Every night, at ten o'clock, the guards switched the lights off, and that's when the prison became so dark that nothing could be seen except for mere reflections. Not in his cell anyway. The other inmates called it 'the prison's asshole', and there was probably no better definition for that tiny angle of shit and cold stone he had been locked into.

As a free man, he had seen a TV news report on Ryker's Island, and being there made the whole thing look ridiculous. Sometimes, when he had nothing better to do, he thought about the shit-blabbering TV presenter, with her smart grey outfit and her unnatural white teeth, as she talked about how high security prisons gave the inmates the time they needed to redeem themselves of whatever the fuck they had done.

He'd burst out laughing in the silence of the corridor. Redeem himself? What the fuck. Spending time in the forgotten corner of the world, in a shithole where he couldn't stand up without bumping his head against the ceiling, hell no, it didn't make him want to redeem himself. It made him want to get out and spread some more mayhem, because it was so fucking boring he couldn't stand the thought of spending his whole life there.

There were exceptions. Like lunchtime. There, things would get interesting, amusing even. Newbies who got targeted as soon as they set foot in the prison grounds, who got beaten to a pulp, who got cornered in the showers, who got their asses feasted on. It was quite interesting, to see how Darwin's theories applied to Ryker's inmates; the survival of the fittest was Law Number One in that place. There hadn't been many dead people, but a couple of inmates had not survived the fights. Most of them tried to appeal for insanity to escape the rapes. Objectively speaking, if things went on like they were going for them, they'd probably go mad. For real.

He was a silent observer of what happened during the communal moments. During his time as a newbie, they had tried to make him a victim, but it hadn't ended well for neither of the two Big Bad Thugs who had slammed him against the wall, trying to immobilize him.

One of them was still under medical care. The other was short of his voice.

He scared the fuck out of them, that's how it was. The thugs who had attacked him didn't know what he had done, what he was in Ryker's for, but everyone else did, and they never tried to get near him. Even the guards – he could see the look in their eyes. With everyone else, they'd just say, "Move your ass, you filthy son of a bitch." (Another reason for a criminal to redeem himself was indeed the treatment he received.) They'd just kick around, punch around, plant their truncheons into the inmates' waists, arms, legs. With him, they just wanted to get him back into his cell and hurry the fuck off.

He didn't even have a cellmate, someone to share some good old fun with. There was another bed which miraculously fit into his cell, but it had never been occupied. He was sure that, had he appealed for insanity, they would've packed him up and sent him off in the flash of a lightning. But when his lawyer had suggested the idea before going to court, he had ended up in the nearest hospital with a black-ink cartridge pen planted in his left eardrum.

For God's sake, he was a murderer, not a nutcase. He wouldn't end up among miserable crazies with speech difficulties, who were constantly drooling the piss out of themselves. He wouldn't end up stuffing himself with pills which would fuck his mind up. He was quite happy with the state of his mind.

But then, despite those occasional lunchtime brawls he wasn't even a part of, he'd just be in his cell, bored to death. There was no such thing as a weekly hour in the courtyard for him. He had forgotten what the courtyard was like.

There was a moment, though – when they switched off the lights – that the whole floor would go so quiet that he could hear whatever was happening outside. Cars. The low buzz of the street lamps. People talking.

And then there were the squeaks that came whenever the inmate in the cell above him turned in his bed.

x

There was one rule in the house: do not move.

Most likely, do not breathe. Grandma hated noises – every kind of noises. Unlike all the other old people, she had a very acute sense of hearing. Whenever he sneezed, coughed, sniffed, dropped something, she'd come downstairs and 'give him one'.

There were many other things she hated, many other things that made her want to 'give him one'. His hair was too red. His skin was too pale. His eyes were too blue. His grin was too arrogant. He was too tall, and too slim. He talked too much, and his voice was fastidious. He didn't behave. His laughter was like nails on a chalkboard.

He wasn't patient enough. He wasn't strong enough. He wasn't intelligent enough. He wasn't educated enough.

He was, he wasn't… what was he?

He was, apparently, a plethora of 'too much' and 'not enough'. And whenever Grandma didn't like something, she'd come downstairs and 'give him one'. It was her fault if no one would come close to him at school – his face was always bruised, or scratched.

And he didn't care about friends. He didn't need friends. All people were evil, so why should he team up with people who pretended to be good to him when he knew they'd backstab him in the end?

When he told people about his little theory, they were horrified by how a nine-year-old boy could conceive such a distorted vision of the world around him. The boys in his class said he was a creepy freak. His teacher, Miss Farnham, had come to Grandma's house more than once, to ask her if he had any problems, if all was fine at home, and where he got all those bruises.

Grandma would tell her that everything was fine, that he was just a troubled boy – most orphans are. He needed the care of his loving parents, and unfortunately, she was the only one who was there for him.

Yeah, the hell she was. She was always there to 'give him one', that was for sure.

Come here!

He would wake up at night and hear the squeak of her slow steps on the creaky floor – probably because he had turned in his bed, or talked in his sleep, and she had heard him.

If you don't come here, I'll come downstairs and…

'Give him one'.

give you one!

He never went upstairs. He never even got off his bed. He'd just sit up, his legs dangling from the tall bed, and he'd wait for her to come. Sometimes he even turned his face away so that when she came in, she'd slap him right on the cheek.

You filthy little brat, you! You will be the death of me. Quiet!

He would be the death of her, oh yes, he would. He just didn't know when – but when the right time came, he would 'give her one'.

He never got off the bed, he never went upstairs – because secretly, he hoped that her crippled legs would fail her, and that she would fall down the stairs and break her neck. Or better, her legs. So that she couldn't move. She would lie helplessly, with her useless legs forming a curious angle on the wooden floor, and watch him as he walked closer to her. And he'd look at her, he would listen to her as she cried for help, he would watch her scream in pain.

Then he would just raise his foot and smash her fragile, old skull on the floor.

The house they lived in was big, old and isolated. He had to take his old bike every morning in order to get to town, to school; he had to wake up early, when it was still dark, and to be fast enough to get there on time.

There was a high, creaky old fence surrounding the house, but it was so rusty that anyone could break through, even when it was closed. There was a wooden board which read 'Private Property' – Grandma had written that with white paint, but it had come off during the years, until it read 'Pri at Prop ty'. The grass hadn't been cut in years – Grandma couldn't do it, and he couldn't be bothered with it.

And then, chained to the wall of the house, was Spot. Spot was probably as old as Grandma, and barked all the time; his constant barking annoyed her, but of course, it wasn't the dog who'd get the blame… it wasn't the dog who'd 'get one'. Whenever she came out of the house, with her old, dusty shawl wrapped around her thin and crippled form, and the thin strands of grey hair falling over her face, she'd go and pat Spot on the head. She liked him; she loved him.

More than she loved her own grandson.

On a foggy, cold day, he came home on his bike and was surprised to find that Spot wasn't where he always was. He didn't care – for all he was interested in, the dog could go and rot in hell with its owner.

As he entered the house, however, he could hear noises, coming from the cellar. The door was opened. Unless Grandma was there, it meant that Spot had managed to sneak into the house.

'Spot?' he called, slowly walking towards the stairs. 'Spot, are you there?'

He whistled.

'BOY! BOY!'

He whistled again.

'WHAT IS THAT NOISE YOU'RE MAKING? WHAT IS IT, BOY?'

At the third whistle, Spot's muzzle appeared in the doorway.

He smiled. 'There you are.'

'WHO ARE YOU TALKING TO?'

He walked down the first steps of the staircase. The wooden steps produced a low creak under the rubber soles of his shoes.

'What are you doing here?'

'BOY!'

Spot wailed his tail at him, and barked.

'Shh, Spot. Quiet. She doesn't like noises. She'll come down and…'

The creak. The steps on the wooden floor. 'I'M COMING DOWNSTAIRS, BOY! I'LL COME DOWNSTAIRS AND GIVE YOU ONE!'

Grandma came downstairs – even if it took her quite a while to drag her old, wrinkled ass to the ground floor. All she could hear was a low, desperate yelp. Constant and repetitive, full of pain and misery.

And there, at the bottom of the staircase which led to the cellar door, was Spot. His dry tongue was drooping out of the side of his mouth as he panted, his chest heaving up and down, up and down, up and down. He kept yelping, but each yelp was lower, weaker than the previous one.

'Boy! What did you do with the dog? Boy!'

'He was a bad dog, Grandma.' He appeared behind her, out of nowhere, startling her; she turned around, her dark eyes glistening with hatred as her lower lip trembled. 'A bad dog. He knows he mustn't come inside the house, but he did.'

Grandma lifted her skinny, trembling arm and slapped him.

Her hand was gnarled and wrinkled, each finger like the skinny branch of a tree; it whipped his face hard, causing two new scratches to appear beneath his left eye.

