Authors: Stant Litore
Tags: #Supernatural Thriller, #Fiction
“You were going to kill me. Kill me.” She frowned, pouting her lips. That, even more than the maggots, betrayed that this wasn’t her. Matt couldn’t imagine seeing that petulant, schoolgirl-fantasy expression in the real Adette’s face.
“What’s the matter, Matt? What are you waiting for? You must have killed a girl before.”
“Shut up,” he said. “Just shut up.” His stomach turning. He lifted Oslo from the ice, slammed him back down, the crack of his head against the ice. Adette’s face laughed, and suddenly her knee was in Matt’s gut, and the heel of her hand shoved against his chin, hard, and flipped Matt over. It was fast. His tailbone smacked into the ice and he cried out. The world went white with pain. After a moment, he saw the man who looked like Adette bending over him. Grinning.
“You’re as much a killer as I. I can always tell.” Adette’s face melted, became one face after another, faces of those he’d killed, those who had rotted as he watched, those who had died beneath his ax or beneath a tire iron or beneath whatever was at hand. But always the maggots writhed beneath the skin. Matt breathed in through his mouth, avoiding the scent, gasping against the pain. Half-dazed, he still noticed things. Such as a bulge in the killer’s jacket pocket. Some object, the size of a cell phone.
Except maybe it wasn’t a cell phone.
The killer’s face was Andy’s again. “I see it in your eyes,” Oslo said, in the voice of a man who’d been Matt’s friend. “How many, I wonder? You’ve taken all their lives. Men, women. Taken them all and turned their histories into melting clocks, then nothing. Nothing but dead flesh at your feet. And you know what the irony is?”
Gasping for breath, trying to wall out the pain as he rolled half onto his side, Matt definitely couldn’t have cared less what the irony was.
Andy’s face grinned. “The irony is you see so little. Me, I’ve ended lives. I drink them in, understanding fully what they are and who, what they’re capable of. Seeing all the faces they regret. You, on the other hand, you see only their last decay. You don’t see into the heart,
do you? I take on that responsibility. I am a doctor, euthanizing the evil. You are only a butcher.”
“Man, will you shut up.” The first shock of the pain was dulling. Clenching his teeth, Matt lunged, grabbed the killer’s jacket. “You don’t get to wear my friend’s face,” he gasped. And tore the object out of the killer’s pocket. In an instant, Andy’s face was gone, and Matt saw again those Scandinavian features. In his hand, Matt held a rudely made, stylized lion carved from stone, small enough to hold in his palm. An artifact from the desert. An artifact that changed faces. Oslo was staring at Matt’s face, his eyes wide.
Matt didn’t know what horror out of his own past Oslo saw in his face, what mask of his own dead. He didn’t know who he looked like to Oslo, while he held that stone lion in his hand.
But he had a pretty good idea what Oslo felt about whatever he was seeing.
Oslo sprang away as though he’d touched a hot stove, crouched a yard away with his hand up. His mouth opened in a silent scream.
“Guess your ghosts are worse than mine,” Matt said. He got to his feet, wincing. Stood there a moment until the pain was bearable and he could move again. Oslo’s eyes were round with terror, but he leapt at Matt with a shriek. His hands grasped Matt’s arm, wrenching Matt down and sending the stone lion skittering across the ice. That artifact that had lasted God knew how many centuries hit the water and vanished with a quiet plop. Gone.
Oslo’s face went dark with fury, whatever nightmare he’d seen gone the moment that lion left Matt’s hand. Now he and Matt rolled, struggling, with the lake’s dark and hungry grasp only a few yards away. It was a quick, brutal fight, two men punching, digging in with
their fingers, the killer’s teeth tearing into Matt’s hand, a yowl from Matt. Not a duel or a boxing match, just two men doing their best to damage each other.
Matt went for broke and slammed his knee into the bastard’s groin. With a wheezing grunt, the killer curled up, and Matt pulled his hand free. Staggered to his feet. His eyes livid with fury, Oslo aimed a kick, tried to sweep Matt’s feet. Matt dodged, but the killer came after him, fast, bowling his body into Matt’s legs, grappling, knocking him down hard on the ice, a shock of fresh pain as his bruised tailbone hit, stealing away Matt’s breath. The ice creaking beneath him, the water dark and cold and far too close. The killer was on top of him, trying again to get his hands on Matt’s throat. Matt shouted and bucked, fought to flip him over again. Cold fingers closed over his windpipe. Blue-ice eyes right above his, eyes that belonged to no face but Oslo’s own, eyes that were hungry and fierce and without warmth.
A blunt wooden club smacked hard into the killer’s temple. Oslo sprang away, gasping, one hand pressed to his head. Adette followed him, Matt’s ax in her right hand, the table leg still cuffed to her left wrist, one end splintered and broken where she had wrenched it free. She’d clubbed Oslo with it. Now she let the broken leg hang from her left hand, transferred Matt’s ax from her right to her left, and slid her knife free of its sheath at her hip, the eager sound of steel against leather. Her crucifix knife flashed in the dark. She leapt, stabbing down, Buffy-like, at Oslo’s chest. Yet he ducked aside as smoothly as a bird veering in the air, grasped her wrist, wrenched her toward him.
Matt surged to his feet.
Adette threw the ax clumsily just before the killer drove his fist into her solar plexus, hurling her back onto the ice. For an instant the ax was in the air between ice and sky.
Matt caught the haft, solid and heavy and reassuring in his hand. He spun on his feet, bringing the blade swinging toward the killer’s belly. His whole arm and his shoulder felt the impact.
Richard Oslo’s eyes went wide. For a moment he just stared at Matt. Then glanced down. The head of the ax was buried in his intestines, his blood flowing black over the cold metal. Matt held the haft, panting. Richard’s face went white. Slow as a cedar falling, he crumpled to his knees. Blood poured between his fingers as he moved them feebly over the wound.
