the city were for you.  You lost your friend.  You know I don’t like you to have them.  What was her name?”

 “Lenore, yes she was a friend.”

 “She didn’t tell me where she lived, even when I beat her.  I knew you would find her.  Did it hurt?”

He laughed cruelly and Officer Perkins shivered.

Marcus ignored the question.

“I had no doubt the sheep would think you killed her.  They would make things easier for me.  I didn’t expect you to get free of them.  You, who refuse to kill, how did you escape?”

“I did not need to, have never needed to kill.  You killed her to get me, but I’m still free.”  He pointed to the police station. “You cannot enter their bright lights.”  Marcus was sure the officer would understand the warning. “I have no intention of fighting you here.  You are too weak in the light.”

A cruel laugh accompanied his words, and Marcus turned his back to Gregor.  “Follow me if you can.”

He disappeared, quickly followed by the blackness that had been waiting.  Officer Perkins heard the words, whispered in the wind.

“You are lucky he came back.”

She went into the station.  The report she filed, told of the overheard conversation, exonerating the man wanted for the Carson City murders.  It would be found much later, and its words would save a hard won life.

Chapter 12

T

he day was quiet.  The town sleeping between seasons.  As usual, this far north, the temperature had fallen.  Stepping out into the cloudless night, Marcus saw many people looking his way.  With no coat, shivering, moonlight highlighting his pale face; the police, if they came this way, would have no difficulty knowing he’d been here.  Still he walked, drawn to the shelter by unbreakable threads.

The modern building was larger than Marcus had hoped it would need to be.  Glass doors looked out upon the street.  The vestibule was bright and Marcus could not enter.  Behind the desk facing the doors, the young woman watched him walking back and forth.  He looked in, shading his eyes.  When he saw her, he quickly turned away.

“Dr. Abram.”  Though she spoke quietly, Marcus heard her.  “There’s a man pacing in front of the door.”

Marcus looked at the large brass letters labeling the building.  T.O.I.C.S., smaller print sitting below, explained the meaning of the name, but he could not read the words.

A man in oversized glasses walked to the receptionist.  Even slightly bent, age pulling him to the center of the earth, he towered over her. A hand, mottled with age spots reached up to scratch the silver grey hair circling a high forehead. Through the glass Marcus could see the electric blue eyes that time had not changed.  All four watched the door, waiting for the stranger to once again pass by.

“I thought.”  She began, only to be interrupted.

“You thought my instructions to have you call me if ever a young man standing before our doors was a bit strange?”

She looked away.  “You said he wouldn’t enter.  How did you know?”

Dr. Abram smiled.  “I didn’t know.” 

Marcus passed and Dr. Abram pulled his sweater close around him. 

“Harriet don’t come out into the dark.  I don’t think I’ll need you.  If I do”—he whispered—“it will be too late.  If anything happens to me call the police and stay where it’s brightest.”  He looked at the overly bright lights carefully placed around them.  They filled each room, every night.  The residents had learned to sleep bathed in their glow.

 “Dr.”—she grabbed his arm—“don’t go.  I’m scared.”

 “You probably should be.  There are many things to fear, but I don’t think I need to fear him.”  

The door opened and Marcus turned quickly around.  He remembered those eyes, their kindness and he smiled.

“It is you?”  Dr. Abram stepped out, eyes closing as the door locked behind him.

“Yes Doctor.”

“It’s been a long time.  I tried to save you.  I went to the police, we went back as quickly as we could.”

“We left as soon as it returned.” Marcus looked away.  “I thought you must gotten away, why else would it be so angry, but I could not be sure it was angry with me, for sending you away.”

Dr. Abram closed his eyes picturing the room he’d returned to.  The blood stained mattress, rodent bones collected in the corners.  “It’s cold.  You must be freezing.  Come inside where we can talk.”  He backed away from the pain in Marcus’ eyes.  “You can’t.”

Marcus, turning away from the lights, surprised to see the Dr. still standing beside him. 

“You do not run?”

 “I believe I have nothing to run from.”

“I am glad you are still here.”

“How can it be you?  You should be older.”

“You can ask, but I cannot tell you.  I don’t understand it either.  This is a shelter?”

 “Yes. I opened it as a safe haven for abused children, boys or girls.”

“That is good.  Are there many?”

“Always too many.  You’re welcome here, you always will be.”

“You have given me a warmth I have not felt in a very long time.”  Marcus wrapped his arms across his chest.  “The pain pills, I have always wanted to thank you for them.  I kept them. I used them slowly.  He never understood how I was able to ignore the pain.  It was a small victory.”

“The ribs, arm?”  The doctor searched for signs of previous injuries.  “You healed well, even the thumbs.”

“You did a good job.”  Marcus looked at his hands, the thumbs only slightly misshapen.

“You came back to see me?”

 “Yes, for a while now I have been revisiting, I guess that is what you would say, those that helped me.  I think in my own way I am saying goodbye.  I want you, someone to know I survived, that I am not what he tried to make me.  I thought you might understand, would believe me.  I”—he turned away once again searching among the stars—“have been hiding, fighting him all these years.  The police think I killed four women in a place called Carson City.  I was hiding there.  A woman found me, tried to help. She did not understand the danger.  His voice broke.  “I thought he was further away, but he found me.  He killed her and the others, but I am blamed.  Please do not believe them.”  He stared into the doctor’s eyes, “I have never killed. I only wish for one person to think kindly of me.  Perhaps to mourn.”

Tears were in the doctor’s eyes.  “I will mourn.  I believe you.  I saw your suffering.  I saw the boy doing his best to save someone he didn’t know, had no reason to save.”  He pointed to the sign.  “Do you see what I named the shelter?”

“I see the letters.  The words, I cannot read them.”

“T.O.I.C.S.  It stands for The One I Couldn’t Save.  It is named for you.  I wanted so badly to save you.”

“But you did.  I had given up; thought there was only cruelty.  No reason for me to go on, to not embrace the darkness he wanted for me.  But you, your eyes were kind.  I could see that you cared, though you did not know me, and I knew there was a reason to continue, a reason to resist.  I have saved some lives.  I hide, but then I let him find me, so that he will know I am still here.”

“Why?”  The doctor shivered.

“It is cold.  You should go back inside.”

 “I’m fine. Please continue.”

“He spoke very often of taking another boy prisoner, another one to torture.  He wants to join the Gods he believes in.  To prove himself worthy, he has to show them he was not weak.  Not weaker than anyone would be, even those far older than he had been when his father beat him.  He takes those he feels are strong and keeps them until they beg or cry.”

“But you?”

“I have never begged, never cried.  I do not think it is possible for me to cry now.  So I continue.  I show him that I have not died so that he will chase me and not take another.  But I am so tired.”

The doctor reached out, one arm placed firmly around Marcus’ shoulder.  Frowning, Marcus looked at the hand. “I do not usually let anyone touch me.”

 “I’m your doctor.”  The comment was rewarded with a tentative smile. “How did you escape?”