'You little brat!' She raised her hand again. 'You will…'

He could see Grandma's surprise in her small, dark eyes as he grabbed her arm and twisted it, causing her to utter a low whimper.

'…be the death of you?'

Maybe the steps weren't too many.

Then again, Grandma was really, really old.

He released her arm and pushed her towards the stairs; she lost her balance and toppled over with a shriek, tumbling down the staircase and landing on the floor with a loud thud and a crack of bones. He stood at the top of the staircase and looked down, his blue eyes inspecting the immobile body of his grandmother; her legs were forming an unnatural angle on the wooden floor, just like he had imagined.

He walked down the steps, one by one, and crouched beside her dead body. Under her lifeless weight, Spot was still panting, his eyes glassy and dull.

'You're a good dog, Spot,' he said, slowly moving his hands to grab the dog's muzzle. 'A good dog.'

Spot yelped.

'I'll put you out of your misery.'

x

There were old guards and young guards, and if the old guards were intimidated by him, the young guards would see him in their worst nightmares. They were rarely stationed in his corridor, because the older guards knew what he liked to do to them – but whenever a young guard was there, he'd have so much fun.

It was mainly because they were inexperienced, that they made mistakes. Huge mistakes. Like agreeing to take him to the toilets when he said he had to take a piss, or passing him a toothbrush because he had lost his old one.

But some of them were just very stupid.

He had managed to walk halfway through the main hall once, accompanied by young dickhead Donald Brown, because he had to take his weekly walk in the courtyard, like everybody else. Unluckily for him, a guard had seen Brown walk him down the corridor, and had called five guards to secure the prisoner in the cell again.

Five guards. He wasn't even big. The truth was, they were shitting in their pants at the only thought of touching him.

Because Cletus Kasady, cell No. 2IK00457, had killed thirty-four people, by himself, and never using firearms. Two of those thirty-four people were men. Two of them were old women. Nine of them were women between the ages of twenty and thirty-five. Seventeen of them were women between the ages of sixteen and nineteen. And four of them were children.

And that final number excluded all the boys and members of the staff which had been killed in the infamous fire which had destroyed the St. Estes Home for Boys – which, of course, he had burnt to the ground. The truth was, he hadn't killed them – the fire had. He had only been the initial spark. But he didn't consider them his victims… not as much as everyone else he had killed.

So, when it came to guarding his cell, there were always at least two men standing outside it.

One day, he woke up to the sound of two men's voices. It was the guards – Bentley and Ranson. Bentley was his favourite, because the officer seemed to hate him with a passion, more than any other guard in the whole prison. And he had seen them all, so he knew that for sure. The others were only scared, but Bentley… Bentley hated him.

Leah Bentley was only seventeen when she had encountered death in the form of Cletus Kasady, and he, as the great observer that he was, had immediately noticed the resemblance when Carl Bentley had smashed his head against the wall while locking him into his new bedroom.

There was a public high school, right in front of the block of flats where he had lived for – how much? Two, three years? Time always flew when he was having fun.

Young, sweet, innocent Leah Bentley happened to go to that same high school. He observed the crowd of people every morning – parking their cars, entering the building in flocks, just like birds… getting off the big yellow buses.

Leah used to cycle to school every morning. She'd arrive at least twenty minutes in advance, then she'd sit on the steps in front of the main entrance with a book, and read – study? – while she waited for a couple of friends before walking inside the building.

She was really pretty, with her long brown curls and green eyes, her small nose and full pink lips, her long legs and curvy hips. What he liked best about her was her smile – she had perfect white teeth, and her girlish laughter made shivers run down his spine.

He had observed her for days, he had grown attached to her in a way he wouldn't imagine – he found himself thinking about her day and night, when he was not busy watching her. He had even become less cautious about his routines, and he had moved to the small bar next to the school to have a better view of her. For a moment, he hadn't considered that somebody might notice his constant presence there, that somebody might take notice of his insistent blue gaze, always fixed on the young girl.

After twenty days, he had started to follow her. And after making sure that he had learnt her morning routine by heart, he had finally approached her, while she took her bicycle, ready to go home after her busy school day.

'Excuse me?'

He had startled her, and she had let out a whimper which had made him more excited than it should have – it had been hard to regain his composure, but his momentary lapse had managed to go unnoticed by the young girl.

'Oh, you… you scared me.' She had smiled, and once again, it had been hard for him to keep calm and focused.

'I'm sorry about that.'

'It's okay. Can I… help you?'

'Ah, yes. I was actually wondering if you could tell me where Portland Street is? I have no clue, and I'm supposed to visit a friend there.'

Portland Street was a few roads away from where Leah and her family lived – of course she knew where it was. And as he had learnt by observing her everyday, she was too kind not to help a poor, lost man who just wanted to find his friend's house.

'I do, but it's quite difficult to explain, um,' She had paused, biting her lip. She had finally surrendered, as he had hoped. 'Look, I'm going that way, I could walk you there.'

'Really? Thanks, I… I'm actually running late, and… you're a life-saver,' he had said, smiling at her.

'If you're running late, we'd better hurry then,' she had replied, her smile growing wider. 'Don't worry though. It's not far anyway, I think you'll make it to your friend's house in time for… lunch?'

Leah Bentley was the one who hadn't made it home in time for lunch. As he had imagined, she had taken the shortcut she usually took when going to school and back; a narrow alleyway which was usually deserted, save for drunken adolescents at night time. He had convinced her to let him carry her bike when he had so chivalrously offered her – and once she had let go of it, he had pushed the bicycle against her and forced Leah against the wall.

No one had heard the whimpered scream before it was muffled by his strong hand; no one had seen him take out his pocket knife and stab her chest, abdomen, thighs, and finally her throat. No one had heard his satisfied growls, no one had seen him exit the alley with bloodstained hands.

The high school had been quite the fertile ground for his murders in the next few weeks – before necessity had forced him to move elsewhere. But, along with the memory of Leah Bentley, there was another victim whose image was still vivid in his head.

Michelle Riley had been one of his favourites, he had known that since the moment he had seen her get off the yellow bus – after all, she looked just like Allison Finch.

x

'I came home from school and found her lying there, like that' – that was what he had told the police after he had called them, stating there was a dead body in his house. And of course, he had gotten away with it, with no problems.

And yet, not much time had passed before he had another encounter with the police – his foster father, Ben Milligan, was being arrested for beating his wife until the brink of death. He had a motive; he had found her while she was trying to kill their adopted son.

But Cletus had not defended Ben Milligan in court, and Ben Milligan had been sentenced to death. After that, the social workers had decided that the poor twelve-year-old couldn't bear another tragedy, and in order to avoid any further troubles, they had moved him to the St. Estes Home for Boys.

His adolescence hadn't been much fun… until he started going to high school. There, he found himself contemplating someone he had never even thought of before that day – girls.

Before even noticing the effect they had on his body, he found that watching them was the most exciting part, especially if they weren't aware that he was spying on them. It was when they weren't observed that they did things they would never do in front of other people – involuntary spasms they probably didn't even notice. And yet, for him, every girl had a trademark.

Meg Clarke was always twirling her hair around her fingers. Christina Jones bit her lower lip a lot. And then there was Allison Finch. When no one was looking, she would rub three fingers against her mouth, and then lick her lips. She did it all the time.

Since the day he met Allison, when he was seventeen, he couldn't stop staring at her. She was sitting beside a group of girls, who were saying shit about one of their classmates, right behind her back – that was the other quality of girls he admired: they were spontaneously evil, no matter how hard they tried to hide their badness behind fake smiles.

Prom night was just a few months away, and he was determined to invite her. And she would accept – of course she would. He couldn't stop thinking about her. In his dreams, it was always just the two of them. She was naked, and he ran his slim fingers across her skin. His hands were cold: goosebumps appeared on her skin as he kept touching her, and she arched her back when his fingers brushed against her spine.

The day he decided to ask her out, she was sitting on a bench, waiting for the bus which would take her home from school. Loose bangs of her blonde hair fell on her forehead as she devoured the pages of a novel she had been reading for almost a week. When she saw him approach the bench, she moved to the left so that he could sit down.

'Hey, Allison,' he said, smiling at her.

She looked up, curiosity reflected in her brown eyes. 'Hi, um… you're in my English class. Cletus, right?'

'Yeah. How are you?'

'Not bad, thank you. I'm just waiting for the bus, it's later than usual today… which sucks, because I need to get home soon. You?'

'I'm fine. Look, I was wondering… are you going to the prom?'

'Yeah, sure. Are you?'

'I thought I would, and maybe I could... go with you?'

'Oh. Well, I… I'm so sorry, I really am, but… I'm already going with someone else.' Just then, Allison raised a hand and rubbed three fingers against her mouth, licking her lips afterwards. 'I'm so sorry though. Perhaps we can meet there?'

Before he could say anything, she looked up, behind him; the bus was approaching. 'Oh, finally. So… I'll meet you there, okay? I'm sure you'll find someone else to go with.'

