The Border Part Eight

BOOK: The Border Part Eight
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Copyright 2015 Amy Cross

All Rights Reserved

 

This book is a work of fiction. Names, characters, businesses, events, entities and places are either products of the author’s imagination or are used in a fictitious manner. Any resemblance to actual people, businesses, entities or events is entirely coincidental.

 

Published by Dark Season Books

Kindle edition

First published: September 2015

 

“I want to see my uncle again.”

 

As the sun sets on Bowley, two figures make their way toward the Border, determined to end the club’s reign of misery. They know the task won’t be easy, and that there might well be resistance. What they’re not ready for, however, is the madness that always seems to be lurking one door away.

 

Revenge is in the air, and before the night is over several of Bowley’s residents will be dead while others will have their lives changed forever. The stag-headed man is about to be unmasked, but not before claiming one final victim, and a girl will struggle for her life on a kitchen table. And many years later, one woman heads to a mysterious rendezvous, unaware that she’s being followed.

 

The Border is a horror thriller serial in eight parts, about a family’s search for the truth, and about a town gripped by the possibility that a killer lurks among them. This is the eighth part.

T
he Border

Part Eight

Prologue

 

Nine years ago

 

“Come on,” he muttered, his bloodied hands trembling as he tried to bring up his brother’s number on the phone. “Jack, please, just answer for once. I need you!”

Raising the phone to the side of his face, Ben Freeman stared straight ahead, his eyes fixed on the corpse of Garland Packer. A few minutes ago, the room had been filled with noise, with shouts and cries and the sound of furniture being knocked over during a struggle; now the whole farmhouse was silent, save for Ben’s harried breaths and the sound of him whispering to himself, begging his brother to answer.

In his mind’s eye, he could see Jack glancing at the ringing phone, seeing Ben’s name, and not bothering to answer.

“You’ve reached Jack,” a voice said suddenly on the other end of the line. “I’m not here right now, so -”

“Damn it!” Ben hissed, cutting the call and staring at the phone for a moment before bringing up his sister’s number. He waited, while looking over at the corpse, before suddenly he heard someone picking up on the other end of the line.

“Hey,” Beth said calmly, sounding a little bored with the sound of a TV in the background, “what’s -”

“Are you at home?” Ben asked.

“Um… Yeah, why?”

“Is Jack there?”

“No. Why?”

“Do you know where he is?”

“Why?”

“Where the hell is he?” he shouted, momentarily losing his temper before realizing that yelling at his sister wouldn’t help. “Do you know where he is? Come on, he must have said something to you before he went out.”

“Ben, is something wrong? You sound kinda stressed.”

He paused, desperate for help but aware that Beth wouldn’t be the right person. In fact, she’d be very much the wrong person. It had to be Jack.

“I’m fine,” he said after a moment, surprising himself with the calm tone he was suddenly able to bring to his voice. “I just wanted to ask Jack something, that’s all.”

“Liar.”

“I’ll see you later.”

“What’s wrong? I
know
you’re up to something, Ben. Come on, I know I’m not as cool as Jack but I still might be able to help. Can’t you let me in on one of your exciting little scrapes for once?”

“Beth, I -”

Suddenly he saw Garland Packer’s body twitching. Frozen for a moment, Ben watched as the old man’s right hand started to move, reaching out toward the doorway. The sight was so bizarre, so utterly horrifying, that for a few seconds it seemed impossible, as if it was some fevered vision intruding from a dream.

“Oh God,” Ben whispered, “no, he can’t be, he’s not…”

His voice trailed off.

“Is this important?” Beth asked. “It’s just, Bob and I were about to -”

“Forget it,” he replied, “have fun. I’m fine.”

Cutting the call before she had a chance to say anything else, he paused for a moment, watching as Garland Packer’s arm continued to reach toward the doorway. The rest of the old man’s body wasn’t moving at all; it was as if, like one of the spiders that Ben and Jack had killed in the old days, Packer’s arm was twitching out a few postmortem spasms. Thinking back to the spiders, Ben remembered how he and Jack had plucked their legs off one by one, leaving just the little black control center of a body in the center. Maybe, he figured, that was what was happening now with Garland Packer, except the man’s arms and legs weren’t -

Suddenly he heard a faint, guttural groan.

“I didn’t kill him,” Ben whispered, taking a step closer but stopping as he saw Packer’s head move slightly. The back of the old man’s scalp was still bloodied and crushed, glistening as blood dribbled from the wound. A few minutes earlier, just after he’d struck out with the brick in a fit of panic, Ben had even thought he could see some brain matter mixed in with the bloody mashed flesh.