“I guess you can say I escaped, but in a way I am still a prisoner.”  Marcus pulled down the collar of his shirt.  “I had had enough.  He was going to use me as a reason to kill.  I couldn’t let him do this.  It was then he made me into what I am.  I let him think”—Marcus turned away—“that I loved him for this.  He was to teach me how to kill; I saved the girl and escaped.  I was stronger than he knew.”

“I am sorry for what you must have had to do.”

“That was when I died.” He paused, looking into distant memories.  “There were boys, I helped them escape.  But I do not know if they lived.  I would ask, though you may not know.”

“Ask anything.”

“Years ago, I do not know how many, there was a place boys were used as slaves, young girls sold to old men.  I, Jason, we fought back.  I captured the Master of the camp.  The boys and girls, I told them to run.  We did not know each other’s names.  I have often wondered about them.”

“Why didn’t you go with them?”

“Gregor, that is his name, would have come for me.  If it found me with them, it would kill them all and once again, as with you, nothing would change for me.  I fought their Master to rescue them, not bring about their deaths.”

“Let me think.”  Dr. Abram searched his memories, using key words much like real keys, unlocking the place where the story he’d read many years ago was stored. 

“The farm was in Alabama.  Boys and girls in various stages of illnesses, addictions, and abuse had gone to the police, who then raided the camp.  The guards died, burned inside their barracks.  No one cared to investigate the fire. I think the name of the boy that led them was Jason, but I cannot be certain. Most of them were reunited with their families.  Others were given new homes.  I don’t know how well they fared.  You set them free?”

“It was my plan, but we did it together. The younger boys set fire to the barracks.  They must be forgiven. The guards were cruel.  The Master…”  His voice faded.  “I offered myself to him in place of a weaker boy.  Master was another of the monsters I have seen.  I was too strong for him.  The food in the camp was good and once I was a farm boy.  I left him to Gregor.  He was well punished.”

“Why were you there?”

Once again Marcus looked away.  “Gregor did not like a sickly toy and I had stopped eating. Please,” he hurried on, seeing the doctor’s distress.  “This is a good memory.  I must say farewell to you now. I cannot stay here.  He will be looking and I do not want him to find you.”  He grew quiet, letting his feelings search the night.  “He is not close.  I will leave tonight.  I’ll let him find me far from here, so you’ll be safe. But stay, as I see you do, in the light.”

“I have not slept in a dark room since I ran from that cabin, felt him closing in on me, turning away only when I got to the police station and its bright lights.  But wait,” he reached into the pocket of the long grey sweater he wore.  “Take this.  It’s a business card.  I know you can’t read it, but if you ever need me, need to get here, it’ll tell you where I am.”

Marcus took the offered cards, frowning.

“I gave you a few.” The doctor smiled. “Just in case you lose one. Please”—he bent closer looking into grey eyes now the color of the sea with the morning mist rising from it—“don’t lose the cards.”

Marcus remained quiet, carefully placing them deep into the pocket of the dark jeans he wore.

“Where will you go, how will you travel?”

“I have one last goodbye, the first I was to kill.  I do not know the name, but I remember the way.  I travel at night.  I walk. It is not hard.  I walk fast.”

Marcus reached for the satchel tied to his back. “This is for your shelter.  I do not know how much there is.  It was Lenore’s.  I did not steal it.  She gave it to me, but as you can see it does me no good.  It would be much better used to improve the lives of those living here.” 

The satchel changed hands; the doctor not looking inside. 

“There is just one more thing you can do. Please help the man who plays the violin at the bar, Joseph Parri.  He gave me shelter.  I believe with your help he could stop drinking, be a good man again.”

 “No matter what has happened to you, how he changed you, you are a good man.  Marcus.”  He spoke quickly before Marcus could turn away.  “I want you to remember me.”

“I am forgetting Doctor.  I can no longer remember my father, my mother or sister’s faces, names.  I can tell you how my father would have wanted me to act.  I have done my best.”  He looked at the night sky, as if hoping for confirmation.  “I am beginning to forget even those that came after he took me.  That is one of the reasons I’m saying goodbye.  I fear I will forget it all.”

“I can explain why that is happening to you.”  The doctor chewed on his lower lip.  “It’s called psychogenic amnesia.”  He saw Marcus looking around, not knowing that he was trying to feel if Gregor was close.  “You don’t need to know that.  What it means is that people who suffer mental distress, like car accidents, certain diseases and in your case extreme abuse, suffer a loss of self.  You don’t lose your memories, not at first but over time all the memories associated with the person you were, begin to fade.”

“It is good it is slow. Will they return?”

“I cannot say, at least not in your case.”  Abram frowned. “Do you know what you are?”

“I know only that which I can and cannot do.”

“If you find out, if you need help, of any kind no matter what—he chuckled, a bitter sound—“no matter how old you’re not, no matter where this road takes you, contact me.  I’ll always answer.”

“I will try to remember.” 

Far from the state with a face was his journey’s end. Marcus wanted to begin, to turn east, but it was time to look into Gregor’s eyes, to let him know he had not yet won.  He turned back to Carson City, but he did not think he would have to go that far.

Officer Andrea Perkins felt the hairs on her arms stand at attention.  The air around her was suddenly chilly, and the night seemed far too dangerous.  She stood, hesitant to leave the brightly lit doorway.

There was an unnatural darkness to the night. A black shadow not far from where she stood.  She could not tell who or what was hidden there.

She heard a footstep from behind and quickly turned, hand reaching for her weapon.  

“There is no need.”

She turned to Marcus, who stood just beyond the reach of the light.  “They found the girls alive?”

“Yes.  They…”

“What is this?”  Gregor growled, stepping from the shadows that hid him.

“You would not understand.”  Marcus looked away, dismissing him.

“Do you count them?”  Gregor snarled.

Marcus ignored him, keeping his eyes on the policewoman.  She took a step forward.

“Don’t.”  She obeyed Marcus’ command.

 “It has been a long time.”

It was not addressing her, and Andrea felt like she was witnessing something few would see.

“Not long enough, I think.  I thought you should know that I am still here.”

“Aren’t you tired of this game?”  Gregor glanced at Marcus, beginning to grin.

“It is a game I am winning.”

“No.” The reply was a screech.  “I have killed many.  Those four in the city were for you.  You lost your friend.  You know I don’t like you to have them.  What was her name?”

 “Lenore, yes she was a friend.”

 “She didn’t tell me where she lived, even when I beat her.  I knew you would find her.  Did it hurt?”

He laughed cruelly and Officer Perkins shivered.

Marcus ignored the question.

“I had no doubt the sheep would think you killed her.  They would make things easier for me.  I didn’t expect you to get free of them.  You, who refuse to kill, how did you escape?”

“I did not need to, have never needed to kill.  You killed her to get me, but I’m still free.”  He pointed to the police station. “You cannot enter their bright lights.”  Marcus was sure the officer would understand the warning. “I have no intention of fighting you here.  You are too weak in the light.”

A cruel laugh accompanied his words, and Marcus turned his back to Gregor.  “Follow me if you can.”

He disappeared, quickly followed by the blackness that had been waiting.  Officer Perkins heard the words, whispered in the wind.

“You are lucky he came back.”