She stood up, walking towards the small group of people who, just like her, were waiting for the bus.

He wanted to speak, but his throat was dry and his eyes felt sore. He kept looking at her, blue irises fixed on her thin frame, as she put the book in her bag and glanced at the bus. He stood up, and took a few steps towards her; his hands were shaking, and he suddenly felt a need he had not felt in a long, long time…

'No.'

She turned towards him, a puzzled expression painted on her beautiful face. 'What did you say?'

He slowly raised his hand, and glanced at the bus again. Nobody was looking at them. Nobody would see…

'I said…'

The bus was just metres away – such a big vehicle wouldn't be able to stop in time, not even if…

'…no.'

A wave of heat ran through him like an electric jolt as he pressed his hand on her back, softly at first, then firmly, and pushed her off the curb. There was a loud screech as the bus driver tried to stop the vehicle, but it was too late – the bus was still moving at a sustained speed when Allison Finch fell onto the street.

A girl shrieked; another one fainted. Nobody saw him staring at her insensitively, because they weren't looking – and because of the large pool of blood which was expanding itself around the dead body of Allison.

Months later, he went to the prom with Joanne Robinson. Joanne was classified as 'disappeared' after a week, and even though the police searches continued, nobody's hopes were high anymore when a patrol found her corpse in the school grounds, right behind the gym, where it had been buried.

An investigation was started, but the police had nothing to work on. Except for the smashed skull and broken bones of a dead seventeen-year-old.

On his eighteenth birthday, he was declared 'of age', thus legally obtaining the permission to leave the orphanage. And he left, oh, yes he did. He vanished into thin air, leaving nothing behind himself. No traces, no clues, nothing.

Except for the burning ruins of the St. Estes Home for Boys.

x

Cletus Kasady had killed twenty-one people in nine months. It had been like gestation – something inside him had developed, grown stronger, a foetus of chaos and rage. And just as he was about to release it, the fucking jurisdiction of the USA had found him and thrown him into the ass hole of the world. Bad luck indeed.

Killing such a large number of people gave him no right to what the other inmates were served with. Books to read, visits from relatives, weekly walks in the courtyard. He had actually had the privilege of reading half of the New Oxford American Dictionary at the beginning of his career as an inmate; he had gotten to letter J when the guards had found out that the rough cover of the big book was also a rather sharp throat-cutting weapon. (The pen is mightier than the sword.)

As for the visits from relatives – whoops.

Sometimes he did receive visits though.

Most of them were from his lawyer – not Cartridge Pen Guy, that one had not wished to renew their partnership after the unpleasant event. Then journalists, who were so much fun to play with. TV reporters. Even fans – one young man had tried to speak to him, but the guards had stopped him before he could reach the end of the corridors. The guy didn't know, but they had saved his fanatic ass.

Then, every once in a while, psychiatrists would come and see him. Ask him questions. Do their little meaningless 'tests' to establish if he was insane or not – it was clear that the director of Ryker's was trying to get him out of there.

Julia Biggs was the doctor of the day. The quantity of make-up on her face suggested that she took her personal care more seriously than her job, and so did her long and perfectly polished nails, her bleached blonde hair, and the maybe too short skirt – and matching high heels.

Anyone sane would've known that leading such a woman to his cell was madness. And they called him psycho.

His so-called therapy sessions were arranged in his cell – they wouldn't let him out. The doctor would sit at a safe distance from the bars of his cell (no such thing as a glass plate was common in Ryker's, despite its fame of high security prison), and two guards would stay there to make sure no one's life was in danger. Simple and clear. Nobody walked close to the bars, nobody got hurt.

'Mr Kasady, I'm doctor Julia Biggs, from the…'

'St. Mary Mental Hospital, uh-uh. You know, I've seen many of your colleagues here, trying to offer me a post there, but no, any of you shrinks can kiss my ass. It would be quite lovely if you did that, you know, I haven't had… anything… in a while. And playing by myself gets boring after some time.'

'Mr Kasady, I'm here to do some tests with you. Will you cooperate?'

'You're not talking to a crowd you're trying to impress here, doc, you're talking to one person. And I'm not too fond of big words, they just don't work. If you were talking about me, would you say I'm guilty of thirty-four assassinations, or of thirty-four murders?'

He shifted his weight off the bed, sitting on the floor, right in front of the bars. He could see a trace of uneasiness in Biggs's eyes as he moved closer to the bars, so he grinned.

'Don't worry, I can't escape this place,' he said, grabbing the metallic bars with both hands. 'If I could, why do you think I'd be fucking around here?'

She opened the folder she was holding on her lap, and gave a quick look at her file before taking out a large printed sheet. 'I see from your records that you have been shown the Rorschach test before, with no results. I think… we should try again.'

He tilted his head to the right. 'You want to know what I see in that?'

'You've never responded, it would be a radical improvement.'

'Blah blah blah. I'll tell you what I see.' He stared at the black print on the white sheet, seemingly intent in forming a coherent opinion, then he said, 'I see a mass of black dots, stains and spurts. Not a butterfly, not a skull, but if those stains were red, I'd definitely think of blood.'

'So you see blood in the Rorschach test.'

'I don't.'

'You just said you…'

'No. I just said I'd see blood in them if they were red. Have you ever seen black blood? I haven't. And trust me, I've seen a fair lot of blood in my life.' He let out a deep sigh. 'It's dark, that it is. Darker if it's late at night. But it's never black, not even in the moonlight. It always has a red shade, no matter how dark it is.'

'Do you think about blood a lot, Cletus?'

'We're on first name basis? I didn't know.'

'Do you mind if I call you Cletus?'

'It depends. Can I call you Julia?' His grin grew wider when the doctor hesitated, biting her lower lip. 'Yeah, didn't think so.'

'Well, then… do you think about blood a lot, Mr Kasady?'

'Yes, I do. When I was a child, I was beaten up, abused and tortured to the brink of death. I was a lonely kid and the older ones at school bullied me. I never had a girlfriend and… wait, I'm giving you the wrong version of the story. I never had a girlfriend because I killed all my potential girlfriends.'

'This is not something to make fun of.'

'What kind of question is that, doctor? No, I don't think about blood a lot. I think about people a lot.'

'Your victims?'

'Whether they become my victims or not, that depends on how lucky they are.'

She scribbled on her notebook before looking at him again. 'Do you always regard people as your potential victims?'

'No, I just see them for what they are.'

'And what are they?'

He paused, a dramatic interruption of his spoken stream of consciousness. 'They're evil. They just don't have the balls to admit it, or they don't want to, because it's more convenient if they just shut up and keep licking each other's asses.'

'Not all people are evil, Mr Kasady.'

'Yeah, they all are. I am evil, the guards are evil, you are evil. You think you look goody-goody with your smart casual outfit and polished nails, but deep down, as we're having this conversation, you're thinking I'm a sick perverted killer who deserves to die, not to rot in a cell for years. Or… wait. What is worse?'

'I'm simply doing my job, Mr Kasady, I don't understand why you would make such assumptions.'

'You're doing your job as a liar, doctor. That's fine by me, you're just another coward. I bet you'd like to say, hey, I talk to dozens of patients like you, I'm used to this, but… no. They're not like me, doctor. They don't admit that they're evil, they lie, they say that they're insane. I know the killer inside me, and I'm proud of him.'

Doctor Biggs scribbled down some more notes before looking at him from behind her classy, expensive glasses. 'Is that what you told Serena Lynn?'

For a moment, silence fell like an invisible coat over the corridor. His blue eyes were staring at Doctor Biggs, wide open, as the corners of his lips curved upwards to form a twisted, slightly lopsided grin. The fingers of his left hand were drumming on a bar, both feet tapping nervously on the floor. No, not nervously. In excitement.

Julia Biggs noticed his reaction, and folded her arms across her chest before he could see that her hands were shaking.

His upper lip twitched. 'Aaah, I'm not sure that is the most appropriate question to ask me. Not for a woman like you, at least.'

She opened her folder, and took out a few pictures he could not see, flicking through them. 'I, um,' she cleared her throat. 'What was your reaction when you found out?'

'When I found out what?'

'Mr Kasady, you know what I'm talking about.'

'Oooh. How do you expect me to know what you're talking about when your question is so purposefully vague, doctor?'

Biggs let out a loud sigh, and no matter how hard she tried to hide it, her lower lip started trembling. Nothing which would easily be noticed, but again – he was a real observer.

'What was your reaction when you found out about Serena Lynn, Mr Kasady?'

'What about her?'

'Mr Kasady…' Biggs's voice trembled, and he could see the horror in her eyes when she became aware her sudden weakness.

'They're fucking assholes at the St Mary's, if you ask me. Sending a young female doctor here when they know that young women are my favourite. You're brave though, with all these explicit questions. I wouldn't have expected that from a person like you. I am surprised that you didn't piss in your panties, I truly am. And I know, because I can see them from here, and they're not wet.'

