The building was red brick, a sooty and smudged outline in the pale light of a rainy afternoon. Litter had collected in the doorway and there was the cat-reek of urine. Each window was dark, save for the one where a drunkenly-propped sign read: Rooms for Rent, Week or Month. Another sign over the doorway said: Hotel.
David had seen such buildings before, even houses that were corrupted in this fashion. He had often thought it some form of insanity for inanimate objects, as if some microscopic spore of alien origin touched down and burrowed among the pores of bricks and mortar, and slowly turned them cancerous and rotting.
Yet it was not the worst part of the city. Only a few doorways along was a fashionable restaurant, across the street there was a much grander ’boutique’ hotel. Sure, there were worse places in the city, at least outwardly, but this building was a diseased corpse.
Someone might buy it, refurbish it, and hang out a new sign but the insanity would remain trapped within the walls and between the floorboards, and it would just escape again, like the skittering of cockroaches escaping the light.
The lift of his lip that came with this thought was the reflexive snarl of a dog. His features smoothed again, and the glimpse of his reflection in the dark window was merely that of an ordinary young man wearing a cheap black raincoat and an equally cheap suit. He wore glasses, this young man, but the glass in them was clear, his rain-slicked hair was black and too dark for his pale complexion. His moustache looked like a young man’s unwise experiment. Not too bad for something that had come from a toy shop.
Unhurried and outwardly calm, David pushed open the door to the lobby. The door didn’t resist his gloved fingers, but moved easily, as if he was expected. If this was the movies, he thought, there would be a mean looking clerk caged behind the desk. There was no one. The lobby was empty, though there was a pale-yellow bulb burning in a metal grill above the desk, and the faint sound of either a radio or a television somewhere in the dark bowels beyond the desk.
The place smelt of frying onions… and mold, and another fainter scent that reminded him of a country outhouse. Yet there was nothing more offensive on view than a layer of dust and stained, dirty carpet.
He took the stairs, even if the electricity was on – legally or not – he didn’t trust the elevator. It had a glass panel at the front and looked like something out of a ‘40s movie. David had been hunting here before, casual forays, following Rodney Kulzic. Of course, Kulzic wasn’t calling himself that anymore, he didn’t dare.
Kulzic’s time in the institution had aged him. Not too surprising – after all, it had been fifteen years since Kulzic’s crime, and the man had not been young then. David’s first glimpse of the wild-haired old man had made him almost flatten himself against a wall and want to scream like a small child. Kulzic hadn’t noticed, or pretended not to. Rather, he had sailed right by, his filthy old clothes snapping in the wind like wings.
Maybe they were wings. Kulzic had explained his crime very rationally in the end. He was an angel, a fallen angel, who had been given a chance to redeem himself. All he had to do was find Satan’s child and kill the evil spawn. And he had almost accomplished this blessed thing.
Kulzic had a room on the third floor. David’s steps grew hurried; if he slowed, he might turn away, the fear that was thick in his blood might truly freeze and his heart would stop. His hands were shaking and his chest was tight. It was madness to confront Kulzic, yet David knew the worse fear was going to sleep every night and waiting for Kulzic to come – for the old man to explode out of the darkness with his knife in his hand.
The lock only stopped David for a moment, and he eased the door open. Kulzic was still wrapped in all his filthy clothes, snoring, lying flat on the narrow bed. His matted yellow-gray hair obscured his face, hanging across it in mutant, sticky cobwebs. David didn’t want to touch the old man, but rather imagined Kulzic flying off the bed, enraged, snarling, and a knife clutched in his hand. This might be a trap. David didn’t think he could breathe for a moment, but he made himself move, felt the breath catch in his chest, his throat, that aching horrible soundlessness escaping when he opened his mouth. He reached out and gripped Kulzic by the throat, the knife pricking beneath the old man’s chin.
The crazy eyes opened, blinking and vacant for a moment.
“Remember me?” David asked hoarsely, relieved his voice came this time. Sometimes it didn’t, and it would be like the night when he was ten and Rainy was screaming and David could not scream, could not move. “Remember me? You used to call me the son of Satan.”
He loosened his grip just a little, keeping the knife-edge under the gray-stubbled chin.
