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.
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 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.
“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.”
“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.
“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.”
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.
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.
“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.”
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.”
“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.