She crossed her legs, and he chuckled. 'You…'

'Yeah, come on doctor. I know you want to say it. Next time they give you that bullshit about psychiatrists who must stay calm in front of their insane patients, no matter what they do or say, you can tell them to fuck off. But I'm not insane, so insult me if you wish.'

'I am…' She breathed in, and took off her glasses for a moment, looking down at her shoes, blinking once, twice, three times. She was going to cry – or maybe not. She was too proud to let herself do that in front of a madman. 'I am here to talk to you, Mr Kasady, not to insult you. Your tricks have no effect whatsoever on me, I know it's in your nature to try and break people down.'

'You are so brave, doctor Biggs. Wow, I admire you.' He glanced at the two guards, who were standing behind the chair Biggs was sitting on. They were both young – what an insensitive choice, the director should be ashamed of himself – and unsure of what to do; they kept staring at the doctor as if they didn't dare ask if she was okay, if they should escort her out.

'Can we talk about Serena Lynn, Mr Kasady?'

'Not in public.' He nodded towards the guards. 'I can vent with a shrink, but I don't want people gossiping about this around Ryker's. It's a private matter, doctor.'

'Shut the fuck up, Kasady, we're not leaving,' one of the guards spat, tightening the grip on his gun – as if the gesture could scare him.

'Hey, I'm talking with the lady here, folks. We want no intruders in our private chats.' He grinned at Biggs. 'They could just go down there, at the end of the corridor. They wouldn't hear what I say, but they would be able to keep their four eyes fixed on you. There are security cameras everywhere, doctor. Nothing to be scared of.'

The young doctor glanced at the security camera which was situated right above her, and pointed towards his cell; then at the guards.

'Do as he says,' she said, the exasperated tone of her voice partially hidden by the sense of anticipation in regards to what he would tell her once they were alone.

'But doctor…'

'I'll keep the security distance, guards. There is nothing to be afraid of – I take it he has not firearms hidden in his cells, and he doesn't possess a superior force which he could use to break the bars and get out.'

'Ha. I wish,' he said, chuckling.

Reluctantly, the guards backed off until they were out of sight – stupid, pathetic sacks of meat and shit. Now he only had to see if the doctor was equally naïve.

'So, Mr Kasady?'

'Can I see those pictures?'

'These pictures?' She bit her lower lip. 'Why?'

'If they are what I think they are, I have the right to see them. It's my own work. And I haven't had the chance to review it in a long time. A long time. Before you tell me that you can't pass me any objects, let me remind you that if you had had any dangerous objects with you, the guards would have taken them from you before they let you come here.'

'Why do you want to see these pictures, Mr Kasady?'

'Is it her?'

'…yes.'

'Then if it's her you want to talk about, don't you think I might need to refresh my mind about what happened?' He let out another chuckle, and stood up. 'Come ooon, doctor. You don't even have to get close to me. You just have to pass the pictures. You don't have to touch me.'

He extended his left arm through two bars, waving at the doctor. 'See? You're out of reach.'

Before getting caught and imprisoned he had read, on a very famous criminology publication, that people under a great deal and anxiety can react to the predicament they found themselves in with two different behaviours – radically different behaviours, in fact.

The first was to be so empty-minded to find it impossible to think lucidly, and therefore to act stupidly – in other words, to freak out. The second was to be unusually calm and collected, and to be reasonable about everything – they had full control of the situation; they just didn't know.

It looked like doctor Julia Biggs, with her polished nails and cheap degree and smart glasses, belonged to the first category.

When she stood up to hand him the photograph, and found out that she was not close enough to let him take them, she didn't just put them on the floor, or throw them towards the cell. What she did was to take two steps forwards to hand them to him – and when she saw that his smirk had grown too broad than usual, it was too late to back away.

His fingers enclosed her wrist with the force of a metallic claw. Surprise escaped her lips in the form of an almost inaudible whimper before he pulled her towards the bars, her back slamming against the metal as his strong arm encircled her throat.

'He–' She tried to call for help, but his grip on her neck was too suffocating; both guards had already come to the rescue, their shotguns pointed at him – and her – as they yelled their nonsensical, routine catchphrases.

As if they didn't know he was deaf to their ignorant demands.

'If I were to visit this legendary St Mary's Mental Hospital, dear, there is one question I would gladly ask them,' he said, as Doctor Biggs brought both hands to his arm, her nails digging into his flesh in the vain attempt to free herself from the grip. 'And that question would be, where the fuck do they find their employees, on internet?'

In the background, he could hear the voice of a guard – 'Kasady got the doctor, come here now!' – but it was just a murmur. All his senses were dedicated to the young woman he had trapped against the bars, to her fast-paced heartbeats, to her desperate gasps for air, to the sweat that trickled down her face.

'Shh, calm down, doctor,' he whispered in her ear, pressing his nose against the side of her neck. 'You smell like fear. Just… like… everyone… else. What these fuckers don't understand is that they can't shoot me without risking to shoot you, but you do know that, right? Because if they even tried, I could snap your neck, crack, like that. But that's not my style. It's way too quick.'

'Please…' she coughed, her nails still scratching the skin of his arm.

'KASADY!'

'Shut up, boys.' He laughed in her ear, the hoarse, low tone of his voice amplified in her head. 'You're really brave, asking me about Serena Lynn. You had to mention her. It was your curiosity, wasn't it?'

'KASADY, LET HER GO!'

They all held him at gunpoint – the two guards, the other two who had hurried over there to help – but the doctor's struggles to free herself made their hopes of shooting him vanish into thin air.

'You want to know if I told her what I think, doctor?'

One of the guards took a few steps closer.

He placed his free hand on the doctor's head, forcing her to turn her face so that her ear was against his mouth.

'I showed her.'

He released Biggs from his tight grip before the officer could press the cane of his gun against his head. He backed away until his back was pressed against the wall of his cell, and started laughing as he watched the dumb officers, one more helpless than the other. Two of them were checking if Doctor Biggs was okay – of course she wasn't, and she wouldn't be for some time. She kept both hands pressed against her neck as if her head was about to fall off, a mixture of sweat, black makeup and tears running down her beautiful, shocked face.

His blue eyes were attracted by the pictures she had dropped on the floor; one of them was turned so that he could see the image on it.

A familiar wave of electric adrenaline ran through his body, from his red hair to the tips of his toes. His lips twitched again as he tried to stay calm, to breathe regularly, and looked up at the doctor again.

'You… shouldn't… ask me about Serena Lynn, doc,' he muttered. 'You should ask her.'

x

Serena Jane Lynn was twenty-eight, and a well-known criminologist. She was from Baltimore, but she had moved to New York to pursue her psychology studies, with a further development in the field of criminology. After her degree she had almost immediately obtained a chair at the Empire State University, where she continued teaching even after the publication of her best-selling book.

Or so said the author's mini-biography on the inside flap of said best-selling book, Identifying Evil. What the mini-biography didn't say was that Serena Lynn was the most beautiful woman on Earth, and that – no matter how intelligent she was – her book was full of shit.

Cletus Kasady didn't know any of those two things when he saw the pile of big volumes in the bookshop which was just a few blocks away from where he lived. Just as the high school had been his favourite hunting place before he was forced to move out of his apartment, the bookshop was his new temple of violence and murder.

To cover his constant presence there, he had developed the necessary human skills which would allow him to go unnoticed by the owners of the little shop – he had befriended them. He had had a hard time and a couple of issues to restrain himself from killing the daughter of the owners (who would occasionally come and give her parents a helping hand), but all in all, his job had grown more prolific since he had started to visit the place.

Most of the time he would just sit in a remote corner of the store, a place from which he had the perfect view. He would actually read books – they kept his mind working – and turn his head towards the door every time someone new walked in. Then, once he had found the perfect target, he would either approach them directly, or leave as soon as they had made their purchase and walked out.

Surprisingly enough, he had found to be a great actor in the role of the young father looking for books about the last months of pregnancy, or the first months of newborn babies, while his wife was at home – either waiting for the big day, or looking after the lovely, chubby baby. Women would always fall for it.

eight months. Yeah, we can't wait!

Oh, the name is always a big issue, isn't it? Rachel and I can't get through the whole situation without ending up fighting.

Yeah, don't tell me. He wakes us up at every hour of the night…

Phrases like those always worked on women. And if they were accompanied by young children, well… he had a talent for looking friendly towards kids, too.

Unlike with the high school teenagers, he had to work quickly. He couldn't indulge in stalking his victims, because the bookshop wasn't a place they would be going to every single day. Once he spotted a victim, that was it – he'd kill that day.

Even if it meant taking half the fun away.

He had grown faster, more organized, more experienced – but he missed the innumerable joys of hunting a prey before catching it. And maybe he was not accustomed to it anymore, maybe he had lost his once infallible and maniacal care for every single detail – maybe that was why Serena Lynn had been the last.

