The parking lot was starting to fill up. Concertgoers, and on this reunion tour, older people and families. Henry watched them all the same. The practice had been ingrained into him.
Looking for one face amongst them all.
He got out of the car, adjusting the brim of his cap and rolling out the tension between his shoulderblades where the holster pulled a little to the left. He had grown in a thick beard which held motes of gold amidst the salt and pepper and he slipped on a pair of horn rimmed glasses with the lenses replaced with clear glass.
Henry’s life had been a simple one, wide open spaces, enriched by the seasons. Freezer full of the meat he’d hunted and dressed himself. Worried about his kids and whether his wife still found him attractive.
He’d been to town to negotiate the sale of the car with Peter Pfinster, left Sally making chicken pot pie and the boys doing chores. Gotten back after dark, a good deal and a collegial beer with Peter. Thinking about reading another chapter of Harry Potter and then seeing if Sally was up for fooling around. Singing along with the radio, happy and foolish all at once.
Henry’s last moment of happiness.
The front door open, the shriek of his wife and the guns locked away. Nearly tripping over Dean’s body in the hallway, bled out white and his throat opened like a wet, red cravat. Henry pulled the knife from the holster on his hip. His hand ached from the force of his grip.
His baby boy’s eyes, blank and shining like marbles. Eight years old forever.
Henry ran on, heard more screaming. Realised it was him. Into the kitchen.
Thomas wasn’t here but Sally was.
Along with the visitor. It stood on tiptoe, black skinny jeans and a faded brown leather jacket, raven black hair worn long as it twisted and worried it’s face into the crook of Sallys neck. Wet, packing, slurping sounds. If you’d heard it you’d never drink a milkshake or go down on a woman again. When it turned, it’s lower jaw split open and unhinged like the back of a beetle, black tongue dripping and tasting the air, eyes like sewer pennies and cheeks slathered with blood.
Beautiful for all that. A shark’s beauty. Henry, not a man quick to violence, motivated by the sight of his wife, twitching and eyes bulging in her sockets, hope dying like the stars on judgement day.
Henry charged and took it in the left shoulder. It hissed like a deflating tyre, sharp noise as it flicked the blade out and let it fall to the floor. The wound closing as it backed away, laughter like a cancer diagnosis. It moved and Henry stood there, paralysed with a horror as immense as sleep. He held his wife as she breathed her last, stroking her hair and trying to make her look pretty again. Failing.
It had taken Thomas in his room, his blood saturated through the mattress and sprayed against the walls. They’d arrested him but the evidence, Pete’s stunned alibi and the collective disbelief of the people who knew them led to the charges dropping like a prolapsed womb.
Henry went away but part of him turned over what happened until he decided that he could not live in a world where the monsters came out and went back without an appropriate response. Released into his community, met with the quiet agonies of people who no longer knew what to say to him and people who had questions, he met them all with a stoic silence that earned him respect and gave him the space to begin his real work, perhaps, he thought with resigned clarity, his last.
So, stood outside the Eager Brothers’ reunion tour, he was there on what he hoped was the last leg of the last five years. His education had been bloody and harsh, he had honed skills applied in the service of providing for his family, returned to the education that he had not taken seriously and renewed a grim enthusiasm for biology, psychology and chemistry. The house was empty, his bank account was full with money he seldom touched and there were tools in his trunk that would draw a cold sweat from a curious police officer.
He saw it before it saw him. A few feet away. His fatigue, his isolation, the memories that shunted him out of sleep damp and trembling, all of it forced aside by the purity of purpose. It had not changed, aside from the skin taking on a cast that managed to appear waxy and papery, a small pouch of belly that pushed against the hem of the t shirt, a brittleness that he took as a portent of his ambition. He watched it talking to a young man, brushing the hair away from it’s eyes, smiling and leaning forward to listen. He looked at the young man’s face, mouth hung slightly open and eyes glazed over with drink and lust. When it took the young man’s arm, Henry looked past them, wondered where it would take the young man, gawky and believing that he was going to accomplish some fevered ambition that he would recount to his boys on his next shift at Home Depot. Henry watched it looking around, studying the tidal shifting of the crowd and saw it point to a battered, dusty Ford. The young man nodded with relief, believing he had dodged that embarrassing question of where his car was, and when he slid a trembling arm around it’s waist, Henry wanted to weep for him. He didn’t.
