Volume 2, Prologue: The Game of Death

January 28th, 2018.

Stark City, Oregon.

4:47 a.m.

For the Stark County Coroner, the day has begun on the sourest note possible. First, the dreaded ringing of his phone at this unwholesome hour. Second, the tired, agitated voice of Detective Troy Thorson crackling over the connection:

“Top of the morning, Morty. Got some customers for you.”

“It’s more like the bottom of it, Troy. But don’t spare me the gory details, not at two o’clock in the damn morning…”

“Right. Well, looks like two bodies. Steven Corvalli, white male adult, thirty-seven years of age, multiple stab wounds, missing an eye—”

Hmmm.

“I know. Appetizing, right? And we’ve got Brent Hardwick, white male adult, 22 years of age, with a broken neck. Both of them reported as D.O.A by Stark County Fire and Stark Emergency Response.”

“I see. Locale of the crime scene?”

“Downtown, Morty.”

“Any witnesses?”

“Uh…yeah…I got a friend of Hardwick’s here…Spencer Hewell, white male adult, twenty-one years of age. He’s got a pretty bad hangover, and he’s scared shitless. Seems he, Hardwick, and two other friends were out drinking tonight, and had two run-ins with an adult male in a, uh…Halloween costume.”

“What kind of costume?”

“He describes it as…a…skeleton costume.”

“I see.”

“Yeah, weird. Anyway…this ‘skeleton man’ appeared out of nowhere and ripped the door off of their vehicle. This was prior to the attack, see. Hardwick was driving. They sped off, dropped off two of their drunker friends, then came back to find the guy.”

“And they found him, eh?”

“Yes, sir. They found him, alright. When they arrived on scene, near the Stark City Mall, the ‘skeleton man’ was already involved in an altercation with Corvalli, and another while female adult whom we already have an APB out on, and whom I’d like very much to question.”

“You and I both, Detective.”

“Yeah. Well, we got it cordoned off down here. The investigators are on scene, the bodies are loaded and headed to Stark County Medical.”

“Good work, Troy. I expect I’ll be seeing you soon.”

“Count on it. Bye for now.”

“Pleasure, as always.”

Now, as Mortimer Trench pads back into his dark bedroom, a slight grin appears upon his thin, chapped lips.

Skeleton Man…

“Moving up in the world,” he grumbles, sinking down upon his mattress. “Aren’t you?”

Yes. The Coroner hadn’t quite been sure until now. But Thorson’s call had erased all doubt, and the game had just begun.

The game of Death.

“Third time this month. It must have found you recently…beginning of the year, perhaps…”

Eyes closed, Mortimer grins, revealing jagged white teeth which glint in the shadows.

“Of course. Death strikes at midnight. The witching hour…and New Year’s Eve, no less!”

Mortimer chuckles, leans back upon his pillows. He sighs, then folds his delicate hands upon his abdomen. The grin shifts, becoming sinister and resentful as his hands clench together.

“Oh, how good it must have felt, young sir. Was there any pain, I wonder? Did you fall ill, as if…dying?”

Beneath his closed eyelids, Mortimer pictures the young man of whom he speaks. Thin. Pale. Almost nondescript. A nobody. A loser. What back in Mortimer’s youth would’ve been referred to as a wimp, as the Coroner knew from painful experience.

“Why you, goddamnit? Why has Death chosen ye?”

Mortimer’s chapped grin twists into a frown. He doesn’t know this young man, but he has seen him twice now. Twice, he has seen this young man kill without mercy. Twice he has seen the true power of Death…

The first time had been when Mortimer’s office took possession of a corpse with a bullet in its brain. Alive, this particular corpse been an amphetamine addict named Clifford Newton. Cliff, Detective Thorson explained, had tried to rob a Quickie Mart, and after failing, had placed his gun in his own mouth. Goodbye, cruel world.

“Ha! What Thorson doesn’t know will probably never hurt him…”

That night, alone in the morgue, Mortimer had disrobed and drawn a dark circle on the floor in Cliff’s blood. Then he’d chanted forbidden words in an ancient tongue, and placed his hands upon Cliff’s cold, stiff flesh. Kneeling in that forbidden circle, left hand raised in a traditional witch’s gesture, right hand draped over Cliff’s ruined face, Mortimer looked into the murky past and saw what happened.

Every gory detail…

The young man—whose name Mortimer had found on an official police statement—had prevented the robbery by throwing a bottle of soda at Cliff, who then panicked and shot himself in the foot. After the resultant chaos, something weird happened. The young man delivered the gun back into Cliff’s hands…looked deep into him…and somehow, talked Cliff into placing the barrel between his lips.

Boom,” Mortimer whispered on the heels of another sigh.

From that night forward, he’d had his suspicions. Suspicions which had been confirmed when, three nights later, his office received the bodies of two vagrants who’d gotten their necks broken in the heart of Bartholomew Park.

Another twisted ritual in Mortimer’s office had confirmed a truth which Detective Thorson himself would’ve killed to know. The same young man had encountered those two vagrants. They’d attacked him, and he’d fought back. His voice, so soft, yet so menacing, had cajoled the two vagrants into fighting each other. A thrilling sight for the nude, trembling Coroner to behold. And when the dust settled, as they laid next to each other in their pained, drunken stupors, the thin young man walked over and—with all the delicacy of a fucking surgeon—snapped both of their rotten necks like twigs—

Clickety-clack!

And now this. Two more, with orbital mutilation to boot.

“Bravo, Skeleton Man…”

By now, Mortimer admires, envies, and despises this lucky young man, blessed by Death Itself. Because, for all of the power that Mortimer wields as Coroner and practitioner of the darkest arts known to man, he does not wield the power that this young man wields.

A fact which eats away at him.

A fact which he has vowed to change.

“Or, should I say…bravo, Mr. Myers!

Another sigh as Mortimer releases his grip and lets his bony hands fall to sides. Sleep has flown the coop for the rest of the morning, he knows, but several cups of strong, black coffee will carry him through what promises to be a very long and trying day.

That, and the knowledge that he and one Mr. Blaine Myers of Stark City, Oregon have a rather violent date with destiny.

***

If you enjoyed “Death’s Avenger,” please like, subscribe, and share!

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Thanks for reading!

JLR

 

Epiphany (Vol. 1, Ep. 17)

January 22nd, 2018.

Stark City, Oregon.

12:41 p.m.

For most people over the age of ten, a comic book store would probably be an unlikely place to have a life-changing epiphany. But then again, I’m not most people. I’m a guy with a curse. A pawn of Death Itself. And that epiphany I mentioned absolutely came to me, not just in a comic book store, but also in a mall.

Almost like my life had turned into a Kevin Smith movie.

Too bad I’m not likely to get that Hollywood ending.

Nevertheless. I’d been in a mood that day. Not so much melancholy as contemplative. A lot of crazy shit had gone down in the last three weeks, and even though things had seemed more stable, I knew that it was just the calm before the storm. I’d been working out with Franklin, taking self-defense lessons with Isaac, helping out the homeless with Bill, and doing my best to make Joan happy…but none of it really mattered. I still felt the tension building. Death had commanded me to kill, and sooner or later, I’d have no choice.

And the scary part was, I was actually looking forward to it.

But the mood I was in; thoughtful, slightly irritable. I’d been hanging out with my Quad-mates quite a bit outside of work, so I decided to spend my lunch break all alone. Some quality me-time.

I’d left the Fortress offices, went down to the lobby, and ate my lunch—pizza from one of the vendors—in a quiet little corner. I was reading Pet Sematary while I ate; a suggestion from Isaac when I told him I was in the mood to read something morbid.

Afterwards, I decided to go for a nice walk downtown to clear my head. It was another typical cold, blustery day. Everyone else looked miserable as they fought the wind, but I barely noticed. One of the benefits of my curse is that I never seem to feel cold or hot anymore. I just sorta feel numb to the elements. Even my sense of pain has been dulled, although not nearly as much as when the power rises up inside me; what I now call my “Death Mode.”

Luckily, I wasn’t in Death Mode as I strolled along. I tried not to look at the other pedestrians around me, because sometimes just looking at people would bring on that weird, murderous rage. I was turning into a real misanthrope. So I kept my eyes lowered, mainly for everyone else’s safety.

I don’t know what possessed me to turn into the Stark City Mall, but I did. I walked in through the main entrance, looked around at the hustling, bustling mass of humanity, and stepped onto a nearby escalator. I had no real destination in mind; it was just another random decision. Or so it seemed at the time.

I got off the escalator on the second floor, and turned right, walking with the flow of traffic. I saw all of the familiar sights and heard all of the familiar sounds of the mall. Small groups of women with rustling bags. Children running about, shrieking, laughing, and crying. Guys in cheap suits talking too loudly on their cell phones. Old people sitting on benches, looking tired and somewhat confused with life.

For a moment, I wanted to kill them all.

The moment passed, and I happened to pass by the Stark City Comics storefront. I’d never read an entire comic book in my life, although some of my childhood friends had read them. I knew most of the popular characters, of course, especially now that there seems to be about ten superhero movies every damn year.

But as I passed the store, something in the window caught my eye and made me stop. It was a display in their window. A cardboard cutout of Spider-Man. He looked like he was climbing up the glass, and staring right at me. He also wasn’t wearing his familiar red and blue suit. This suit was all black, with white eyes in his mask, and a big white spider across his chest.

That really struck me. The contrast between the colors. White and black. Light and darkness. Good and evil. Yin and yang. The duality of mankind. All that shit.

Pretty deep stuff for a guy like me.

Now, I was pretty sure that Spider-Man was never really a dark character, like Bat-Man. I mean, he was just a kid who got bit by a radioactive spider. But that suit made him look pretty sinister. Like a ninja, or something. And the contrast of colors gave me another idea.

If, like my father had said, I was gonna be a hero and fight crime, then I might as well wear a costume—at the very least to disguise myself the way those comic book guys did. I mean, if I was gonna go around killing bad guys, I couldn’t very well do it in my regular clothes, could I?

Of course, not.

I wasn’t going to dress up like Spider-Man, though. As I stood there, I briefly considered using a ninja costume, but that didn’t seem right, either. It was the black and white coloring that cinched it for me, though.

Suddenly aware that I’d been standing there, gazing at Spidey like an idiot for over two minutes, I checked my mouth for drool—there wasn’t any—and walked into the store. The guy behind the register looked me up and down, then gave me a nod. He was a real character. Older, bald, fat, and covered with tattoos.

Luckily, there weren’t many people in there, which was nice. Kind of an oasis in the middle of the flood of humanity. I looked around for awhile. The Spider-Man comics didn’t really grab me, so I moved on. The guy behind the counter asked if I was looking for anything in particular.

I thought it over.

“I guess I’m looking for something weird and dark,” I said.

He nodded. “You lookin’ for modern stuff?”

