One Good Turn
A Story by Robert J. Duperre
For Dorian Prior, the anticipation was paramount. The rush he felt while standing in the open air, the breeze rushing past his ears, the scent of smoldering wood filling his nostrils, his fingers clenching and unclenching in his pockets. His heart beat incessantly, pounding against his chest like a caged beast.
Yes, the anticipation ruled over all else.
He hid in the shadows behind a line of low-standing shrubs, staring at the house, waiting as the lights brightening each window went out, one by one. He pressed the button on the side of his watch, illuminating its face, and checked the time. Eleven seventeen. In nine minutes, all would be dark save the glow of the television from the picture window in the front of the house. Thirty-five minutes after that and it would officially be Christmas Day. The second phase was about to begin.
This moment had been eleven months in the making. Eleven months since Dorian fled Elk City, Oklahoma, after spending a month locked away in his hotel room, scouring the news channels, watching the public outcry against his Purge. The Purge was what he lived for. For the last twenty years he crisscrossed the country, searching for acceptable subjects for his annual cleanse. From California to Massachusetts to Washington to Georgia, each Christmas morning he offered one lucky family the chance to see innocence in a new light. Now it was Mercy Hills, Connecticut who would receive his gift, the residents of 87 Sumner Avenue to be specific.
The first time he Purged, he’d been twenty-two years old. He’d grown up in Brownington, Vermont, a land of dirt roads, farms, and giant lakes. While most of the townsfolk lived in run-down trailers—which clashed with the expensive cars parked in their gravel driveways—his parents owned a large white farmhouse, set up on a hill with a clear view of Mount Pisca out the northern windows. He hated his home because other people hated him for living in it—his father had made a fortune granting high interest, sure-to-be-defaulted loans to poor farmers, and even more from confiscating their lands after they failed to pay their debts and selling it to real-estate developers. In Brownington and neighboring towns, the Priors were hated, considered worse than parasites, though neither his mother nor father seemed bothered by that while they looked down on the common folk from their castle on the hill.
Dorian was a neglected child. His mother was distant, spending her life fastened to the couch in the living room, staring at the blaring television with empty eyes, while tranquilizers infested her bloodstream. No matter how much Dorian tried to connect with her, the most he received was a shrug in reply.
His father, on the other hand, paid a little too much attention to him. Most of that attention came from cracks of his belt as he lashed his young son for the slightest of misdeeds. As Dorian came to learn, Beauregard Prior had never wanted a boy. It was young girls that captured his fancy, who lured him in with their large eyes, their rosebud lips, the promise of their coming womanhood.
Dorian was eight when he first saw his father with one of them. It was Christmas morning, presents were stacked beneath the tree, his mother was passed out in bed, and he found his father in the basement, dressed in a bright red Santa suit, groveling at the feet of a naked schoolgirl two years Dorian’s senior. She had blonde hair tied into twin braids, and her hairless flesh glimmered in the faint basement light. He recognized her as Fabian Rogers, one of the stars of the youth softball team his father coached. She’d been staying in their spare room on the ground floor as a favor to her mother, a single parent, who worked the overnight shift at the hospital in Newport. Dorian watched as Fabian skittered to the side, covering herself, taunting his father with her tear-filled eyes, her quivering lips, her little girl scents. He watched his father take her, heard her screaming, listened to Beauregard tell her afterward that he would evict her mother and put them on the street if she ever told.
In that moment Dorian understood the grand lie; the secret, dark flower every young girl hid under the disguise of their innocence.
Yet he knew it wasn’t their fault. They’d simply been born that way, much as he’d been born with the ability to see through the lie to the monster lurking beneath. They needed help. They needed their innocence restored. They needed to be purged.
When his parents died in a car accident when Dorian was twenty, he inherited everything. He hired a childhood acquaintance, Jason Betts, to watch the estate, and funded his travels with his substantial trust fund. Then he traveled to nearby Lowell, where he knew Fabian lived, now twenty-something, with a young daughter of her own.
On Christmas Eve of that year, the very first Purge took place.
The wind howled, bringing him back to the present. He checked his watch again. Two minutes to midnight. The sound of the television inside the house lowered. Almost time.
He’d been watching the residence of Paul and Margaret Baker since February. It was unusual for him to pursue a married couple, but fate had been kind to him this time around. Just like all recipients of the Purge, they worked the graveyard shift at a hospital—the emergency room to be specific. Five days a week, they left their house at 9:25 in the evening and returned at 10:45 in the morning, rushing into the house, covering their eyes from the day’s brightness, appearing beaten and tired. Emergency room employees were Dorian’s preferred targets, as tragedy never took a holiday, which meant their schedules would never change.