It was cold and cloudy, the day he walked into the bookshop and saw her book for the first time. Nathan, the owner, was arranging a pile of books. On the wooden counter beside the cash was the photograph of a young and beautiful woman – the most beautiful woman he had ever seen.

Yes, she was beautiful, but it was the gleam in her eyes that attracted him more than anything. She had a pair of brown, slightly almond-shaped eyes which looked at him as if to say, 'Come and get me. I know you can. I know you will.' For a moment, he felt like she was staring back at him, inviting him, challenging him.

'Beautiful, isn't she?' Nathan approached him, resting his elbows on the counter. 'I still can't believe that she's going to present her book here, of all places.'

'Who… who is she?' he asked, clearing his throat.

'Serena Lynn. She's a criminologist, and her book is already a best-seller – I've been piling up copies for the past hour.'

Nathan grabbed the book on top of the pile, handing it to him. He took it eagerly – almost suspiciously – and gazed at the front cover. Identifying Evil. A study of the genes of evil through the key figures of the history of crime. He couldn't help but chuckle at the title, but a quick glance back at the picture shut him up.

'When… when is she coming here?'

'Next Thursday. It's going to be a big event, do you want me to save you a seat or something? I could do that if…'

'No.'

A bit sudden, maybe?

'I–I mean, no, thanks. I'll be fine, if I come I'll… do without a seat.' He forced a smile, aimed to reassure the face of a worried-looking Nathan. 'I'll buy the book though, it looks… different.'

'Just because it's you, remember this… the book is not officially in commerce here yet.'

(Nathan did not notice the disappearance of the printed picture afterwards – he was too busy reorganising the place before the presentation.)

He would look at the picture day and night, while he was reading the book and while he wasn't. The book was an awful load of bullshit – it justified the presence of a contrast between good and bad – but a light read… if considered a novel. But as a study, it was pure shit. That, however, didn't suffice to destroy his attraction to the woman. He would go to the presentation, of course he would – not that he cared about the book.

She was becoming an obsession, and he hadn't even seen her in person – he had to kill her. He wanted to. He longed to meet her, drag her to the most deserted place in the whole New York, and kill her with his bare hands.

He went to the presentation, and for two long hours, all he could do was stare at the woman. The way she was constantly tucking a strand of her long, smooth, brown hair behind her left ear. The way she smiled, the way she laughed. The way her pink lips adhered to the glass every time she took a sip of water. Her soft, and yet somewhat acute voice.

He wanted to kill her so bad that he felt like throwing up.

And so, at the end of the presentation, he made sure that he was the last in line to get his book signed before Serena Lynn walked out of the bookshop.

When she looked up at him and her eyes met his, he thought, for a moment, that he may have lost control of the situation.

Come and get me. I know you can. I know you will.

'Oh, finally.' She smiled at his puzzled expression. 'You were definitely the most attentive member of the audience today… or perhaps you were just staring at me? Be honest.'

Come and get me.

I know you can.

I know you will.

He grinned. 'I was just staring at you.'

She didn't look offended, and if she was, she masked it well. She folded her arms across her chest and crossed her legs, but the smile on her face didn't change. 'An admirer?'

'I've read the book, I didn't really need to listen to the presentation. I already know what it is about.' It was his turn to grin at her puzzlement. 'Being friends with the owner has its benefits.'

'Oh, you got the exclusive.' She bit her lower lip, resting against the back of her chair. 'What did you think of it?'

'Should I be honest?'

'If you hated it, tell me you hated it.'

'I didn't hate it.' He scratched the back of his head. 'I just thought the base for your reasoning throughout the book is bullshit, but… it's a good novel.'

When she laughed, he had to look away for a second, and take a deep breath. He had to stay calm, he had to stay calm and focused. He had to wait.

'What exactly is wrong with my reasoning?' she asked. 'And – have a seat. This is getting interesting.'

His blue eyes lingered on her face before he sat down; she never looked away.

'I think that the basic principle of your theory is wrong. You can't identify evil, because evil is everywhere. There is nothing to identify; people are evil. They all are, but they don't have the balls to admit it – well, some of them. Everyone is evil, every single human being walking on planet Earth is evil, so… what is there to identify?'

Every reaction of hers was unexpected, and he felt unprepared, exposed, naked even. But the more he looked into her eyes, the more determined he was…

Come and get me. I know you can. I know you will.

When she smiled again, biting her lower lip as she narrowed her eyes, examining his face, his grin grew wider.

'Miss Lynn, we have to go, we're five minutes late on our schedule and…'

A man's voice prevented her from replying; she looked up, and he turned around, to see a tall, broad-shouldered man in a black uniform.

She wasn't alone. He wasn't going to be able to…

He suddenly felt a heavy weight on his chest, crushing his lungs and making it impossible for him to breathe. If he couldn't kill her, he would go mad. He would not be able to think lucidly anymore. He would do… he would…

'Can you wait one minute, Michael? I was just signing this copy. You can wait for me in the car.'

He turned back to her, the weight on his chest vanished; if he had one hope, one single hope of making it, he had to improvise… take time… think… think

'I was very intrigued by your, um, theory, Mr…?'

'Braeden. Adam Braeden.'

'Serena Lynn.' She extended her hand across the table, and he shook it. Her skin was white and soft, in contrast with his rough hand – she took the book he had placed on the table, and opened it on the first page. 'Well, Adam, I was really enjoying our conversation, but I didn't get to defend my position, so… call me, sometime after six, this evening. I have another presentation but I should be free by then, we could have a drink and… continue our discussion. That is, if you don't have other plans for the...'

'I don't.'

For the first time since the start of their conversation, the young woman looked surprised. But as he thought about something else to say, something that wouldn't ruin his only chance, she smiled again, and quickly scribbled her number on the page of the book.

'It was a pleasure, Adam.'

'No, the pleasure was all mine.'

His gaze followed her as she walked out of the store, looking back at him one last time, smiling, before she got on the car. Identifying evil… she sure was a master of identification. Or she just pretended – maybe she had noticed him for his true nature and was craving to analyse him, to dissect his brain.

She wouldn't be able to do that. She wouldn't have the time to do that.

He called her at 6.03, and she instantly picked up the phone; they agreed to meet in Manhattan, which was far from where he lived – thus less traceable, just in case someone suspected anything soon after her death. The newspapers were going crazy about 'the Lady Killer' – that was the name they had given him. Lady Killer. Bullshit. He had killed men, and children, too.

When he arrived, she was waiting outside the place – which was unfortunately crowded. Her hair was tied up in a loose bun, and she was wearing a white blouse and a skirt which covered her legs just above the knees.

He kept staring at her in silence until they were seated, his eyes wandering from the back of her neck to the hem of her skirt; when she turned around to speak, after they had both ordered their drinks, he grinned.

'So, Adam, I've honestly spent the whole day thinking about our unfinished conversation. So far, not many people have questioned my theories, or the subject of my book. Why did you buy it in the first place?'

'I saw your picture.'

He might have been an excellent liar, but he was equally good at handling the truth. And as he had seen earlier that day, it was the very act of being completely honest which had led Serena Lynn to be interested in him – why should he start lying, now that it was almost over?

'And I thought the title sounded entertaining.'

There was a moment of silence between them; he just kept his gaze fixed on the beautiful features of her face while she looked at him, bringing a hand to her mouth to hide the grin that was curling the corner of her lips. There were tiny little freckles on the bridge of her nose, and if he focused his gaze on them, they almost looked red. Red, minuscule dots. Of blood.

But instead, he chose to look at her straight in the eyes – after all, they were her most attractive feature.

After the long pause, she finally spoke. 'I am trying to understand whether you are being completely serious, or not.'

'I'm always serious, but I'll leave you with the benefit of doubt.'

'It's just… you say things you wouldn't expect people to say. Not so directly, anyway. I believe I can say I have never met a person who was as direct as you are. That is why I was curious about your opinion, it sounded very… determined to support your own point of view. Did you do any studies that led you to the conclusion of this universal evil, or is it something you just…?'

'No, I didn't study anything. I didn't have the money and I…' (burned down an orphanage and had to escape) 'My education is built upon necessity. I know what I need to know, and you don't need to be Freud to understand that the human mind is rotten to the core.'

'So you think evil is in one's mind, not in one's nature.'

'A man's nature is the fruit of his mind… right?'

A gleam of surprise flashed in her brown eyes. 'That was in my book.'

'You see, I might have been drawn to your book because of you, but I did read it.'

Serena leaned forward, and rested both hands on the table, joined, fingers intertwined. 'So, if according to your beliefs, everybody is evil… that would mean that you are evil too.'

'A hundred percent evil. And of the worst kind.'

'What's the worst kind?'

'The dangerous kind.'

There is always a thin line between truth and lies, and something in Serena Lynn's expression made him think that she presumed he was lying – otherwise, why would she be sitting at the table, talking to him, smiling at him? She was fascinated by him – that was in her nature, the nature of a criminologist. But she didn't understand that he was being completely honest, as she had requested.