“Not really.” I shrugged. “Just something good.”

He grinned. “Weird, dark, and good, huh?”

“Yeah.”

He pointed to a rack behind me. “Well, I’m a big fan of Grant Morrison’s Doom Patrol. Take a look.”

“Thanks.”

I turned to the rack. There were three volumes of Doom Patrol. I picked up Volume One and flipped through it. It didn’t look weird, it looked downright bizarre. But dark, and good, too.

Perfect.

I paid the man, then returned to The Quad. Isaac seemed a little surprised and weirded out by the fact that I’d bought a comic book.

“Lifting weights, Jiu-Jitsu, reading Stephen King, buying comics,” he said with his trademark grin. “It’s like you’re a whole new person, Blaine!”

Very true, I thought. But Isaac didn’t know the half of it.

That night, after Joanie fell asleep, I logged onto the Silver Shamrock Halloween Costume Supply Company’s website, and ordered five sets of item 10-A:

The Skeleton Man.

Each set came with a shirt, pants, gloves, and a mask. It was all black, with skeleton bones on each piece of clothing. It looked exactly like the suits that those Cobra Kai punks were wearing in The Karate Kid when they kicked Daniel’s ass.

Now, all I needed was a good pair of black running shoes, and a name to complete my superhero persona. Something dark. Something frightful.

Something…catchy.

***

If you enjoyed “Death’s Avenger,” please like, subscribe, and share!

Show support on Patreon @ https://www.patreon.com/jesselynnrucilez

Thanks for reading!

JLR

THIS CONCLUDES VOLUME #1!

VOLUME #2 BEGINS HERE: https://deathsavenger.wordpress.com/2019/08/10/volume-2-prologue-the-game-of-death/

The Shadow of Death (Vol. 1, Ep. 16)

January 21st, 2018.

Stark City, Oregon.

10:01 p.m.

I’ll never forget the look on Joan’s face when I suggested that we take my boss up on his offer to join his church group on Sunday. Neither of us were very religious, or the church-going type, and I’m sure it hit her right outta the blue.

“Are you serious?” she asked.

“Yeah,” I said.

She winced in confusion. “Why?”

Well, that was the rough part for me. I couldn’t exactly tell her why, so I told her a half-truth and hoped it would do:

“I just think we should get involved, you know? I’m not going all religious on ya, I just wanna be a better person. I’m mainly doing it for the outreach work Bill and his group does…”

Joan thought it over, then came around to the idea. In fact, when we woke up Sunday morning, she seemed like she was really looking forward to it.

That’s my Joanie.

Even though she didn’t know the half of it, the fallout from my situation had been almost as rough for her as it had been for me. She’d had to deal with me waking up every morning from horrendous nightmares for an entire week. She’d had to deal with my erratic behavior as things started to go haywire even when I was awake. Then, for the cherry on top, she’d had to come and pick me up from the hospital the night of the Quickie Mart robbery.

Through it all, she’d remained stoic, suspicious, but also very supportive.

What a trooper.

And as for me? Well, things had finally begun to settle down. No more nightmares. No more hallucinations. No more things spontaneously breaking around me. And—even though I looked for them every morning—no more ravens perched on my car. I was back to work, caught up on my projects, and feeling better than I had in quite awhile.

All of which helped me focus on transforming myself.

So, Sunday. Joan and I met Bill and his wife, Claire, at the Cavalry Church of Stark City after breakfast. The pastor—whom everyone called “Pastor Roger”—spoke of being thankful for everything good in life, and quoted from the New Testament often. It was pretty standard stuff, but well-said by the charismatic Pastor Roger. And as he spoke, I couldn’t help but feel thankful for Joan being there, and for my friends at The Quad. I also couldn’t help remembering what my father had said the last time I’d seen him:

It’s funny, you know? All them preachers and holy-rollers. They were all wrong, after all…

After church, Joan and I joined the Nessbaums in—of all places—Bart Park. The day was cold, but bright, and the park was full of homeless people. Bill, Claire, and their friends arrived in a white van, and began setting up tables. As they did every Sunday, they’d brought bottled water, coffee, and a mountain of peanut butter and jelly sandwiches. The park-dwellers swarmed in like locusts as two middle-aged women and the van driver—an older black man named Gil—did their best to herd the approaching humanity into some semblance of a line.

I felt very out of place as I handed out the water and sandwiches. I’d never done anything like this before, and I wasn’t sure that so small a gesture would assuage the guilt I was destined to feel in the coming weeks. It also wasn’t a very pleasant experience. There were about two dozen people, ranging from their late teens to late fifties, and they all looked fresh from the same garbage heap. Their unshaved faces were hollow and sunken. Their clothes looked ragged and dirty. They stank of urine and alcohol. Their eyes looked wary and hard; devoid of hope. I figured that most of them were junkies. Cynical, I know…but reality is pretty tough that way.

As I watched them file past, I couldn’t help but remember Gino and Hank, the two poor bastards who’d crossed my path in this very park nine days before. They’d have fit in well with that crowd.

Life…death… The Grim Reaper had said. There…must…be…balance…

You…must…cast…down…upon…them…

And that’s when I began to feel that awful urge bubbling up from inside. The urge to tear into all of them like a human whirlwind, breaking bones, rending flesh, and spilling blood.

Using all of the terrifying powers Death had bestowed upon me.

But, fortunately, Claire Nessbaum, beautiful soul that she is, provided a soothing antidote to my murderous rage.

“Beautiful day, isn’t it?” she said with a bright smile.

I looked over. Though well into her fifties, Claire had the eyes of a child; wide and full of wonder. She practically radiated warmth and caring, too.

“Sure is,” I said. And I wasn’t kidding. After so many days of gray, the sunshine was surreal—almost like the sky had been in that strange vision with Pop.

Still smiling, Claire took a sip of coffee. She looked very neat and puffy in a red parka.

Lovely, I thought. Goodhearted, too.

Bill’s a lucky man.

“I’m so glad you two came today!” Bill suddenly said behind me.

I turned, smiled, and shook his hand.

“Me, too, Bill. Thanks for having us.”

“Oh, it’s our pleasure,” he said, gesturing to Claire.

Then Joan appeared beside me. Grinning, she slid her left arm around my waist, and patted Bill’s shoulder with her right hand.

“We’ll definitely have to do this again, Bill.”

Bill brightened like he’d just hit a jackpot in Vegas. “That’d be great, Joan!”

I agreed with Bill, nodding as Joan kissed my cheek. It occurred to me that, in her own way, Joan was every bit as lovely and warm as Claire, and I was just as lucky to have her as Bill was to have his wife.

For a moment, I saw us—me and Joan—as an older, married couple like Bill and Claire. Still in love, still smiling…

Then a wayward cloud drifted across the sun, and, for another moment, all I saw was the shadow of Death.

Everywhere.

***

If you enjoyed “Death’s Avenger,” please like, subscribe, and share!

Show support on Patreon @ https://www.patreon.com/jesselynnrucilez

Thanks for reading!

JLR

Death’s Avenger continues in Episode #17: https://deathsavenger.wordpress.com/2018/02/05/epiphany-vol-1-ep-17/

The Mat (Vol. 1, Ep. 15)

January 20th, 2018.

Stark City, Oregon.

12:01 p.m.

I must be outta my fuckin’ mind, I thought as I stepped onto the thick, blue wrestling mats that covered the floor in The Modern Day Warrior Academy of Martial Science. I was wearing the same gear I’d been wearing to the gym with Franklin, except, of course, I was barefoot. Franklin stood beside me, wearing his workout clothes, and next to him, stood Isaac Price, wearing his fancy martial arts gear—a rough canvas getup he called a gi—and grinning like an evil troll about to devour some wayward kids. Just as Franklin had been wanting to get me in the gym since I’d known him, so had Isaac wanted to get me on “the mat,” as he called it.

Speaking of Franklin, he’d taken it pretty easy on me that first week. I’d gone to the gym with him five nights in a row, learning different exercises each session, and I was moderately sore all over. He had me working muscles that I never even knew I had. I felt better than I had in quite awhile, though; even felt like I was a bit stronger to boot.

Now came the ultimate exercise in masochism.

But what the hell? I figured. If I was gonna go around provoking fights like I’d done in Bart Park a week before, then I’d at least better learn how to defend myself.

Presently, there was just the three of us in the wide space. Issac was an instructor there, and had his own key. One wall was lined with mirrors, and the other was lined with hanging heavy bags. Strange looking dummies sat in the corners of the room; humanoid, and also wearing gis. I guessed they were used for practicing wrestling moves or something.

“Excsue me, fellas,” Isaac said. He’d been circling his arms and swinging them back and forth, loosening up his shoulders, and suddenly dove forward. As he hit the mat, he curled into a ball and rolled to his feet as smooth as an acrobat.

Impressed, Franklin and I looked at each other. Despite his barrel-chested torso and stubby legs, the little bastard could really move.

After a couple more dives and rolls, Isaac began throwing himself directly onto the mat—

Thwack!

—and landing in strange, contorted postures. For what purpose, I had no idea. But he was in the zone, and seemed to be enjoying himself. Next, he began to bounce on his toes, throwing quick, cutting, kicks and punches into the air. Finally, when he’d finished warming up, he turned to me and Franklin, and bowed.

I can’t speak for Franklin, but I felt pretty foolish as I bowed back.

“Usually there’s a small ceremony at the beginning,” Isaac announced. “But this is gonna be very informal today.”

“Okay,” I said.

“Sure,” Franklin said.

Franklin had taken a couple classes before, but hadn’t really wanted to invest the time in full-on training. He came that day mostly just to help Isaac train me.

“Now,” Isaac said, tightening the black belt around his waist. “Have you ever heard of Ivanov Kohlokovitch?”

“No,” I said. “Who’s that?”

“He used to be the Global Combat League Heavyweight Champion of the World. He’s retired now, but in my opinion, he’s the best fighter in GCL history.”

“Oh. Well, what about him?”

“I always encourage my students to watch certain fighters, especially Kohlokovitch. The guy fought with merciless intensity, like a soldier.”

“Okay,” I said. Now I had to watch Pumping Iron to learn about lifting weights, and some GCL fights to learn about martial arts. Great. More homework.

“Now, are you ready?”

No, I thought, nodding yes, anyway.

“Good. First thing we’re gonna work on is defense.”

“Okay.”

Isaac squared up with me, showed me how to stand at an angle, tuck my chin, guard my face with my hands and forearms, and how to shift away as someone comes toward me.

If only I’d known this shit last week, I thought.

And throughout the rest of the lesson, I paid as much attention to Isaac as I could, wishing I could tell him and Franklin everything that had happened so far, but knowing that I couldn’t.

Not then, and probably not ever.

Same as Joan.

A true hero, I realized, has to do everything in his power to keep his loved ones safe…and that’s what I intended to do.