She went into the station.  The report she filed, told of the overheard conversation, exonerating the man wanted for the Carson City murders.  It would be found much later, and its words would save a hard won life.

RECAP

For those of you just beginning to visit my website here’s a blurb for each book in the Darkness and Light Series

First Book written in the Darkness and Light Series

DARK NIGHT OF THE SOUL

Dark Night of the soul begins with Marcus returning to the place where he won his freedom. Saving the little girl that was to be his first victim, Marcus was able to escape. With the passing of many years, Marcus’ life has come full circle when he is reunited with the little girl, now a woman. Recognizing Marcus for what he is, not what Gregor tried to make him, Maddy walks by his side and a final battle begins. Not just a battle to save those Gregor is planning to kill, but a battle to bring Marcus out of the dark, freeing his soul from its long dark night.

A DARKNESS DESCENDING

(The Prequel to Dark Night of the Soul)

Marcus’ nightmare begins when he is taken prisoner. The memories of the life he led before being taken, gives Marcus the strength to survive his long imprisonment. As time passes, the tormented becomes the tormentor and Marcus finds within himself a strength he did not know. Saving the little girl who was to be his first victim, Marcus is finally free. Continuing to use his memories even as they are slowly being stolen from him, Marcus becomes both hunter and prey, keeping Gregor from taking another. Knowing his years may be endless, but his memories will not, he begins looking for those he’d met throughout his long journey for a final goodbye. Finding help and compassion where he least expects it, Marcus returns to where his fight for freedom was won.

WHERE THERE WAS DARKNESS

Waking from what he believed would be his fiery death, Marcus finds he is no longer what he was. What he doesn’t know is what he has become. Struggling to answer the questions surrounding him, he finds he is not alone. The one who changed him lingers, haunting and tormenting him. Chief Daniels, the man whose understanding helped Marcus step out of the darkness , stands beside him, introducing Marcus to the world he could be a part of, a world Marcus longs to join. To be a part of that world, Marcus must first accept who he is and what he has become.

DARKNESS AND LIGHT, THE HUNTER

Finally accepting his altered state, Marcus uses the part of him still walking in the shadows. To hunt the human monsters he faces, Marcus must hide who he is and with each success comes the fear he has not hidden enough. Always watching, living off the life of the man he stole, Gregor waits and Marcus wonders if the monster is a part of himself, one he cannot destroy. Marcus hopes each solved case, each life saved will bring him the peace Gregor stole the day he stole the boy Marcus had once been. Stepping into danger, Marcus knows doing what only he can, being who he really is, keeps him a man apart, putting his family, his dreams for peace, and his life at risk.

DARKNESS AND LIGHT, VAMPIRES (coming soon)

Searching for the ever-elusive redemption, Marcus finds in this quest he is not alone. Gregor’s long journey and both their ultimate fates, depend on the strengths and weaknesses of each other. The dead he could not save haunt Marcus more than the shade walking in the half-world beside him. Marcus’ abilities take him to places he never thought to see, paths he never thought to walk, and bringing him into a world threatening to take from him all those he’s grown to love. Marcus is still the man fighting to escape the the flames he had once hoped to die in.

DARKNESS AND LIGHT COVER

I love the cover and must thank Norma Gustafson once again for the great photograph, which works very well for my Marcus, my main character, rising from the flames that has been the life he’s lived. The proof is on the way and full publishing is yet to come. Once it’s proofed, it’ll be available in all formats.

A LITTLE ABOUT ME AND MY INSPIRATION

tIt was 1995. My son was almost four. I’d tried to get pregnant for four years, then I gave up. The next two years were an adjustment, but my husband and I adjusted. Of course, as every trite story goes, that’s when I got pregnant. Now with a happy and healthy baby boy, a good marriage, and a good job, I should have been happy. Instead I was listless and borderline catatonic. I told my doctor I’d stopped menstruating. He told me I was too young, as if his pronouncement settled it. I went to another doctor, who sent me to the doctor who saved my life. My thyroid had decided to go on a permanent vacation. The endocrinologist sent me to have an MRI, to make certain it was only my thyroid, that and to find a possible explanation for all my headaches. What they found was a brain abnormality with two possible diagnosis’s. It could be muscular Sclerosis. That terrified me. It could be a brain tumor. I was almost relieved. I decided I’d rather die all at once, than watch myself be eaten alive. It was a tumor, benign. I hadn’t let myself think about cancer. I did not then know that my second cousin had died only two years before from the same thing.

At the time there were only a few doctors who operated on that part of the brain, the temporal lobe, and luckily for me the third best in the world lived in New Haven, Connecticut. He told me I would be all right and I believed him.

Three months later, I was calmly waiting for surgery. I had a four year old son to help grow. I was going to be there for him. I am, but for the next four months, not as much as I would have like to. He had to go to daycare when my husband wasn’t home to care for him. I could hardly care for myself. A large portion of my skull was removed, all the muscles attaching my jaw to the tissue around it had been cut, the optical nerve moved aside. The miracle of medical science, and the skill of amazingly dexterous hands is not the taking apart, but the putting back together. For many months I could not chew, but you don’t chew ice cream. I still can’t chew gum. The headaches are all but gone. The 500 count bottle of aspirin a week down to 500 count bottle a year.

With little to do, I sat down at the kitchen table and wrote(longhand) Dark Night of the Soul. A story of determination, redemption, love, and a spirit determined to overcome his monster. Though it’s fiction and my main character is called a vampire, his monster is no more supernatural, than mine had been. He is, however, far more frightening. In six months I was back to being a mother and returned to work. I put the book away. When I was a child, I’d decided to be, the best person I can be. I was now even more determined. I’m still working on it. Sometimes I fail, sometimes I don’t. After retiring, I published my book. It grew with me, but it is still about determination, redemption, love and a spirit determined to overcome monsters. The monsters are no longer just mine. It is now also about what we teach our children, how we teach them love or hate and what we can learn from them.

Stop and take a moment to look into a child’s eyes. Not your child by blood, not even a child of your own race. All children are our children.

It is funny how time passes. Dark Night was published in 1996. I’ve published four other novels, two more are coming. I’ve watched my son become a man I am proud of. I don’t know how many more chapters I’ll have, but I do know one thing. I’ve lived.

CHAPTER 11

Free of the police, Marcus lett his emotions seep from him.  He felt for Gregor, but could not find him.  Day was almost upon him and once again he was seeking shelter. He walked over to the cemetery, a cruel laugh escaping.  He spoke to the weathered stones. “Seems fitting.F

Off in the distance he heard voices.  He followed the sounds.  The vault’s door was ajar.  

“Come on.” The voice was cruel, and Marcus ducked behind the building, hiding in the little shade it provided.  The shade would not last. 

“Put some muscle into it.”  Grunts followed the words.  That was followed by the grinding sound of stone on stone.  “Got it.”

The cheer was muted.  “Is it there?”

“Sure is.  What an ass.” 

Marcus counted the voices, deciding there were four.  The sun moved.

“Who’d bury all those diamonds?  Did they think she’d wake up in heaven, move to the rich side of the clouds.”