A moment later, another groan came from Packer’s lips.

“Oh God,” Ben whispered, poised to run but not quite able to move. More than anything, he wanted to get out of the farmhouse and run forever, he wanted to run until his legs fell off, but he knew he couldn’t leave just yet, not if there was a chance that Packer would recover. The old man was evil through and through, and while Ben felt sick to his stomach at the thought of actually killing him, he also knew that Packer was the kind of man who’d enjoy his revenge.

Slowly, Packer reached further until his fingers brushed against the door-frame, as if he was trying to crawl away.

Ben reached down and picked up the bloodied brick.

He watched for a moment as Packer’s fingers tried to gain a purchase on the door-frame. The old man shifted slightly, finally getting a grip, but as soon as he began to drag himself along he let out a cry of pain and stopped.

“I have to do this,” Ben whispered. “I can’t leave you like this.”

He took a step forward, and then another, until he was standing over the dying man.

“I’m not a killer,” he stammered, his voice already breaking with fear. “I was just defending myself, if you hadn’t…”

He paused, feeling a tightening sense of fear in his chest. Staring down at the back of Packer’s head, he could see that a significant chunk of skull had been cracked open during the first impact, and he felt more certain than ever that it
was
brain matter he could see beneath. A shiver passed through his chest as he crouched next to the old man and leaned over to look into his eyes; sure enough, both pupils were massively enlarged, although a moment later he realized Packer’s lips were moving and he seemed to be whispering something.

“What’s that?” he asked, leaning closer.

He waited, and after a few seconds he realized it was nonsense, not even words. Packer was just spilling out a series of sounds, albeit punctuated in a way that made it
sound
as if he was trying to say something.

“This isn’t my fault,” Ben continued, holding the brick out, preparing to strike. “The first time was self-defense, and this is just finishing you off. This is me being kind. I can’t leave you this way.”

He paused.

Packer continued to whisper. Occasionally, it almost sounded as if an actual word was coming from his lips. “Bird” was one of them, and a few utterances later came “Elevator”, followed by a rising tone that seemed to suggest a question.

“I’m not a killer,” Ben whispered, taking a deep breath as he tried to work out where to aim. More than anything, he knew he had to strike hard and fast. This time, he had to get the job done, if not for his sake then for the old man’s.

He paused.

All of time seemed to come to a standstill around him.

Finally, with as much force as he could manage, he smashed the brick down into the back of Garland Packer’s head for a second time, and this time blood sprayed up into his face, filling his own eyes and mouth and forcing him to pull back.

I

 

Today

 

“Ben? Did you hear what I just said?”

Blinking a couple of times, Ben realized he’d been staring idly at his own hands for a few seconds. His mind had been empty, or as empty as he could manage. Even when his thoughts were silent, there were always plenty of shadows at the edges. Looking across the room, he saw Jane standing in the doorway holding two shotguns.

“These are for us,” she continued. “You know how to shoot, don’t you?”

He paused, with his mouth hanging open, before slowly nodding.

“Good,” she muttered, stepping over to the kitchen table and setting the guns down. “I’ve got some other weapons in the car and more than enough ammunition. Hopefully we won’t need this stuff, but I’ve got a feeling the people at the Border are going to fight back. The last thing we can do is go in there unprepared, we need to be ready.”

She took a moment to check one of the guns, before glancing over at Ben again. “You’re not having second thoughts, are you?”

“Me?” His voice was dry and croaked and more than a little tired. Deep down, he felt that he was getting to the end of it all. “No,” he continued, shaking his head. “No, this has to happen. I’d rather it was a bunch of other people doing it, but if we’re the only ones…”

“The Border should have been shut down a long time ago,” she replied. “You’re not the only one who knew about it. I should have -”

“I killed Garland Packer,” he said suddenly.

She paused, before slowly turning to him.

He frowned. Until the moment the words left his lips, he’d had no idea he was going to confess, but now it felt good. He’d told his father and mother, of course, but they hadn’t helped at all. Jane was a cop, and she didn’t seem to be a complete psychopath, so this was the first confession that really counted.

“I killed Garland Packer,” he said again. “It was self-defense, but I did it.” He looked down at his hands, and for a moment he thought back to all the blood that had dried on his skin that day nine years ago. “We were arguing, I told him I’d tell everyone about the Border, and he threatened to…” He paused. “Well, he threatened my family. I got scared, and I hit him on the back of the head with a brick. Then when I realized he wasn’t quite dead yet, I hit him again.” He sniffed. “That did it.”

“But…” Pausing, Jane seemed genuinely shocked.