He glanced up. That same madness in his eyes. “But you won’t even drink from me,” he rasped. “So pointless.”
He fell to his side on the ice.
Matt clenched his teeth and wrenched the ax free. The sound as sickening as the maggot-stench of the dying man. He stood staring down at Oslo, and suddenly he was tired. Bone tired. He let the ax fall from his hand. The ring of its blade against the ice, the dull thud of its haft. He watched Oslo bleed out, his blood like a pool of dark syrup on the ice. Oslo just clutched at his wound and curled up, his eyes round and desperate. After a moment, Matt bent and took up his ax again. Heard a soft noise from Adette behind him, perhaps a sob.
With a grimace, he aimed for the throat. Swung the ax.
And ended it.
Adette crawled to her twin’s body on her hands and knees, dragging the table leg behind her. Took him in her arms, the blood from his throat pouring down his chest and over her hands. She kept whispering his name.
Matt stood silently by, leaning on his ax, wishing he could sleep for a week. When he saw the shiver go through Adette’s whole body, heard the small, almost silent moan low in her throat, he sighed and straightened.
“Adette.” His voice very soft. And very quiet.
The soft hiss of her breath. She lowered her head to her dead twin’s throat, and her small tongue lapped at the wound, like a cat’s, licking up the blood dark like wine. The hair fell in clumps from the back of her head—though only Matt noticed—and her scalp cracked open in a long spine of sores running from the top of her head down her neck. Wriggling, hungry things squirmed out from the cracks in her skin. Worms, maggots, all the things that feed on the dead. One worm coiled about her ear like a piece of jewelry. The stench from her ripened.
Yet he crouched beside her, a hand on her arm. “Bernadette, don’t. Please.”
She shivered and glanced up. Her eyes were dilated. The rot was intense, like stumbling on a deer that had died in a ditch by the road and been left there for days. He refused to choke on the stench. He stayed there, gripping her arm, holding her gaze with his.
“Adette.” His voice firm. “You don’t slide on the ice. Not today.”
She gazed back at him for several beats of the heart. Then she drew in a shuddering breath and pulled away. Her lips dark with blood. She drew her sleeve over them. Her pupils shrank, became normal again. Her scalp was again covered in her thick blonde hair. The reek of her faded.
The frozen lake, the woods. So silent.
Then she scooted away from the contagion of Oslo’s corpse. She was shaking. Matt held out his hand to her, and after hesitating, she took it. Her fingers were small and cold in his. He gripped tightly, letting her know he was here.
“You stopped me,” she said. “I was going to…”
“He’s gone,” Matt said gently. “It’s over.”
She blinked back tears, and it occurred to Matt that through all the emergencies, the passion, and the terror of this night, he had not seen her actually cry.
“What if I hadn’t stopped?” she whispered.
Matt lifted his ax grimly.
You would have?
She mouthed the words rather than spoke them, her eyes wide.
He nodded. His throat tight.
“Thank you,” she whispered. Gazed down at Richard’s body. “So long, I’ve felt—what he felt. The ecstasy when he killed. The madness.” Her eyes a sheen of tears. “It’s taken everything to hold back. From killing. From losing it.”
“Some things you lose, you can never find them again,” Matt said softly.
She looked at his eyes, then nodded.
There was nothing peaceful in Richard Oslo’s face, even in death. He didn’t look like he was sleeping, or like he was forgiven. He stared sightlessly at the sky, his eyes still round with horror, his mouth a grimace. Death was messy and it was brutal, even when it was quick, and Matt had seen plenty of it. This night had reminded him of just how many he had seen die. Some whom he’d feared, some whom he’d loved. He glanced at the lake, out where the ice
thinned and became lethal, until finally it faded into water. Out where the stone artifact had vanished. “What do you think he saw?” Matt murmured.
“It doesn’t matter,” she said.
Above them, the sky was already pale with the dawn. They were very exposed out here, and there was blood on his ax. And there was a house behind them with a corpse in it and possibly traces that could point a cop in their direction. He would need to go through that bedroom carefully, and he’d need to get them walking back down that gravel road, keeping a sharp lookout for cars. And decide what to do about the victim. A call from a gas-station pay phone once they reached Darrington? Whatever they were to do, time was already sliding away.
“Let’s find a place to bury your brother,” Matt said, “and get back.”
“No,” she said. “So many years in the desert, in that barren place. He would have liked a sea burial.” She began pushing the body toward the water beyond the ice edge. “Help me.”
It was a delicate business, sliding that body out to where the ice was thinner, without falling in themselves. In the end, Matt lay on his belly and carefully extended his ax over his head, using it to push the body out. Then the ice began to crack, and he crawled back hastily, grabbed Adette’s arm, and pulled her nearer the shore. The ice beneath the body and where Matt had been lying seconds before gave way, and Richard Oslo tipped and slid into the lake, his face disappearing last, those eyes glazed already in death and empty as though he had become one of his own victims. Then the water closed over his head, and he was gone, a
vampire given a coffin made of dark water, and there was only the crack and creak of the ice. Adette watched him go, then flipped her knife into the water after him. It vanished as though it had never been, as though there’d never been a reason for it.
Matt pulled Adette to him on the thick ice near the shore. He lay there holding her, feeling her clutch him tightly. She was shaking. Not from fear, he knew.
“You don’t ever have to kill,” he whispered to her, rubbing his cheek against her hair. She smelled clean, she smelled right. No trace of rot. Whatever yearning for blood had infected her, it had gone under the water with her brother’s corpse. “Not ever, Adette. It’s all right. It’s all right now.”