As he washed his blood from her shirt, he continued to mutter “never answering the want ads again.” It wasn’t that it was the worst job he ever had. But it was far from the greatest.
It started out innocent, until she brought out her “toys.” Those were her words. She had a penchant for pain and lots of money to pay him for taking it. He might not have felt so bad about it if it was just a kinky sex thing, but this was borderline crazy.
The last time, she tied him up, naked as the day he was born. She peeled back the layers of skin on his left foot. The pain was excruciating, but he refused to cry. For the money she was paying him, he would damn well take it.
After the left foot she moved to the right foot. It was still healing from the last time. So for this one she started with salt. The shards of pain shot up his leg, stabbing deep into his brain. As if that wasn’t enough, she turned to lemon juice. He blacked out as soon as the first drop touched his big toe.
The off days she would allow him to do the laundry and other light cleaning. She took extra delight as he hobbled around the house on his bandaged feet.
At times, he would remember the job market outside of her home. At least he was getting paid for this. Though, he often wondered how long before she tired of him. She hadn’t mentioned what happened to her last assistant. The possibilities seemed a bit less humane than keeping the status quo.
He had been thinking back to the day she hired him. It was late September. Indian summer was beginning to fade, the air turning a bit cooler. She had worn a black satin dress with conservative pumps, gloves and a wide brimmed hat. She never took her sunglasses off.
At the time he found it a bit disconcerting. Even now he still had not seen her eyes. A little shifty, sure, but she never missed a payment. She even gave him a great Christmas bonus. Though he did lose his pinky on Christmas Day. Slip of some equipment. It was an accident really.
She had been acting funny over the past week. Before the sessions they would walk the grounds, stopping near the pond in the center of the garden maze. This happened everyday around noon.
They didn’t talk. She wasn’t paying him for conversation. He would roll a joint, a special blend she had flown in. Everyday for the past week they would sit on a bench beside the pond, smoking the joint and watching the clouds float by.
Every night she would find a new torture. Over the entire week she never peeled skin away. This week it was thumbscrews, and then water torture. He missed the days of the peeling skin.
It was Thursday. Their walks hadn’t changed. He was rolling the joint, ensuring it was the way she liked it. “Frank?” she asked.
He wasn’t sure if he should answer. They spent so much time in silence it felt strange to break the mood. “Yes?” he answered. He felt it should have been something more profound but he didn’t have profound in him at that moment.
She lit the joint and inhaled deeply, then passed it back to him. She had taken her glasses off, looking into his eyes as she held the joint out to him. He took it even as his skin pimpled in gooseflesh.
Her eyes were white. The pupils and irises looked bleached. There was a dead quality to the stare coming from those blank, empty eyes. He took a long drag on the joint, holding it in.
“What keeps you here?” She did not turn away. Another long drag of the joint, she held it in, waiting for his answer.
“It’s all I have.” They finished and went back to the house. She did not approach him again over the next two days. They did not have their time at the pond.
On the morning of the third day he found a briefcase on the bedside table of his room. Inside he found banded stacks of 100 dollar bills, crisp and new. There was also a folded sheet of paper with a hand drawn map on it.
He knew right away that the map led to the pond in the garden. He dressed and ran down the stairs to the back door. The sun was already rising, the heat of the day rising with it.
He didn’t stop. He was in a dead run to the garden maze. He found her sitting on the bench beside the pond. The knife, that special knife, she had cut him so deeply with, lay at her feet. It was covered with the pooling blood that drained from her wrists.
The dress, gossamer and white, had been her mother’s. It bothered her a little that she saw her mother when she looked in the mirror. Beautiful and full of life until the end, her reflection brought up too many memories, too much pain of the time before her end. Sarina loved her mother, but she missed her terribly. There was no justice in the world to take her so soon. She wasn’t done with her yet. They still had so much to talk about.
She turned away from the mirror and picked up the dress. With any luck this would be the dress she passed on to her daughter as well, a legacy from the old family. She slid into the dress and fastened the buttons as best she could. The top buttons were out of her reach and required a second set of hands. Lucy could get it when she let her back into the room.
She choose to wear her hair down, like her mother. And there would be no veil. Terrence would see her uncovered and whole when she joined him. This wasn’t a part of the traditions, but it suited her. She wanted the joining to be as much her as it was the traditions of her family.
She picked up the gloves from the bed, the last part of her dress. Long and white, a matched set to the dress, but the material was different, soft doe skin leather. Her grandmother had tanned the hide from her grandfather’s first joined kill. He provided their first feast and the materials to clothe them in the joining. Today, Terrence would hunt the first kill of their joining, another tradition.
