The following short story is based on characters created and/or copyrighted by Glenn Eichler, Susie Lewis Lynn, and MTV. All other characters were created and copyrighted by Roland Lowery.
The author gives full permission to distribute this work freely, as long as no alterations are made and the exchange of monetary units is not involved. Any questions, comments, suggestions, or complaints should be sent to esn1g(at)yahoo(dot)com. Thank you.
"In films, murders are always very clean. I show how difficult it is and what a messy thing it is to kill a man."
by Roland 'Jim' Lowery
Insomuch as I am capable of enjoying anything approaching "normal", I enjoy watching people.
On this particular day, a Monday, I am sitting on one of the benches that line one edge of the Lawndale High commons, a small field where students such as myself tend to gather during lunch and free periods. It also serves as a walkway between, for example, the cafeteria and the main building, making it a particularly excellent spot for my little hobby.
Jodie Landon and Michael "Mack" Mackenzie stroll leisurely across the grass, holding hands. Their relationship is not quite as tight as they wish it was, and definitely much less tight than other people seem to think it is. He is captain of the football team, but this only affords him a small amount of sway in the social matters of the school. She, however, is president of the student council and holds positions in several other extracurricular clubs. She has her finger on the pulse of the student body, hears virtually everything, and can affect much. This makes her dangerous to me.
But not dangerous enough. Once they are on the far side of the commons, I ignore her and her boyfriend.
Two girls walk halfway out onto the field, then sit down facing each other and begin to talk. One, the dark-haired girl wearing mostly red and black, is Jane Lane, an artist of some repute around the school, though much of it ill. She and her friend are considered amongst the lowest in the school's social order, outcasts that even the outcasts spend little time with. This is because they are brains, I have come to understand, which confuses me, as surely intelligence should be a highly favored trait among those who attend an establishment based around learning.
The other girl, auburn-haired with glasses, is Daria Morgendorffer. She has been at the school only slightly longer than I, but already her reputation as being exceptionally brilliant has spread far and wide. I have not had any direct contact with her as of yet, but from afar I have noted that she is . . . somewhat odd, for lack of a better description. She may bear later scrutiny.
A small gaggle of babbling girls walks past where I sit, utterly ignoring me. I recognize them immediately as the sole four members of a school club devoted entirely to fashion, a notion that continues to baffle me. I certainly understand that other people feel the need to wear clothing that draws attention to them, but I cannot understand why they feel that need, much less why there would be an entire club dedicated to such frivolities. Clothes, to me, are purely practical in nature, a way to fend off the elements and nothing more. It is perplexing.
The quartet turn and make their way across the green, making a maneuver to avoid Daria and Jane that is obvious even to me. Daria, it seems, cannot simply let them pass by unmolested and shouts something at them that I can't quite make out. The redhead of the four girls shouts something back, and then she steers her friends away toward the school.
I do not understand the significance of what just happened, but it doesn't particularly matter.
My target is here.
He is, as he usually is, with the blonde cheerleader, the two of them trading inane chatter as they wander past. Her body seems awkwardly top-heavy and her voice is like an icepick applied directly to the inner ear, and I have often wondered over the past week how he can stand to be near her for so long without slicing her open like he has the others.
Yes. He is like me.
Kevin Thompson, star quarterback of the Lawndale Lions, is a serial killer.
I was almost shocked to find a target so quickly, especially one that, under different circumstances, could be me. I had thought that I might go for months, perhaps even a year without so much as a blip on the radar. It has happened before. But I am not one to complain in general, and especially not about finding an outlet for my particular needs faster than expected.
I run the information through my head again and again as I watch this wolf in sheep's clothing. Now that I know about his activities, I can plainly see the darkness lurking just underneath the surface of the football player's face. I can see the way his expression changes when he doesn't think anyone is looking. I can see the intelligence shining behind those dopey glazed eyes. I can see these things, and I wonder just how happy bubbly perky his girlfriend would be if she knew how many other girls her age he has already left in his wake.