“You didn’t suspect me?” he asked.

She shook her head.

“Well, damn it,” he continued, leaning back in the chair and letting out a sigh, “I thought at least… I guess Alex really thought it was just another vagrant or…”

His voice trailed off.

“How did you manage to avoid leaving any evidence behind?” she asked. “Forensics went over the place, there was nothing.”

He shrugged.

“What’s that supposed to mean?” she continued.

“It means I don’t know,” he replied. “Just got lucky, I guess. Maybe I have a knack for these things.” He paused. “So I guess Jack was right about me.”

“Hardly.”

“He knew I was a killer. He just didn’t know who I’d killed.” Getting to his feet, he made his way over to look at the guns. “My brother knew me better than he realized. He picked up on something I didn’t even want to admit myself. No matter how hard I protested, he could tell something wasn’t right with me.” He paused again. “Even my insane, pig-headed father wasn’t far off the mark. I guess I owe the old man an apology.”

“But it was self-defense,” she pointed out. “If you -”

“Not in that split second,” he replied, interrupting her. “In that blink of an eye between raising the brick and smashing it into his head, I meant it. I experienced total clarity and I thought I could end the misery of the Border. I thought I could save the whole of Bowley. Look how that turned out, huh?”

“You don’t have to come tonight,” she told him. “I can do this alone.”

He shook his head.

“I mean it,” she continued. “Ben, maybe this is too much for you. I can see it in your eyes, you’re struggling with the weight of the whole thing.”

“Struggling with the weight?” he replied, as a faint smile flashed across his face. “No, I’m not struggling with any weight. You’re bringing far too much poetry to the situation. You’re the one who should back out, you’ve got two children to look after, children who just lost their father.”

“Your mother’s with them,” she replied. “Beth too. Right now, I think it’s more important to fix this town so all the kids grow up without the Border’s influence.”

“And what if we fail?” he asked, heading to the door.

“How could we fail?”

“The possibility didn’t occur to you?”

“Well, I mean…” She paused, genuinely shocked by the idea. “How
can
we fail? It’s not like the Border is somehow impervious to the law. The place has only survived because no-one
tried
to shut it down.”

“Maybe you don’t know what you’re getting yourself into.” Stopping in the hallway, he turned to her. “We really
might
fail. We might fail big time, in a way that even strengthens the Border. It’s never been forced to stand up for itself before, but if we go in there and start making a fuss… Well, these things have a way of defending themselves, that’s all I’m saying.” He checked his watch. “Meet out front at midnight? I need to make a phone call before we do this.”

She nodded, before looking back down at the guns.

“Oh,” he added, “and you know the abandoned Bodega Mills factory just outside town?”

“What about it?”

“There’s a dead hit-man there. I buried him deep, but in case the body ever gets found… I killed
him
too.”

She opened her mouth to ask what he meant, but he was already gone, leaving her standing alone in the kitchen.

***

“Why would you leave?” Beth asked, following Bob through to the bedroom and watching as he stuffed more shirts into his suitcase. “Don’t you think we should talk about this first?”

“What’s there to talk about?” he replied, close to panic as he crouched in front of the dresser and pulled open the bottom drawer. “Things have been a little tough between us lately, one thing led to another, and you ended up hiring a hit-man to kill me. I mean, in terms of signals, that’s a pretty huge one, don’t you think? It’s hard to really misinterpret the part where you paid a random guy to execute me.”

“You’re taking this the wrong way.”

He pulled out some ties. “How am I
supposed
to take it?”

“I’ve been very stressed lately,” she continued. “My brother just died, I’ve had a lot on my mind, I’ve been trying to get some more shifts at the hospital and I truly, honestly forgot about the hit-man. I was going to cancel him but then after everything happened with Jack, I accidentally let the deadline roll past.”

“Huh,” he replied, heading back to the bed and dropping ties and socks into his suitcase. “Well, that sounds very reasonable, Beth. I can see how the whole thing was an honest goddamn mistake.” With that, he closed the top of the suitcase and zipped the sides, before taking a deep breath and closing his eyes for a moment. “You hired,” he continued slowly, “a hit-man. An actual hit-man with actual guns who was actually going to
kill
me!”

He waited for a reply, before turning to her.

“Am I
that
bad?” he asked. “I mean sure, I’m not perfect, but don’t you think hiring a hit-man is something of an over-reaction?”

“It’s not like I woke up one morning and decided to do it,” she replied, “it’s more like… Each day, I took one more little step in that direction. Each decision was so small, it just felt like a slight transgression, and it wasn’t until the end that I looked back and realized how far I’d come.” She paused. “Don’t you think that maybe, for Lucy’s sake, we should sit down and talk about all of this properly, before anyone goes making any rash decisions?”