Sarina turned and twisted in the mirror, an effort to see how the dress looked from every angle. So much like her mother, it hadn’t been altered and still fit her perfectly.
“You’re beautiful,” Lucy said. She stood in the doorway, the door knob still in her hand.
“You were supposed to wait,” Sarina said. “I wasn’t ready.” She crossed her arms. The leather scratched and chafed her skin so she let them fall to her sides. She motioned for Lucy to come into the room.
Lucy’s face filled with her smile. “Mother lives through you,” she said. The smile fell away when it was confronted by Sarina’s frown. “Sorry, it’s the dress. You look so much like her right now.”
Sarina turned back to the mirror. “Can you button the last few? I can’t reach them.”
Lucy brushed Sarina’s hair over her shoulder then fiddled with the buttons. “I still can’t believe that this dress has survived for so long,” she said. “You honor mother’s memory today.”
“Mother should be here with us,” Sarina said. “I still can’t believe she’s gone.”
Lucy pressed her sister’s shoulders and spun Sarina to face her. “You lead the family now. Mother wasn’t your fault,” Lucy said. “Quit taking credit for the problems of the world.”
“I loved her,” Sarina said. Tears filled her eyes and spilled over to her cheeks.
“Be strong. It is all she has ever asked of you.” Lucy pulled her close and crushed her body in a tight grip. “I will always be here for you.”
“Don’t be stupid,” Sarina said. “You will have your own joining at some point. It is our way.”
“But we will always be sisters.” Lucy stared at their reflections in the mirror, noted but said nothing of the differences in their faces. She had gotten her fathers features, sharp, precise. Sarina looked so much more like their mother with her father’s nose. The differences were pronounced when they stood together, only their raven black hair of their mother displayed their shared heritage.
Sarina smiled at her sister’s reflection. “Go,” she said. “Check on the arrivals. I will be ready and be with you soon.”
Lucy squeezed her sister’s shoulder then moved to the doorway. “Be strong,” she said, then stepped out into the hall. The door closed behind her with a soft click.
Sarina scanned her reflection one last time and took a deep breath. “You never told me that the joining would be so difficult, mother.” She glanced at the picture of her mother she kept beside the bed. “What was it like for you, at your first joining? Were you frightened? Did your mother prepare you?”
She knew the answer to that last question already. Her grandmother passed before her mother’s joining. Another tradition, another part of the life and heritage she wished she wouldn’t have to pass on to her own daughters. But it didn’t matter, the cycle repeats. One day her own child will stand before a similar mirror and question the future laid before her. She might even curse her mother that day, curse her and miss her for not being there on the day of her joining.
Sarina stopped at the hall door. She scanned the room one last time before she opened the door. “I will return,” she said. The room didn’t acknowledge her. The dust settled around her and the room as if she didn’t matter to the life that would go on when she was gone.
Music carried from the first floor, to meet her at the top of the stairs. As if on cue, the orchestra changed songs to announce her entrance into the hall. The collective gaze of the guests on the floor below turned to watch her entrance into their midst. The majority of the guests were inside the main hall. Those at the bottom of the stairs were old family and friends, close ties from her old life.
Lucy met her before the doors to the main hall. “Terrence hasn’t arrived yet,” she said. “I think he wants to make an entrance.”
“What should I do?”
“He will be here,” Lucy said. “He knows the traditions. Go. Enter the hall.”
Sarina bit her lip with a silent snarl, then followed the open path to the main hall doors. The music changed again, an announcement that she was about to enter. A sudden scrape and scuffle assaulted her ears from beyond the doorway as the guests in the hall stood at once. She bolstered her courage with a sigh and stepped into the hall.
As the tradition she walked the aisle to the join the waiting officiate at the front of the hall. She made it to halfway when a ruckus broke over the sound of the orchestra. Voices and shouts disrupted the proceedings. Terrence rushed into the hall from a side door. A small group of men followed in his wake.
He was dressed in a grew striped tuxedo with a velvet grey top hat. The suit was the tradition, the dress his father wore before him and his grandfather before his father. The tradition was completed with the bound girl over his shoulder.
Unlike the pomp and fancy dress that the guests and the bride and groom wore, this girl was close to naked. She wore a black nightie and gold cord bound her ankles and her wrists. If she had been sleeping, it didn’t matter now. She screamed and squirmed on Terrence’s shoulder but he held her fast. He marched at a hurried pace to the front of the hall, to join the officiate.