***

If you enjoyed “Death’s Avenger,” please like, subscribe, and share!

Show support on Patreon @ https://www.patreon.com/jesselynnrucilez

Thanks for reading!

JLR

Death’s Avenger continues in Episode #16: https://deathsavenger.wordpress.com/2018/02/03/the-shadow-of-death-vol-1-ep-16/

No Pain, No Gain (Vol. 1, Ep. 14)

January 15th, 2018.

Stark City, Oregon.

6:01 p.m.

With a heavy sigh, I looked around the gym, and shook my head. I’d gone through quite a lot of changes in the preceding two weeks, and the trend was continuing. That previous Friday, I’d stayed late at work, and went for a stroll in Bart Park. It was probably the dumbest thing I’ve ever done in my life. I just wasn’t thinking.

Or, wasn’t thinking straight, anyway.

I’d been too busy thinking about Death, and the curse It had put over me. Too busy thinking about the Quickie Mart robbery. Too busy thinking about my father, and the strange dream I’d had about him. Too busy thinking about poor Joan. That’s when two drunken bums showed up. One of them punched me, and rummaged through my wallet. I recovered, of course, and used my newfound power to end their pathetic lives.

And just like that, there was no going back. But if I was really gonna live up to Death’s commandment that I “cast down upon them,” and my father’s advice to “be a hero,” then I knew I’d need some help.

Fortunately, I had friends to turn to.

Franklin Yates was one of my Quad-mates at Fortress. He was the strong, silent type. Really strong, and really quiet. But one of the nicest guys you’d ever wanna meet, too. His passion in life was lifting weights, and he’d won a couple regional bodybuilding tournaments when he was younger. I don’t know why he didn’t turn pro. Maybe he just figured that a career in I.T. would be a bit more reliable than bodybuilding.

I’d known Franklin ever since I’d started at Fortress. For the longest time, he’d been asking me to accompany him to the gym. After thinking it over all weekend, I decided to take him up on his offer. I mean, getting trained by a former semi-pro athlete didn’t seem like a bad place to start. So I told Joan, who was all for it, and Monday morning I ran it past Franklin—who just smiled like a kid with a new toy.

That’s how I found myself standing in Stark City Fitness, wearing a black tank top, shorts, and sneakers, looking and feeling very out of place. Franklin, however was in his second home; wearing a tight Under Armour shirt, and baggy shorts. We’d done some light stretching in the locker room, and were standing by the free weights.

“Have you ever seen Pumping Iron?” Franklin asked, eyeing me the way a sculptor might eye a chunk of clay. Except in this case, the sculptor meant to add clay rather than shave it away.

“No, I haven’t,” I replied, wondering what the hell he was talking about.

Franklin nodded. “Well, it’s a documentary about bodybuilding. I always recommend it to people because it gives a lot of insight into the psychology of lifting weights. Plus, it’s got a lot of legends in it, like Arnold, Lou Ferrigno, Franco Columbu…”

“I see. Guess I’ll have to watch it at some point.”

“Well, if you do, let me know what you think.”

“You got it.”

I was trying to look relaxed, but in reality I was avoiding the huge mirror in front of us. I looked so pale and scrawny next to big, tall Franklin that it made me incredibly self-conscious. It didn’t help matters any that, nearby, two spandex-clad housewives were watching us from their treadmills with a mixture of amusement—at me—and lust—at Franklin.

“Come over here,” Franklin said, waving me toward the row of dumbbells lining the mirrored wall. “This is your first workout, so before you get started, look at yourself. Try to envision how you want to look and make it the focus of your training.”

I couldn’t help frowning. Not just because I wasn’t impressed with myself, but because ever since Death had appeared in my bathroom mirror that awful morning, I’ve been a bit skittish around reflective surfaces. Besides, when I looked into the mirror, I didn’t really see myself anymore. I just saw a dead man, slowly rotting…

“Uh, I’m not really sure how I wanna look, Franklin.”

“But you’re not entirely happy with what you see, right?”

It took all of my self control not to burst out laughing. “Right.”

“And you’re serious about changing it, right?”

“Right.”

“Then pick up those twenty-fives.”

I sighed. I knew this was necessary, but for a guy like me—who never really learned about this world—it was also humiliating. On the plus side, Isaac wasn’t there, which was my only saving grace.

“Okay…”

Feeling very foolish, I grabbed the twenty-five pound dumbbells. I mean, the dark power inside me had already manifested awesome strength when I needed it…but I guess this was more about building discipline and mental toughness than building muscles. Besides, I figured, it certainly couldn’t hurt.

“Good,” Franklin said, pointing to a nearby bench press. “Now have a seat.”

I hesitated, looking at the dumbbell rack.

“You know, these feel pretty light, Franklin. I think I could lift heavier ones.”

Franklin shook his head. “First, you have to learn technique, then you build weight and intensity.”

“Okay,” I said, planting my ass on the padded bench. “No pain, no gain, right?”

“Right. Now lay back and bring the dumbbells up to your shoulders.”

With another, heavier sigh, I did as I was told. Franklin moved around behind me, standing over me.

“Good, Blaine. Good. Now, breathe out and push the weights up—but don’t lock out your elbows. You’ll feel the stress on your arms, and in your chest, okay?”

“Okay,” I replied.

And as I exhaled, as I pushed, I stared at the blank, white ceiling…thinking of all the pain I’d already gone through, all the pain that was still to come, and wondered what, if anything, I stood to gain from Death’s foul curse.

***

If you enjoyed “Death’s Avenger,” please like, subscribe, and share!

Show support on Patreon @ https://www.patreon.com/jesselynnrucilez

Thanks for reading!

JLR

Death’s Avenger continues in Episode #15: https://deathsavenger.wordpress.com/2018/02/01/the-mat-vol-1-ep-15/

The Disease of Death (Vol. 1, Ep. 13)

January 12th, 2018.

Stark City, Oregon.

8:53 p.m.

Although my breath was streaming out like smoke, I wasn’t cold as I stepped into Bart Park on that chilly Friday night. For once, the sky was clear, and the half moon glowed pale and sharp above me. I’d just been out for a walk, trying to clear my head. I hadn’t wanted any trouble.

But I should’ve known better.

Unlike the preceding week-and-a-half, the past two days had been fairly normal. After I’d been interrogated at the hospital by Detective Thorson, Joan had driven me back to the Quickie Mart and we’d both gone home to our apartment. Joan was majorly freaked out by the whole thing, and so was I. She didn’t know the half of it, though. Still doesn’t. I’d stopped that guy from robbing the Quickie Mart, then goaded him into suicide. I’d watched his brains leak out from his skull.

But the part that really freaked me out was that, after I passed out, I found myself talking to my father in what amounted to The Twilight Zone. Pop had warned me not to fight the strange curse Death had put over me, and told me to use my power for good.

Wise words, but easier said than done.

That was Tuesday night. I hadn’t gone to work, and I stayed home Wednesday, too. Joan and I had spent the day together, and after a really long conversation, I was finally able to convince her that everything would be alright. She’d been worried that I was losing my marbles, and—though she never admitted it—she thought our apartment was haunted.

Of course, she was right about both, but I’m not dumb enough to ever tell her that.

By Thursday, there was nothing left to do but go back to work. I mean, I may have been Death’s chosen one, or whatever, but I still needed to pay the bills. Plus, I was in really hot water for leaving early Monday and getting behind on my projects. So I went in, reunited with my concerned Quad-mates, and stayed late, trying to catch up.

I pulled pretty much the same routine the next night, and once I’d gotten my fill of sitting in my cubicle, I decided to go out for a nice, quiet walk. That’s how I wound up in Bart Park.

Everyone in Stark City knows Bart Park isn’t the safest place to be—especially at night. But as I strolled along, I left Stark Square and kept going south of downtown. I wasn’t really thinking about where I was going…I was too lost in thought. So much had happened in the last twelve days, and I think my brain was kinda fried.

Either that, or Death and Destiny were guiding me along.

From the outside, it’s easy to see why Bart Park was never very popular with regular people. It’s really just a big city version of a park. More concrete than grass, with a stupid bronze statue of Stark’s first City Treasurer, Melvin Bartholomew Stark. The place is dreary, even in the summertime. More drug-dealing than dog-walking goes on there, and at night it serves as a campground for random bums and winos.

It had been a week since the last major incident. Three people had died of stab wounds in what the cops had said was a drug deal gone bad.

On this particular night, Bart Park wasn’t hosting many people. It was pretty quiet, in fact. No noise except the frozen grass crunching under my shoes. With hindsight, I suppose that I was unconsciously walking toward the spot where those people had died. Places like that draw me like a magnet now. Something about the aura of Death. But at that moment, all I was thinking about was Joan, and wondering how in the world I was gonna keep in her in the dark about everything that was happening to me.

I was also wondering if I should just leave for her own protection.

And that’s when I heard it. A sudden voice calling out from the darkness:

“Hey, buddy…you lost?”

Huh?” I gasped, jerking toward the sound. I heard laughter—a second voice joining in—and I stopped in my tracks. Oh, no, I thought.

Here we go.

“I said, are you lost?

It was a deep, scratchy voice; drunken and hostile. And a moment later, I saw the man it belonged to. An older guy, wearing a ratty black parka and even rattier jeans. He had deep wrinkles in his face, and when he smiled, I saw a few missing teeth. He also had an eyepatch over his left eye. Next to him stood a man wearing a cowboy hat, and slightly better clothes. This guy had a thick, graying beard that made him look older than he was. Both of them wore beat-up backpacks, and held open beers in their right hands.

“No, I’m not lost,” I replied. “Just enjoying the park…”

That remark caused more laughter as they sauntered toward me with mocking grins.

“Oh, yeah,” Eyepatch said, nodding sarcastically. “Bart Park’s beautiful this time of year…ain’t it, Hank?”

Cowboy Hat chuckled. He was Hank, I guessed.

“Sure is, Gino…”

I stood very still as they walked closer. I didn’t know what was about to happen, but my gut told me that it probably wouldn’t be pretty. I’d never been in a situation like this, and I had no idea how to deal with these guys. I didn’t wanna hurt them, but I wasn’t sure that I even had a choice in the matter.

Eyepatch’s name is Gino, I thought.

They stopped about three feet from me; close enough that I could smell the beer on their breath—and the stench of not having showered in a few days. They both watched me with knowing smirks, but I still saw telltale signs of wariness in their eyes.

Especially when I didn’t back away from them.

“Quiet kinda guy, ain’tcha?” Gino asked.

I looked at Hank first, the bigger of the two, then glanced at Gino.

“I’m not lookin’ for trouble, guys. I just wanna go for a nice walk and be left alone.”

Gino and Hank looked at each other, then shared another chuckle.

“Well, don’t let us stop ya, kind sir,” Gino said, stepping aside and holding out his hand. “I was just gonna ask if ya had a buck or two to spare tonight.”

