The man startles awake from his nightmare. One hand reaching for his wife sleeping next to him, the other for his neck. The sensation of having a knife drawn across his throat still tangible. Except both hands are sticky. And wet. Disbelieving fingertips ripple across the serrated flesh on his neck. His panicked eyes fly around the darkened room. He can just see the blood soaked sheets where his wife’s body lies. Unmoving. A figure stands at the foot of the bed holding a knife, the face shrouded in the shadow of a baseball cap. The man tries to call out, to scream, but his throat and lungs have filled with a crimson fluid. He kicks at the sheets, intent on trying to rise. Defend his home. A gurgle escapes his mouth and a bubble of blood slips between the parted skin on his neck. He tries to stand, his body weakens, and he falls. Dead before he hits the floor.
The figure turns and walks from the bedroom into the hall.
I’m good at what I do. I don’t repeat any particular pattern or become beholden to a specific weapon or method. I use knives and bludgeons and ropes and plastic bags. Not guns. I don’t particularly like them. I carry an empty one for show, too many things can go wrong with a loaded gun. I have a few basic rules and I follow them.
The police and the newspapers haven’t dubbed my activities with any clever name. Much less even recognized what I do. No one knows what I look like. That’s one of the rules. No witnesses left alive.
It’s not so difficult, it turns out, to kill another person. I learned quickly that disposal is the hardest part. But a random house with an unlocked door makes disposal moot. That’s another rule. If the door isn’t unlocked, don’t go in. You’d be surprised how many people leave their doors unlocked.
And let me tell you, I have seen some things.
The figure moves down the hall toward the next bedroom. The knob turns but the door rattles in its frame, refusing to open. Near the top is a metal hasp with a sliding bolt. The figure contemplates the bolt for a moment then reaches up and slides it from its locked position. The metal scrapes loudly in the empty hallway and the door swings open.
Inside is a boy, perhaps fourteen years old, shackled to a bed. Bed. A mattress on the ground without sheets or blankets. The leather cuffs around his wrist and ankles attached to chains bolted to the floor. The boy’s eyes are wide. Visible even in the darkness of the windowless room.
“Are you here to save me?” The boy asks.
They always get caught. It’s like they can’t help themselves with the clues and the letters to the cops and the grandstanding. Trying to overcome an abusive father or mommy issues or the school bullies when they were kids. Whatever. Son of Sam, the Night Stalker, Dahmer, Bundy, Gacy. All of them losers. Zodiac and Jack the Ripper, maybe they got away with it? But really what is their legacy? Eight, maybe fifteen-ish between them? Please.
I did twice that last year.
It’s a simple numbers game. About five thousand people went missing in California last year alone. That’s kids and adults. Doesn’t account for the thousands of runaways or people that wanted to disappear. Nope. Five thousand people gone. Eighteen of them were mine.
California is just an example. I travel for work and I’ve killed people in every one of the states except Connecticut, Arkansas, and North Dakota. I’ve killed a few people in Europe.
The boy shakes his feet and the chains rattle, a feeble sound in the dark. The figure enters the room and kneels at the edge of the mattress.
“They keep you like this?”
The boy nods and repeats his plaintive query, “Are you here to save me?”
The figure removes her ball cap and runs her hand through her hair. She rubs her forehead, “No,” she answers. “That’s against the rules.”
She pauses and touches the boy’s foot, pats it twice, and looks back toward the doorway and considers the dim outline of the hasp on the frame. Now unlocked.
They sit in silence for a time.
It would be easy to get caught up in the emotion of it all, and that’s where so many go wrong. Their ego, their need for attention. Not me. I follow the rules and I’ll tell you again, I’m very good at what I do.
She stays in the room for almost an hour. Much longer than is safe. The boy had pleaded repeatedly, then stopped. The blood on her knife has long since congealed and she stares down at the boy on the mattress and imagines she sees gratitude in his unblinking eyes.
She exits the room leaving the door open and unlocked.
Jay Likes to write, so he does. His recent short stories have appeared in Uncharted, Penumbra, and Crystal Lake. His debut novel, “The Great American Coward” was released by Golden Storyline Books in October 2021. He can be found on-line at www.jaybechtol.com or on Twitter @BechtolJay. He can be found in person in Homer, Alaska.