Final chapter. So you've read your way through about 11,500 words and I hope you've been entertained by them. Now that you've got to the end, why not spare me a dozen or so words of your own and let me know what you thought of it.
He arrived at Josie's flat bearing chocolate. The roses had gone down well, but it seemed that the way to her heart was through the sweet stuff and plenty of it. He'd happily help her out with it. He was needing plenty of calories now that he wasn't feeding. Tough job, but someone had to do it.
He took the stairs to her flat three at a time, eating up the steps with his long legs and beaming at the thought of seeing her again. His hunger was forgotten for a time in anticipation of seeing the person he had started to care so much for, the one who was keeping him good. Hand out ready to knock sharply on the door.
A man knelt on the landing, screwdriver in hand, changing the lock. Mitchell stopped abruptly, gift-wrapped chocolates under his arm. "What's going on?"
The man sat back on his haunches, wiping his hands on greasy blue overalls. "Changing the locks, mate. Bird that moved out didn't return all the keys she was given – one missing. Standard practice to change the lock before letting it out again if all the keys don't come back. It'll get taken out of her deposit. The landlord is especially hot on security after what happened to those girls upstairs – people are jumpy about renting in this block now and it's not good for business."
He moved out of the way of the door to let Mitchell inside. "You here to look around? Go ahead, I'll be done in a tick. If you want it, I'd get on to the landlord pretty fast; there was another chap here just ahead of you. Mind you, the other fellow didn't stay long - he can hardly even have looked around properly - maybe it wasn't what he was looking for."
Mitchell pushed the door and it swung open.
His eyes flickered over the coat hooks in the hallway. Josie's coats and scarves were gone – all the paraphernalia that had stamped her presence on the flat as soon as you stepped in. Standing for a moment in the doorway he breathed in deeply. He could smell her; the perfume that she used lingering even though she had left. Ma Griffe. She had kept it on her bedside cabinet. It would always remind him of her.
"You going in, mate? Only I've got work to do here."
In the living room, some of the furniture remained. The bookshelf he had tied her to. The sofa where they had... but he couldn't think about that. The dance posters were gone and the bookshelves were empty. The photographs were gone from the mantelpiece. It was just another flat now.
The bathroom door stood open. All her make up and cosmetics were gone – the basin stood empty, toothbrush and toothpaste hastily thrown in a bag before she left for... where? The sun shone through the frosted glass on which she had written "HELP" in red lipstick. All spotless. Somehow he had known she would have cleaned the bathroom, however quickly she had left.
He couldn't bear to go into the bedroom – no sense torturing himself more than he needed to. His throat clenched as he considered going on without her. In a short time she had become central to his life – a stable point for him to rely on as he tried to stop the killing. His eyes stung as he pushed open the door of the kitchen and saw the note propped up on the cooker top.
"I'm sorry, Mitchell, I have to go. Things have changed and I can't take the risk. I'm scared. It's too dangerous. Don't try to find me. Josie."
So that was it. Barely four lines to shatter what he thought he had. It occurred to him that he'd never even seen her handwriting before and yet it looked familiar, somehow.
He left the flat, his footsteps echoing in the empty hall.
"What you're looking for, then? You going to take it?" The locksmith looked cheerily up at him.
"Huh? No. It's not right for me." He started to go down the stairs then turned abruptly. "Say, you got a wife? Girlfriend?"
"Sure, wife and two kids."
"Give her these, then. Tell her you love her." Mitchell set the chocolates down on the landing. He'd had the girl in the shop gift wrap them; the guy's wife would think she'd forgotten her own birthday or something. He'd get something else to eat. Maybe suck on a jugular, damn it. What was the point of staying clean now if he didn't have her to stay clean for?
Outside, he sat on a wall and lit up a cigarette, the note still in his hand. He reread the note, such as it was, then flicked his lighter again and held the flame close to the paper.
"Cut all ties with who you are, soldier. You're not that man any more."
He couldn't do it. Mitchell shut the lighter with a snap, crumpling the letter in his hand and thrusting it deep into his jacket pocket. It nestled there beside the ballet dancer key fob - the keys that he had never used. The keys that she'd lost her deposit for. His shoulders slumped. Would he truly never see her again? He glanced up at her window, half expecting to see her standing there watching and waiting for him.
The front door opened and the locksmith came out carrying his bag of tools. He nodded when he saw Mitchell. "You need a lift somewhere, mate?"
"No. I'm fine. Cheers." Where would he go, anyway? Where was there for someone like him except back with his own kind? Mitchell pushed his hand into his pocket and grasped the key, feeling the edge of the metal jagged against his skin.
He wouldn't try to find her. She had been clear on that. Whatever had happened, it had been enough to make her leave without saying goodbye, even though she knew what that would cost him. Right now he wanted to kill: to find a victim and drink them dry, finding solace in human blood as a drunk would in the bottom of a pint glass. But he wouldn't. For her.
"You're not that man any more."
Damn it. He could still be that man. It would be harder without Josie, but he could try, at least, and maybe someday there would be someone else for whom he could care as much. Someone who could love him no matter who or what he was. She had shown that it was at least possible. In the meantime he would keep Josie's key as a reminder of how far he had come, and of how far he still hoped to travel.
He left, hands deep in his pockets, shoulders hunched and head bowed. One day at a time, like any other addict. One day at a time, for as long as he lived. But Josie had given him hope that he might not have to be alone forever.