Women. Most of them, beautiful. All of them, naïve.

'You're a criminal then. Hmm.' She bit her lower lip. 'You know, I've never had a conversation like this with a man, and I don't even know you.'

He tilted his head to the right, and smirked. 'Then again, we're here to have that conversation, aren't we?'

There was something that people called 'the serial killer look' – something which had been spawned by the stupid minds of the mass; something he apparently did not have. 'The serial killer look' implied a factor of high alert for the people who came across anyone with said 'look'; they would stay away from him, they would notice that there was something wrong with him.

Cletus Kasady – um, Adam Braeden – was a man. There was nothing suspicious on his outer appearance. He was very tall, slender, his blue eyes did not gleam with madness, and his smirk was just… peculiar. Nothing in his appearance would scare women – or men and children for that matter.

Not until the very last moment of their lives, anyway.

Serena turned around to look at the bar, exposing the skin of her neck to his eyes. There was a small tattoo on the skin behind her ear, so small he hadn't noticed it, so small he couldn't understand what it was. Before he could examine it, she turned around again, and looked at him.

'I want to show you something,' she said. 'We are not getting our drinks anyway, so we might as well leave, don't you think?'

A small smile tugged at the corners of his lips. 'Absolutely.'

Everything made it look like the situation had been prepared for him in advance, like he was meant to kill Serena Lynn. She led him right to her apartment – almost as if she were asking to be murdered. The sense of anticipation for the killing was worse than usual, unbearable even; he could hardly keep his hands off her as they stepped inside.

Her scent was all over the place. It was inebriating, feminine, stronger than any other odour. He took a few deep breaths, closing his eyes for a moment. The right place. The right time. His hand slid into the pocket of his trousers, fingers wrapping around the handle of his pocket knife.

Wait. Just wait for the perfect occasion.

'What is it that you wanted to show me?' he asked, as she switched the lights on. A dim, candle-like light illuminated the large room, reflecting itself upon the glass of the windows.

Serena smiled, and pointed her finger towards a picture on the wall. He had seen it before – shrinks used it with patients, especially in mental hospitals for criminals, to determine the basic track of their minds.

'What do you see in that?'

'A Rorschach test.'

She laughed. 'Clever answer. But I actually meant the other one.'

Once his eyes followed the real direction her hand was pointed at, he understood. The canvas was covered in a mess of red paint; dots, spurts, stains, splatters, blotches. Sometimes they were joined in large circles, ripples, which went from larger to smaller into a downward spiral of blood.

At his left, Serena folded her arms across her chest. 'Most people who see this painting immediately think of blood, but some… some of them delve deeper into the meaning of the painting, or a connotation rather than a denotation of its subject. Criminals especially show a great attention to the details of the red paint, most of them identifying the modus operandi of a murderer in it.'

'No, it's… there is no modus operandi.'

She looked at him. 'What do you mean?'

'How can they see a modus operandi in this? It's pure chaos. Anarchy. There's no order, no law… nothing. It's nihilistic, it's…'

'Carnage.'

Carnage.

A word he had never thought of.

A word which fit his situation… his condition.

Hearing it from her shocked him. Sure, she didn't understand the principles of universal evil… but it was her job to investigate evil. She was a criminologist – someone who studied the unstoppable wheels and the roots of insanity, depravity, and wickedness. She was required to think like a killer in order to develop her theories. And even if she didn't understand that evil was all around, she knew what it was.

'The mind of the twisted, of the insane, see precise intentions in the way these blotches of paint are displayed,' she continued. 'Blood represents their will, so when they see such an image, criminals associate it with what they do. The rational mind cannot escape the imagery of blood that is suggested by the use of the red paint but, unlike the criminal mind, it channels the reception of this image into what it explicitly represents… carnage. The result of a large killing spree which has no motives, and by no means wants to send a message. Killing people just for the sake of hurting them, with no aim whatsoever.'

She paused, and smiled at him. 'Sorry about that. I have been wanting to use that painting for my studies on patients for so long now, but the faculty doesn't allow me to do that. I was just curious to show it to someone I didn't personally know… especially if that someone has theories like yours.'

'Oh, but I understand,' he said. 'I do understand. The rational mind sees carnage in the painting because the rational mind is evil.'

Serena bit her lower lip. 'You're starting to convince me of your theory, Adam. Which is quite bad, since I've just published a book which says otherwise. It seems so strange to me that an ordinary man would understand concepts which strictly pertain to the field of criminology, then again, you're not quite the ordinary type. No offence.'

'None taken.'

'It would be useful to have your opinion on my newest work though. I've been asked to write a chapter for the new edition of the New York Guide Of Criminology, and I've chosen murderous hedonism as the subject.'

Murderous hedonism. So there was a name for the infinite sense of pleasure that he got from killing people.

He smiled. 'Well, you seem pretty convinced about the points you want to make.'

'Oh, that doesn't preoccupy me. What keeps me up at night is whether I have chosen a good example to sustain my theory.'

'Which is?'

'Follow me,' she said, leading the way to her study. 'I'm sure you've heard of the Lady Killer.'

A large part of the wall was covered in newspaper articles. He recognized them all, because he had a similar collection in his own apartment – but he couldn't believe in what he saw. Every single article which had been written about the Lady Killer murders was there.

'Another Lady falls victim of the Killer'.

'Third prostitute found murdered in Queens: is the Lady Killer a new Jack the Ripper?'.

'NYPD and FBI to cooperate on the Lady Killer case: the Behavioural Analysis Unit is completing a profile of the monster.'

But what left him astonished, standing there in the middle of the room, with his eyes wide open, and his mouth twisted in a grimace no one would have been able to decipher – what left him astonished was something else.

Some of the articles didn't have anything to do with the Lady Killer – but they sure had everything to do with him. They had nothing to do with the twenty-one victims the Lady Killer had made in his killing spree – but they had everything to do with the victims he had made.

'17-year-old Leah Bentley found brutally murdered'.

'Two other teenagers are found dead in Brooklyn'.

'The Prom King strikes again: 16-year-old Melanie Robbs found slaughtered'.

'The Prom King disappears: police department organizes manhunt'.

The Prom King. He had forgotten about that name. The cops were so dumb that they hadn't thought for a second that The Prom King and the Lady Killer could be the same person… but Serena Lynn had.

And that wasn't the only connection she had made.

'Joanne Robinson, 17, disappears'.

'Searches continue for Joanne Robinson'.

'Robinson's prom date: I never saw her that night'.

'The body of 17-year-old Joanne Robinson is found buried behind the school gym: the police has no prime suspect'.

'Joanne Robinson was murdered on prom night, says coroner James Braddock'.

And she had investigated further than that.

'St. Estes Home for Boys burnt to the ground: only two survive'.

'Mysterious arsonist vanishes into thin air'.

'One boy is missing. Police searches continue.'

A great part of his life was on the wall of Serena Lynn's study, and for the first time, he realized that his victim was as interested in him as he was interested in her… she just didn't know yet. She had clearly spent quite a lot of time studying the Lady Killer case, comparing it to the Prom King murders, and finally connecting both to something that had happened a long time before any of the two started killing.

'The Lady Killer doesn't have a modus operandi,' she said, walking closer to the wall. 'He doesn't target a specific kind of person. And the Prom King was called with that name because he killed teenager girls, but it wasn't a ritual. He didn't seem to have a motive, he wasn't a sadist, and his murders show that he was improvising. He didn't plan the murders. He might have targeted the victims before he killed them, but he didn't plan how to kill them. He just wanted to do it.'

He made a few steps towards her; she wasn't looking at him anymore. Her eyes wandered all over the wall, from article to article, until she pressed her pointer finger on a particular piece of paper.

'It might be me, my curiosity, and a bit of fantasy maybe… but over the course of the last twenty-five years or so, there is actually a traceable pattern for the killer. The Prom King killed high school girls, probably because he was living near a high school… but about ten years before he started killing, four high school girls disappeared. The first one was Joanne Robinson. And in that same period, the St. Estes Home for Boys was burned down… even if I am not sure whether it has something to do with the murders, or not. And all of this happened in New York, and its surrounding areas. None of the killers was ever caught, and the arsonist who set the orphanage on fire just… disappeared.'

He stood right behind her, his body only mere inches from hers. Had he leaned forward, even if just a bit, he could have buried his face in her hair – smelled her scent. He reached for the knife in his pocket, as silently as he could.

'It's interesting,' he said. She was startled when she heard the sound of his voice so close to her ears; she had not heard him approaching at all. 'You clearly invested a lot of time in your investigation.'

'Yeah, I… probably more than I should've.'

'Even though… you're wrong.'

She shouldn't have invited him in her house. Then again, how was she supposed to know?

