“Third one in a fortnight. Jesus Christ,” said Taylor. “I’m getting to know this area of woodland too well. Am I mad, or is this-”
“The same tree?” said Griffin. “Yes.”
“Any I.D. on the vic?”
“You don’t recognize him?”
“The light’s not so good here. Hang on.” Taylor changed his footing on the step and angled the flashlight better. “Sweet J- Is that Frank Quinn?”
“Was,” said Griffin.
“So what’s that? One serial rapist. One child killer.”
“And one gangland don.”
“Someone would appear to be clearing up shop.”
I can hear one behind me somewhere, crashing through the bushes, giving chase. I can’t keep this up for much longer. I can’t run, have never been able to. But I have no choice other than to keep putting one foot in front of the other.
My lungs burn.
My sides hurt.
My throat is dry while sweat cascades down my face.
And I’m breathing so hard I think I could puke at any second.
Another branch hits me in the face and it stuns me. I stumble, my vision darkening, my blood-covered overalls snagging on a bramble… and then I’m in a clearing.
I have no goddamn idea where I am. But there’s a house in front of me, right in the middle of this leafy glade. That’s got to be good, right?
To my left, a laugh. Jesus, there’s more than one of them now.
3 minutes ago:
“Did you make contact with the principal’s office yet?” Armstrong asked.
“Oh no,” interrupted Mitchell as they climbed out of the car. “Kids are already out.”
“Classes had just finished when they finally picked up,” the reply came back over the radio. “Students were already loose in the halls. Too late to try detain the boy.”
“Shit. Could they give you a description or a more up-to-date picture of what the kid looks like now?” asked Madden.
“There was no need.”
1 hour twenty-five minutes ago:
“Ever seen anything like this before?” Detective Armstrong said.
“Only when I worked in San Fran,” the chief firefighter replied. “Saw houses that looked like this after the big quake in ’89. Broken apart like they were Lego.”
“Minnesota is not exactly notorious for its seismic activity,” said Armstrong.
“Mystery solved, partner,” said Mitchell, jogging up to the two men. “Caterpillar parked up in the trees around back. Still got roof tiles, glass and chunks of brick in the bucket. Looks like someone took it to the house like they were cutting up a birthday cake.”
“Anyone inside the building?” Armstrong asked the firefighter, nodding at what was left of the once palatial home.
“No, no one in. But if you’re going to investigate, I’d be careful. Can’t tell how sound, structurally, the place is.”
“We’ll bring our umbrellas, just in case.”
1 hour 16 minutes ago:
“Jesus Christ,” Mitchell said, as the strip lighting in the garage sparked into life. “I’ve seen some vandalism in my time, but this is some next level.”
“Sacrilege is what this is,” said Armstrong. “The furniture, the TV, the clothes: all that stuff can be replaced, but this is a 1970 Ford Mustang Boss 302. Super rare. And this one was mint, until some asshole drove an angle grinder down the middle.”
“It’s the same M.O. throughout. Everything cut, or attempted to be cut in two.”
“Let’s find out who the homeowners are, and where they are,” said Armstrong. “Poor fuckers are going to come home to a nasty surprise.”
Mitchell let out a long whistle. “They’ve really cheesed someone off, whoever they are. This is some cold-blooded revenge right here.”
“Hey,” said Ray. “Where do you keep the cable ties?”
The store keeper, stood at the far end of the aisle, barely acknowledged Ray’s question, scribbled something on a clipboard, then simply walked away.“Jesus,” Ray muttered. He didn’t want to call after the dude, that would be rude. In the same way pretending to not hear someone and walk away was. He went back to scanning the racks, up and down, left and right. Impossible to know if this was where the cable ties should have been. Or not. There was no discernible system to how the shit in this store was sorted. No signage overhead to say if this was the aisle for hand tools or plumbing supplies.
Place was a mish-mash, nothing in its right place.
“Do I know you?” said Packer.
“No, you don’t,” said the man.
The stranger had stepped into the elevator just before the doors closed and fixed eyes on Packer. That gaze had not faltered.
“It’s just I swear this isn’t the first time I’ve seen you today,“ said Packer.
“You would have been stupid not to,” said the man. “I’ve been following you since I spotted you at the diner.”
“The diner? That was hours ago,” said Packer.
“It was. Four and a half of them, to be precise,” said the man.
Nobody left the toilet unflushed last night.
Nobody left that empty milk carton in the fridge this morning.
Nobody used all of the bread.
Yeah. I did all of those things.
I am Nobody.
And there’s not one thing any of you can do about it. Because none of you have the slightest idea who I am.
Not one teacher could remember my name at school, or place me at parent teacher meetings for that matter. Speaking of parents, they often forgot to lay a place for me at the table, or acknowledge my birthday.
Waiting staff serve everyone around and behind me in coffee shops and bars.
When I speed, I don’t get pulled over. And when I find myself at a police checkpoint, I just drive on through as if the cops don’t even see me.
Hell, I haven’t paid for groceries in years, just walk on out the door with my cart full.
I’m the next best thing to invisible, even have to push my way through automatic doors.
Does it get me down?
Does it shit.
Better to be a nobody than a somebody.
Somebodies get noticed, get promoted, get awarded, get pay raises, get fast cars, get expensive wives, get big houses, get enemies, get prices put on their head.
By people who need a nobody like me.
The kind of nobody even an infrared camera can’t see, that two Doberman pinschers can’t smell, that can stroll into a master bedroom and squeeze the life out of somebody’s neck without somebody’s said trophy wife batting a well maintained eyelid.
So next time you get that feeling, as you leave your home or walk down that badly lit street, think twice when somebody tries to reassure you with words like these.
“Nobody is out there watching you.”