But though I can see these things, I must review the evidence I have collected carefully. I have to be sure. That is one of the most important Rules that Grant left me. I have to be sure.
And I am sure.
After tonight, Kevin Thompson will kill no more.
I follow them to Chez Pierre and sit outside, waiting patiently as he buys her dinner with money stolen from the purses of dead women.
Any other person would most likely be tapping their fingers on the steering wheel or dashboard, humming to themselves, listening to music on the radio, or simply sitting and quietly going mad. I do not. I am patient. At this stage of the hunt, I am zen itself, waiting without irritation or need for distraction.
Eventually they emerge, get into Kevin's jeep, and pull away. I start my own car, put it in drive, and follow at a discrete distance. After a few twists and turns down the streets of Lawndale, we arrive at a gated community, a place where the most upper reaches of the upper middle class congregate to live in opulence away from the huddled masses. It is home to the cheerleader, and they are let through the gate promptly by the guard.
I continue driving past. I have no need to follow them further, and instead move on to the block where Kevin's house is located. I park my car around the corner, then sneak through the shadows until I have found a good hiding place. The lights inside Kevin's house and the houses of his neighbors are all dark this late at night. Good.
I pull the syringe carefully from my jacket pocket and ready it in my hand. After that, it's only a short wait before Kevin's jeep pulls up in the drive and he jumps out of the driver's side. Given the persona he normally projects, one would expect him to be whistling a jaunty tune or, at the very least, smirking to himself as he approaches the front door of his house. But he is doing neither of these. Free from the watchful eye of the public, his face is cold, his brow knit ever so slightly.
The killer without his mask.
The moment is upon me, and I seize it. Creeping up behind him in the dark, I slide one hand around to firmly cover his mouth, then I slip the needle of my syringe straight into the carotid artery alongside his neck. I do not miss. I've had too much practice to miss.
The drug rushes straight into his head and then flushes out into his brain, inducing almost instant unconsciousness. I release his mouth and grab him under the shoulders, taking special care not to drop or smash the syringe. I drag him back into the shadows and then back to my car, dumping his bulk into the trunk.
The drive to my next destination is a bit of a stretch, but I know that the drug will hold, keeping his system soaked until we get there. I drive in solemn silence, but some small part of me, deep deep down, begins to exult at the knowledge of what is to come. Already I can feel the edge of the hunger setting upon me, spurred on by the excitement of capturing my prey.
Lawndale High School has excellent security. I have to give some respect to Principal Angela Li. She runs a tight ship. But she has obviously not had to deal with someone like me before. There are two night guards, but two guards are not enough. There are surveillance cameras, but I know where they are and how to bypass them. There are alarms on every window and door, but they are not sophisticated enough to stymie me.
This is not boasting. This is not ego. This is fact.
It is a simple matter to steal my way into the boy's locker room of the gym that sits right next to the football field. First I take in all of the implements I will need for my work. I take my time setting everything up, making sure everything is right. There cannot be a single mistake during the procedure, not a single inch left uncovered. It has to be perfect, not just because Grant's Rules demand it of me, but because I demand it of myself.
Once I am finished, I go back out to the car and haul Kevin in. He continues to slumber thanks to the administration of a second dose from my syringe. Once he is within my cage, I close off the last opening, sealing us away from the outside world.
This room that I have created is a work of art. The floor, walls, and ceiling are all made of clear tarpaulin, taped carefully together so as to leave no open seam. Every part of the locker room that juts into this room of mine has been covered with the same. These parts can be seen, and to some degree they can be interacted with, but they cannot be touched. Nothing will get through the tarp. Not a single drop.