Once at the front of the hall he dropped the girl in front of him and placed a foot on her chest to keep her pinned down. She fought, squirmed, wiggled, begged, but could not break free. The guests ignored her and Terrence turned his attention to Sarina as she joined him.
Terrence took Sarina’s hand in his and looked into her eyes. “I have brought you sacrifice,” he said. The words of tradition, her moments of fear and dread slipped away as they stepped into the rites of their world.
“I accept your tribute,” she said.
Terrence pulled the girl from the floor and wrapped an arm tight across her upper body. He then gripped her chin and turned her head to the side to expose her neck. “Feast.”
Sarina’s fears and misgivings slipped away as she leaned into the waiting neck. She kissed it at first, soft and slow. When she caught the scent of meat from the offering, she licked her lips and then bit deep into the girls neck.
The Silky Edge of the Night
The black sedan cut its lights then pulled to a stop behind a copse of pine trees. In the cover of darkness he sought stealth over speed. Paid for his discretion and methods he didn’t like to leave an easy trail.
Barry grabbed his tools from the backseat and strapped the belt to his waist and then hooked up the harness. He released the magazine for his .45 for a quick inventory then snapped it back into place. He hated to carry it, only did for emergencies. Way he saw it, if he had to use it he failed to perform at his best.
Professionalism and discretion, hallmarks of the profession that garnered some steep fees for his efforts. Only once, one time, he screwed up, pulled his gun on a job. He finished it of course, but returned most of the fee for the job. Didn’t meet his standards, that’s what he told the client.
A quick jog through the woods to arrive at the outer edge of the trailer park. Barry chuckled at the thought, who hides in a trailer park? It’s where dreams go to die. But then, no one thinks to look for you there either.
In the end, hiding, life style choice, Barry didn’t care. He didn’t spend time questioning the merits of the job. Moral dilemmas got in the way of a clean shot. Worst thing a morality question could do on a job is cause him to hesitate. Hesitation in a kill or be killed world resulted in the latter.
The park was laid out in a figure eight pattern. A main road circled the park with a center road bisecting it. Trailers were on each side of the road, mostly double wides. The park owners invested in fancy street lights to give the place some old world charm. Haunting, soft light emanated from the lamps, like old world gas lamps.
The trailer he needed lay just beyond the edge of the woods. He scouted the location over the past few days to ensure access and then egress from the location. In order to insure as little fuss as possible he planned out every step of a job.
A quick look at his watch, told him he had a few minutes till midnight. Mr. Body habitually went to bed at a quarter to midnight. Barry wanted to give him a few more minutes. With good timing he could break into the trailer without waking his target.
“What ya doin’ runnin around in the dark Mr.?” He jumped into the air, when a girl stepped around the shed behind him.
He leaned against the shed as his heart hammered against his chest. “Don’t… sneak… up… on… people like that,” he said as he caught his breath again. “You could get hurt.”
The girl, young, her hair in pigtails, looked him up and down. “You probably shouldn’t be sneaking around like this,” she said. “Some of the people around here will call the cops at the drop of a hat.”
“I’m not sneaking around,” he said. “I was hoping to surprise a friend of mine. We haven’t seen each other in a few years.”
“You friends with Mr. Smith? My dad don’t like him. Says, my dad says, that he is a crazy hermit.” She lowered her voice. “I think he is hiding from the cops or something. I don’t even think Smith is his name.”
“Maybe you should head on home,” he said. “Isn’t your mom worried about you wandering off like this?”
“Oh my mom don’t care. She’s at work right now anyway.”
“Then who is taking care of you?”
“I take care of myself. Learned that a long time ago,” she said. “Only person you can ever count on is yo’self anyway.”
Cynical, so cynical, she couldn’t be more than ten or so, he thought. He couldn’t remember ever being that young but he wasn’t that bad back then, maybe. The memories hit him, a flash through his brain, unexpected, quick.
His father had come home, drunk again. “Wake up boy,” he said. “I said get up.”
Barry rolled over to find his father standing over him. He held a bottle in one hand and a back pack in the other. “Wha’?” he asked as he wiped the sleep from his eyes.
“Get yer shit and get out…”
He blinked, looked around. The trailer park came back into focus. The memories, they weren’t his. Where was the girl, he asked himself. He picked himself up from the ground and moved to cover behind the trailer. A quick scan told him he was alone again. “What the hell just happened,” he said into the night. He wiped the sleep from his eyes and forced himself to focus on his target again.
Voices floated through the night air from inside the trailer. The words unintelligible but he could make out at least two voices inside the trailer. The side door, no light above it, he could slip through unseen and still dispatch the target inside.