“Stop shootin the breeze.  It’s almost light out, we gotta get outta here.”

Pressing himself into the stonework, Marcus could only hope they would listen to their leader. 

He heard their heavy breathing as they rushed to close the door.  He could still see them in the distance, running between gravestones when he opened the heavy oak door; sliding inside.  He lay in the dark ignoring the open casket.  Tired as he was, he couldn’t stop the pictures in his mind.  The woman who had only wanted to be loved; tortured, killed, but still protecting him.  Once again, he mourned.

Night approached and Marcus studied the map.  Highway I ninety would take him to the state with a face.

He stepped onto the highway, not knowing how far he had come, how far he still had to go but the destination was important to him in a way he could not explain.

He walked, letting the highway take him where it would.

Another welcome sign and Marcus was tying to read the words when he heard a scream. A man was trying to throw a woman into his car, but she was fighting and it looked to be more difficult than expected.  He didn’t expect Marcus. 

“Let her go.” 

She clawed at the man’s face, falling when she was freed.  Marcus, stepped forward, pinning him to his side.

“You should go.  Get away.” A closer look showed Marcus that she was not as young as he thought.

“No.  More police are coming.  They should be here any minute.”  She turned to the man still squirming in Marcus’ arms.  “We’ve been looking for you.  I need you to tell us what you did with the three missing girls.”

She cuffed him, locking him to the car. “Stephen Lewis, you are under arrest.”

 Marcus turned to face him, letting the darkness rise.  Marcus’ eyes turned black, his voice deepened, his whisper a growl.  “Where are they?”

Beginning to shake, Stephen clamped his mouth shut.

“You will tell me.  You don’t want me to get angry.”

Officer Andrea Perkins waited.  The stranger’s face was familiar even though he did not look her way.  She tried to remember where she’d seen it.  There was a menace to him, but she was not afraid, though she was certain his captive should be.

Finally Stephen began to speak.  “They’re at the Capstone, in the cellar.  There’s a door.  It’s hard to see.  They…they’re alive.  I swear.”

“Capstone?” Marcus swallowed his anger, turning grey eyes to the officer. “Does that mean anything to you?”

“I know it.  We searched it, but we didn’t find anything.”

Once again Marcus turned, the whites of his eyes filling with blood.  He felt the vessels break, the pressure of his anger pulsing through his veins.

“It’s by the fountain, hard to see.” Stephen whined.

Officer Perkins called dispatch.  “They’re sending officers now.”  

She looked down the road.  “I expected the others to be here by now.  They knew where I was going.”

“Didn’t you think I would expect patrols?”  Stephen snickered.  “You are all so predictable.”

“I’m not.”  Marcus tightened his grip.

Ribs close to breaking. Stephen turned to Officer Perkins, his eyes asking her to get him away.

“Explain, you piece of shit.  Brag a little.”  She stood back, far from where Marcus stood.  

“They’re off investigating the frantic calls from the family I used to get their attention.  Left the phone just within reach.  Your buddies aren’t all that concerned about a female officer.  Probably didn’t want you on the force in the first place.” Marcus’ hands tightened on his arm.  “You’re hurting me.”

“Not nearly enough.”

“Police brutality.”

 “Not a cop, not a murderer either.  That is lucky for you.”

It clicked, the wanted poster faxed over that afternoon.  The sketch artist had done a good job. 

“I think it’s time to read you your rights.”  Perkins stepped closer.

Marcus, watching her closely, noticed that she looked his way, making sure he was listening.

“Do you understand your rights?”  Stephen nodded.  Perkins turned to Marcus.  “I bet you understood them too?”  She waited until he nodded.  

“They should be here soon.”  Marcus glanced down the road.  “You do not need me.”

“You’re right, but I like the effect you’re having on him.  Just don’t kill him.  I’d hate to have to arrest you.”  

Marcus bit back his reply.  “What state is this?”

“Montana.”  Perkins answered.

“The state with a face.”  

“Do you have a long way to go?”  Perkins asked. 

“Don’t really know.  I’ll just keep walking.”

Sirens approached.  

Officer Perkins drew her weapon, looking at Marcus.  “You need to come with me.” 

“I didn’t kill them.”

“I believe you, but that doesn’t change anything.”  

 “I am sorry.”  He moved too quickly and she could not stop him from taking her gun.  The sirens grew louder.  She turned and he was gone.  

The night thickened, followed by the first tendrils of the coming dawn. Marcus ran to the shed.  It stood not far from the farmhouse, electric lines running between them.

Filled of tools, some were oddly familiar.

Ξ

“What are you doing in here?”  

Marcus had turned to face his father.  Showing him hands tucked in his pockets.  “I didn’t touch anything, just curious.  You’ve been spending a lot of time in here lately.”

A smile turned to him and Marcus remembered feeling relieved.  “Well I’m certain you can keep a secret.”

Marcus nodded, though a reply had not been expected.

“In the little spare time I have, I build things and right now I’m building your Mother a rocking chair.  It’s for her birthday.  I want to surprise her.”

“Can I see it?  Maybe I could help.”

“I’ll teach you someday, but you can’t learn on your mothers birthday gift.”

Marcus smiled, hands pushed further into his pockets.

 “Some of the tools are tricky, dangerous.  Don’t ever use them without me.  You understand what I’m saying?”

“Yes sir.”

“Over here.  This is a chop saw.  I have other saws. I’ll explain them all when we’re working together.”

“What are these?”  Marcus, knowing better than to touch, pointed at some metal bars, their edges sharp and oddly shaped.

“Those are chisels.  In fancy furniture stores they have routers, a kind of saw to make the fancy edges on desks and tables.  Me, I can’t afford them, so I do it the old fashioned way.  I shape the wood by hand.”

 “Sounds hard.”

“It can be, specially if it’s a hard wood like oak or cherry.  Pine’s softer.  It’s also fun.  I get to see what I thought up become more than an idea.  Now the rocker’s going to be as fancy as anything you could buy in a furniture store.  Your Mom, you must have noticed, never stops moving.  I’m thinking this will be a way she can keep moving while sitting down.  Works awfully hard your mom.”

“My Dad too.” He grinned.  “I don’t know why, but I like the chisels.  They seem a bit like the charcoal pens Cathy uses to draw.  She’s getting pretty good.”

“Your mother’s pretty good too, me, well furniture making is my art work.”  He’d nodded his head.  “This way.  It’s under the blanket, just in case Kate happens to visit.”

Ξ

The chair had been beautiful.  Intricately carved legs, soft smooth arms.  The back had a design his father had said was their family crest, though he hadn’t been certain.  It didn’t matter.  He’d known his wife would love it and Marcus had too.  Looking at the chisels, Marcus remembered the chair, the joy of being in on the secret.  He thought he’d been there when she got the chair but he could not remember. 

The sun was bright.  Marcus moved to the rear of the shed far from where the sunshine leaked around the door.  Making himself as small as his tall frame allowed, he hugged his legs and fell to sleep wondering if his mother still had the chair, did she have grandchildren to rock?