He followed them, not too far because it was hungry, and they drove off the road, Henry parked up, went to the trunk, got out what he needed and if anyone asked why a grown man was carrying a plastic backpack sprayer and a length of chain on his right shoulder, handcuffs on his belt then Henry was fucked anyway but no one saw him go about his work.
They were climbing into the backseat, it had straddled him and Henry took a swing at the rear passenger seat window with the telescopic baton, caving it in and then stirring the remains of the glass before he shoved the nozzle through and depressed the trigger.
Allium and silver nitrate made it scream. Henry opened the door and swung the cuff onto it’s ankle and pulled hard as he swung the chain off his shoulder. It kicked, a blur of desperate savagery but Henry held firm and it thumped to the grass with a meaty whump, shivering and mewing as it’s skin blistered and smoked.
‘Shut the fuck up or you get more.’ Henry said.
He looked up at the young man, t shirt clawed away and eyes dull with shock, shaking as he laid there. Henry kicked at the thing on the ground without any expression on his face.
‘You don’t want to know, kid. Just get home and thank me later.’
The guy ran and Henry looked down at the thing on the ground.
‘And here we are.’
He reached for the chain, the massive padlock at one end and without taking his eyes from the thing on the ground, he tossed it across the back of the creature whilst holding onto the other end which screeched again. It raised it’s head and extended a tendril to the air.
‘Hurts don’t it? Bet it’s been a long fucking time for you, huh?’
It went to lash out at him, but he depressed the sprayer and it’s bravery was rewarded with another burst of spray that made it gag and wheeze when it took it in it’s throat. The air now smelled like a Sicilian toilet but Henry was impassive as he closed the padlock.
When it stopped convulsing, it made itself look human again and through blistered lips and with shining eyes, looked at him.
Henry shook his head as he took up the chain with his other hand. Looked up at the sky then back at it.
‘We’ve got some time. Don’t pull at the chain, it’ll hurt worse than the spray did.’
It looked at the links, debating the wisdom of attempting escape before it looked up at him. It could wait.
Henry knew that though.
‘You probably don’t remember me, do you?’
It shook his head.
‘My wife. Two sons. Farmhouse about five years ago. Ring any bells?’
It blinked and shook it’s head. Beautiful, despite the blisters and the burns.
Henry smiled as tears filled his eyes.
‘No, I didn’t think so. Filled your belly and hit the fucking road, didn’t you?’
It had the sense to not make gestures of recognition. In truth, it did not truly understand the question.
‘See, thing is, I got to learn a lot about you.’ Henry said.
It cocked it’s head to one side, curious now.
‘I mean, you were the first one that I ever came across, but not the last.’
He looked upwards, for recollection and it wondered if it could launch at him but his eyes returned to it again.
‘No, sorry, the most recent. Which is why I’ve got all this shit that, I know, really fucking stings you. A lot of this stuff, ain’t on the internet as such.’
It croaked something and Henry asked it to repeat itself.
‘What are…you waiting?’
Henry chuckled, an awful sound to it, so unused to anything but arousal, surprise and horror from it’s prey and he smiled, which made it experience something quite unusual for it’s rarity. Fear.
‘The sun to come up. I could torture you, christ knows I’ve done enough of that, but that was mostly just figuring out what makes you, you. How your feeding cycles go. That you don’t sparkle in sunlight.’
It raised it’s knees and a link of chain hissed against bare skin which made it flinch.
‘That you don’t have organs as such, not even a heart, really. You probably never even seen inside yourself, have you? Most people don’t, really.’
‘But you burn pretty well.’
It blinked heavily.
‘Like flashpaper. One of them, it said that it came over on the Mayflower and it offered me gold bullion to let it live, can you believe that?’