I prepare Kevin for his final moments. First, I strip him down, making sure to claim all of the cash money in his wallet as my own. A perk of the trade, and a necessary one to help fund my hobby. The fact that he is still wearing his football uniform - including the massive shoulder pads - should probably amuse me, especially since he wore them to Chez Pierre as well, though with a tie and jacket covering them. Even I know that's a bit out of the ordinary. But I don't get amused by things.
It doesn't really matter at this point, in any case. Once he is entirely nude, I place his clothing in a corner of my room, then pick him up and put him on the tarp-covered bench. It sits a bit low for my liking, but it will suffice. Taking a roll of plastic wrap, I secure him to the bench, rolling it around and around his body multiple times to make sure he can't break free from it. I start with his legs, securing his ankles first, then his knees. His pelvis is next, then I trap his wrists and hands next to the sides of his belly. His chest is left clear, but I cover his shoulders and neck, then finally the top of his head is wrapped down.
Then, I wait.
The hunger has begun to actively gnaw at me. I can feel it pounding in my head, coursing through my veins. My emotions, which normally sit in a state of dormancy, have started coming alive. If I were one of Pavlov's dogs, I would be salivating right now.
Eventually, Kevin snaps awake. His eyes roll in their sockets as he tries to turn his head but finds that he cannot. He struggles against his bindings, but he does not call out for help. Not that it would matter if he did. The locker room cameras are currently showing the security guards a video loop of an empty room, and both they and everyone else in Lawndale are far too far away to hear anything that is about to happen.
I stand from where I have been sitting and loosen my legs up as the sensation of pins and needles prickle at my extremities. Kevin notices the movement, looks over at me, and instantly drops into his dumb jock act.
"Oh, hey! Like, Ted, right?" he says. "Dude, am I glad to see you! I musta had a really wild night or somethin', 'cause I don't remember how I got here! Think you can help me out, bro?"
I stare at him for a moment, impassive. The hunger is screaming at me, the darkness threatening to eat me alive, and all I want to do is lunge forward and finish it, finish it now, but I know this has to be done properly. I have to follow the Rules.
"You can drop the act, Kevin," I tell him as I casually walk over to the small stand sitting next to his head. On top of the stand is a cloth covered tray, and on top of the cloth is an assortment of items needed for my work.
He gives me a fake dopey smirk that any Hollywood actor would be proud to have in their repertoire. "Ooooh, I get it!" he says. "Did Mack and the rest of the guys put you up to this? Ha ha! That's a good one, guys!" he yells. "Ya really got me! Reaaaal funny!"
I let him call out a few more times before I interrupt him. "I know everything," I say, picking up a small stack of photos.
"Pfft," he razzes good-naturedly. "What do you know?"
"I know about Faith Richards." I show him the first photo, a picture of a young brunette, her features half-decayed. It had taken some time to find her corpse, especially given the sparse nature of the information in the police file I hacked, but it had been worth it to see the dumb look on Kevin's face disappear so utterly.
"I know about Lucy Everett," I continue, showing him the second photo, this time of a blonde with her throat slit. "And Alice Jenkins. And Maureen Heldford. And more. There's more. Would you like to hear their names as well?"
Hate radiates from every part of his face. The mask is completely gone now, laying bare the naked monster underneath. The darkness writhes before me, and I'm sure that if he were capable of mentally propelling all that darkness and hate through my head like a javelin, killing me, he would.
"Hey, fuck you!" he yells, spittle flying out to stream across the plastic wrap holding him down. "You don't know those girls! You don't know what they did!"
After neatly straightening the pictures and setting them back down, I pick up a pair of latex gloves and pull them on. "I know that they went out with you at one point or another," I calmly state. "Though they did not know that they were going out with Kevin Thompson. You used a fake name, of course, which any sensible killer would do. But what's particularly interesting is that your best disguise is taking off something. Removing the football uniform and shoulder pads so you look like a completely different person to anyone who would recognize you at first sight?"
I pick up a scalpel from the tray and hold it up to one of the work lights I have set up in my room.
