Going Home (AKA Last Chance)

11/09/2013 at 19:01 (Opening Line Submissions, Writing) (, , , , , , , , , )

A collaboration between myself (@raishimi) and @UnhingedinTime, for Opening Line’s eZine. Enjoy its merciless taste 🙂

He’d got the call in past midnight, that hour when the loneliest sound is the striking clock in the distance, and even the local drunks have passed out under their benches.

The radio’s static made a whiteout of his head. Fumbling up the receiver, he pitched his head forward, listening to the stubble of a long shift scraping against the plastic.

“Go ahead.”

“Yeah, it’s a … it’s a job in the north district. Point 24, over.” A silence weighed out in thudding thoughts. “An’ boss wants it done ’cause it’s a chick, and she’s alone. As in, boyfriend’s packed off with some better-looking chick.” Sniggers erupted out of the receiver, which Patrick grimaced at. He laid it delicately back in the holder, gave it the finger-salute and exhaled slowly. Closing his eyes, he summoned the other voice.

This one chimed out in black light, filling his mind with sense-numbing smoke, until the world fell away.

You have another offering?

Held in place, Patrick couldn’t flinch, but his mind reeled like an unhappy drunk. He dialed down on that; plucked up the image of the female, the woman-girl, teeter-tottering on shoes that might double up as weapons. He made sure to zero in on those. The voice nodded inflection, leaning on his mind.

I see her. I don’t see an offering. She’d make an interesting candy apple on a spit for the children of the neighbourhood. She’s no good to us.

Patrick dug deeper, his mind-heels spitting sparks. This was as much as he dared, since the Voice had the unhappy effect of making his mind slippery with an oil-slick of filthy thoughts, grim ideas.

The Voice inverted itself in a shrug.

You know the rules. It’s not my game. The Oldest are getting impatient with you, Azazel.

Hearing the name of his daemon companion still sent shivers through his soul. He’d only known it for the past three years, after the last discharge from hospital. The Voice became clearer once he was free of those sterile walls that rang with voices more agonized than his own.

I’ll have her by the end of the night. The Oldest will find her impressive as an offering. I made my pact, my vows. The Bind still stands.

Dipping his mind forward, he took in the sparrow-wing limbs of the woman-child, as they scraped along the wall she used to support herself. Hair straggled out facial features in a tide of black and daubed-on green. The glitter of early evening fell away from her in sweaty sparks, to the heat-ping pavement. The night air was pulpy, for late October. Skeins of cloud hung scarlet ribbons over the moon, which winked its lazy eye on them all, a sultry goddess beyond the virgin light.

The Voice rang high for the first time. It blistered between his ears, and Patrick felt his face twist even as he stayed locked in place. Somehow, he knew his nails punctured deep into his palms, although he couldn’t feel it.

That ambition is the credible force, Azazel. See to it.

And he was released. That residual memory of a burnt-out bonfire, flames to embers to ash, to smoke and charred smells on the wind.

Emptiness. The lonely hour, tolled out by the indifferent clock.

Patrick reclined the seat, let the blood run to his head. It always brought feeling back to his body, faster than food or a steady drink. Glancing down, he grinned through shiny-wet eyes, at the warm dark puddles in his palms. The fire lived there still. His nails wore chunks of flesh like small gloves.

Carefully, he dipped his mind forward one last time. The Voice always left him sated and exhausted. Such was the offering, the sacrifice.

She’d stumbled, gone to the ground in a house-of-cards sliver of movement. Curled on the pavement, which was starting to spot up with wide dark patches of rain, she shivered. The needle arms went about her knees, drawing them to her chin.

He blew out a breath, slow and coiling mist, though the air tingled and spat heat still. The way her chin fit to the tops of her knees made his throat raw. But he had to concentrate. He had to draw her in.

Picking around the detritus of years – pale childhood, stucco-wallpaper adolescence, boss who hated him and took his wife, kid never born and under the ground – he tossed away the seeds and litter of thoughts and ideas, long abandoned. Somewhere down in the lower garbage-pail of his mind… some line lifted from an old friend, the lowest commodity and the most precious. The one who’d set up the link to the Voice. He was a computer programmer, after all. Links were his business.

There. His mind dabbed down on it, a kitten’s paw on a scrap of newspaper. He lifted it gingerly, this thought that smoked.

Girls trust guys who smell of toothpaste.

Patrick reached for his glovebox, unlatching it. The door dropped open to reveal grim contents: a small, ornate dagger the color of spent coals, its jagged edge pointing towards a pile of bones and fur. Patrick had spent the last year capturing, torturing, and killing birds, kittens and puppies. Such sacrifices brought the Oldest no pleasure, but they steadied his hand for the grander tasks owed them. He yearned to offer his first human, his first soul. But he was a coward. He delighted in the strangled, gurgling screams of a tortured family pet, but he’d not yet been brave enough to spill the lifeblood of a human. Not outside of his dreams.

