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PROLOGUE

It doesn’t matter what year it is. It’s now and he’s old. Grateful to enjoy another summer storm with only the wind for conversation.

Right now he’s tired. Spent might be a better word. He’s in the time after a project is done (“riding the vibe” he called it when he was younger). The leftovers of his work are scattered all over his studio. For now, he’s happy to have two fingers of scotch and put off any more chores.

He has the easy composure of a satisfied man in his favorite chair. This evening’s activities have had a little something to do with that, but not all. Mostly, he’s enjoying the deep satisfaction of  living an authentic life. It’s taken him 67 years to get here and he’s no longer compromising. Not only has he run out of fucks to give, he doesn’t even have to pretend he gives a fuck. Mask’s off, my man.

He’s a guy with zero obligations, retired and  comfortably well off. He’s not in a relationship, no kids. He has nowhere he needs to be. He wouldn’t want to be anywhere else. He’ll sleep well tonight.

The Michigan sky drips ink between the trees. Dark clouds roll between him and the stars and the first fat drops are rolling in a lazy race down his floor to ceiling windows. He likes what’s on the weather channel outside his window just fine.

There are no other houses out here. He left the traffic and the crowding  and the drama of Chicago years ago. When this house came on the market, he pounced. It had the space for his studio and the natural beauty of the woods and, most of all, the solitude. The utter stillness is music.

He tilts a bottle to a glass. The soft flow of scotch is a stark contrast to the heartbeat that was hammering in his ears just 30 minutes ago. He can feel the last of the pressure in his head. The world is still a little muffled.

The storm outside is picking up. The wind wants in, the woods want to reclaim the space, the rain insists.

The house is cool and dark. Reflected in the window is a tall rectangle of light. It’s the he doorway to the basement that leads to the stairs to his studio and workroom behind him. The only light in the house is spilling up from those stairs. He notices that rectangle because it flickers. His first guess is that the power hit a hiccup. That happens a lot out here. But his antenna is up and an instinct that has served him well over the years is telling him that the dip in lighting had nothing to do with the power.

He’s standing up and grabbing the heavy bottle of scotch in one smooth motion when a man-shaped section of the darkness slams into him and knocks the bottle free. He’s knocked clear off his feet and the weight of his intruder is crashing down on him.

The wind leaves his lungs in a whoosh. He wriggles. He’s covered in sweat from his earlier exertions. His skin is loose over deceptively strong muscles. The veins in his arms pushed to the surface. He almost twists free. But then the explosions against his face begin. The man on top of him is pouncing with frenzied strength.

First his nose shatters. His cheekbone gives way. His head rings. He feels the first flows of blood from a cut above his eye. It’s a gusher. His attacker is wearing rings on both hands.

The fists stop.

“Where is she?” A breathless growl. “WHERE THE FUCK IS SHE!”

Hands grab his shoulders and slam him repeatedly to the floor. The beautiful bamboo floor he installed last summer. He is a lean man and every impact sends bolts of pain through his shoulder blades. The slamming stops.

He coughs and gasps back some air. It’s the only answer he can give.

The weight leaves him. He begins wondering how he could have been caught off-guard. He’s never had a blind spot. Maybe the combination of the storm outside and the ringing in his ears after his noisy project muffled the sound of the break in. It had to happen when he was finished in the studio otherwise this scene would have played out down there and he might have been better prepared. At least he would have been in a well-lit room. He would have seen his intruder and had a better weapon to fight with than a half-empty bottle of scotch.

His eyes adjust and he sees the shape is pointing a gun at him. “I’m going to find her. And if she’s hurt in any way, you will die.”

He actually coughs up a laugh at that.

“Stay here,” the shape points the gun at his leg and fires. The explosion of light and sound and pain turn all of his  sensory dials up to overload. His knee is obliterated. He’s never felt anything so exquisitely painful in his long pain-filled life. He rolls onto his side, holding his oozing knee and wails.

The shape turns and heads toward the obvious place. The only light in the house draws the shape away.