"Yah, thanks," he says, not sounding grateful at all. "Now let me out of here, dude. I'm warning you."
I lean over him and hold the scalpel blade right under his chin.
"You're warning me?" I ask conversationally.
For the first time, he looks frightened. He is a serial killer. He is like me in that he has the urge to kill, to extinguish life, again and again. But unlike me, he still feels. It is an interesting difference, but I don't have the luxury of studying it further. The hunger awaits, and I must satiate it. I'm sure he would understand.
Reaching across his body, I swiftly draw the blade across his right cheek. He clenches his teeth and doesn't scream, and for that I give him credit. As the blood-
I am sorry, please give a moment.
As the liquid streaks across his cheek, I set down the scalpel and pick up two clear glass slides. I put one under the first oozing drip to catch it, then seal it down with the other. I hold my trophy up to see the light filter through the red trapped within, then I set it, too, down on the tray next to me.
"Don't worry, Kevin," I tell him, picking up the last tool I need. "It will all be over soon. But before that, may I ask? What is it you believe the girls did? I know for a fact that you murdered them, every single one of them. But what did they do that made you want to do so?"
A snarl curls his lips. "Oh, those sluts," he growls, "those fucking sluts. You want to know what they did? They sucked me, man. They sucked me off. That's disgusting! Dis-fucking-gusting! And even the ones that didn't, oooohhh-ho-ho, they wanted to. I could tell. I knew they did. My Brit. Oh, my precious Brittany, she's the only one who would never do that to me. Never. Never! Do you hear me? NEVER!"
"Yes," I say, lifting the knife high over my head. "I hear you."
The blade comes down as the hunger howls in my ears. Seven inches of steel plunge between his ribs and pierce his heart.
I hate the cleanup afterward due to the amount of blo- due to the amount of liquid that has to be contained. All of Kevin's limbs are severed as well as his head, with the gore inside poured into a bag that has been placed inside a bucket for easy carrying. The body parts themselves are then bagged, as are my gloves, tools, and anything else that has even the slightest speck of evidence on it. Once I have finished stowing anything that might give me away, I proceed to tear down the walls of the room itself, wadding and bagging them as well.
But as much as I hate doing all of that, I paradoxically don't really mind it at all. Part of it is my natural tendency toward a complete lack of human emotion, and part of it is the euphoric high that still suffuses me from a successful kill. These are strange dichotomies that I do not question, as I find them . . . pleasant.
Packed up and ready to go, I begin taking everything back out to my car. It requires several trips, but I'm not worried about getting caught. It simply won't happen. The last thing I do is fix the tampering on the cameras, alarms, and locks, leaving the locker room exactly as it was when I found it.
I make the long drive out to the harbor, where I have a boat that my father bought under an assumed name years ago in preparation for my work. The dock it is kept at is rented under the same alias, and the payments are made automatically from a bank account he also set up and that I deposit money into from time to time. Grant thought of everything.
I remove the load from my car and transfer it to the boat. Everything that has evidence on it has to go. Once finished, I start the boat and head far out into the harbor, to a spot I know very, very well.
Underneath the water here, in a deep trench where divers do not go, sit my victims. Every one of them a killer. Murderers. Rapists. Serial killers. Scum of all kinds and from all over the great city of which Lawndale is but a suburb. Some did it for money. Some did it for kicks. But all of them did it. I made sure. I followed the Rules. Grant's Rules, handed down to me in order to keep me safe, and to turn me against those that truly deserve to die by my hand.
Sometimes I wish I could have loved Grant. But I often got the sense that he understood that I still appreciated him in my own way.
Finally, Kevin is on his way down to join the others. With another job done, I turn the boat around and head home.
The next day, there is mass confusion at the school. Kevin's whereabouts are unknown, and all anyone has been able to figure out is that he never made it home last night. This is problematic as there is a big game coming up, and the Lawndale Lions' chances don't look very good without their star quarterback to lead them to victory.