Serena turned around to face him, and before she could even notice, the blade of his knife had pierced her abdomen in a swift, firm move. At first, she was too shocked to scream, but when her eyes met his, and she understood, the scream came. He pressed the weight of his body against hers, trapping her against the wall, and covered her mouth with one hand while he pushed the knife deeper into her flesh with the other.

She tried to fight, but he was stronger, and the pain was too excruciating – every time she raised her arms to scratch his face, to push him away, the blade of the knife would delve deeper inside her. Blood started to stain her white blouse, and to trickle down onto the skin of her leg.

'There was one time – shhh.' He pushed her head against the wall as she let out a muffled cry; her tears started to wet his hand as he kept it pressed on her mouth. 'There was one time – I think I was eight, or even seven. I let the postman in, he had this huge package to deliver, and I couldn't carry it. Grandma was furious, she… she said I shouldn't let strangers in the house. She hit me.'

He laughed at her efforts to push him away, to kick his legs; he extracted the knife from the skin of her abdomen, only to plant it in her left leg, above the knee. The scream came out less muffled, and he shook his head.

'She was right, wasn't she?' He laughed again. 'She was the first I killed. And maybe that time I did have a motive, I hated her. Then I killed Allison Finch, but nobody thought it was more than an accident. Joanne Robinson… ah. I still remember how pretty she looked in her blue dress, with her long, dark hair… I promised her a night to remember, and that's what it was. A night to remember. Well, at least it was for me.'

When he pulled the knife out of her leg, she collapsed against him. It was funny how, even though she wasn't being able to stand on two feet, she was still trying to push him away, to keep his hands off her. But eventually, she would get tired of fighting. Her arms would get heavy, weary, as the blood kept running down her legs. She would surrender. And then she would die.

But not so fast.

He let her go, and watched her stumble on her feet and fall on the floor as she tried to… run? People got so stupid when they were in danger. They just didn't understand that once he had started, there was no way to escape him.

He was onto her before she could even try to stand up again. He forced her on the floor, pinning her arms against the rug and sitting on her waist, pressing her hips down.

'Now, I hate the clichéd monologue that villains give to heroes in movies, it's usually the time when the hero finds a way to escape and beat the villain… but we're in the real world. We're all villains. And you're not going anywhere. Besides…' He smirked, wiping the blood off the knife with the sleeve of her blouse. '… you're so interested in me that I might as well give you the full story before I go.'

He lifted the hem of her blouse and slid the blade of the knife underneath it, starting to rip the white fabric with it. One of her arms darted towards his hand, but he blocked it against the floor with his foot, pressing it hard against her forearm.

'Please,' she implored, tears still running down her beautiful cheeks as she looked at him, as she tried to make eye contact. 'Please, d… don't. I won't tell anyone, I swear, I won't tell anyone about…'

'Of course. You're just going to say that you were attacked by someone, but you didn't look at him. Please.' He shook his head. 'You know that's not going to convince me. I have no motives, I have no reasons to kill… I just want to.'

He kept cutting her shirt until the skin of her abdomen was exposed to his eyes. 'What you say is partly true, I have no specific aims or targets,' he murmured, licking his lips. 'But I can't deny that beautiful women attract my attention more than anyone else. I'm a man.' He smirked as he looked down at her. 'And you're the most beautiful woman I have ever seen.'

He had never taken high risks with his victims, and what she had said was true: she lived in a building with many other people, anyone could hear her screams. But this time, he just felt like he had to do things properly, like he should take his time and just… enjoy it.

'It is only logical then that most of my victims were beautiful women. What captures my attention is what deserves my attention. But I also like to experiment and… I've killed a couple of men. And you know, they were just pussies.' He shook his head in disgust. 'Jesus Christ, one of them pissed in his pants. He was fucking scared – men are just the worst. Worse than women, worse than children.'

He put the knife down, next to her leg. When his hands reached his belt and started to unbuckle it, panic filled the brown eyes of Serena Lynn – those wonderful, deep, brown eyes.

'Please, don't do this,' she whimpered. 'Please, don't rape me. Don't… don't rape me, please, don't…'

He chuckled, then burst out in a fit of hysterical laughter. 'Rape you? Oh come on, Serena, don't disappoint me. You said it yourself. I'm not a sadist. I don't do this for sexual pleasure. Had I felt in need of sexual satisfaction, I'd have fucked you before killing you. And seeing how interested in me you actually were, I'd have probably managed to do that with your consensus. Too bad I didn't think about it.'

He stood up, and grabbed her wrists, wrapping his belt around them in a tight knot and then tying them to the table leg. 'I just want to make sure you don't try to interfere, you'd ruin everything.'

He kneeled by her side, and took the knife back in his hand. 'Now, what was I saying… ah, yes. Worse than women, worse than children. Children, you might be wondering about this… children are the ideal victim. They just let you do it. Maybe it's because somehow, in their immature fantasies, they think someone's going to come in and rescue them.'

'Adam… Adam, please…' Serena tried to pull her arms out of the knot he had tied, but it was to tight to let her free herself. 'Don't do this, it's… wrong. I swear, I won't…'

'This is what gives you something to pay the bills with, Serena,' he said, rolling up the sleeves of his shirt. 'Well, gave. But what it gives me… is pleasure. And there's no way I'm giving that up.'

'Adam, Adam, please…'

He looked down at her, straight in those brown eyes, and smirked. 'My name isn't Adam, Serena. If you want to know my real name, maybe I should write it down for you,' he said, pressing the cold blade of the knife against her skin. 'You can scream now.'

She did. As the knife penetrated her flesh infinite times, with equal pain, she screamed at the top of her lungs, until there was no air left to breathe, until her eyelids got so heavy that they couldn't stay open, until there was too much blood to think she had hopes to survive.

He remained silent as he manoeuvred his knife onto her skin and inside her flesh, careless about the spurts of blood which would stain his clothes, his arm, even his face. He remained silent until he was finished, until her body gave no more reactions, until he could admire the result of his ultimate work.

The letters were carved across her abdomen – they would always be, even in the tomb.

CARNAGE.

He smirked.

Carnage.

x

Ryker's Island was so packed with criminals by the end of the summer, that the director had to rely on extraordinary measures with the new arrival. And those extraordinary measures were to put the new arrival in the same cell as Cletus.

Brock was big enough to defend himself; even if Cletus was taller than him, Brock could have smashed his head between his two hands if he had wanted to. But he just looked out of place at Ryker's, like he didn't belong. Which, compared to the crimes he had committed, was quite the hilarious thing to think about.

Eddie Brock had killed people. Not as many as Cletus had, but rumour had it that Brock had had help, in the form of a costume. Which turned him into a monster. Every time he looked at Brock, lying on his bed with his face turned towards the wall, Cletus almost choked on his own laughter.

He would ask him about the costume, but Brock never answered. He rarely spoke, and after Cletus had annoyed him again with the usual question, he had cut him off.

'Trust me, Kasady, you don't want to know.'

To which he had replied: 'I think it's a huge pile of stinking shit, Brock. Your lies are as big as you are.'

However, Cletus had had to change his opinion when he had seen the monster on the TV, at lunchtime. The guards were changing channels, and the recent news were about the capture of the infamous Venom.

And he thought he had seen everything after the Spider Man guy – that was still one of his favourites, though. A man who had chosen a spider as his symbol. A spider. A fucking insect that could be easily stomped on.

The world had started to go crazy since he had been shoved into the asshole of the universe.

The whole Venom thing had interested him, of course. He had started pestering Brock like he never had, obsessing over the fact that the big guy could've just used that fucking costume to get away and back into the world.

The world. Something that Cletus missed, with all its falsity and evil.

'Where's the costume, Brock?'

'Kasady, shut up.'

'Come on, you dickhead. You could do anything with that costume. You could break free. Hey, Brock, if you helped me, I'd be grateful, I swear.'

'It's called symbiote, Kasady, it's not a costume. And it's dangerous.'

'Well, I'm dangerous too.'

'Not as dangerous as the symbiote is.'

Cletus had never gotten many results out of his conversations with Brock about the symbiote. A black eye, a broken lip, a couple of smashed ribs. He even made a trip to the infirmary once, all thanks to Brock – tied up to a stretcher, of course.

However, just when Cletus had started to lose his hopes concerning the mysterious symbiote, that symbiote had showed up. On its own. Moving. By itself. Alive.

Brock's whispered murmurs had woken him up on one particular night. At first he had ignored them, thinking that his cellmate was just dreaming. When Brock had started to scream, however, he had turned around to watch.

It was black goo. A pool of black goo which was creeping up Brock's leg and expanding onto his waist, then onto the other leg, and then up again.

He looked outside the cell – if the guards were there, why wouldn't they see what was going on? Much to his pleasure, he found out that the guards were there, and that they were dead. He wasn't sure of how they had died, but there was blood all over them and their faces didn't look like faces anymore.

'Kasady. Kasady, get it off me, help me, help me!'