“Please… don’t…” The voice was wavering; a child’s whisper. Tears were running down the old bastard’s cheeks.
“Please what? Please don’t hurt you? Rainy begged you – and you stabbed her fifteen times. Kept on stabbing her – remember?”
Fifteen wounds, fifteen years, somehow that made a wonderful symmetry. David had already decided he wanted Kulzic to feel every one of those fifteen strokes. Yet at the same time the thought of actually killing Kulzic made David sick to his stomach.
“Her name was Renee, but we called her Rainy. She was two years younger than me, and I couldn’t say ‘Renee’, it used to come out Rainy. She was a little girl; eight years old when you killed her.” David felt tears burn his eyes. “You miserable fucking bastard.”
“No.” Kulzic half-choked out the word in a desperate whisper. “No, please – don’t know you… Don’t hurt—”
“You don’t know me? You left your mark on me. I was Satan’s child, and you had to kill me – isn’t that a rather important piece of business to forget? God isn’t going to be happy with you. Better say your prayers.” Suddenly David was laughing, softly, almost strangling on the laughter. Kulzic was old and frail, the fearsome monster David had held in his mind all these years was only a shadow now, and Kulzic could be killed.
“No – a mistake, Oh, God – a mistake, please.”
“No mistake.” A sudden heavy shower of rain slapped against the window and the wind made it rattle in its rotting frame. It was all David could do to not jump at the sound.
It had been raining and windy too that day in the park. Well, not really raining, but spots were dappling the dust around the swings, and Rainy wouldn’t stop swinging. David was bored and hungry, it was getting dark and the park was nearly deserted. He wanted to go home but Rainy kept saying: not yet, just a little longer, please.
The old derelict had burst from the bushes as if he was some wild man come out of the jungle. He had come running at the two children, shouting gibberish, and grabbing up a tree branch. David could vividly remember pulling Rainy off in mid-swing as she gaped at the man. Then they had run, the old man close behind in a shambling, stiff-legged run like something out of a bad horror movie. David and Rainy had run across the street to their home, panting and crying, falling in the doorway, trying to explain to their mother what had happened. Only the old derelict was nowhere to be seen, and no one took their story too seriously. It seemed unlikely a derelict would even be in their neighborhood, let alone wandering around unnoticed.
That night Rainy had crept into David’s room and snuggled down beside him. There had been tears on her face. She couldn’t sleep; she was too scared. So she slept next to her big brother.
It had happened so quickly, pieces of a nightmare flying together, jumbled and terrifying yet not quite real. David hadn’t been able to scream, hadn’t been able to move. That, most likely, had been what had saved him. But nothing had saved Rainy.
Kulzic had quietly broken into the house through a window and quickly found the bedroom. He had launched himself onto the bed, plunging the knife in and out, in and out, blood spraying…
Kulzic had been caught not far from the house, wandering around blood-splattered and still clutching the knife. He had been smiling peacefully when the police had apprehended him. He had served God; nothing more was required of him. Until he found out he had killed the girl child, not the boy. Then he had screamed and wept and thrown himself at the officers, begging to be allowed to finish God’s work. Later, and more calmly, he would keep repeating that he had to kill the boy because the boy was Satan’s son and God demanded that the seed of evil die or the world would suffer. Killing the little girl had been a mistake; Satan had protected his own and put the innocent child in Kulzic’s path.
David had been fifteen when the first attempt was made to free the ‘cured’ Kulzic. David had heard the news and to his shame, had wet the bed that night, too terrified to venture the dark hallway to the bathroom. David had publicly begged, through the media, to please… oh, please keep Kulzic locked up. The media storm had kept Kulzic locked up for a while longer, then the same thing: plans to release him and another media barrage, and so it had gone on. The third attempt at release, three years ago, had succeeded. David had spent most of those three years hunting and hiding and now he’d found Kulzic. Now David would kill the monster.
No more fears after this. No more terrified nights. No more bad dreams for him or Rainy.