“Nobody is following you.”
“Nobody is going to hurt you.”
Because I am nobody.
And I’ve been put on this earth to do all of those things.
There are no sugary treats for this plague of ants to swarm over, so I have no idea what has brought these vile creatures here to this isolated, desolate part of the city. No statues or structures of historical importance, no famous breweries or distilleries, no birthplaces of long drank themselves to death musicians or now-derelict buildings where the still alive ones recorded their first albums as fresh-faced nineteen-year-olds. Yet, here they are, milling around, trapping me on this square foot of footpath, everything about their being grating on me like fingernails down a blackboard. The shrill, excited noises they make seem to pass for speech but their language is impenetrable to me. The squeaky sounds of their feet as they shuffle around sicken me to my core. But it’s the incessant clicking. That, more than anything else. I try to leave, but they follow, the clicking sound escalating, accelerating. The chatter intensifies and I realize that they are not ignoring me the way they were seconds ago. They have recognized my presence and have locked on to me. I have become the subject of curiosity and they will not rest. Not until I stop and, one by one, take each of the smartphones they’re clicking away on from them and photograph them with their friends, in front of a fence that backs on to waste ground strewn with scrapped kitchen appliances and broken pushchairs.
My heart sinks as I discover that I am smiling and that I am readily, willingly taking their phones and making polite, accommodating sounds. What is this? These wide-eyed locusts are eating away at me, stripping me of my self-respect. When they’re done with me, when they’ve reduced me to a husk, they will move on to the next feeding ground, forgetting me like I never existed, like I was simply a feature of the landscape. My dignity is one of the last things of any worth I have left. I am not prepared to let it go this cheaply.
They say that in the event of global thermonuclear war, only the cockroaches and rats will survive. But they forget about the tourists. And the fearless way in which these vermin descend into the most dangerous parts of the city with complete abandon, drawing as much attention as they can to themselves with unknown languages and misunderstood accents, getting in your way, blocking your path, disrupting your day, like bluebottles and wasps spoiling a sunny afternoon in the garden for everyone, just begging to be swatted out of the air and crushed underfoot.
The first one doesn’t know whether to laugh or cry when I hit her with her own phone. There’s half a smile there, but it vanishes when I slam it into the side of her head again, the handset snapping with the force. I drop it to the ground along with her as her boyfriend, I assume, steps up to defend her honor. He doesn’t get far. The next phone to hand is wrapped in a protective case that transforms it into the next best thing to a brick. It takes only one smack to the temple to ship him to the kerb along with her.
I’ve angered the rest of them now and they swarm, screaming angrily, circling, arms flailing, attacking. I drop the remaining phones and take the rolled-up newspaper from my pocket. It makes me laugh to think I could dispense with these annoying pests the same way I could their tiny, winged insect cousins, but once I roll the newspaper up even tighter, it’s surprisingly effective. Even five on one, these people are no match for me. I batter three of them into submission before stopping to catch my breath.
The last two do not seize the opportunity to exact revenge. Instead they stoop and tend to their stricken comrades, pleading with me to stop as they accept defeat.
I am magnanimous in victory. I take a knee, retrieve one of the operational phones from the asphalt, and give them the group shot they were looking for. Enjoy your holiday.
Writing is a drug. You can become addicted to it; actually you completely need to be addicted to it to be any way successful at it. Commercially, or spiritually. Thing is, if you let distractions like your day job or your family (cold, I know) get in the way of you and the paper or screen, you unknowingly, gradually wean yourself off that drug. Until one day, you find you’ve kicked the habit.
And that’s not good.
It’s 7 weeks since I last wrote a line of fiction. Sounds like I’m confessing. And I am. To myself. Can’t call myself a writer if I’m not bloody well writing anything.
Yeah, yeah. All the books, all the legends, all those who know better, say you must write every day, whatever you do – but we all know that’s easier said than done. But, and this makes me think of that iconic coffee shop scene in Heat and Neil McCauley’s rule, that’s the discipline.
That means no matter how fried, stepped on, wrung out my brain or what’s left of it is, I need to put my arse in the seat and the pen to paper and write something. Anything. Which may not be much of a thing at all. But here we go. This is me drawing a line in the sand and chopping up a line of that drug called writing here on the kitchen table, ready to snort it right up into my dormant grey matter and see if I can’t get myself hooked again.
My life is shit.
I mean… Godzilla, all the Godzillas in fact, even the awful ones.
King Kong. The Kraken. Frankenstein, Dracula, The Mummy.
The Werewolf, The Wolfman, whichever one you prefer.
All these guys; now they were monsters.
Jesus, talk about the short, feces-encrusted end of the stick.
Allow me to set the scene, or at least a scene, if I may.
You’re driving along a winding country road in the small hours, in heavy rain, when your car breaks down.
Of course, it does. That’s how these things go. We all know that.
No other cars pass for ages, your phone has no signal, blah blah blah.
Against your better judgment, but right in line with what seemingly sane people do in these situations, you leave the warmth and safety of your car and decide to go looking for someone who can help. Or a phone. Or someone who can help by giving you a phone.
To keep dry, you leave the road and take to the cover of the trees.
You come across a path.
Hey, it might lead somewhere, right?
Oh, and it does.
It leads you right into the lair of a creature the likes of which you could never have imagined, not without the help of mushrooms.
Somewhere close, way too close behind them in the traffic, a horn honked.
“That wasn’t what I think it was, was it?” said Beth.
Kevin shifted in the driving seat. “Jesus. Couldn’t have been.”
Beth killed the radio.
Kevin checked his mirrors.
They chanced glances left and right, looking at the occupants of the vehicles around them. Their expressions were all fixed with the same disbelief, the same incredulity.
The same fear.