Thanks to everyone who was able to leave me a review. I'm glad you all seem to like this Erik; it's always nice to know your balancing act works!
I'm looking for a beta, if anyone's interested, whether for this story alone or simply in general.
As a warning, this chapter contains two words of profane language, one of which starts with 'f'.
A red sun set in a reflection on a neighbor's car, the last of its rays arcing through the chill air amidst the scent of a final barbecue. Autumn leaves quivered, one by one surrendering life to the circle of seasons. Through the width of his mother's house Erik heard the family, its children squealing from the backyard as someone else repeatedly opened and closed the kitchen door. He inhaled the scent of cooking meat and tried not to fixate heavily upon it.
Idly tapping the keys, Erik watched the computer bring up his favorite box. It was something he had discovered during the long quest for music; a wonderful diversion consisting of various colored rectangles, a bouncing circle, and one more rectangle at the base which he could move back and forth. The object was to get the circle to pop every colored rectangle without rebounding and slipping passed the moveable one.
Erik was quite good at it.
He traced a finger across the touch pad, catching the circle and sending it back upward, pausing only to stuff a handful of crackers into his mouth to sate the rolling hunger. Perhaps that evening he could take whatever leftovers the family saved.
The thought made him smile, and he missed the next catch. Scowling, Erik got rid of the game.
He stared in blank aggravation at the computer, then selected another mysterious symbol from the gray rectangle at the bottom of the screen. Music was yet elusive; he could not begin to imagine where it might be hidden or which words or pictures might summon it. It was all he could do to simply continue the hunt, testing everything as it came.
The current symbol brought forth yet another box; Erik gave its list of words little thought before tapping the arrow over the first entry. More words appeared, filling the entirety of a new, larger box. Bored, Erik made it leave and continued the process.
The hours wore on in this manner, and when the last sound from below had long since died away, his eyes flicked upward. Setting the computer on the bed, he stood, stretching, and glanced through a slit in his curtains. The neighborhood was dark save for a few scattered windows, and the ever-present streetlights. His eyes narrowed in anticipation.
The other man had come to the Silhouette's house earlier in the day.
He had not left.
Erik picked up his faded mask from its place at the end of the bed, leaving behind scrapes in the covering of dust. The mask was old, smelled foul, and pressed close against his mouth and what nose he had; it was also his oldest remaining possession. His mother had given it to him, when he had outgrown the last one. He tied the knot with a grimace.
Stooping to retrieve the knife, Erik studied it before slipping it cautiously into his belt. He took a few steps, testing the positioning, then moved it to rest against his left hip. A glance through window assured him of relative safety.
Erik pushed the curtains aside and eased his way out, giving the neighborhood one more look. His face twisted into a smile, reveling in newfound power and the sudden thrill of a different kind of hunt-- then he hissed and flung the knife away toward the ground.
He probed a finger against the injury, wiped it on his shirt, and glared through the darkness at the opposite house.
He had not risked looking at it for a long time after the man had seen him, hoping that perhaps the other would forget, or would figure Erik as nothing more than a figment of his imagination, a misshapen reflection on the glass. Afterwards, he had studied her house only when wearing his mask, no matter how closely sealed his curtains.
Erik landed on his hands and feet, and began the search for his weapon. The damp grass was surprisingly pleasing beneath his touch, moreso than when simply trodden underfoot.
The knife lay gleaming to his right. He pulled blades of dead or severed grass from its side, and crept to the Silhouette's backyard fence, keeping the handle tight in his right fist. Climbing was no difficulty, and soon he found himself standing on a concrete walkway around the edge of a large body of water. Like a bathtub, almost, in grander scale. He tread carefully around it.
Erik stalked through the grassy backyard with his eyes fixed on the house, searching for a way in which he might gain access to its interior. When he reached the back door, he made sure to secure himself from the view of anyone above, and tugged the handle in hopeless effort. He bared his teeth behind the mask, continued onward around the side of the house, and pulled on the kitchen door. He tried the window.
Aggravated, he went back to the fence, measuring distance and calculating whether with enough momentum he could grab the base of the little balcony. A moment passed, and then he made up his mind and pulled himself up to crouch awkwardly on the top.
The fence that ran between the houses was not made for decoration; it was stone and it was sturdy, and the top formed just enough width for a cat to lounge. Erik pushed himself to his feet, throwing an arm out wildly as equilibrium veered sharply to the right and then back, overcompensating, and just managed to steady himself by bending double.
He stood, very slowly.
The balcony erupted from the second story several feet ahead of him, a precarious distance which hung somewhere between too far and maybe. It could very well be possible, provided he didn't sabotage his attempt with the fear of hurting himself.
Erik eyed the railing which ran about the perimeter, and the small spaces in between the scalloped bars. Giving a last look at the vacant street, he tossed the knife onto the balcony, crouched, then sprang forward, arms flying out to catch anything with the ability to support his weight.
He managed to snake a hand around one of the bars. The other joined; Erik hissed between his teeth as he struggled to pull himself upward. Finally, he swung himself onto the other side and stood panting.
From this vantage point the world seemed very far away. The two trees, the fence, the street and his mother's house-- all became surrealistic when seen from such a strange angle. He looked at the open curtains to his attic room, and the darkness behind. Steeling himself, Erik picked up his knife and turned.
Directly before him was a sliding glass door, the threshold to the Silhouette's home. Beyond its open curtains lay more darkness, and somewhere, inside, was the other man.
He wrapped his fingers around the handle, and pulled. The door jerked, then froze as the lock caught. Furious, Erik jiggled it, hoping to dislodge the mechanism the way he could with his mother's kitchen window. When nothing happened he pushed the door hard into its frame, then pulled backwards, repeating until it became obvious that entry was simply not possible.
A light from within flared. Erik threw a hand up to shield his eyes, horrified, and managed to grab the railing before he fell. He was caught in space and radiance, and utterly blind.
Something heavy slammed into the glass door from the other side. Terrified, Erik stumbled and landed hard at the base of the railing, arms flying up to protect his head. The knife skittered away, over the edge of the balcony.
"Get the fuck out of here, you bastard!" There was another impact. Pinned by fear, he tried to curl into the bars-- and a third slam followed by a sickening crunch broke the moment.
Erik stood, seized the railing and used it to swing himself over and away; he collapsed when he hit the ground, then shoved himself to his feet and sprinted away from the house. He raced passed his mother's, veering right and onto the sidewalk, bare feet pounding against the pavement. Each step sent jolts of crippling pain through his ankles and lower legs, a discomfort ignored in favor of flight.
In his mind, there was the sound of scraping shovels.