David’s hand tightened and the blade went in, tentatively. It was so much harder than he had imagined – forcing the knife through the thick layers of filth-stiffened cloth and into Kulzic’s bony chest; keeping a grip on the throat and strangling any sound. Out and back in… David forced the blade down, hard, thinking he would be sick, trying to look away. Kulzic fought only a little, bucking and lashing out with his weak, palsied hands, but not for long. David suspected Kulzic died long before the fifteenth stroke of the blade. David wished he could hack off the head and carry it away like some bloody trophy. And at the same time he felt bile rushing up his throat.
There was so much blood; it ran like the rain drops off the slick plastic coat as David walked blindly back out to the street. It was almost fully dark now, and David moved at a half-stumble through the rain-lashed streets. Head down and hurrying just like the few people he passed. Thoughts of Rainy overwhelmed him and as he often did he let his thoughts of her run deep, falling down and down, calming him. In his mind he drifted down to her tiny white coffin and lay snug and safe beside her in the dark.
On auto-pilot he had stripped off the bloodied coat and left it in a dumpster. The knife? What had he done with the knife? Had he left it in the room? On the stairs? It didn’t matter. When they found Kulzic murdered they would come looking for him. But David Lathram had died long ago.
He reclaimed his van from the parking lot; relieved, as always, that no one had stolen it. All he owned was contained in the van – his few clothes and his meager possessions. The only way to keep safe from Kulzic was to keep moving, to sleep somewhere different every night. That didn’t matter now, but even so it was the only home he and Rainy had left.
Two hours later David found a place to park for the night. Bumping along the soft verge of a country road, he pulled up behind a copse of trees. Safe. He stripped off the damp suit and lay half-naked in the warm nest of blankets. Head resting on his forearms, he waited for Rainy.
She came as she always did, a fragile ice-child, never to be warm again. David didn’t care; he held her tight – as he did every night – and whispered his revelation. Exulting. Kulzic was dead.
Rainy didn’t smile. She whispered back: “Davy… are you sure? This time? Really sure he’s dead? Maybe he’s just pretending.”
“No, he’s dead, Rainy, really he is.”
“He might be outside right now. Just waiting… when you close your eyes – he’ll come, I know he will – like he did before.”
“No. No!” David tried to reassure her. This time it had been Kulzic, really it had… David couldn’t have been mistaken. Not again. “You’re still a little girl. You don’t understand these things. He’s dead. He’s fucking dead, Rainy.”
“Don’t say bad words.”
“Sorry, I won’t say bad words. But I did it, I stabbed him. I killed him.”
“Show me the blood. His blood. Show me the knife with the blood.”
“I… can’t… the knife… I think I dropped it. But he is dead.” He wanted to shake her, make her stop doubting him. Stop her making him doubt himself.
“You didn’t kill him! Liar. You didn’t! He’s still out there – and he’ll come back, and he’ll hurt me again.”
“Don’t cry, Rainy. Please. I won’t let anyone hurt you. It’s just you and I. And I’ll keep you safe. I have killed him. I swear I have. Kulzic is dead. Hush. You can go to sleep now.”
David drifted to sleep, breathing warm breath into Rainy’s cold hair, holding her little body safe.
David jerked awake in the dark at the urgent whisper. “What?”
“He’s here, Davy. He’s trying to get in – we’ve got to go–“
No. No. No. Even so he was scrambling for the driver’s seat, praying the cranky old engine would start, and then almost screaming as the dark figure rose up in the streaming light. Arms spread like an avenging angel’s wings, haloed by the headlights, light catching on the knife in his hand.
David hit the accelerator, charging the figure that disappeared into mist and darkness. David punched the steering wheel, tears running down his cheeks. It wasn’t done. It wasn’t over. It was never fucking over. Kulzic wasn’t dead. Rainy was right.
David touched the band aid over his nose and fingered his sunglasses. Waiting, watching. And finally there came Kulzic with his odd collection of bags and some little ugly mutt on a bit of string trotting beside him. God’s own angel shuffling along a sunny street.
David ran his fingers over the knife in his jacket pocket. This time, Rainy, this time I promise. Beside him Rainy nodded as if he’d spoken aloud, and slipped her icy hand into his.
“Yes. This time, Davy, we’ll both do it.”
Copyright 2015 Carole Nomarhas from The Fading Stories of Dark Fantasy & Horror