I shook my head. “Sorry, Gino. Don’t have any money on me.”

It was the truth, too.

Hank snickered. Gino’s face turned to stone. He glared at me with his eye.

“Now, I don’t believe that, kind sir. I believe you do have some bread on ya. I believe you lied to me just now.”

“I’m sure he lied, Gino,” Hank grumbled.

“No, I didn’t,” I said.

A moment passed. Gino and Hank stared at me with a resentment and rage that I didn’t quite understand. I hadn’t done anything to them…and yet, they were reacting as if I had. As if my presence was somehow insulting. It was strange, but oddly fascinating.

“Ya know,” Gino said, looking me up and down. “You look like one of them college boys to me. That what ya are? A college boy…out here slummin’? Lookin’ for some weed, maybe a cheap blowjob?”

“From a dude, too,” Hank added.

“No,” I said, beginning to feel the same surge of anger I’d felt in the Quickie Mart.

“Fuckin’ pansy!” Hank blurted out as he suddenly shoved me with his left hand.

Hey!” I shouted, staggering back.

Gino cackled as Hank tossed his beer and rushed toward me. I was still trying to recover, and, not having any street fighting experience at all, I halfheartedly threw up my hands as Hank punched me hard in the stomach—

Thwack!

It felt like all of the air in my lungs had been sucked away as my stomach clenched and I bent over. It wasn’t so much pain as shock. I’d had the air knocked out of me a few times in my life by accident—who hasn’t?—but this was different. This was the result of another human being attacking me, and my brain was having real trouble processing it.

Wheezing, I sank to my knees. More laughter rained upon me as I braced myself for a kick or something.

What am I doing? I thought. This is crazy!

“Shoulda kept your ass at home, faggot!” Hank said.

“Get ’im, Hank!” Gino said, still cackling.

But the kick never came. Hank didn’t really wanna beat the crap outta me, he just wanted my wallet. I squirmed as Hank’s filthy fingers dug into my coat, then my pants. When he found the wallet, he backed away and began going through it.

“Fuck,” Hank said. “Nothing!”

“Well, we got enough for another six pack, anyway,” Gino said.

“Here, faggot,” Hank said, and threw my wallet on the grass near my head.

I took a deep breath. The pain and shock had worn off, replaced by what I can only describe as a cold rage. I was furious, but completely composed. Able to think clearly, and the only thing on my mind was teaching these two idiots a lesson in pain.

Then ending their pathetic lives.

“Come on,” Gino said. “Let’s hit the Quickie Mart over on Spring.”

“Yep,” Hank replied.

The crunching of their footsteps was very loud in my ears. I looked up, saw their retreating backpacks full of beer and dirty clothes, and felt a spike of pure loathing in my veins. Then I stood up, eyes narrowed, fists balled. My knees were wet from the frozen grass, but still, I felt no cold or chill. I was absolutely numb.

“Hey, assholes,” I called, walking toward them. “Why didn’t you take my debit card?”

Gino and Hank stopped in their tracks. Neither said anything for several seconds, and now I smelled fear intermingled with the beer and the B.O.

“You morons aren’t too bright, are ya?”

Wow!” Hank said as he and Gino both turned. “I coulda swore I heard somethin’ just now. But I know it’s not that little faggot I beat up…”

“Couldn’t be, Hank,” Gino said. “He looked like a smart boy. He wouldn’t say anything that stupid.”

I smiled at them, took another step forward.

“I’m gonna give you this one chance. Either turn around and leave the park, or you both die, right here, right now.”

Gino began to laugh, then glanced at Hank—and quickly sobered.

“Okay, you little fuckin’ fag!” Hank said, shrugging off his backpack. “Now I’m gonna break your neck!”

Gino grabbed Hank’s shoulder. “Hank! He’s crazy! It’s not worth it, man! You gonna end up in jail again!”

Hands off!” Hank screamed, shoving Gino away as he stomped toward me.

“Better run, man!” Gino said, looking at me with wide, bloodshot eyes. “Hank’ll kill ya!”

“Then let him kill me…”

I’d done it once before, in the Quickie Mart, and I knew I could do it again. So I stared hard into Hank’s blazing eyes…

This time, it happened fast. It still felt like falling, like sinking into utter darkness, but not as disorienting. And when those black curtains parted, I again saw it all. A life of pain. A life of heartache.

The life of Hank Dugan.

“You’re gonna be one sorry little bitch!” Hank yelled, vapor steaming from his face like a locomotive. His right arm curled back, fist balled, ready to throw what I’m sure would’ve been a tremendous punch…but right before he swung, I hit him first:

“It’s a damn chore, Hank.”

The drunken lunatic stopped short. His fist trembled in the night air. His knees shook. He looked as if he’d just walked into an invisible force field; suddenly confused, yet still pissed as hell.

What?

“I said, it’s a damn chore.” I sighed, smiling at the poor bastard. “That’s what your father used to say, right? When he beat your mother…when he beat your sister…when he beat you.

I think it took a few extra moments because the alcohol had dulled his brain, but Hank finally felt what was happening. Felt that I was seeing into his very soul. And with that knowledge came the deepest fear that he’d probably ever felt in his life.

“Holy fuck!” the drunk said, lowering his arm. “How could you know that?”

“Hey,” Gino said. “You alright, Hank?”

“No,” I answered. “Hank’s not alright. Hank’s frightened. Hank doesn’t want the belt tonight. He doesn’t wanna have to go to school with bruises on his arms again…”

“Jesus!” Hank gasped.

“What’s this horseshit?” Gino yelled.

Then Hank began to back away from me, slow and cautious, as if I were a coiled rattlesnake.

“But it finally ended, didn’t it, Hank? The day your daddy ran off with his buddies and never came back. You were only ten years old…and, despite the pain and the fear and the anger…you still missed him. You prayed every night for years that he’d come back…”

Hank stumbled, nearly fell on his ass. “You’re the goddamn devil!

“Easy, man!” Gino said, holding up his hands as if he could catch his friend from ten feet away.

Slowly, I started circling toward Gino. Smiling. Enjoying myself. Eyes still locked on Hank.

“But don’t worry. You got the medicine. The medicine will take all that pain away.”

Sweet Christ!” Hank screamed. “Make it stop!

“Hey, man!” Gino said, gaping at me. “Whatever you’re doin’, stop it! We don’t want any more hassles tonight!”

“Go on, Hank. Go get your medicine…”

As if suddenly remembering, Hank groaned, turned, and sprinted toward his backpack. His cowboy hat flew off, tumbled to the cold ground. Gino and I watched—me with amusement, Gino with utter confusion—as Hank, huffing and puffing, grabbed the pack and ripped the zipper open. Then he shoved his quivering hand inside and retrieved a cold metal can.

“Hank…what’re ya doin’, bud?” Gino asked, looking helpless.

Hank’s eyes bulged as he raised the can. It glinted in the light as he popped the metal tab and raised it to his lips. Foam spewed from the hole, soaking his filthy hand. Guzzling his medicine, the devastated drunk slowly sank to his knees.

“And you,” I said, turning to Gino. “Let me taste your fear!”

Gino shuffled backward. His eye threatened to eclipse his entire face.

“Hold it now, partn—AHHH!

Our gazes locked. My mind pulsed with secret knowledge as Gino began to shudder. “I see,” I said, stalking the one-eyed loser. “You drink because she left…isn’t that right? She left, and took your daughter with her…”

Lefty raised his hands. “Just stop it, man! Stop right there!”

I took another step.

“How easily your world fell apart, Gino.”

He gasped.

“So very easily…”

“Mister,” Gino said, trying to sound indignant and failing miserably. “That’s none of your goddamn business!”

“I’ve got another little secret for you, Gino. Wanna hear it?”

“Mister, I…I’m warning you…”

Another step.

“Sure you do. Sure you wanna hear it…”

What I was about to say had revealed itself to me when I’d looked into Hank’s eyes, and I knew what was about to happen. In fact, I couldn’t wait to see the carnage. That’s what the disease of Death does to you.

Lefty shook his head, closed his eye. “No!” he shouted. “I don’t wanna hear nothin’!

To my left, I heard Hank belch and rip open another can. “I think we’re in hell, Gino!” he said before tipping the can back.

Well, they hadn’t seen hell yet. But it was definitely coming.

“It was last Sunday, Gino. You and Hank were camped out in the Proebstel District.”

From the corner of my eye, I saw Hank twitch. Gino also jerked in surprise. Now I had them right where I wanted them.

“You guys found a nice, cozy doorway to sleep in, didn’t you?”

Gino stumbled back. Breath plumed around his face.

“But your friend stayed awake. He had some things to do, and that’s what you need to kno—”

“SHUT YOUR FUCKIN’ MOUTH!” Hank screamed, spewing beer all over himself.

Gino flinched, again almost tripped and fell.

“While you were asleep, your friend, your runnin’ buddy, went through your backpack—”

NO!

“—and found that picture—”

“STOP IT!”

“—of your wife—”

COCKSUCKER!

“—and daughter—”

LYIN’ MOTHERFU—

“And what?” Gino barked, interrupting both of us. “He dug through my backpack, found my picture, and…what?

A hush fell over our little slice of the park. My smile grew wider. Gino stared at me, chest heaving. Hank, open-mouthed, looked from me to Gino, and back. The wind whispered all around us. Trees rattled in the darkness.

Finally, I spoke:

“He took your picture, Gino…and he jacked off to it in the alley around the corner.”

Gino’s eye narrowed. “What?

“He fantasized about fucking your wife, your daughter, Gino…”

LIAR!” Hank screamed.

I looked at the bearded, beer-soaked bastard, and laughed.

“Is that true?” Gino demanded, turning toward his buddy. “Is it?

Hank, still on his knees, snapped toward Gino. “I-I’m sorry, Gino!”

“It’s true?” Gino was walking toward Hank now, flexing his hands as if squeezing stress balls.

“I was drunk as a skunk, Gino!”

“Fucker.”

“Hold it, bubba!”

“I’ll kill you!”

Stop!

“He thought about fucking them at the same time, Gino,” I added.

Gino growled; an exhalation of pure hatred.

Aw, fuck!” Dropping his beer, Hank struggled to one knee, attempting to stand.

Gino slipped off his backpack. For a split second, I thought he was ridding himself of the weight, but instead he swung it like a bolo—

THWACK!

—nailing Hank—

Argh!

—aiming for his face, but mostly hitting his left shoulder.

Shit!” Gino yelled, stumbling from the momentum as Hank collapsed.

I cupped my hands around my mouth, and called, “You gonna lie there and take that, Hank?”

Of course, he wasn’t. Roaring like an injured bear, Hank rolled over, using his own momentum to gain his knees and stand. Gino hoisted the backpack again—much like Santa Claus—stumbling forward. Hank charged, slammed into Gino like a football player—

Thump!