But the girl, he would still need to find her. She saw his face, knew he was there to see “Mr. Smith.” A soft breeze blew through the alley between trailers, no other movement suggested life around to worry about. She said her mother wasn’t home. He would take care of her next. Wasn’t his style to kill a child but sometimes the job needed him to step outside his comfort zone.
Barry slipped through the night to the side door and tested the latch. Unlocked, no barrier stood in his way.
“Aren’t you going to knock?” The voice, the girl again, behind him.
He turned to see her at the base of the stairs. “I told you I wanted to surprise him.” He kept his voice low.
“Now you’re just bein’ silly,” she said.
Her voice, in conversational tone boomed in his ears. A wave of nausea hit him, vertigo brought him to his knees. The memory crashed on the shores of his psyche. His girlfriend had left him at the beach.
Gulls called and jeered at him as he watched out into the waves, tears bled down his cheeks. She not only wanted to see other men, she was sleeping with his brother. Her words a knife driven through his heart. The dagger of confession twisted and turned to the sound of crashing waves.
The memory again not his own. He fought to stand, pulled at the hand rail to the steps to lift himself from the ground. Though he fell to the ground he didn’t feel broken or bruised, but the wind sent chills through his body as it dried the sweat.
A metallic, copper taste filled his mouth, his nose was plugged with the smell of it. Barry wiped away the sweat from his chin and neck and found his hand red with more than just his sweat. Trails of blood and sweat dribbled from the corners of his eyes and his ears.
The girl, gone again. He sat on the bottom step to catch his breath. They knew he was here, knew his intentions. The girl did it. Did she hunt him? The hunter now the hunted, when the prey changed the game without warning?
He pulled out his .45. Shoot her when she came back, a simple plan. He lost the element of surprise when she made her first attack. This had nothing to do with money anymore. The girl hurt him, attacked him when he was unprepared. Not this time. Barry chambered a round.
His body swayed with the wind as he stood. Vertigo held him in a loose grip but he fought it off. He looked up and down the alley between trailers but didn’t see the girl, so he walked back to where he first saw her.
“You can’t hide forever,” he said. At the edge of the woods his vertigo stopped. His sour stomach returned to normal. The dim light in the trailer park remained calm, steady. He could see no movement in the darkness surrounding the trailer. “This is crazy,” he said. “I’ll finish the damn job but their paying double for this one. I don’t care how messy it becomes.” He jogged back to the trailer, eyes open for movement.
No sign of the girl’s return, he slunk back to the side door for the trailer. The door still unlocked, no barrier to his entering the trailer. Now or never, he turned the knob and pushed the door open.
A light came down the hall from the front of the trailer but darkness met him from the master bedroom at the back end of the trailer. Barry switched his .45 to his left hand and drew his K-bar with his right hand. The job might be messy but there was still a chance he could do it quiet.
He heard the drone of a television come from the front of the trailer as he turned toward the master bedroom. No turning back, he thought as he moved with the shadows into the back room.
The target lay on the bed, unmoving but for the steady rhythm of his breathing. A quick cut with the K-bar on the sleeping form and he could slip back out again with no one the wiser.
“Took you long enough.” She stepped from the closet further in the room. The smile, her smile, sent chills down his spine.
“Who are you?” he asked. The .45, he could raise it and fire in a blink, but he had to know.
“Just a girl,” she said. “Isn’t that obvious?”
Knuckles white on the grip of his gun, shoot her, shoot her, his internal voice screamed at him. He fought to raise his hand, to pull the trigger. His arm remained unresponsive.
She stepped closer to him, stepped closer without moving. So close, so very close, he could hear the gasping breaths that came from her lungs.
Chills wracked across his body as his flesh dimpled and puckered. “What are you?” he whispered.
She stretched out her arms and placed her hands on his temples. “I am the night,” she said.
Vertigo consumed him as he fell to the ground.
Jon Jefferson writes Speculative fiction with forays into Noir and Bizarro. His stories have appeared in the 2013 Indies Unlimited Flash Fiction Anthology, and on the Weird Tales Magazine web site. His work can also be found on Amazon and Smashwords. Flash fiction stories can be found at his site Misadventures in Strange Places and his anthologies, short stories, and novellas can be found at his Amazon Author page.
A longtime fan of Science Fiction and Fantasy stories in all their forms, he has spent most of his life looking for magic in the everyday moments of life. He hails from the tundra of Southwest Michigan. The monsters in his life include his wife, two daughters and grand babies.
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