Dusk came and Marcus rose.  He left the shed heading for the highway.  His hunger grew with each step and he began to hunt.  The ranch would provide. Cows ambled over fresh green grasses, unaware of the predator stalking them.  

Entering the truck stop’s rest room, he overheard men talking about the Carson City killing spree. 

“Guy tore them apart.”

“Wish one of them was Mariam.”

“Can’t blame you there.  Your wife’s a piece of work.”

“Yeah, but only I get to say that.”  The voice grew angry.  

“I heard he stole a lot of money from one of them.”  

There was no reply.  Marcus washed the dirt from his face and neck, rubbing blood off the collar of his shirt.  He heard a voice fade to a whisper.

“That’s the guy, the sketch in the paper.”  There was a warning in the tone.

“Maybe he has the money with him.”

“You want to steal money from a man who tore four women apart.  Are you nuts.” 

 “Could you tell me where I am?” Marcus held out the map. “I am looking for a park.  I believe it is called Glacier.  You must show me.  I cannot read.”

The two men backed up slowly, eyes searching for another way out.

Marcus quickly closed the distance between them.  He heard them gasp when they found him standing by their side. “I am asking you politely.  Please show me where I am.”

The older man took the map, hands shaking.  “You are here. That’s highway I ninety.  Up here is the park, this whole area.  It goes into Canada.”  

“I ninety.  I have been traveling this road for a while.  Can you name the cities around the park?  Point them out.” 

 “There aren’t too many.”  He pointed, saying their names.  Marcus repeated each one, careful not to show a particular interest in any.  While they were looking over the map, the youngest man ambled over. 

“Do not try.  It would not be hard for me to kill you.  I am already wanted for four.”  Marcus reached out, grabbing the hand that had been snaking its way to the satchel. 

“Thank you.”  He nodded politely to the older man.  “You should be more careful who you call friend.”

Once again night swallowed him.  He spoke to break the silence.  “I hope they cannot tell where I am going.  I cannot fight them and hunt you. I will find you. I will kill you.  There are two places I must go, one last promise to keep.”

Whitefish was a small town, catering to tourists and those who like to gamble.  It seemed every third building was a casino, some the size of small gas stations. 

 “It is odd”—Marcus spoke to the quiet night—“a place for children shares a wall with a casino.  I believe it is ice cream I smell, I think once I liked ice cream.”

Ξ

He remembered his mother’s voice.

“Happy Birthday, sweetheart.  I am sorry I couldn’t get a cake.”

 “Cake, who cares about a cake?  Nothing in the world is better than your apple pie.”  His father had answered.

Marcus had sucked in the sweet fragrant cinnamon, while his frozen hands dug in the snow.  “I hope it’s okay.”

Behind him he’d heard his sister snicker.  “Course it is.  Snows not messed up, silly boy.”

“I am not a boy.”

“Are too.”

He raised his hands in mock surrender.

“How did you get the money?”  Cathy shivered.

“Stole it.”

“Stop.” She slapped his shoulder, fighting back a giggle.  “Tell me the truth.”

“Haven’t bought milk in four weeks.”

“Nothing to drink with lunch?  Jeez those dry sandwiches would kill me.”

Cathy”—his grey eyes grew stormy—“they do their best.”

She backed away from the hurt she saw behind his anger.  “I’m sorry.  Didn’t mean anything.  I know how hard they work, we all work.  I’m sorry, really.”

“The school has water.”  Marcus bent his head back to the treasure he’d hidden.

“Water’s better for you anyway.”

“Got it.”  He pulled the ice cream package from the snow, smiling.  “Vanilla for apple pie.”

“Marcus,” she grabbed his arm.  “I know I’m a silly little girl, but you are the best big brother in the whole world.”

 “You won’t say that after I eat most of the pie.”

Their laughter led the way to where the pie waited, two candle numbers sitting tall in its center.

“Thirty nine.”  Marcus had whispered.  

Ξ

Marcus was looking at the brightly decorated building his jaw clenching.

“What was I looking for?  Why was I digging in the snow?”  He looked at his fingers feeling the cold.  He was always cold.  He quickly hid his hands, tucking them in his pockets.

“I could almost see them.  I heard them, but it is all silence now.”

 “This is a strange place.”  Marcus looked at the mountains rising behind the town, the forests crowding its edges.  “It is pretty.”

The smell was strong.   Though he could not read the sign, it was obviously a restaurant.  The raw beef, rich and bloody called to him.  The other fragrances made his mouth water.  “I wish,” he turned suddenly away.  “If wishes were horses beggars would ride.  Who told me that?”  The night did not reply.

He quickly turned away. The music was beautiful.  Standing in the night, Marcus stopped to listen. He could smell the drink; hear the laughter of those within.  The feelings the town awakened grew stronger.  The longing was strange, with a power all its own.  Marcus found he could not leave.  The song was haunting, familiar.  As dawn approached, the building darkened and the last customers staggered out. Marcus followed.  

The man’s face was red, large blue veins crossing a bulbous nose.  His steps faltered as he stepped on the ragged hem of the overlarge pants he wore.  Sweat beaded on his forehead, a slow drip to his chin.  Marcus was quiet, though he would not have been heard regardless of the noise he made.  Hands shaking, the stranger could not fit the key into the lock.

“So un of a bitth,” once again he pushed the key shakily towards the keyhole, falling back away from the door.

“Let me.” Marcus took the key.

“Who are you?”

“A friend.”  Marcus carried him to the bedroom.  Helping him out of his shoes, he laid him on the bed, carefully wrapping him in blankets. It was not particularly cold outside, but seemed very cold inside.  Snores filled the room, snores that battled with the gurgling of the older man’s churning stomach.  Hugging the blankets he was soon lost in dreams.

Marcus pulled the bag from sleeping fingers.  Curious, he looked inside. The violin was beautiful. Its song had drawn him to the bar.  Placing the instrument carefully on the table by the bed, Marcus closed the curtains.  It was dark enough.  He found extra blankets thrown haphazardly in the room’s closet.  The closet was large and Marcus curled up on the floor. Closing the door, he made a nest and slept.

Stumbling footsteps woke him. A garbled, “how” was followed by the sound of brushing teeth.  

Stepping out of the close, Marcus walked over, hands held out before him.

“Do not be afraid.”

“Easy to say, but don’t expect me to listen.  Course I’m afraid.  Who are you?”

Marcus saw his hands were trembling, eyes glancing at the violin sitting beside the bed.  

“I saw you last night.  You were having trouble with the key.  I helped, got you inside.  You fell asleep before I could ask you if I could rest here.  I am sorry to have imposed but the blankets looked welcoming.  I hope you do not mind.”

“You slept in the closet?”

“Closest thing to a bed I could find. Nice and dark and really quite roomy, skinny.”

“You could stand to put on a few pounds.”  He looked at the instrument on the bed stand.  “Did you take my violin out of the bag?”

“Yes, I could not help but look. I am sorry.  It seemed too precious to be left on the floor. ”

“It is.”  He turned to look around the shabby apartment.  “Only thing I won’t pawn.”

 “Why?”

 “Long, sad, probably boring story.”

“If you don’t mind my spending the day here, I would like to hear the story.”  Marcus said.