—tackling the one-eyed drunk to the ground—

THUMP! 

Gino’s face contorted with pain as he fell, and his scream died the moment he hit the ground. The backpack landed on the ground beside Gino’s head. Both men rocked to the side, Hank sitting on his knees between Gino’s splayed legs. Then Hank sat up—or tried to, anyway. Gino, pained and struggling for breath, had grabbed two handfuls of Hank’s hair.

GODDAMNIT, STOP IT!” Hank screamed, hauling Gino up by his jacket collar.

Gino, apparently able to breathe again, hissed with rage, yanking both fists to his left.

GAAAHHH!

Both men were standing again, lurching around, using each other for support even as they fought. Hank, reverting to his favorite punch, threw a wild roundhouse into Gino’s gut—

Thwack!

Gino crumpled, fell back to his knees. Hank, reeling forward, joined him. Even then, Hank didn’t wanna hurt his friend. And as he reached out to console Gino by grabbing his shoulders, Gino impressed me by punching Hank right in the balls—

Thwack!

FUCK!

Hank doubled over, and Gino, straightening, grabbed him by the throat with both hands. Teeth bared and grit, the one-eyed drunk glared down, squeezing as hard as he could.

“Lousy, rat-fuck, prick!

Hank hissed, clawed his way up Gino’s coat, and wrapped his own hands around Gino’s grimy neck. Gino grimaced, stiffened, and shut his eye. Both men grunted like pissed off apes, veins throbbing in their temples.

I couldn’t believe it, but I loved it.

They were literally strangling each other to death.

Of course, being drunk, tired, and pathetic, neither guy had the strength to actually kill the other. Luckily, they were too focused on their mutual predicament to notice their common enemy—namely, me—stalking up to them. I watched, amused, as Gino’s hands fell from Hank’s throat, and a moment later as Hank’s hands fell from Gino’s. Both men gasped, then collapsed onto their sides; Gino on his left, Hank on his right. Both pained, exhausted drunks curled into fetal positions; lying head to toe like the curved teardrops of a yin-yang symbol. Both men shivered in the icy wind. Gino groaned. Hank hiccupped, then retched, vomiting beer all over the grass. The steaming mess pooled beside him, and he buried his face in his hands.

It was finished.

Grinning, I walked up to this pitiful scene and shook my head. In the back of my mind, The Grim Reaper’s cruel, demonic voice whispered:

Cast…down…upon…them…

I reached Hank first. Remembering the sucker punch to the stomach, I knelt down, grabbed his greasy hair, and forced him to look up.

“Hi, Hank. Remember me?”

Fuck…you…” Hank wheezed.

I opened my mouth to reply, then stopped. That peculiar sensation coursed through me again. A feeling of revelation, of knowing. Some strange new facet of my transformation. From touching the scumbag, I supposed.

“No…you’re the one who’s fucked.”

Hank blinked; all the fury now gone from his face. “What?

“Liver disease,” I said, looking up into the deep, dark sky.

Liver…?

“Yes, Hank.” I sighed, sliding my other hand under his chin. “You’re in the early stages….but swilling all that rotgut’s hurrying it along.”

Hank tried to push me away. “Get off me, fucker!” Tears were streaming down his face as he whined.

I chuckled. A cloud of vapor drifted up, vanished in the wind. I felt an electric surge of strength as my hands took on a life of their own. Gripping the soused bum’s hair and jaw, I jerked both palms in opposite directions—

Crack!

—snapping Hank’s neck like a dry twig.

The drunk flopped once, then went limp on the frozen grass. A dark spot appeared in the crotch of his mottled jeans, and from the putrid smell, I gathered that Hank had voided his bowels for the last time.

Disgusting.

But a good death, I decided. Quick, clean, easy…

And I couldn’t wait to do it again.

Now I heard Pop’s voice as I stood, turned, and circled the half-dead yin-yang:

Take these tools that Death has given you, and punish the dregs who deserve it…

These are the dregs, alright, I thought as I knelt down.

“Hi, Gino.”

Gino hitched, trying to sit up, and failed. “You!” he said between gasps. “You did this! Had us fightin’ like starvin’ rats!”

I nodded. “And it was easy, Gino. Don’t forget that.” Smirking, chuckling, I reached down, grabbing the drunk’s hair and chin like I’d grabbed Hank’s.

“Don’t touch me, asshole!”

Again, I felt it. That obscene communion. I stiffened, tightening my grip. “I’m doin’ you a favor here,” I whispered, looking into Gino’s wide, frightened eyes.

“No,” he whimpered, pushing against me with rubbery arms.

“Yes. It would’ve been a car accident. One year from now. A long, painful, death. Very hard on your poor daughter. But you’ve already served your purpose on this earth…”

Shut your mouth, faggot! Go back to hell where you belo—

Crack!

With one smooth, sharp motion, Gino Longoni fell silent forever. He bucked, pissed, and shit just like his friend had. Cradling his scruffy head, I gazed at his blank face with neither pity nor remorse.

I’ll go back to hell, alright, I thought. And when I see you there, I’ll kill you and Hank again and again…as many fuckin’ times as I can…

Forgetting the bodies at my feet, I stood. I stared into the darkness of Stark City, listening as the wind whispered awful secrets amongst the dead trees. None of that mattered, though.

Nothing did, except for the fact that I was now a murderer.

I’d killed someone, not through mind games, like with Cliff, but with my bare hands.

The breeze gusted around me, but I didn’t feel it. Not only was I consumed with Death, but I was too absorbed with trying to accept the loss of my own humanity.

A murderer, I thought.

One who murders.

Then my father’s voice echoed back:

A hero…

I shook my head. Murderer. Hero. Either way, I felt like a pawn in some cruel game. And either way, I was fucked.

There was no turning back.

***

If you enjoyed “Death’s Avenger,” please like, subscribe, and share!

Show support on Patreon @ https://www.patreon.com/jesselynnrucilez

Thanks for reading!

JLR

Death’s Avenger continues in Episode #14: https://deathsavenger.wordpress.com/2018/01/31/vol-1-ep-14/

In The Dark (Vol. 1, Ep. 12)

January 9th, 2018.

Stark City, Oregon.

8:59 p.m.

AAAHHH!

My scream echoed in the darkness as I sat up in what I thought was my own bed. I’d dreamed that my father came to warn me about my curse, and when it ended, I’d felt an awful rush of rage at having to say goodbye again.

Before the dream, I’d watched a young, drugged-out loser shoot himself in the Quickie Mart near my apartment. I’d gone there for beer and junk food—not to play Bat-Man and foil a robbery. But that’s what happened, and here I was.

Shit!” I hissed, not knowing how I’d gotten back home, and wondering if maybe everything had been a dream. Then I turned and smacked my knee on something hard, cold, and steel—

“OW!”

I reached out, and it felt like a metal railing. Like I was in a hospital bed.

“What the fuck?”

I grabbed the rail and slid myself forward. I wasn’t in a bed. I was in a gurney. There was a sheet lying across me, and I ripped it away as I lowered myself to the floor. I was still wearing my shoes and sweatpants, but I was shirtless. And as I looked around, my initial shock and confusion turned to unbridled rage.

“HEY!” I screamed. “WHO LEFT ME IN THE DARK BY MYSELF?”

I blinked, and something incredibly strange happened. My eyes somehow shifted; as if my pupils began to glow. Suddenly, I could see. Not in color, but in shades of gray. The floor was very light—almost white—and the corners were very dark—almost black. But I could make out every object in the room. There wasn’t much to see, though. Another gurney to my left, and medical equipment on the walls.

I’m in the hospital! I realized. Then one of the double doors in the distance flew open, and light came flooding in.

The next several minutes were very hectic, very stressful. A dozen people crowded into the room; all of them talking at once. Voices, some panicked, some excited, flew at me from all sides:

“Jesus, you’re alive?

“He can’t be—we pronounced him!”

“How do you feel?”

“He didn’t have a pulse, for Christ’s sake!”

“Here, lie back down on the gurney…”

“His temperature was below ninety degrees!”

“Are you cold? Your skin is freezing!

They were all wearing masks and gloves, and their eyes bulged with equal parts concern and confusion. They guided me back onto the gurney and I went willingly, although I really just wanted to get the hell outta there. Lights were shone in my eyes. A blood pressure cuff was wrapped around my left arm. A stethoscope was pressed to my chest. Fingers poked and prodded. One of the nurses took my hand and asked me to squeeze, which I did—a bit too hard, apparently, by the way she yelled.

Through it all, I just closed my eyes and remembered what Pop had told me in that long, weird dream:

You can be a hero…

Later, I found myself sitting all alone in a small office next to the emergency room area. It took awhile, but once they realized that I wasn’t gonna die and didn’t need any more medical attention, the frustrated but relieved staff allowed me to call Joan so I could leave. By then, I really needed some time to collect my thoughts. I’d left my phone at home, but luckily one of the nurses let me borrow hers. Joan had gone through all the usual stages that people go through when they hear upsetting news. First, it was disbelief—

What? You’re in the hospital?

Then confusion—

“A robbery? A guy killed himself?

Then acceptance and concern—

“Okay, hold on! I’ll be right there!”

And there I sat, blanket around my shoulders, waiting for my girlfriend to come and drive me back to the Quickie Mart so I could get my car. That’s when I met Detective Troy Thorson.

He walked in very quietly, then cleared his throat to get my attention. I looked up, hoping it was Joan, and saw a tall, broad-shouldered dude walking toward me. He looked very official, wearing a dark blue blazer and khaki slacks. Short hair, clean-shaven.

Obviously a cop.

“Troy Thorson,” he said, showing me his shiny badge. “Stark Police. Homicide.”

I sorta knew this guy. He’d was in the paper every now and then. Several years ago, he’d been the focal point of a notorious murder case way out of Whippoorwill Lane. That was pretty gruesome shit, even compared to what had gone down in the Quickie Mart.

“Good evening, Officer,” I said.

“Detective, actually,” he replied. “And if you don’t mind, I’d like to ask you a few questions.”

I looked into Thorson’s cold blue eyes and sighed.

I was fucked.

“Of course,” I said.

And as Thorson pulled up a chair and sat down, I shook my head, praying that Joan would get there soon. This was shaping up to be one hell of a long night.

***

If you enjoyed “Death’s Avenger,” please like, subscribe, and share!

Show support on Patreon @ https://www.patreon.com/jesselynnrucilez

Thanks for reading!

JLR

Death’s Avenger continues in Episode #13: https://deathsavenger.wordpress.com/2018/01/28/the-disease-of-death-vol-1-ep-13/

Fatherly Advice (Vol. 1, Ep. 11)

Summertime. (Or so it seemed…)

The Dibert District. (Or so it appeared…)

High noon. (Or so it felt…)

“Home?” I whispered, completely dumbfounded, and not believing my eyes. “I’m home again?”