He has moments to think of an escape. To plan a defense. He knows he won’t be able to walk. He could try to crawl, but the front door is so far away. And his phone is on the counter–good luck reaching it. He looks for anything to defend himself with. But his obsessively neat, minimalist style means there is nothing to grab except the glass on the end table next to his chair. He stretches and is able to hook his fingertips over the lip of the glass and pull it into his hand. He falls back and tries to catch his breath. He’s a mess. His pulse pounds fresh pain into every part of his body.

A scream erupts from the basement. A howl of anguish that conveys more than words ever could.

He tries to imagine what his unwanted guest is seeing down there. He wishes he could see the look on the interloper’s face. He deserves the reaction to such a presentation, after all the work he’s done. That’s his prize. He’s realizing it might be parting gift once the man comes back upstairs.

He must have seen the bench of tools first. Then the blood in the interior doorway to the studio. Then, too foolish to stop there, the pieces of the girl–most of which are cooling on the metal table in the middle of the space.

He wonders if it stopped dripping yet.

Would his guest scoop up what he could in his arms? Would he try to comfort or embrace the person he once knew?

Even though that person was now reduced to meat. He doesn’t think of it as flesh because flesh comes with a name. He never thinks of his chosen medium as people.

He puts the bottom of his glass against the palm of his hand and smashes the top of the glass against the leg of the chair. Pieces shatter off around the edges. What he’s left with are two long shards jutting up in thick points from the bottom of the glass. The break could not have been better. A thrust of his palm could deliver a deep wound, and maybe if he could twist the glass after the impact, he could inflict more damage. Or at least break off the shards so they could be drawn out.

The figure is standing in the doorway, holding the machete from the work bench.

He considers the shape for a moment. “Sorry I didn’t get a chance to clean it,” he gurgles, “but I didn’t know you’d be by to borrow it.”

Maybe it’s the shock, but the visitor doesn’t charge. The old man wants him to charge. He needs him to get close. To lose his control and get within striking distance.

The shape moves forward. He steps into what little light there is. The old man can see that his visitor is young, probably the father. Maybe an uncle. He’s wearing all black. The gun is holstered on his hip. Maybe if he can hit him with the glass, he can get that gun and wound him enough to get him in the studio. Already the pain in his knee is secondary to the thrill of the kill.

“Huh, I can see the resemblance,” he can see the impact of his words. The young man’s face begins to twist. “Such a pretty little thing. She has your eyes. Well . . . had your eyes.”

That’s it. The man sheds his humanity. His face is now handed over to those twin demons of rage and grief. It’s a sudden blistering transformation. He charges and swings the machete. But at the last, he slips on the blood from the old man’s leg and falls right into the glass the old man thrusts up and into his chest.

The old man is trying to twist, but there’s over two hundred pounds pushing down on his wrist. He supports his right hand with his left and he doesn’t have a hand free to stop the swing of the machete.

Even though the young man’s blood is spurting down his arms, the visitor hacks at the old man, hitting his shoulder, taking his left arm out of commission.

Another hack connects with the side of his head and the bleeding man has to wiggle the machete a little to get the skull to let go. He feels his head shaking with each tug.

Another hack opens his neck in a three inch gash.

The young man stands up. The glass is still in his chest. It’s not all the way in, the zipper of his black hoodie stopped it from going further. He plucks it out and tosses it on the old man.

“Only one of us is going to hell today you old cocksucker. And it ain’t me.”

He brings one heavy work boot back and kicks him as hard as he can in the balls. It moves him up the floor an inch. The pain is exceptional, but far away at the same time. He’s a rag doll, his arms fall limp.

He’s drifting away from his body. He can still see the young man standing there,  still holding the machete. The old man is falling but that’s impossible, he’s on the floor. The distance is growing. He’s 5 feet away. Seven. The young man screams and plunges the machete into his groin, pulls it free and does it again and again, and goes to work on the rest of him, but he feels nothing except the sensation of moving.

He wants to tell him not to waste his time. But he can’t.

He thinks She was a pretty little thing. And then he’s away.

 

 

 

 

 

 

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