“Hiding from something?”

“Hiding from everything.”

“I came here to hide too.  I learned that you can’t hide from yourself.  No matter how far you go, you always take yourself with you.”  He looked down at the floor, frowning.  “I’m not a good companion.”

“It was you playing?”  Marcus watched the stranger’s hands, gently stroking the rich wood.

“Yeah, sit in the bar, play for drinks and whatever money the tourists feel like dropping in the can.”

“Can?”

“I keep a coffee can next to me.  Accept donations.” He barked out a cruel laugh. 

 “It was beautiful, the music.  I sat outside, listening.  Should have been looking for a place to stay, but I lost track of time.”

“Lose track of time every time I go into a bar.”  He looked Marcus over, appraising him.  “If it’s okay with you, I’m going in the kitchen, make some coffee?”

“You are not a prisoner.”  Marcus looked away.  “I will not keep you if you want to leave, but I would like you not to.  I need a place to; hell what difference is it to you for me not to tell the truth, to hide.”

“Hide from what.”  He stood by the bedroom door uncertain what his next move would be.

“I am hiding, most lately from the police who think I murdered four woman. But first I am hiding from the man who murdered those woman.”  Marcus saw the man’s hand tightening on the doorknob.  “If I had wanted to hurt you, it would have been easy while you slept.”

Marcus sat down, crossing his legs, arms hanging loosely at his sides.  “Leave if you must.”

Watching him turn away, Marcus heard him head to the kitchen.  He could hear grinding sounds, but he didn’t know what was being done, so he let his mind wander.  So many mornings ago he had woken to the smell of coffee.  His father would laugh at his wife.  She only drank tea and Marcus thought he had called her a snob.  There was always a laugh in his voice.  Marcus strained but he could not remember the sound.  

The man returned, sitting beside his unexpected guest, cradling a cup of coffee.  “I’m Joseph Parri.  Do you drink coffee?”

Marcus smiled.  “Thank you Joseph. I don’t, but it is kind of you to ask.”  He looked away for a moment.  “I would tell you my full name but I don’t remember it.  I am Marcus.”

 “The bastard that killed those woman is he your father, a friend?”

Marcus frowned causing the lines in his face to deepen.  “He is not my father.  He killed him a long time ago.  Someday we will find each other.  I do not know who will walk away.  I am living to die.”

“I guess that’s something we have in common. I have a wife and two children somewhere.  It was a toxic relationship,” he chuffed.  “That’s what my wife called it.”  His red-rimmed eyes showed deep wells of misery.  “Everything I tried, all the jobs I worked at.  I was always a failure.  A violin player isn’t a typical bar musician.  I wanted to play first violin, that’s what they call the lead violinist in an orchestra.”

“I have no experience with orchestras but I believe you play well enough.”

 “My wife told me I did and I thought so too.  Came close.  Drank the opportunity away.  Have one drink, followed by as many as my money will buy, sometimes what I can borrow.  We had to separate; my wife and I or she wouldn’t have had enough money to support the kids.  I miss them, but not enough to stop drinking I guess, or I wouldn’t be here.”

“I think it is not that you don’t miss your family enough.  The hunger for the drink, it is too strong.  You cannot go home unless”—he paused—“I think my father would have said, until you slay that dragon.  Some monsters are not so easy to slay.” Marcus looked at the bright sunshine peeking through the shear curtains in the other room.  

“I have a day job that I’m trying to keep.  You’re coming here last night may have saved it for at least one more day.”  Joe rose.  “When I’m not drinking or playing the violin, I’m cooking.  Breakfast place just down the road.  If you get hungry later, the meals on me.”

“Could you tell me if there is a doctor here, name…”  Marcus’ eyes narrowed as he tried to pull the name from the far reaches of his mind, from behind the places he stored the things he did not want to remember.  “Abram.”

“Sure there is.  He’s a great guy.  Opened, runs and fully supports the shelter on Main Street.  Opened it a long time ago.  I wasn’t here back then but I understand there’s a rather sad story to go along with it.  I’m sure the natives know it.”  He called over his shoulder while quickly dressing, “go out the door, turn right go two blocks. It’s on the left, big building.  Nicest place in town.  Can’t miss it.  Will you be here when I return?”

“When will you return?”

“Not until dark.  Then it’s back to the bar.”

“I will be gone after it grows dark.  If you don’t mind, I would like to stay the day.”

“Whatever you want to do.  Just lock the door on the way out.”  He grabbed his keys heading towards the door.  Hand on the doorknob he paused. “Will I ever see you again?”

“I think for you, it would be best if you don’t. I hope you slay your dragon.”

He heard the door close, knowing the man would need help getting home again, probably many more times.  “There are so many monsters.”

CHAPTER 10

He sat unmoving while she cooked and ate her dinner.  He sat while she watched a television show, whose laughter seemed forced.  He sat when he heard her faulting steps lead her to bed.  Then he rose

The hospital stood before him, but Marcus could not bring himself to go inside.  He walked, stretching kinked muscles.  His speed brought him quickly to the desert the town sat inside.  

The cottontail was munching on the little grass it could find.  Nose twitching, it turned to where Marcus stood.  Large rear legs propelled it forward, putting distance between them.

“I will not eat you.”  He watched the hare.  “My sister… would be ….”

Ξ

“Dad,” her voice had been both cajoling and angry and had made their father smile.  

“Little one”—he had gently twitched her nose—“what is it you want now?”

“Not much.”  She’d pointed to Marcus. “Nothing big like him.  I want a rabbit, a cute little bunny for a pet.”

“Even small pets need to be taken care of.  You have to feed it.  That costs money.  Money we don’t have.  I’m sorry but that’s just the way it is.  Maybe we can get you one next year.  Crops are doing better this year.  So far there’s been no drought, plenty of sunshine, just the right temperatures.  If things stay like this, we’ll have enough to get your brother a dog and a bunny for you. Marcus promised to help out, maybe get a job.  He can make some extra money for the dog. You can’t get a job.  Too young.” 

“I can help out. I have my vegetable garden. I’ll grow its food.  Please daddy.”

“It’s hard to say no to you two.”

“Dad,” Marcus walked over, hands tucked deep into his pockets.  “If Cathy”—he could not look up, now wanting Cathy to see how hard this was for him—“If you can’t afford to get a dog and a rabbit, you should get Cathy the rabbit.  I can wait until I can afford the dog.”

Cathy turned, hugging her brother’s legs, almost making him fall.  “No big brother. I’m not letting you do that.  You’ve wanted a dog for as long as I remember and I,” she wagged her finger in his face, “have a good memory.”

“Your sister’s right.  You’re getting the dog.  You’ve earned it.  Cathy can wait.”  He’d turned to his little girl.  “Just one more year.  I promise you’ll get that bunny when you turn thirteen.”

Ξ

 “I hope she got a bunny.  I cannot hunt what …”—he shook his head but the name would not come—“she loved so much.  Tonight I will look for other food.”

The bobcat had no problems eating hare and Marcus saw it stalking its prey.  Far faster, Marcus caught the cat, quickly breaking its neck.  After the meal, he glanced at the animal, pain in his face.  “You did not deserve this.”