Pushing aside his trophies, he searched for an old package of breath mints. As his fingers brushed past each splinter of bone or tangle of matted fur, he felt the elation of each dearly remembered kill. His pulse quickening, he paused a moment to caress the lovely bones. Lifting a skull fragment of a baby terrier.

Turning it over in his hand, he reveled in the memory. Aridus, his dagger, slowly twisting in its soft, fleshy underbelly. Eyes wide as twin full moons, an abnormal screech poured forth from the tiny being as its life was being taken. A swift, killing stroke. Convulsions, the eyes clamping shut. Soft, black fur crowning the death pose of the pup.

Unbidden, memories of Daniel interrupted his nostalgia.

He’d first seen Daniel look much the same. Covered in blood, his black hair slicked down around his forehead, his eyes closed tight. Never to open in life. Stillborn four years prior, the memory still haunted Patrick with a sense of loss. Of what could have been.

He remembered the empty church the day of the requiem. His wife, still hospitalized from complications of the delivery, hadn’t been able to attend. The ritual hardly seemed necessary to her, anyway. But Daniel couldn’t abide to let his stillborn son go without showing him some kind of respect.

The burial was on an unmarked patch of ground in a forgotten corner of Oak Groves Cemetery. Half-finished with school and employed just well enough to keep a leaky roof over their head, Patrick couldn’t afford a memorial for his son. He had failed to provide his wife with a living child, and he had failed to provide his child with a monument marking his existence.

He would continue his string of failures. Failure to keep his wife at his side. Failure to produce anything of worth to society. Failure as a man.

Blinking, he realized the bone was covered in fresh blood. His hands were still leaking dark, rusty syrup from gouges he’d made in his palms. Replacing the treasured bauble, he grabbed an old rag, wiping his hands and his toys clean. Tossing the cloth to the floor, he retrieved a pair of black leather gloves and pulled them on, concealing his wounds.

Finally finding the package, placed the last mint upon his tongue, waiting for the mixture to dissolve in saliva. He swept his tongue around the interior of his mouth, covering up his repugnant nature with a sweet facade.

The doe was still curled in a ball, having made no move toward the taxi. Was she so drunk that she hadn’t noticed his arrival?

Pushing the glovebox closed, Patrick exited the vehicle and walked towards the shivering ball of prey. He would need to talk to her. To talk to her, he’d need to remember what it was like to be human. Or at least convincingly play the part.

“Excuse me, miss? Did you call for a cab?”

The words came from somewhere else. He was bemused at how easily they tumbled from his lips.

Her eyes lifted and met his for the first time. Mascara streaked in the rain. Loud lipstick framed by blush painted on like a clown. Obviously a whore.

“Yes… yes, I did. I don’t think I can make it up though. Could you give me a hand?”

Not waiting for an answer, she again dropped her gaze. Lifting her left hand, Patrick caught the flash of a solitaire diamond mounted upon a slim, silver band wrapped around her ring finger. Grasping her outstretched hand, he settled her in the cab, soothing her already still body as he might hypnotize a frightened bunny. They were always calm right up until he unleashed his sadistic pleasure upon them. She would be no different.

“217 North Glenwall. Number 4C,” she sputtered, falling upon her side.

Patrick started the drive towards her home. He daydreamed of Aridus burrowing into her naked side when he was interrupted by a violent heaving. Glancing in the rearview mirror, he saw her retch all over his backseat.

Eyes flaring open, registering what she’d done, his prey tensed.

“Oh… oh my God. I’m so sorry.”

Her futile efforts to clean the mess with her clothing only heightened her anxiety. This wouldn’t do. He needed to calm her.

“Oh, no worries miss,” the words came. “I’ve seen plenty worse than that. It’ll clean right up.”

Her breathing slowed, and she ceased her struggle to soak up the vomit. Sitting up, her eyes shifted to meet his in the mirror.

“Thanks. Oh, you don’t know how difficult this evening has been.”

He frowned. The whore wanted to open up to him. Still a few minutes from her flat though, so he might as well indulge.

“You don’t say? Seeing you out there in the rain like that, I figured you’d just had the time of your life.”

His attempt at humor seemed to connect. She gave a faint smile, her cheek resting against foggy window by her seat.

“Not quite,” she said. “Met the fiancée for a talk. He’d been growing distant; I figured it was me. Tried my best to look pretty for him.”

She absently played with her puke-stained mini skirt, shifting her gaze to the eternity beyond the window.

“Turns out it wasn’t me after all. It was him. And… her.”

Patrick concentrated on driving, doing his best to ignore his prattling prey.

“He was nice about it. Said I could join in with the two of them. But that’s not what I wanted. Not what I ever wanted. So I… and he…”

Her speech slurred out, eyes closing. She breathed easy as she slept.

“Dad, what are we doing?”

Patrick turned to the voice next to him. A boy of about four or five sat in the passenger seat, bathed in bright light. Clad in loose-fitting white garments, legs barely long enough to let his feet kick at the glove box, he wore a wide smile underneath large, open eyes the color of dawn. His mop of hair begged for a comb as its brown waves hung by his eyes and around his ears.