Day two, while Kevin is still another day off from officially becoming a missing person, you wouldn't be able to tell it from how everyone at Lawndale High is acting. The blond cheerleader has been especially stricken by his disappearance, and I see her a few times in the hallway, shuffling about lifelessly and being consoled by the rest of the cheerleading squad.
And the third day . . . the third day holds a big surprise for me.
"Hey, Ted," Jennifer says brightly as she sits down next to me on the bench.
"Hey yourself, Burnout," I return equally cheerfully, calling her by her nickname. Nicknames are another one of those social conventions that I do not fully understand, but she seems to get upset if I don't use it.
Jennifer, I've found, is an unusual person, if for no other reason than the fact that she hangs out with me voluntarily. When Grant was still alive, I was home-schooled primarily. He wanted to keep me away from other kids at first because of my special nature, but eventually allowed me to start going out and meeting people when he felt I had learned well enough to fake . . . humanity, I think, would be the word for it. I still wasn't very good at it at first, and it had seemed that I would have few if any friends in the outside world.
But after Grant was gone and I transferred to Lawndale High, Jennifer almost immediately bonded with me. I'm still not sure why after all this time, but thanks to being around her and studying her attitudes and actions, I have managed to learn how to fake being normal to a degree that fools almost everybody I meet.
And I must admit, in some small way . . . I believe I have something akin to feelings for her.
"Hear the news?" she asks, her raspy voice dropping conspiratorially.
Looking around surreptitiously, as if we were sharing some great secret not for the rest of the world to hear, I lean in and whisper, "No. What's up?"
"They found a dead body down by the river yesterday!" Her voice is filled with excitement, an excitement I could almost share if I didn't feel my skin begin to prickle uncomfortably at the news. The river connects to the harbor, and for a brief second I imagine that it might actually be possible for my handiwork to float back up and be found deposited on the banks that she referenced.
Shoving the mental image aside, I grin disbelievingly. "No way!" I scoff, waving her off.
"Total way," she insists, and I believe her. Her father is the police officer who's network account I normally hack to get the information I need for my nightly activities. He would know, he would tell her, and she has passed information of this nature along to me before. It is one of tne of the many reasons I find my continued friendship with her to be practical.
"Wanna see a picture of it?" she asks.
Yes. I very much want to see a picture of it.
"Uh, I guess," I say with distaste.
"I really had to weasel my way into getting this," she says, getting serious about being secretive as she pulls a crumpled printout of a scanned photo out of her pocket. "I'm probably going to be going without my allowance for a year just to pay him back for being this awesome, but my dad could seriously get fired and maybe even go to jail for letting me have this. So the usual deal . . . don't tell anybody, right?"
I make the symbolic gesture of zipping my lip, locking it, and throwing away the key. She hands me the paper, which I unfold to see a black and white photo of a corpse cut into several pieces and arranged on a large, flat rock next to the riverside. As I stare at the image, my skin begins to prickle again, but not because the body is one of mine.
The sensation is crawling across my entire body because the image I am looking at is beautiful.
Every body chunk is perfectly cut with a surgical precision that would make even the most talented butcher envious. Even with the poor quality of the printout, I can tell that there is not a single ragged edge of flesh anywhere in sight. And the arrangement of the body parts is pure poetry in and of itself, a carefully crafted image that screams just how much care went into the placement. It is a display of perfection that makes me want to weep. I never weep.
And best of all, the thing that makes my eyes go wide and my breathing quicken . . . there isn't any blood.
"How," I mumble, only vaguely realizing I'm doing so. "How did he get rid of all the blood . . . ?"
"Noticed that, did ya?" Jennifer says, assuming I was talking to her. "That's one of the freaky things . . . they don't know! It's a total mystery! But creepy, right?"
"Huh?" I say as I look up and snap partway out of my trance. "Oh. Oh, yah. Totally creepy! Brrr. Gives me chills just looking at it."