Looking up at the inky night sky, he raised his fist.  “This must end.  I cannot bear this.  So much death.  I was meant to grow things, bring life, not take it.”

He sank to his knees.  “I cannot cry.  I don’t remember how, I have fought not to for so long.  If I find the spigot, I will not be able to turn it off.”

It was late morning when he woke.  He quietly went into the bathroom, hoping the blood would clean, once again glad that black hid so many sins.  

He heard Lenore humming while preparing breakfast.  The envelope lay untouched by the side of the bed.  Inside he found many hundreds.  He did not count them. 

“Aunt Lee.”  A voice called out as the door shut.  Marcus heard what the young woman could not.  The heavy sigh of someone not welcoming her guest.

 “Your brother here too?”  Lenore walked over.

“Of course.  Just came to make sure you’re okay.”

“You mean you came to make sure your inheritance is okay.”  Spoken under her breath, still Marcus heard and he knew the second act was about to begin.  Carefully combing his hair, he dressed in his new clothes.  

“I do not believe I have met these young people.”  Marcus went to Lenore’s side.

“This is my niece and nephew, Shayna and Kyle.  This is my fiancé Allen.”

“Fiancé?”  Two voices spoke as one.  “Who are you?”

Marcus swallowed. Being introduced as her fiancé was unexpected.  “I am the man who is to marry your aunt.”  He embraced her.  

“Allen what?”  The young man stood feet apart as if ready for a fight.

“Just Allen.  That is all.  It is enough for her.” 

While the two men stared at each other Shayna looked around the house.  Marcus heard her muttering.

 “Looks like nothings stolen.  What does he want from her?”  She passed the spare bedroom.  Seeing the undisturbed bedding, she strode quickly over to the master. 

Coming to her brother’s side, she placed a hand on each hip.  “Where are you sleeping?”

“With me, of course.”  Lenore stepped between them.

Marcus looked at Lenore, understanding washing over his face.

“Shayna.” Marcus spoke quietly.  “I have not taken anything your aunt has not wanted to give.  I am not a thief.  You should not trouble your aunt.  I’m not going to take your inheritance.”

“I didn’t mean…”

“You did.”  He walked over and brother and sister stood closer together.  The room grew cold while he read their eyes.  “You do not mean her harm.  She does not know you really care.  Caring does not mean controlling.  She has earned the right to live a life she chooses.  Right now, she has chosen to share some of her life with me.”

“Where did you meet him, the homeless shelter?” Shayna tapped her foot impatiently on the floor.

Marcus, walking to the kitchen, tried not to listen but found he could not drown out their words.

“He was living on the street.”  Lenore sneered.  “Don’t interrupt.  He’s a good man.  I brought him here.  I don’t want to hear another thing about it.  If I want to take a man into my bed, my life, I can.  What did you come for?”

 “We just wanted to see if you needed anything.”  The voice grew bitter.  “I see you have everything you need.”

The door slammed shut, echoing in the quiet of the room.  Marcus walked back to Lenore, who stood staring at the closed door, eyes frowning. “Should I go now?”

“No.”  Lenore looked away.  “Stay as long as you like.  I don’t think you’ll have to do any more playacting.  I shouldn’t have any more visitors.”

“I think you have more friends and Helen will want them to …I think meet me is not what she will want.”

“I… I’m sorry.”  Marcus could see she was not.

“It is because”—he seemed to study the carpet—“I clean up well that you brought me here.  I will stay until I meet your friends.”

“You should stay at least six more days.  I can withdraw money, actually ten thousand dollars every day to get it down to just what I need to pay my bills.  I’ll give it to you. That’s all the easy cash I have.”

 “You should not give it to me.  I have not”—once again he looked at the rug—“earned it.  Your niece and nephew will be upset.”

“It’s mine to spend, to give to anyone I want and I want to give it to you.  I’ve given plenty away.  Donations to the homeless shelter, sanctuaries for abused men, women and children.  Take the money.  You don’t have to earn it.  Even if you don’t love me, I’ll be glad to know you think I’m a good person.”

“You are a good person.”  He smiled and Lenore felt her breath catch.  “It is just that I cannot.  Too much has happened.  In my way, the only way I can, I do love you.  I saw what you did, what I am sure you still do for the homeless.  You never walk past without seeing them.  You see them as people not to be discarded.  No one should be discarded.  I do not want the money but if you desire it, I will keep it.   I will stay, play fiancé and upset your friends.”

She put a hand on his shoulder; the other gently touching his back, feeling the jagged edges of his scars.  “It will make me happy.  I want to piss off my friends and I very much want you to have the money.  I’ll make sure Shayna and Kyle know.  Don’t want them to think you stole it.”

Marcus gently pulled away, going back into the bedroom.  Her kindness had a price he could pay.

Ξ

“Putting out the best I see.”  Allen Rollins had stepped behind his wife, encircling her with his arms.   He’d kissed her neck and she’d begun to giggle.

“Allen stop.  If I laugh any harder I’ll drop the dishes.”

“I don’t know why you do this every time they come.”

“You mean take out my mother’s china.”

“I mean everything you do.  House is always clean yet you’ve vacuumed it at least three times.  I couldn’t find a spec of dust if I went looking, white gloves and all.  You’ve spent half the month’s grocery money on this meal.  I just don’t understand.”

Marcus, sitting quietly by the hearth, badly wanted to hear her answer.  He didn’t understand why his mother had been in a frenzy the last two days.  Usually so even tempered, she grew angry with every mess he made, even angrier when Cathy tried to make dinner.  

“Don’t you remember how they treated you?”

He shrugged.  “It never bothered me.”

“Well it bothered me.  Treated you like dirt, acted like I was a fool, loving you.  They were supposed to be friends.”

“They were, I mean are.  They want the best for you.”

“You are and always have been the best for me.”

He pulled her closer, pressing his face into her hair.

“That doesn’t explain this, at least not to me.”

“Give me a minute.”  She put the last plates on the table, straightening the already perfectly placed silverware.  “My mother once told me that the best revenge is living well.  We do, but not in a way they understand.  So when they come, I show them with things they understand.  Yes we have plenty of food; tonight we just have a little more expensive food.  My home is beautiful, I have nice things and even better, I have a husband I love and the two best children in the world.  I,” she grinned.

Her husband sucked air into his lungs, interrupting. “You are beautiful.”

“I am living well.”

Ξ

Sitting quietly, Marcus whispered.  “The best revenge is living well.  Lenore, you are trying to live well, at least in a way they understand.  I see.”  For the first time since she came to his door proposing he come to her bed, he genuinely smiled.

They came.  Marcus found his presence needed at odd times.  It was pleasing to him to see how upset they got when he did not tell them his surname.  They did not know he didn’t remember it.  Then there were the smiles Lenore turned his way when he spoke of his feelings.  

The door closed behind a particularly annoying man and Marcus turned to Lenore.  “I do not think he will return.  Does this disturb you?”