Well, real or not, true or not, I wanted to believe it so bad. Worse than I’d ever wanted to believe anything in my entire fuckin’ life.

“Please, let it be home…”

All thoughts of the recent past were gone now. Once the darkness of sleep had cleared and this strange scene had materialized, the reality of having goaded a crazed drug addict into suicide, then passing out on the Quickie Mart floor, seemed hollow and insignificant. Whether through unconscious desire, or maybe just the raw power of dreams, I seemed to be home again…which was nothing short of a miracle.

But…were my own eyes deceiving me?

Well, for all intents and purposes, it may as well have been 1408 East Villard Street; my childhood home. The small brick house stood as always; warm and inviting, crowned with a steeple roof and short chimney stack. The front porch was barren except for my parents’ old rocking chairs, which sat angled toward the yard…

Just like I remembered.

I was standing near the latched front gate; just close enough to see that the foot-worn welcome mat still lay by the door. A white picket fence ran the perimeter of the square-cut lawn, and Mom’s flower bed lined the bottom of the porch. The only thing missing was Pop’s old Chevy pickup. He’d bought it brand new in nineteen-fifty-eight, and drove it ’til ’seventy-nine.

I smiled, reminiscing.

How many times have I walked through that gate? I wondered. How many hours have I played on that soft grass? How many times have I wiped my sneakers on that ragged welcome mat?

I’d never know, of course, and shook my head at the silliness of my thoughts. It was still hard to trust my eyes, though. At first glance, everything seemed fine—believable, even.

But

On second glance, everything seemed all wrong, too. The whole scene just looked a little too perfect, a little too picturesque; as if I’d somehow stepped into a digital photograph. Not a fleck of dirt or grime anywhere on the house or the white fence, which looked like it had just been painted—with the glossiest paint in existence, no less. The lawn sparkled in the sunlight, each blade of grass as shiny as an emerald. Even the sky, so blue and cloudless, looked painted-on.

Fake.

Untrustworthy.

Still, despite the surreal bent to my surroundings, I knew in my heart that this was the closest I’d ever get to reliving my childhood again.

“This is…great!” I whispered, as if speaking too loudly would somehow make it all crumble away.

Taking a deep breath, I glanced right, then left, studying the rest of the scene. If everything seemed surreal at first, it now took a plunge into the bizarre. The row of houses, more or less familiar from my distant past, continued for half a block in either direction.

Then…nothing. At all.

“What the hell?” I muttered, staring at what seemed like the frayed edge of a living photograph. At the place where reality fell into utter darkness, leaving little doubt—or hope—in its awful wake.

Then, without warning, someone—or some thing—laid a heavy, calloused hand upon my shoulder.

AH!” I screamed, turning to face the man who stood behind me.

“Hello, Son,” he said, smiling.

I jumped back. Startled, confused, sad, and excited all at once, I palmed my skull with both hands. For a moment, I couldn’t even breathe, much less speak.

All I could do was gaze and grin at my amazing father.

Mitchell Herman Myers had never been a particularly big man, but growing up on a dairy farm in Washington had made him plenty strong. Smiling, he embraced me, his youngest son, with arms which had once worked from sunup to sundown just to earn a decent meal.

“Damn good to see you again, Blaine!”

I was still in shock, and stiffened as my father hugged me. No fuckin’ way! I thought, afraid to let myself believe this miracle. Pop’s been dead for three years!

The warmth of his embrace was undeniable, though. So, dream or not, real or not, I willed myself to hug him back.

“God, Pop…I’ve missed you!”

“Hell, Son—I’ve missed you more!

And that did it. Just hearing Pop’s gentle voice again made me wilt like a dead flower. I wanted to tell him a thousand different things about how I felt since he’d gone, but I was too choked with emotion to speak. Tears came, hard, and I began to shudder, slobbering onto Pop’s right shoulder, and praying that I’d never wake up.

Pop, ever the loving and stoic father, just held onto me without a word.

Yeah.

With everything I’d gone through, and now this, I’m not ashamed to say that I cried for what felt like forever. I cried my heart out, until I literally couldn’t produce anymore tears. I felt wrung out…empty…exhausted. And when I stepped away, I wasn’t sure if I was even capable of feeling any elation over seeing Pop again.

“Pop,” I said, sniffing, wiping my eyes. “I’m sorry. I just…”

“That’s alright, Son. Don’t mean a thing.”

In spite of my exhaustion, I smiled. “Thanks, Pop. I hate to cry like this…”

“Hell,” Pop replied, shaking his head. “Cryin’ don’t make you any less of a man. You know that.”

“That’s what you taught me…”

Trying to compose myself, I took a closer look at the man standing there. It was Pop, alright. Wearing a red plaid shirt and blue jeans…but not as I last saw him. No, this version of Pop was from my childhood. He looked about forty, I figured; when he’d been years away from getting sick, still strong enough to work from sunup to sundown. Sporting just enough gray hair to look wizened. But not old. Still not old at all.

The version I’ll always carry in my heart.

But why? I wondered. Why is he here?

“I know this is pretty damned strange,” Pop said, seeing the wariness in my eyes. “But it ain’t exactly my idea.”

I stiffened. “What isn’t your idea?”

Pop shrugged. “My being here.”

I nodded as if to say, go on

“See, I sorta had to come. Not that I didn’t wanna see you again—’course I did—it’s just that, well, let’s say the conditions aren’t the best…if you get my meanin’.”

Again, I nodded, although I didn’t get Pop’s meaning at all. “Where are we?” I asked, wiping my hands on my sweatpants. “I mean, what’s this all about?”

Pop looked at me, then turned away, muttering under his breath.

That’s when I felt a chill run up my spine—almost as bad as when Death Itself had touched me.

What’s this all about? It was a simple question, but it took several moments for Pop to answer. He stood there, lips pursed, hands on his hips, looking at me as if he were a doctor trying to figure out the best way to tell his patient that he had a horrible disease.

Which, of course, I already knew.

Finally, he said, “I don’t know where we are, exactly, but let’s just say that we’re somewhere over the rainbow. I reckon that’s good enough for the likes of us.”

“Alright,” I agreed.

Now,” Pop sighed. “I chose this scenery ’cause I wanted one last look at the ol’ homestead. I figured it might do us both some good.

I followed Pop’s gaze to the glistening front yard. “Sure, Pop.” But get to the point, I thought.

“Boy, Son. I guess the place never looked better…”

“I guess not.”

“I always loved the hell outta that house.”

“I know.”

Pop turned back to me. “Your mother…is she, uh, doin’ alright?”

“Yeah, Pop. She’s fine.”

“Good.”

A silent moment passed. Reverence for the living. I looked around. It struck me how dead everything seemed despite the vibrant colors. No cars in the street, no neighbors walking by. No breeze, even. It felt like being trapped inside an oil painting. Still life all around.

Odd, I thought, wishing with all my heart that Pop and I could walk back into the real world and leave this insanity behind.

Very fuckin’ odd…

“Anyhow,” Pop muttered, keeping his eyes level with mine. Which didn’t comfort me at all. Pop always said he thought it was best to look a man straight in the eye when delivering bad news, and what he said next was about the worst news possible:

“The reason I’m here, Son…is to warn you.”

Ominous words spoken in an ominous tone, and with the ominous scenery adding to my dread, I knew that Death was right there with us.

Oh, shit…

Another silent moment passed. Pop looked apologetic as I struggled with the implication of what he’d said. I was starting to understand, though.

Unfortunately.

“What do you mean, warn me?”

Pop scratched his jaw. “I think you know already, Son.”

“Maybe I do,” I said. “Maybe I just wanna hear you say it.”

“Hell, I don’t blame you for bein’ mad. I’d be just about outta my head by now, after what you’ve been through.”

But?” I said, unable to resist a sarcastic grin.

Pop snickered. “But…you have to do your duty.”

I grimaced as if I’d just taken a shot of pure vinegar. My duty? I thought, getting irritated. Was my father, always the good and honest craftsman, condoning all of this madness? If that was the case, how could I ever believe in anything good or wholesome ever again?

My God, what was Pop saying?

Seeing my look of disbelief, Pop raised his calloused hands. “Don’t shoot, Son. I’m only the messenger.”

“I know, Pop,” I said, taking a deep breath. “How much do you know about what’s happened?”

“Everything,” Pop replied, confirming my suspicions.

I groaned, casting my eyes to the pristine pavement. “Jesus Christ.”

Pop gave me a few seconds to think, then laid his hand on my shoulder. “Here, Son,” he said, giving me a little shake. “It ain’t so bad as all that.”

“Just say it, Pop. Say what you have to say, and get it over with.”

With a weary sigh, he nodded. “Well…I’m supposed to tell you that you can’t walk away from this. No matter how much you hate it, no matter much it sickens you, the thing is a done deal and it can’t be gotten out of.”

“Meaning?” I asked, beginning to tremble.

“Meaning,” Pop said, taking his hand off my shoulder, “that Death owns you now. Body and soul. It’s in your veins…so don’t fight it.”

Don’t fight it?” I gasped. “Are you kidding, Pop?”

“I’ve never been more serious in my life. You’re changing, Blaine. I know you can feel it. I know you don’t like it now, but that’s gonna change.”

“No, Pop,” I said, shaking my head. “Don’t say that!”

“I have to,” Pop persisted. “I have to, because it’s true. You’ve already done some horrible things, but before this is over, you’re gonna do some God-awful dam—”

“What if I refuse?” I interrupted. “What if I tell Death to go fuck Itself?”

For a moment, Pop looked thunderstruck. He’d never cared for the F-word, but there’d never been a more appropriate time for it—and he knew it. He sighed, then grew very quiet.

Deathly quiet, Mom would’ve said.

“Don’t even joke about that, Son. For the love of God, don’t push this thing. It’ll…hurt you, Blaine. It’ll torture you so bad that…well, neither of us can even imagine how bad it’ll be…”

Well, that had been about what I was expecting, but it sent another chill up my spine, nonetheless. I was fucked, in other words.

Absolutely.

It was my turn to look thunderstruck, and there I stood, trembling, unable to look my father in the eye.

But Pop wasn’t finished:

“Listen to me, Son. Just listen. I’ve said all that…It…wanted me to say. But that don’t mean I’ve said all that I have to say.”

I shook my head. “I don’t wanna hear it, Pop. I don’t think I can take any more of this…”

“Well, you’re gonna hear it. And time’s runnin’ out for both of us, so listen up, and realize that you can make the best of this tragic situation.”

I groaned. Naked defeat showed on my face. I knew that, under these circumstances—namely, Pop’s not too recent demise—I should’ve been thrilled to partake of his wisdom. But here, in this strange nightmare realm, swallowed by a curse that I still didn’t understand, I just wanted to close my ears to every voice that called.

Even Pop’s.