Paul and Margaret had two daughters—sixteen-year-old Grace and seven-year-old Bethany. Grace was the built-in babysitter, watching her sister while her parents were at work. Dorian felt blessed; if he had traveled to this town only a few years earlier, it was possible either one of the parents wouldn’t be working. That or he’d have to deal with a childcare professional, which meant he most likely would’ve had to find a less ideal recipient of his gift than the adorable and deceitful Bethany Baker.
Two minutes ticked by, and Dorian crept from his hiding spot. He tiptoed over the frost-covered lawn, tracing a line around the side of the house. He slung his bag over his shoulder, noticing its emptiness, and approached the window on the side of the garage. He knew the lock on that window had been broken—he’d done so himself three days earlier, while the family was out shopping—and he also knew the door inside that garage was kept unlocked. Reaching up with his hands, swathed in white cotton gloves, he pushed the window open, stepped up on the stool he’d brought, and slithered through the opening.
The heavy suit he wore always made climbing through windows harder than it needed to be, but the effect his outfit had on the children outweighed the negatives.
His booted feet landed on concrete with a soft thud. He reached behind him, slid the window closed, and snuck through the garage, moving cautiously, not wanting to bump into a stray tricycle or knock over a stack of empty cans.
The door to the inside creaked slightly as he pushed it open. He paused, listening for signs of movement, but heard only the muffled backbeat of music. Closing the door, he advanced down the hall, heading for the living room, which was surrounded by the azure glow of the television set. His foot discovered a loose board, and it groaned. He paused once more, heard nothing, and kept on his way.
In the living room he discovered Grace, eyes closed, slouching on the couch, remote control dangling from her limp hand. The television opposite her, nestled into an old, beat-up entertainment center, flashed images of long-haired, tattooed men screaming. The oddly quiet sound of crunching guitars drifted across the open space, assaulting his ears with its stifled aggression.
Dorian skulked around the couch, making sure to keep his feet on the area rug instead of the hardwood floor, and crouched down in front of the sleeping girl. With one hand he removed the serrated blade from his thick black belt; with the other, he covered the girl’s mouth. Her eyes snapped open and she stared at him, bleary and confused, as if she thought she was still in the grips of a dream.
Dorian straightened up, threw one leg over the girl, and dragged the blade across the smooth flesh of her neck. The skin parted and blood poured out, spraying a little, glazing his red coat in an even darker shade. His knees pinned down her arms as her eyes widened. She thrashed, the strength of her movements remarkably vital, almost throwing him off her. He kept his hand over her mouth the whole time, smothering her cries, even after her body fell still. Then he climbed off the corpse, took a rag from his sack, and wiped the blood from his blade.
It had been too late for Grace. She was too old for the Purge, and he refused to soil little Bethany with the blood of the tainted.
He stepped away from the body, letting it bleed out on the throw rug. On the way out of the room he walked with less care. There was no one left to avoid, after all, not with older sister dead. He passed the family Christmas tree, a cheap store-purchased fake, and stared at it, feeling a moment of sadness. It was all lit up with white lights, but no ornaments hung from its aluminum branches, no tinsel rested on the green vinyl needles. Perhaps they were waiting for the next afternoon to decorate it.
No matter. Too late now.
Up the stairs he went, listening to the swooshing of his thick pants with each swing of his legs. At the top he veered to the left, down a hallway lit by a single nightlight. He gazed at the walls as he passed, looking for the telltale family portraits, pictures that showed Grace and Bethany on their march through time, but there were none to be seen. Shrugging, he stopped at a door festooned with a child’s drawings. One of the sketches seemed to show a happy unicorn feeding a carrot to an impoverished teddy bear; another presented a school of fish circling a chest of gold. He pushed open the door.
Moonlight streamed in through gaps in the curtains, casting the bed in the center of the room in an eerie cobalt radiance. Little Bethany sat up in bed, very much awake, dark hair dandling in front of her face, holding the blankets to her chest. Her eyes were wide, twinkling in the moonlight. Dorian strode into the room and slung the empty sack from over his shoulder. He smiled, and the fake beard itched against his cheek, making him twitch.
“Santa Claus?” said Bethany.
“Yes, dear,” replied Dorian. “It is me.”
The little girl visibly relaxed. “You bring presents?”
His tools jangled in his pockets. “I have. Many presents.”
“Can I see them?”
“Have you been a good little girl?”
“Are you sure?”
Dorian shook his head. “I am not so sure of that, Bethany Baker.”