“Not really.”  She saw the question he had not asked.  “You want to know why these people are my friends when I like them so little.  They were friends when we had more in common.  They liked my husband.  When he got ill, they were good to him, to me.  It’s just that my husband’s investments have made me a wealthy woman.  It seems old friends expect you to share and new friends try to wheedle it out of you.”  She looked into Marcus’ eyes.  “My niece and nephew aren’t bad.  They mean well.  They just act like I’m getting too old to make my own decisions, like giving you money.” Her smile was sad.  “At least they don’t seem to be hoping that I die. Sometimes it’s strangers who don’t ask for anything that become your best friends.  I care about you.”

He raised an eyebrow.

 “I know I came on strong”—she shrugged—“just got the wrong idea.  I guess I’m lonelier than I thought.  You’ve been good to me.  Thanks for going along with my craziness.”

“I care for you also.  I am sorry I cannot be more to you.”  He looked at the growing night, darkening the edges of the curtains. “I do not believe I will ever be close to another.  I will be leaving soon.  My presence here is dangerous to you.  I feel I have been here too long.  He will find me.”

“I’ll get the rest of the money tomorrow.  You can leave tomorrow night.  Will you”—tears gathered in her eyes— “will you be okay?” 

“Maybe someday.  Wherever I go, I will always remember this time with you.”  He turned without explanation, heading to the door, grateful that she did not ask where he went.

It was the last morning.  He could hear Lenore, preparing breakfast, humming as usual.  It had been a long night.  The hunt had not gone well.  There was so much blood but none he would willingly take.  The morgue provided, but he was weak.  Only the blood of the living gave him the strength he needed to confront Gregor.  Tonight he would run.

Lenore was gone when Marcus opened the door.  He could not read the note she left him. Marcus turned to the television.  He’d watched Lenore and knew what to do.  Bored, he turned on the news.  He was walking in circles when he heard it.  Gregor was here.  Two brutal murders and Lenore was still not home.  Staring at the curtains, he waited for the light to fade.  

The little sunshine burned his skin, but he ran, staying in the shadows.  He followed the scent of her blood, his dread growing.  Just beyond the bar, in the alley he knew what he would find. 

He could see in her eyes that she’d suffered.  That Gregor had not come to the house told him she had not spoken of him.  He cradled her, brushing the hair off her forehead.  Even now, Marcus found he couldn’t cry. 

Pain crawled from deep inside, his moans filling the ally, spilling out into the street. 

 “I should have told you not to step into the dark.” Her blood, what Gregor left behind, had pooled by the side of the alley.  Marcus drank.

How long he sat there, holding her in his arms he did not know.  He could see the night quickly passing.  The bar was dark, the last patrons stumbling down the sidewalk.  It was the face that stirred him.  The man fumbling with his keys as he went back into the bar told Marcus it was time to go.

Her home seemed so cold. Marcus ran his hands gently over the things that had filled her life.

  He shook his head,  “I do not have time for this.  She will be found.”

Quickly gathering the money she’d given him, he took her satchel, tying it around his waist.

He did not make it out the door.

The detective standing just outside the door had drawn his weapon.  Two uniformed officers stood behind him.

“Please step back into the apartment.”  

There was a wolfish grin on the man’s face, and Marcus felt his hackles rise.

“I’m Lieutenant Buford and that”—he pointed to the dark brown stains on Marcus’ shirt—“is blood.”

There was no reply. 

“Guess you didn’t expect to see us so soon.”  His lips curled.  “Didn’t even clean up.  What did you think? Were you just gonna walk out of town, blood all over your shirt.  Pretty stupid, really.”

Remaining silent, Marcus assessed the situation.  He could leave, they could not stop him but there would be more blood and he had seen enough.

“Okay.” The grin slowly slipped from the detective’s face.  “You don’t want to talk, that’s fine. You are Allen, Mrs. Smyth’s supposed fiancé.  I’d like to know your full name.”

Marcus stared past him.

The detective’s hand curled into a fist.  “I’m pretty sure you already know that Lenore was the third victim of what seems to be random killings.  We had”—he pushed his index finger into Marcus’ chest—“no suspects until now.  I think you’d better come with us.”

 “I think not.  I did not kill her.”

“If you didn’t kill her then why don’t you come with us?  Make it easy.  Though”—the wolfish grin reappeared—”how you’re gonna explain the blood on your shirt would certainly make an interesting story.”

The officers standing by the door chuckled.

“What are you afraid of?”

“I am not afraid.”

“Look scared to me.” 

Marcus felt the monster rising in his chest.  “Look closer.”

The two officers drew their weapons, and Marcus backed up a step, forcing his anger away.  

“While trying to reach Ms. Smyth’s niece and nephew, we spoke to a Ms. Helen Simpson.  She told us about the supposed fiancé.  She doesn’t think much of you.  Was pretty sure you were taking advantage of Ms. Smyth’s kind heart.”  He turned to the officer standing behind him.  “You alright?”

“He doesn’t look scared to me.” Looking into Marcus’ eyes, the gun had begun to shake.

“Get yourself under control for Gods sake.  I don’t want to get shot.”  His face was angry.  “Back me up. Both of you stay by the door in case he tries to make a run for it.”  He waited. His voice grew quiet.  “I’m pretty sure she gave you money. Ten thousand will buy you enough time to make a clean getaway.  Won’t have to get shot that way.  Whatever you think of yourself, we will stop you.  There are another ten officers downstairs.  Building’s surrounded.  You give me the money.  I take you out in cuffs.  Unlocked cuffs.  You run.  My shot misses.  After that I don’t care where you go.  Don’t accept the offer, we take you in; I’ll make sure there’s enough evidence to put you away for a very long time.”

“Do you not care to know if I am guilty?”

“I don’t. You have a decision to make.  Think carefully, prisoners just love good looking men like yourself.”

 “You cannot take me where I do not want to go.” Marcus looked at the other officers.  It was obvious they had not heard the offer. “I do not want to hurt them.”

 “You won’t hurt me.”  The lead detective grinned seeing his back up looking nervously around.  

Marcus returned the grin, and the smile slid from the detective’s face.  “You, I would not mind hurting, perhaps some other time.  I do not want, have never wanted the money.  It is in the bedroom.”

“I don’t think so.   You were ready to leave.  I believe the money is with you.”

Marcus reached inside the satchel, grabbing a handful of hundreds.  “Whatever is there is yours.”

It disappeared.  “I’m glad you decided to cooperate.  Put out your wrists.”

A look of pain crossed Marcus’ face as he was cuffed.  The feeling was too familiar and he fought to keep his hands steady.

 “Big bad dangerous guy.”  There was laughter in the tone.  “Let’s go.  You first.”

Marcus walked slowly, surrounded by the police. He watched the sky grow lighter.  

The cuffs were secure.  The money was not enough, not when there was more.  Arriving at the car, Marcus twisted his hands the chains breaking.  A quick move and the detective lay bleeding on the ground.  Guns were turned his way, but he was already gone.

Its Apple picking time

Because both Marcus and I love apples, I’ve posted my delicious High Rise Apple pancake recipe on my debradarknight facebook page. If you like the recipe be sure to like the page.