"Right?" she says with a grin as she takes the paper back and shoves it into her jacket pocket. "I knew you'd like that one. Now c'mon, we better get inside."
We stand and walk over to the main school building to start our day. Jennifer and I have our first two class periods together, but then we're apart until lunch time. Then, right after lunch, I head for Mr. DeMartino's classroom to work on the yearbook, an assignment I have procured for myself to help with my research into the students themselves, to root out the bad eggs like Kevin. It is here that I find my second big surprise of the day: a young girl sitting at my table, looking at the collection of photo negatives spread across it.
I immediately recognize the strange girl, but it takes a moment to remember that she has just recently signed up for yearbook as well as a photographer. I had looked over her pictures myself, but I figure I can be excused for forgetting considering that I had other things on my mind.
I approach the table and greet her cheerfully. "Hey, you're Daria, right?" I ask. "I'm Ted, the photo editor. I saw your pictures."
"Then cut the small talk and get straight to firing me," she says.
At first, I think she's entirely serious. In fact, even after giving it a second of thought, I'm still not completely convinced she isn't. Her delivery is entirely flat, her voice monotone, and her face expressionless. I'm not that great at reading people in general, and her entire demeanor specifically sits like a sheer blank wall, stalling me completely.
But Grant always taught me that when in doubt in these kinds of situations, I should just move right along. Power through. Be normal. It's part of the Rules. So, taking her order as a mere joke, I laugh and sit down next to her. With practiced ease, I begin to rattle off some inane compliments about her photos while name dropping a few famous photographers that I have read about. Though she continues to insist that she doesn't want to be here, she doesn't leave, and we continue to converse about our work as I try to pierce the veil that this unusual girl has set around herself.
And in the back of my head, I continue to turn the picture that Jennifer showed me over and over again, my subconscious working at it tirelessly, trying to figure it out.
How did he get rid of all the blood?
The manhunt for Kevin is underway, but they will never find him, try as they might. I am always one step ahead of them, just as the bloodless killer remains one step ahead of me. All of the information I can dig up about the case - whether through Jennifer or through my own digital connections into the police department - is entirely unhelpful. Nobody knows anything, and I believe my inordinate amount of interest in the case is starting to concern my friend.
To set Jennifer's mind at ease, I stop asking after the killer, even though the questions still burn in my brain. I walk up to my school locker and bang my head against it as if I can rattle the thoughts loose through physical violence. With an agitated sigh, an oddity for me, I straighten up to open the locker door and switch out my textbooks for the next period, and that is when I notice it.
Sitting right on top of the stack of books is a doll. It has been cut into several pieces, and each section is wrapped with a tiny red bow. I immediately recognize the arrangement as exactly mimicking that of the drained corpse Jennifer showed me. I pick up one of the hands and stare dumbly at it, then throw it back in and slam the door shut.
I believe one or two other students are staring at me, but I pay them no attention. The padlock on my locker is still intact, it had been securely locked when I had opened it just moments ago, and no one could possibly know the combination except for me. So how did the doll get in there?
My mind immediately jumps to Jennifer, but then just as quickly dismisses the notion. She was more than happy that I had finally dropped the subject, and there was no way she would do anything to risk me bringing it up again. But as I know I did not do it myself, that leaves me with no one else to pin blame on.
Then it comes to me, as if a flash of lightning was striking my brain. The killer did this. Somehow, the killer knows that I know about the murder. Is this some kind of a warning to stop nosing around, then?
I begin to calm down. I know. Somehow, intrinsically, I know that he knows. Not just that I know about what he's done. He knows about what I have done. This isn't a warning. This is an invitation. Basically, in a way that only people like us could ever truly understand, I think he's sending a friendly message like, "Hey! Wanna play?"
I wanna play.
I really, really do.
Roland 'Jim' Lowery
August 25, 2010