Brock's cries were hopeless and desperate, but he just continued to watch. 'Hell, no, Brock. You're going to get us out of here… I'm fucking going to get out, at last.'

'No. No, Kasady, you don't understand, no… no… NO!'

Brock did become a monster. He still had a humanoid body, but the black goo had adapted to him and made his face into something inhuman. He was bigger, and stronger – he pulled the cell bars towards himself (itself) and ripped the whole security door off its pivots.

'Brock?'

The thing turned around and looked at him, and for a moment, Cletus thought it might decide to kill him. Instead, it just looked away, uninterested.

'We're not Brock anymore.'

And then it just disappeared into the corridor, leaving him in the cell, on his bed. It took him five minutes before he realized that he was free to go – but just as he was about to lay his foot on the ground, he noticed that he wasn't alone.

It looked like a pool of blood, but more dense. It wasn't the same black goo that had glued to Brock's body though, he was sure of that – it had a red shade that Brock's symbiote didn't have. But it wasn't blood, because as soon as he put a foot on the ground, the thing started to move towards him.

'What the fuck…' he murmured to himself, withdrawing his foot and sitting on the bed. As he was backing towards the wall, his hand hit the metallic edge of the bed, causing a small cut to be opened on his palm.

'Shit!'

As if it had smelled the blood, the symbiote started moving faster towards the bed. It crawled near the bed frame and then wrapped itself around it, creeping up onto the mattress and onto his hand. He tried to shake it off, to take it off, but the substance was glued to his hand and kept enclosing his skin inside itself, soon covering the whole hand, the forearm, the arm.

Cletus Kasady had never cried for help, not even once. Had he found himself in danger, he would have worked out a way to get out of it by himself. He was independent, he did not need help, he did not need anything from anyone. But when the thing slid on his other hand and inside the bleeding cut on his palm, and the stinging pain became too much to bear, panic rose up to his throat and breached through his teeth, and he screamed.

By the time the guards got to the cell, it was too late.

Too late for Cletus.

And too late for them.

x

Serena Lynn could have been Cletus Kasady's thirty-fifth victim, but for some strange miracle, she had survived. Between her coma, the surgeries and medical cures, she had spent almost one year in New York General Hospital. Rehabilitation had taken another half year.

By the end of that time, she was like new. She had reprised her job at the university, bought a new apartment, and everybody who knew her well would say she had recovered from the terrible experience she had gone through.

But when she came back to her apartment at night, alone, and she took off her clothes before taking a hot shower, everything came back to her mind so vividly that she could hardly stand on her feet. The doctors had fixed everything that was wrong with her, saving her from the internal haemorrhage provoked by the stab which had penetrated her stomach, and preventing her to die from blood loss because of the wound on her leg… but there was nothing they had been able to do about the scars on her abdomen.

Sometimes, when she accidentally brushed her fingers against the marred skin, she felt an unpleasant, ice cold shiver run down her spine. She was taking sleeping pills, but sometimes they just wouldn't work and she would be lying in her bed, awake, with tears running down her face.

A reporter from the Daily Bugle had managed to somehow sneak into her hospital room while she was in a comatose state, and to take pictures. Luckily, the police had intercepted the pictures before they could get published, either on the internet or on paper.

But, even if no one had seen them apart from the doctors, the scars were there. And they would never disappear.

Sometimes, when she was alone, she just wished he had killed her.

Her psychiatrist had objected when she had first hinted at the idea of a new book. She had seen the uneasiness in her colleagues' eyes when she had explained what the subject would be. She had understood the eagerness in the faces of the reporters when she had released an interview about it.

About him.

When she had decided that yes, she would write the book, the department of Criminology at the Empire State University had given her the full permission to use all the sources she was in need of. And so she had gathered all the newspaper articles she had found, and the only one video recorded interview he had released.

Another year had gone before she could watch the videotape.

Five months had gone before she could listen to what he was saying without staring blankly at his face on the screen.

When she had started to write her book, four years had passed since the accident. She had been recovering for four years. He had been in prison for four years.

And even if Ryker's Island was a maximum security prison, and nobody had ever managed to escape it, she still felt followed when she went home alone, at night, in the dark. Because if something happened, if, somehow, he managed to escape… he would come for her first. She knew it.

That night she had come home earlier than usual. She hadn't spent much time in her office, deciding to go home and do some work instead – she was almost halfway through the book, and she still had many sources to analyse before she could continue.

As soon as she stepped into her apartment, however, he shoe treaded on something that wasn't supposed to be there. It looked like a large pool of blood, but it stuck to her shoe like glue… it was some kind of dense, red ooze.

She raised her foot, wiping it on the doormat, and hurried to the kitchen to get a mop and clean that mess. Whoever had entered her house and put it in there… it wasn't funny. It just wasn't.

To her great surprise, when she came back to the entrance, the viscous substance was not there anymore. Did she dream it?

She didn't waste much of her time wondering what had happened, and why. It wasn't the first time she saw things; a part of her mind had never recovered from the shock of her near-death experience.

She sat in front of her computer, but all she could do was stare at the screen, with no words coming out of her mind. As she poured herself a glass of water, she was startled by a buzzing sound which came from the living room, causing her to spill the liquid over the desk.

The TV had just been switched on.

Slowly, and reluctantly, she walked towards the direction of the voice. From what she could hear above the insistent, loud pounding of her heartbeats, it was the news channel.

'No survivors in the terrible massacre that occurred early in the morning in the high security prison of Ryker's Island; first sources attribute the mass murder to the infamous criminal known as Venom, but as the first agents arrive on the crime scene, it appears that it's not him the police should look for.'

As she stepped into the room, her eyes were captured by the images that were being shown on the TV. A red band with white letters read, 'images not suitable for children and teens under the age of eighteen will be projected in later news programmes'. But she didn't care about those images – she could do without them. All she saw was enough on its own to make her understand.

'The murderer wrote Carnage rules on every wall of the prison, using the blood of his victims,' NYPD Captain Stacy was saying, 'The initiative was definitely that of Cletus Kasady, known for the Prom King and Lady Killer murders; as for what he did, it's impossible that a single human being could kill the entire group of inmates and staff members of Ryker's Island. He surely had help – maybe it was Brock himself who helped him.'

Carnage rules.

Her hands reached her abdomen, pressing on the fabric of her shirt until she could feel the scars on her fingertips.

'That is the best work I have ever done.'

The voice came from the threshold, but when she looked at it, no one was there. Her heart started pounding even more furiously, menacing to break through her bones and explode; her breath was heavier, forcing her to gasp for air.

It was different, echoing, metallic even – but it was his voice. Every word he said sounded like nails on a chalkboard, but the voice was unmistakable.

'You…' She swallowed the fear that had formed a lump in her throat. 'You came back.'

'Of course I did. I couldn't leave you here after I branded you,' he said, bursting in a fit of laughter. Then he stopped, and silence dawned on the room again, except for the voice of the TV news reporter. 'You're writing a book about me.'

'That was the only way I had to rationalize what happened,' she murmured.

'Yeah, you're good. Most people would've gone mad… but I didn't expect you to go mad. You'd be such a huge disappointment.' He laughed again. 'But Serena, you should know this… you don't need to write a book about me. Because when the time comes – and it will be soon – people won't need to read about me. It's not a matter of who I am anymore… but of what I have become.'

Screaming would not be of any use, so she saved herself the trouble. She had survived the murderous fury of Cletus Kasady once, but she couldn't escape this. Her limbs froze in shock as she stayed still where she was, looking at the thing which had appeared at her threshold – something inhuman. Something she couldn't rationalize. Something evil. And yet as her eyes stared at it, tears running down along her face, she knew what it was.

Carnage.


Author's notes. I am not sure of where I was going with this, and to be honest, it probably will disappoint many of the Spider Man fans out there, because it's really not, um, Marvel-style. If I change the names and places, I can probably use this as a piece to submit for my Creative Writing classes - after some good work of polishing and editing. Anyway - all I know is that it took me five days of hard work and no sleep before I could actually finish this. If anyone disagrees with my version of the story and the changes to the original Carnage back story - my apologies. All I wanted to do was to give a more realistic insight on the insane mind of Cletus Kasady before his transformation into an even more insane monster. Also: apologies for any typos and/or grammar mistakes. I double-checked like, a thousand times, but those are sneaky little bastards.

I have had quite a few influences in writing this, and some stuff that has helped me maintain the creativity at a steady flow. In no particular order: the Red Dragon soundtrack by Danny Elfman, great actor Michael Fassbender, and all the websites and books I have consulted in order to get into the shoes of a serial murderer.

On a final note, I want to thank my friend Hayden for the waterfall of compliments and great feedback on this story. Without her, the story wouldn't be here. I dedicate this to her - even though I am not completely sure that having a serial killer story dedicated to you is as flattering as I might think. But regardless of that: this goes to you, my friend; for all the endless support, feedback, and the cookies. You know of what kind.