He stared at her for a moment, before grabbing his suitcase and heading to the door. “I’m going to a motel.”

“Will
she
be there?”

He glared back at his wife as he slipped past through the doorway. “
She
, assuming you’re talking about Candy, isn’t answering my calls. I wonder why.”

“Maybe she realized she made a mistake sleeping with a married man.”

“Maybe
you
should be grateful that she didn’t tell the police what really happened!” he snapped. Stopping at the top of the stairs, he turned back to her. “Do you realize how things would have gone if the cops had gotten involved? You’d be staring at life in jail, Beth. Life behind bars and a reputation as someone who tried to hire a goddamn hit-man! How would we have explained that to Lucy?”

“I know,” she replied, with tears in her eyes, “but -”

“So you should be extremely grateful that you’re still a free woman,” he said firmly, “and the fact that I’m willing to walk out the door and
not
go to the authorities… Well, you should get down on your knees and thank God that you’re not rotting in a cell somewhere.” He paused. “Oh, and you should really think about your relationship with Ben, because in case you didn’t realize it yet, he quite obviously killed that hit-man. I guess everyone was right about him after all, huh? Maybe it’s your whole family that’s messed-up.”

Standing in the doorway, Beth watched as Bob made his way down the stairs, and then she listened to the sound of the front door being opened and, a moment later, slammed shut. Heading over to the door to Lucy’s room, she peered through and saw, to her dismay, the little girl staring back at her, wide-eyed in the darkness having apparently heard every word.

***

“No,” Ben replied with a sigh, “I’m not coming back, that’s the whole reason I’m calling, to say…”

He paused. Sitting on the steps outside the house a little before midnight, he waited for a reply. A car drove past just as a woman pushed a buggy in the opposite direction, and for a moment he felt overwhelmed by the way the world get going even though terrible things were happening close by. Then again, as he watched the woman pushing her buggy around the corner, he realized that she seemed completely oblivious. Like almost everyone else in Bowley, she’d learned to either ignore the Border or to not even notice it in the first place.

“Paula?” he said finally. “Are you still there?”

He heard her clearing her throat. “I’m here.”

“Are you okay?”

“I’m just waiting for you to say what you called to say,” she replied, sounding as if she was on the verge of tears. “I should get to the store after.”

“Are you…” He could tell she was struggling, so he figured there was no need to ask about
that
. “Well, the thing is, I have to stay here and deal with some family things, and I don’t think I’m going to be done any time soon, so -”

“I get it,” she told him.

He sighed.

“So say it,” she continued. “Get it over with.”

“Say what?”

“What you
called
to say, you goddamn -” She muttered something under her breath. “Just be a man and say it.”

“Yeah, Ben,” Caitlin said suddenly, sitting next to him. “Say it.”

He turned and stared at her. Bloodied and wounded, with a hole in her chest, she was nevertheless smiling as she watched him.

“I called to say goodbye,” he continued, immediately tensing as he heard Paula starting to sob on the other end of the line. “I called to say I love you but that I have to -”

Suddenly the line went dead. When he looked at his phone, he saw that Paula had cut the call.

“If it’s any consolation,” Caitlin continued, “I’m sure she knew a day like this would come, even when she first starting dating you, or living with you, or whatever the hell you guys were doing. Banging you on a mattress in some cheap basement apartment somewhere?” She paused. “You never told your family about your girlfriend, did you?”

He stared at the phone for a moment longer. “No,” he whispered. “It never came up in conversation.”

“You’re weird,” she added.

He turned to her.

“It’s in your eyes. It’s in everything about you. You’re a weird man, Ben Freeman, and you unsettle people. They can tell you’re never really paying attention to them. You’re always thinking about something else, something bigger, something off in the cosmos, and that makes people not like you very much.”

“You’re a ghost,” he replied.

“Stop changing the subject. I heard what you were going to do tonight. We all heard.”

“All?”

“The girls and me.” She smiled. “The girls are over by the trees.”

Turning, Ben looked across the dark garden and saw several figures standing in the shadows, watching from beneath the cover of a large oak tree. He couldn’t see their faces, but he felt a shiver pass through his body as he realized he most certainly knew their names. Most of them, anyway. There was Lindsay Horne, and Hayley Maitland, and Mel Armitage, and dead girls he’d heard of over the years. Too many to remember them all. Victims of the Border, or at least victims of things that had emerged from the Border.

BOOK: The Border Part Eight
13.3Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
ads

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