But it doesn’t matter, I thought. None of it does. Because I’m already dead…

Dead already…

And then, Pop intruded upon my fatalistic thoughts with careful words spoken in a soft, insistent voice. “You now have the power to make the world a better place, Son.”

That definitely took me by surprise. Shuddering, I found the strength to look him in his eye.

“You can be a hero.

“Hero?” I echoed, beginning to see what he was driving at.

Pop nodded; solemn, encouraging. “Yes. A hero.” Then he reached out again, grabbed my shoulder and gave it a gentle squeeze. “Death might own you now, but not completely. You still have freewill.”

“Freewill?”

“Yes. You decide how best to use this power, Son. So do it. Take these tools that Death has given you, and punish the dregs who deserve it.”

Again, I couldn’t believe what I was hearing. Is this really my father? I wondered. The same man who taught me never to steal, and to never hurt anything smaller or weaker than myself?

“Punish them, Pop?”

“Yes.” Another solemn, encouraging nod. “Don’t you see, Blaine? Death is part of life, and you’ve been chosen to be the harbinger of balance. It’s an awful thing, I know. But don’t let it be a curse unto you…let it be a curse unto those who rape, murder, and steal. Be as a beast, who preys on other beasts, who prey on mankind.”

I still couldn’t wrap my head around Pop’s words. “A beast?”

“Yes, Son. Rise up…just like you’ve done tonight. That man, that drugged out crook, would’ve shot that boy behind the counter if you hadn’t been there. And there’s more just like him out there. Do you see what I’m getting at?”

“He would’ve shot…Randall?”

There, in that strange scene, it was difficult to remember the carnage in the Quickie Mart. The mention of what I’d done sent a chill through my heart, and I shivered. A man was dead…because of me. And I couldn’t hide from the fact that he wouldn’t be the only one, either.

“Look, Blaine…this’ll probably be the last time we ever have. Don’t let it be wasted. Hear my words and heed them…or else that bastard’s gonna eat your soul.”

I took a deep, shaky breath. Pop’s eyes had grown glassy with emotion, and he looked away…gazing at his former home of thirty-five years.

“I’ll have to leave soon. Everything…it’s all coming…undone…”

I also turned toward the house, and jerked in surprise.

Ho-ly shit! I thought.

Somehow, in the short time we were together, everything around us had begun to deteriorate. The digital photograph had faded…lost all vibrancy.

Evidence, I knew, of The Reaper’s presence.

“God, ain’t it awful?” Pop asked, sounding as if a lump had formed in his throat.

“Yeah,” I agreed. “It really is…”

The Myers House, once so warm and inviting, now stood in a grim tableau devoid of shimmery pastels. The ruddy exterior had deepened to a morbid gray, speckled with globs of mildew, with mortar bleeding from between the bricks like thin mud. The dead lawn no longer sparkled. The picket fence looked warped and faded. The houses next door now looked as if they were crumbling into disrepair.

Even the sky looked anguished and ready to storm.

Standing next to Pop, I could feel his anguish, and cursed Death with all my heart for doing this to him.

Eventually, after what felt like an eternity, we turned away.

“Pop?” I asked as we walked toward the ragged edge of the dream; toward the final blackness awaiting us and every living thing. “What’s it like?”

“What, Son?”

“You know…being dead.”

“Oh…”

We were both looking down. I don’t know about Pop, but I sure didn’t wanna face that ultimate darkness. I was also intrigued that our shoes weren’t making any noise as we shuffled along the scarred sidewalk.

“I can’t much say,” Pop finally said. “I don’t really remember. So, I guess it’s like goin’ to sleep. Just think of it as a great, big, rest.”

I nodded. “Hmmm.

“It’s funny, you know?” Pop said with a weary laugh.

“What?”

“Well, uh…all them preachers and holy-rollers. They were all wrong, after all.”

“Jeez, Pop,” I replied. “This really isn’t the best time to tell me there’s no God. I’m gonna need…something…to believe in.”

Just as we reached the edge of the surreal photograph, Pop stopped and squared up with me.

“Look, Son…I ain’t sayin’ there’s no God. I’m just sayin’ I ain’t seen Him yet. And I know you’re gonna need something to believe in. Hell, we all do. So…the best fatherly advice I can give is…believe in yourself. Take my word for it; that’s all you’ll ever need.”

I didn’t know what to think or say about that, so I just looked at him. How can I be expected to say goodbye, again? I wondered. Especially now that I know what lays ahead.

But I also knew that I couldn’t let this chance slip by me. No way.

“I love you, Pop,” I said, every syllable echoing against the black folds of eternity.

Without a word, Pop pulled me in for another hug…

And the next thing I knew, I woke up in the hospital, screaming bloody murder.

***

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Thanks for reading!

JLR

Death’s Avenger continues in Episode #12: https://deathsavenger.wordpress.com/2018/01/22/in-the-dark-vol-1-ep-12/

Point of No Return (Vol.1, Ep. 10)

January 9th, 2018.

Stark City, Oregon.

6:57 p.m.

It was a day I’ll never forget. The day I finally stepped over the edge…

Strangely enough, it started out pretty good. I use the word strangely because by that point in my life, a pretty good day was incredibly strange. In fact, the previous eight days—and nights—had been a living hell. Nightmares. Hallucinations. Sickness. Nothing working right—including my relationship with Joan. And, of course, an early morning visit from The Grim Reaper.

It was a Tuesday, and I didn’t go to work. I’d left my job early the day before because everything was spiraling out of control. Luckily, Joan was staying with her parents, and I was all alone in our apartment. I had no idea what to do or how to fight what was happening to me, so I just watched and waited…and eventually fell asleep.

For the first night in what felt like forever, I didn’t have any nightmares. I slept, well, like the dead, and woke up feeling better than I had in a long time. I’m talking years. I was only thirty, but I felt twenty again; full of piss and vinegar the moment my eyes snapped open.

It’s too bad Joan wasn’t there.

Still, I had a whole day ahead of me, with no real plans…unless you count trying to convince myself that I could somehow beat Death at Its own game.

I guess I should’ve been depressed as hell—maybe even suicidal—but I wasn’t. I just felt too good. So I spent my morning cleaning the place. I had nothing better to do, and I figured that Joan would be pleasantly surprised when she finally came home. Unlike the day before, the lights worked, the clocks worked, my phone worked—

Everything worked!

It was a miracle.

But time passed quickly as I wiped, scrubbed, and mopped. I vacuumed, washed the dishes, took out the garbage; even cleaned out the entire fridge. The place was spic and span when I finished. Then I took a nice, long shower, and decided to reward myself by camping out on the couch for the rest of the day.

Now, I’ve always been a typical guy. I like a good action flick, a good comedy. Horror was never really my thing, though. I guess it was just too hard to suspend my disbelief when it comes to evil spirits or superhuman killers who always seem to be in the right spot at the right time and never make any noise.

Which is both ironic and hilarious, seeing as how I eventually became the very thing I had such a hard time believing in.

Nonetheless, when I planted my ass in front of the tube, I had this really strong urge to find something dark and horrible to watch. It was like a craving for steak—except I was craving murder and mayhem. I settled on the first Saw movie, then watched the original Texas Chainsaw Massacre for the first time. To my own surprise, I really liked that one…and after it ended, I took a little nap right there on the couch.

If I had any dreams, I don’t remember any of them.

I awoke to find myself still lying on the couch. My apartment had grown dark and shadowy, but the T.V. was on, casting an eerie glow over the living room. Wiping my eyes, I saw that one of the Nightmare On Elm Street films was playing. Freddy, that evil bastard, was marching some poor kid around like a puppet, using his own bloody tendons to control him. Cackling maniacally all the while, of course.

That made me smile.

I stood and stretched my arms, slightly concerned now that night had fallen. If Death was gonna make another appearance, I thought, it would be in the darkness. But as I looked around, everything seemed…normal.

Then I thought: No use confronting The Grim Reaper on an empty stomach.

For the first time in a long while, I felt ravenous. Not just hungry, but starving; as if I’d climbed a mountain or ran a marathon. So I decided to head on down to the Quickie Mart and get myself some junk food. Might as well binge and make it a horror movie marathon night.

That was the plan, anyway.

Wearing a ratty shirt, sweatpants, and my trusty black jacket, I jogged down the steps to my car, and wasn’t surprised a bit when it started right up. It was one of those days when everything was going my way for a damn change.

The Quickie Mart was only six blocks away, and I got there fast. It was cold and damp outside, but I still felt strangely good. In fact, I found myself whistling as I strolled to the Quickie Mart door and stepped inside.

A pleasant wave of heat washed over me, along with the smell of spicy hotdogs from the rotisserie in the far corner. Behind the counter stood a fat, acne-ridden kid who looked bored to tears.

“Hello,” he said.

I looked over. The kid’s name badge read:

Randall

“Hi, Randall,” I replied, walking toward the coolers. He didn’t answer, which was terrific.

I was in no mood for small talk.

Beer was the only thing on my mind as I approached the beverages. Something that went down cold, but made you feel warm and tingly afterwards. I’d never been too picky when it came to alcohol. Give me a Bud or a Coors and I’d be happy. But that night I wanted something a little more tasty; fancy, even. Isaac had once told me that he really enjoyed imported beers for their flavor, so I started scanning the shelves. Nothing much was catching my eye, and my stomach was really groaning when I heard a sudden voice say:

“Gimme all the money in the register, fat-ass—and don’t try anything stupid!

I jerked, but despite the miniature heart attack, I had enough sense to duck behind the potato chip rack. Lucky me; I’d stumbled right into the middle of a holdup!

“Alright, man!” Randall said in a panicked voice. “Just please don’t shoot!”

EMPTY THE REGISTER NOW, ASSHOLE!

“Okay, okay!”

I’d never been in a situation like this before, and I was scared out of my mind. An honest-to-God robbery, just like in the movies. The old me would’ve stayed put, I’m sure, and probably pissed his pants while waiting for the guy to leave. But this was a new me; not entirely different, but in a transition stage. Halfway between caterpillar and butterfly, you might say…and instead of freezing up—despite my very real fear—I peered around the potato chips and looked down the aisle.

FASTER, DICKHEAD!

“Okay!”

The scene was typical. The robber wore a black ski mask and a beat-up leather jacket. I don’t know what kind of gun he had, but he was pointing it right at Randall’s face. Randall was busy scooping up stacks of bills out of the register. From what I could see, he was shaking badly, and he sounded on the verge of tears.

Worthless punk, I thought…and before I even realized what I was doing, I’d stood up.

FASTER!

“Alright, man! Here! Take it all!”

Since New Year’s, my life had been an out of control nightmare; full of angst, fear, and torment. But all of that melted away as a weird sense of calm came over me. I’m cursed, I thought, walking down the aisle—

Toward the danger, instead of away from it like a sane person.

GIMME THE CHANGE, TOO!

“Sure, man! Just take it easy!”