He sauntered along the side of the bed and sat down on the edge. Bethany retreated the tiniest bit, but not as much as a little girl should when a stranger entered their room. Dorian silently praised himself for the idea of donning the Santa suit. That decision had come about almost twenty years ago, and it was the smartest one he’d ever made.
His hand drifted to Bethany’s knee. Once more she recoiled, but again the curiosity showing in her eyes won out. She actually inched closer to him, and allowed her tiny fingers to touch the soft fabric of his gloves. Her mouth dropped into a frown.
“Santa, your suit’s wet.”
Dorian nodded. “That happens.”
“Did you see my sister?”
“Was she good?”
“Did you give her a present anyway?”
Her eyes drifted to his empty sack. “Was it the last one?”
“Not at all, my child,” he replied. “Not at all.”
With his free hand, Dorian shoved the little girl flat on the bed. A puff of surprised air escaped her rosebud lips, and she grabbed hold of his wrist, trying to free herself. Just like her sister, she seemed strong for her age, but Dorian was a large man. He held her down easily, and then climbed on top of her. She whimpered and cried. He took his spool of gaffer tape from his pocket, ripped off a piece, and fastened it over her mouth. With another piece he bound her thrashing wrists together over her head. He wrapped a third around her ankles.
Bethany flogged about on the bed like a snake on hot concrete. Dorian leaned over her, staring into those wide, panicky eyes. They seemed so shocked, so betrayed. He almost felt sorry for her.
He sat beside her until she calmed down, though her chest continued to rise and fall like a revving engine. When she stilled he lifted her nightshirt, festooned with images of dancing princesses, and traced his fingertips around her bellybutton. Her flesh was smooth and warm.
“You have been a bad girl, Bethany,” said Dorian. “Do you know why?”
Her head shook violently from side to side.
“You have evil inside you, princess. Just like all little girls. You taunt men with your virtue, place dirty images in their heads. You turn men into monsters, because you are a monster yourself. But all is not lost. I can save you. I can purge the demon from your flesh. I can make you good.”
He took out the knife and pressed it gently against her breastbone. The cutting edge drew blood, and the girl was thrown into another lashing spasm. Dragging the knife downward, he opened a tiny mouth in her flesh. With every breath, with every thrash, the mouth opened, spitting her life’s fluids. It dribbled over her ribs, pooling on the flannel sheets.
“Quiet now,” Dorian whispered. “It hurts more if you fight it.”
He went to work, cutting off her clothes and opening tiny mouths all over her body, allowing them to air out the darkness within. Unlike most of his subjects, Bethany’s struggles increased. She became harder to hold still. Her muffled screams pierced his eardrums. I must have hit the mother lode, he thought, and couldn’t help but smile.
He labored for more than an hour, until his beard, suit, and the entire surface of the bed was soaked with the child’s blood. She finally stopped fighting. Her eyes stared blankly at the ceiling, blinking only occasionally. Satisfied, Dorian opened his bag. From it he removed a small, steel bone-saw. He needed it to cut through her ribcage and access the organs beneath.
“The hard part is over,” he whispered into her ear. Bethany’s sweat-coated hair smelled salty and sour, making him sneeze.
He placed the saw on the bed beside her, lifted his knife, and drove it into her stomach. It punched through her skin, and he slowly moved it upward, opening a much bigger mouth to match the tiny ones covering her. Her back arched and a pitiful moan echoed in her throat. Her intestines glistened in the moonlight, writhing as she did, like a pile of worms. More blood poured out as he worked. He always misjudged how much of it the human body held. He picked up the saw and got ready to cut in, to fill his sack with the source of little Bethany’s evil.
Light suddenly filled his world. It emanated from behind him. In a moment of confusion he paused and dropped the saw. Fingers of cold steel wrapped around his shoulders before he could turn around, yanking him off the bed. He careened through the air and smacked into the wall. His head bounced off the plaster, cracking it. Blood—Bethany’s blood—leapt from his clothes in a mist upon impact. Stars danced in his vision while the urge to vomit rose in his gut.
He craned his neck. Two figures stood above him, staring down with hatred in their eyes. Off to the side, standing in the doorway, was yet another, albeit smaller profile.
Dorian’s eyes widened as his vision came into focus. It was Grace who stood in the doorway, looking pale and wearing a scarf, her dark hair pulled back, her eyes squinting. She held a phone in her hand, waving it at him, taunting him.
“What the hell…” whispered Dorian.
Paul Baker reached down and grabbed Dorian by the furry lapel. The guy was so strong, lifting him to his feet with ease. His fists were large and meaty, his jaw firm. Spit flew from his lips as he bared his teeth. He ripped off Dorian’s fake beard with one tug.