He chuckled again and shook his head. It guessed that Henry had not taken up the offer.
‘Eight of you, in the last five years. Which, surprised me, because I thought there’d be more. Took out a guy that the FBI thinks might have killed sixty women across the midwest, but he was a mistake compared to how I feel about you.’
He wiped his eyes and leaned against the side of her car.
‘I guess you were a person once, yeah? Had family, things like that and you’ve given all that up. Well, this, this is what you get.’
He retrieved a notebook from the inside of his jacket.
In a voice that cracked beneath the weight of his emotion, he told it about Sally, how she would come in from the garden, her hands smelling of lavender and the tuberoses that she grew each year, how she worried about her weight but he loved the softness of her body against his. He spoke about how Dean was having problems with a kid who bullied him at daycare, how he was a bright, sensitive little boy who wrote stories about the superheroes that he loved, and how they were reading through the first Harry Potter book together at night, even though Henry would be bone tired from work and never feeling quite so wonderful as he did then, curled on the bed that Dean would never grow too big for. How he didn’t disabuse his son of his hope to attend Hogwarts as a boarder even though he would miss his parents.
He talked about Thomas, the tumblr account that he complained about his parents on, how different he felt and how passionate he was, Henry smiled to recall that he worried that the boy was becoming one of those judgemental assholes but at least he was doing it out of concern for others rather than for himself. How he had planned on college and Henry talked about whispered conversations at the kitchen table, wondering how they would pay for it, but so determined to do so. All of it, the arguments, the fears and frustrations, the work that was done and always needed doing, the way Sally would need the garbage taken out at precisely the moment Henry had sat down to watch another episode of Breaking Bad.
‘That was how I tracked you all down, you know?’
It blinked, the only sign of curiosity that it had shown during Henry’s recollections.
‘Your spoor. Blood’s a bunch of different things, but you still have to get rid of it, don’t you? Stinks like bleach. I mean, the movies have you all sparkly and sensual, but you won’t ever know the simple pleasure of a good, easy dump and the sports section, will you?’
It shook it’s head and Henry laughed.
‘It appalls me, that none of you ever stop and look at what you really are.’
‘What?’ it said.
A voice, bleak as a gloved hand that woke you from sleep.
‘Cancer. Walking around, killing to survive, but cancer all the same.’
‘Same as you.’
Henry took the gun from his holster rested it against his thigh.
‘If an Aberdeen Angus spent five years tracking me down, I’d take the fucking bullet, jesus no wonder you have to rely on your fucking looks, which is probably why I stayed the fucking course so long.’
It unhinged it’s jaw, no longer concerned with it’s fate. It flicked it’s tendril forward, hissed again and Henry looked up at the sky. Lighter now than it was. Time, soon enough.
‘Good, that’s what I thought.’
Henry dragged it by the chain away from it’s car so that the flames would not turn an act of closure into a clusterfuck. It shut it’s eyes and as it waited, it resumed some measure of beauty.
Henry looked at it, thought about what he would do afterwards. Suicide had been a comfort to him, but after all this, to take that road would have been a waste. He had been so long a companion to death, a monster hunting monsters that he would be struck with impulses for a glass of water, a conversation, a hug that was reciprocated.
The sun came up, and it writhed in it’s chains, mewling.
It spoke in a language that made Henry’s teeth ache. Hate and hunger distilled into glottal, choking sounds that soon peaked into harsh screams and then as it burned, into nothing. Henry tossed the notebook into the remains, took off the backpack sprayer and set it down. Lighter than he had felt in a long time, stinking and exhausted, he staggered back to it’s car.
In the glove compartment, a bag of cable ties, a box cutter and a collection of wallets and purses, containing cash and coins. He sifted through, found the IDs and took the cash with him. A letter, posted to the nearest field office and the location. If they found him, he would talk, risk ridicule or imprisonment if necessary. He had passed an all night dinner a few miles back.
He wondered if they would do a chicken pot pie. It would not taste the same, he knew that.
Then again, nothing would.