“We’re taking her home, Daniel.”

The child’s eyes gleamed.

“You’re always helping people, Dad.”

“Well, that’s why Dad became a cabbie, Daniel. People are always trying to get home. So I get to help them.”

“Just like you helped me get home, right Dad?”

Tears stung Patrick’s eyes as he relived their farewell at Oak Groves.

“Yes, son. Just like that.”

Daniel’s eyes glowed with the warmth of a child held and protected against ever knowing the world contained so much darkness.

“I love you, Dad.”

Patrick squeezed his eyes shut, forcing the tears to stream down his cheeks. He stopped the cab, not knowing where he was, but certain he couldn’t continue. Exhaling, he opened his eyes. Daniel was gone, the light vanished. His prey’s apartment loomed outside the window. Behind him, she lay asleep.

Patrick sighed.

He’d carried his prey up several flights of stairs, no nosy neighbors spying at this late and lonely hour. Fishing the keys out of her purse, they were in her flat in moments.

Still unconscious, she lay splayed across her meager dining room table. Her flat was mostly bare, minus the occasional framed picture of a girl resembling the mess before him in happier, younger days. In some, the girl clutched pompoms. In others, she posed with a clarinet. No photographer was on hand to immortalize her portrait of death. That scene would only be watched by Patrick and Azazel. Instead of photos, he would select bodily mementos to remember the occasion.

Patrick exposed the bare skin of the doe’s side, careful not to reveal her breasts. He was after one thing: her soul. He’d been distracted enough from his purpose, and he wouldn’t let the whore temp him away from his task any longer.

Turning Aridus about in his hand, his heart raced. He knew little of edged weaponry, but Aridus felt perfectly weighted and balanced in his layman’s hand. The blood from his earlier wounds stained the surface of the soot-shaded blade, but the lines that extended from the shaft to the tip remained clear. They would fill with the blood of his victim. The thirst of Aridus knew no bounds, but never before had it been filled with such potent nectar. The anticipation of the strike, of the screams and writhing as Aridus drank from his prey, was overbearing. He felt like a schoolboy leaning forward for that first kiss with his childhood crush.

“You did it, Dad! You brought her home!”

Squinted he saw Daniel standing on the other side of his victim. Again bathed in light his son looked down upon her, dawn shining from his eyes. He raised his gaze to his father crushing him with joy.

But Patrick was unmoved.

“Not yet, son. She’s almost home. But there’s still more to do.”

And then, for the first time since Daniel had started appearing to him in the hospital all those years ago, Patrick saw his son’s expression falter. A shadow crossed his face, the dawn dimming from his eyes.

“More to do? What do you mean?”

And then Daniel looked down from his father’s eyes to see the dagger clutched in his gloved hand.

“Aridus,” the boy said. “Why did you bring him here? Is this how you’ll take her home?”

Before he could answer, the boy vanished. Darkness engulfed him.

Patrick froze, Aridus held as one restrains a dog ready for the hunt. As his vision returned, he looked upon the helpless creature spread out in front of him. He had felt pity for this woman. Pity at her sorry situation, at her betrayal. Pity at her fallen dreams, her meager existence. Perhaps she wasn’t the whore she first appeared. But it didn’t matter. He was caught up in the Bind. And so he’d bottled up his pity and tossed it in with his lost wife, his failures, the computer programmer and his toothpaste line. He would serve the Oldest this morsel and go on to claim many more lost souls. This one was already gone, consumed by despair. But some day, when the Oldest recognized his true worth, they would send him to hunt the hopeful, the kind, and the good. Souls that fell from such heights were the sweetest of them all, and he would bring them to the Oldest in droves.

Patrick was done with failure. He’d made his pledge, and he intended to fulfill it.

But the pledge to his dark masters was not his first. Once, long ago, he’d made another promise. Ear to the womb, the racehorse thump of dual heartbeats reverberating in his ear, he’d promised to care for his son. To show him how a man ought to live.

He stared at Aridus, its blade screaming a silent plea for blood.

Daniel deserved better. Patrick had failed everyone in his life, including himself. But he would not fail his son.

He hurled Aridus towards the window, its hilt shattering the glass before dropping to the linoleum beneath. Patrick immediately seized up in agony, eyes fixed in terror as the Voice summoned him.

You’re a weakling. A failure. Azazel, deliver this piece of meat to the Oldest. He was unworthy.

Patrick felt his consciousness slipping away. His daemon companion, now named aloud, wrapped its tentacles around his soul and began to drag it to the Nether. Just before blacking out, he felt the daemon, unable to sever the soul from its mortal anchor.

…You? What right have you to interfere?

The woman lifted herself from the table, smoothing out her shirt and skirt. The man who lay before her breathed evenly, his expression one of depthless peace. Kicking off her heels, she walked over to the discarded blade, picking it up and bringing it to him. Slipping it underneath his belt, she pressed on his chest.

“It’s not over for this one, Azazel. Not yet. Your move.”

In a blinding flash of light, she was gone.

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