“What were you doing to my daughter, you sick fuck?”
Dorian didn’t respond. He wished he had his knife.
Paul tossed him aside as if he weighed nothing. He fell again, once more smacked the back of his skull, and yelped. The pain was so great that when he tried to think of how to get out of this mess, he drew a complete blank.
Margaret Baker joined her husband. They hovered over Dorian, their facial muscles twitching. The wife stepped forward and got on one knee before him. She shook her head.
“They won’t leave us alone,” she said.
“Of course, they can’t,” replied Paul.
“But we’ve been trying.”
“That doesn’t matter.”
Dorian’s eyes danced back and forth, following the chatting couple. He watched Grace sneak up, moving like a jungle cat. Upon seeing her again, his brain froze. He’d sliced her from ear to ear. There was no way she could be alive.
“He needs to pay,” the girl hissed. She removed the scarf from around her neck, revealing a festering, open sore that belched blood and pus when she tilted her chin back.
“Oh, he will,” replied her father.
The three of them formed a line, and Dorian watched in horror as the air around them shuddered. Their faces twisted, gyrating like putty. Their brows crumpled and their noses scrunched, becoming almost batlike. Teeth exploded from their mouths, rows of razor-sharp tusks that jutted from now-ruined lips. Their eyes became yellow, glowing in the darkness. They opened their jaws wider than humanly possible, and from their maws slithered long, snake-like black tongues.
“Yes,” said the creature who had once been Paul. “For centuries we have tried to be good, have tried to behave. But people like you keep dragging us back in. Tell me, do you like what you’ve unleashed?”
Dorian screamed, and the three monsters charged.
Pain filled him as jagged teeth pierced through his thick Santa suit and his flesh. Chunks were ripped out of him, and his blood poured onto the carpet. He tried to yell out for help, but more teeth punched into his jugular, severing it from his neck. He gurgled and choked on his own life’s essence. It flowed from his nose, his mouth, from every gaping wound.
“Wait,” a voice stated.
Paul looked normal again, though his lips were frayed. The man stood up and backed away from the frenzy. He considered Dorian with a cockeyed glance and then leaned over the bed. Dorian watched as he tore the binds from Bethany’s wrists and ankles. He didn’t have to remove the tape from her mouth, however. The girl had grown tusks, just like the rest of her family, ripping through the tape. She clicked her oversized teeth together and crept across the bed. The remnants of the tape flapped on either side of her mouth. The cavernous hole in her stomach opened and closed along with her jaws. She held in her intestines with one hand.
Paul grabbed the knife off the bed and tossed it to his wife. Margaret held it in front of Dorian’s eyes. His vision was going hazy on him as he bled out, but the fear was still very, very real.
“One good turn deserves another,” the mother said, the corners of her tattered lips curling in a smile.
She plunged the knife into Dorian’s stomach, echoing the wound he’d given her daughter. Then the family stepped aside, allowing little Bethany to enter the fray. Her glowing yellow eyes glared at him, her massive teeth clacked together, her long tongue slithered in and out.
Bethany sank her face into the gash her mother had opened up. Her head thrashed like a shark, ripping at his entrails, puncturing his kidney, severing his spine. Blood cascaded around her.
“Just take enough to heal yourself,” said Paul as Dorian’s world went black. “We still need something to decorate the tree with, after all.”
Robert Duperre writes a combination of horror, science fiction, and fantasy, and is the author of several novels, including The Rift series, The Breaking World series, which he co-authored with David Dalglish, and his epic urban fantasy series The Infinity Trials. He is also a contributor and editor of two short story collections, The Gate and The Gate 2.
Robert lives in rural Connecticut with his wife, artist Jessica Torrant, and their new pup Rosie, a hyper-lovey mutt.
The Rift Series
The Rift 1: The Fall
The Rift 2: Dead of Winter
The Rift 3: Death Springs Eternal
The Rift 4: The Summer Son
The Breaking World Series
(with David Dalglish)
The Breaking World 1: Dawn of Swords
The Breaking World 2: Wrath of Lions
The Breaking World 3: Blood of Gods
Silas: A Supernatural Thriller
Short Story Collections
The Gate: 13 Dark & Odd Tales
The Gate 2: 13 Tales of Isolation & Despair
The Infinity Trials Series
The Infinity Trials 1: Boy in the Mirror
The Infinity Trials 2: Wolves at the Door
The Infinity Trials 3: Lost in the Shadows
The Infinity Trials 4: Queen of the Dead
The Infinity Trials 5: God in the Girl (Available Dec 22, 2019)