SHUT THE FUCK UP AND DO IT!

Cursed, I thought again. But, somehow, I didn’t care. I wasn’t afraid. I wasn’t angry. All I felt was a strong sense of purpose as I went forward. I’m not even sure that I was moving of my own volition, but I was moving, alright. About to dive into my dark destiny.

Kill ’em all, I thought suddenly, let God sort ’em out!

Then I heard Hal Beecham’s voice echoing inside my head:

Because I, for one, HAVE—HAD—IT!

I saw a crocodile lunging out of a calm river and trapping a young gazelle in its scaly jaws.

The laws of the jungle are brutal…

I flashed back to the horrid, flickering image that appeared in my bathroom mirror. Heard its cruel, taunting voice grate against my brain:

Dead…already…

I saw the three plump blackbirds perched on my car’s rooftop—

Life…death…balance…

I saw the withered plant sitting on my desk at work—

You…must…cast…down…upon…them…

All of this; in a rush. A mad blur. A macabre kaleidoscope of sounds and images that shook the very fabric of my reality.

IS THAT ALL OF IT?

Randall stepped back, hands in the air. His pimpled face had gone beet-red, and his eyes bulged. “Yeah, man, that’s everything!”

The robber had been stuffing bills into his jacket, and now he scooped up the change and stuffed it into his jeans. “Alright, fat-ass! Hit the fl—

Randall noticed me right as I grabbed a can of split pea soup from the shelf. I stopped at the end of the aisle, waiting as the robber read the news on Randall’s face and whipped around. But by then, the shithead’s fate was sealed.

He was a dead man; he just didn’t know it yet.

HOLD IT, FUCKER!

Now the gun was pointed right at my face…but still, I felt no fear. In fact, I smiled. When I did that, the robber’s eyes seemed to fill up the eyeholes in his ski mask.

ON YOUR KNEES—NOW!

“Holy shit!” Randall shrieked, ducking down behind the counter.

Talk about a surreal moment. I’ve never been what you’d call the heroic type. I’m five-ten, a- hundred-and-seventy-five pounds, and at that moment, I hadn’t been in a fight since middle school. I was the last person you’d ever expect to stop a convenience store robbery—or any other crime, for that matter. A big red S just wouldn’t fit on my scrawny chest…

And yet, there I stood, smiling down the barrel of a gun.

I SAID, ON YOUR FUCKIN’ KNEES!

“No,” I said, stepping forward.

The robber screamed in rage and frustration, then pulled the trigger. Actually tried to blow me away.

But, of course, his gun didn’t fire.

See, the day before, I hadn’t been able to control it. That’s why the power went out in my apartment. That’s why my phone died, why my car wouldn’t start. But now I understood. Now I knew how to focus the cold fury welling up inside.

WHAT THE FUCK?” the robber yelled, still trying to shoot me.

“It’s jammed,” I said, but I don’t think he heard me. He stepped back, trying to cock his gun, and glanced back at the register. Luckily, Randall was on the floor, safely out of sight.

My chance had come, and I took it. Shifting slightly, I wound up like a major league baseball pitcher and threw the can of soup as hard as I could—which was pretty hard. I thought it was just an adrenaline spike, but it turned out to be a whole lot more than that.

The can hit the mark—

Thwack!

—right on his forehead—

GAH!

—causing the robber to spasm, stagger back, and pull the trigger again.

This time, I wanted it to fire.

BOOM!

The shot filled the Quickie Mart with sharp thunder. It felt like a sledgehammer upside my head, made my ears ring.

FUUUCK!” the robber screamed, throwing his hands in the air. The bullet had exploded through his right foot, burying itself somewhere in the flesh and bone.

I’m gonna end this guy, I thought, stalking forward.

The gun fell—

Clack!

—but didn’t go off.

Hopping on one foot to avoid what I’m sure was unbearable agony, the robber fell into the newspaper rack by the entrance. He sat down hard, newspapers spilling out from under him, and slid off, listing to his right as the wire rack hit the ground—

Clang!

FUUUCK!” the robber screamed again, flopping onto his belly.

Watching him, I couldn’t help but chuckle.

Now frantic—and who could blame him?—the robber pushed up, right knee bent, pulling his left foot underneath. He looked like a runner waiting for the starter pistol, and as he tried to stand, his sneaker slipped on the newspapers. Gravity yanked him face-first back to the floor, and he crashed down hard—banging his bloody foot in the process.

FUUUCK!

The robber had learned a painful lesson, which he exhibited by turning and attempting to crawl toward the door. Although determined to escape, he was simply fucked. The newspapers on the floor messed up his traction, and he just kept slipping.

Concerned about the cashier, I stepped over to the counter. Randall lay on his face, and as far as I could tell, he was unconscious but still breathing.

Poor kid. Probably fainted when he heard the gunshot.

But, luckily for me, he was well out of the way.

I AIN’T GOIN’ TO PRISON, MAN!” the robber screamed. “NO WAY!

“Don’t worry,” I said, glancing up. “You won’t…”

There was a small camera mounted in the corner. So far, it had recorded me walking in. It had recorded the robber pulling his gun. Randall handing over the cash. Me throwing the can. The robber shooting himself in the foot. I really didn’t want it recording what would happen next, and with that quick, sharp glance, it developed an electrical bloodclot.

Big Brother went completely blind.

Satisfied, I then turned and committed—up to that point, anyway—the most violent act of my entire life. I walked over and kicked that dumb, struggling robber as hard as I could—

Thwack!

So hard that I heard his ribs crack.

GAH!” he screamed, curling onto his side.

Looking down and enjoying this idiot’s misery, I knew I’d arrived at a very bad place within myself. A place where I’d find the will to do cruel, horrible things. Things I’d never believed that I was capable of.

Things no one should see.

Looking up, I saw that the parking lot was empty, and smiled.

Chosen, Death had said. Only now did I truly understand.

The robber groaned, glaring up at me with squinted eyes. “Cocksucker!

For a moment, I considered stomping his head until he quit breathing. But that would’ve been messy, not to mention unsophisticated. I hesitated, not knowing what to do…until the answer appeared in the robber’s eyes.

At first, it felt like falling…like sinking into utter darkness…then the black curtains parted…

I saw it all; everything. In one quick flash. The robber’s name was Clifford Newton. Cliff was a drug addict, and none too bright. Yesterday, while I’d been at home, struggling with my curse, he’d been on the street, struggling with his addiction. He’d gotten drunk, then cruised Bart Park until he met a closet case who offered him sixty bucks to blow him. Afterwards, he’d considered taking a swan dive off the Stark City archway, and ending it all. Sixty bucks just wasn’t enough, and it was only a matter of time before he had to suffer through that indignity again. But before he’d talked himself into taking the plunge, he’d begun to think of other options—just as rash, just as stupid, but decidedly less degrading. That’s when he’d decided to borrow a gun, and go for it.

Of course, Cliff had never planned on becoming a drug addict.

His mother had been an addict, and she’d abandoned him before he’d turned ten. But even by then, he’d watched her shoot up many, many times…

Hush little baby, don’t you cry, she’d sang as the junk slowly crept in, Mama’s gonna bake you a raspberry pie…

Now I knew just where to apply the pressure.

“Why raspberry pie, Cliff?” I asked, holding out my hands. “That’s not how the song goes…”

Cliff jerked. His eyes bulged from their sockets through the eyeholes. “How do you know my name?” he muttered, groaning as he clutched himself. “Who the fuck are you?”

I shook my head. “No, she sang it that way because you loved raspberry pie. It was a promise…she was trying to make up for the hell she knew she was putting you through.”

Still staring at me, Cliff gasped. Not just a sound of shock, but of genuine pain.

I turned, sauntered a few feet to where the gun lay.

“It must’ve been horrible, watching her turn tricks just so she could poison herself…”

“Fucker!” Cliff hissed. “You don’t know shit!

I chuckled, then kicked the gun toward Cliff. It skidded to a halt inches from his face, and he recoiled, as if it might go off.

Whoa—what the fuck?

“Go ahead,” I said. “Grab it.”

Even with the ski mask, I saw Cliff’s look of utter disbelief.

What?

I stepped toward him, my voice calm and menacing. “Pick up the fuckin’ gun.”

A tremor went through him. His eyes narrowed, as if he were about to cry.

“Do it,” I said. “You know you want to.”

Cliff nodded, then sighed the weariest sigh I’d ever heard; the very sound of defeat. His entire left arm shook as he reached out.

Grinning, I slid my hands into my coat pockets.

“I don’t know where the hell you come from,” Cliff whined, “but you’re one sick, crazy, fuck…”

“Uh-huh.”

I nodded. Cliff now held the gun in both hands, staring at it with wet, glassy eyes. His lips twitched in the ski mask’s mouth hole. His shoulders hitched inside the leather jacket. For a moment, I wasn’t sure where he intended to aim his weapon…

“Pull the trigger, Cliff. You can still get outta this. All ya gotta do is point, and shoot.

Again, Cliff nodded, sniffing like a child with a bad head-cold. “You’re right,” he said. “This ain’t gonna be pretty, either.”

“I know,” I replied. “But I’m ready whenever you are.”

The anticipation welled up inside me like an electric charge. Cliff glanced at me, hurt and resentment shining in his tearful gaze, then closed his eyes for the last time. His target was so close that he didn’t need to see, anyway.

“That’s it,” I urged.

Cliff was ignoring me now. My voice didn’t matter. All that mattered was the voice echoing inside his own head. With deliberate movements, the sobbing idiot turned the gun around in his hands. He shifted it so that the barrel pointed straight up, left hand around the grip, left thumb over the trigger. Then, raising his face, Cliff brought the cold steel to his trembling lips. He let out another soft mewl that might’ve been the word Mama, and inserted half of the thick barrel into his mouth, his jaw flexing with discomfort.

“Good boy,” I said.

A tense, quiet moment passed, then Cliff let out muffled, heart-wrenching wail of agony…and pulled the trigger.

This time, I cupped my hands over my ears.

BOOM!

Cliff jerked as if having a seizure. The back of his masked head exploded in a thick spurt of blood and cranial fluid that coated the wire rack behind him. Shards of dull white bone sprayed out like human shrapnel.

The lifeless robber collapsed, and the gun hit the floor—

Clack!

—as his whole body jittered and shook, fingers flexing and unflexing, until, finally, he knew everlasting peace.

Dead as dead can be.

Silence fell upon me as I stood over Cliff’s corpse. I’d caused this tragedy, and I’d watched it all unfold with the calm interest of a coroner performing an autopsy. But now the weight of it hit home. I’d just witnessed a violent suicide—that I’d provoked with my terrible power—and now Cliff’s life, Cliff’s blood, was on my hands!

Oh…my…God, I thought, removing my hands from my aching, ringing ears.

What have I done?

I stepped back, convulsing with sudden tears of my own, and let out a blistering scream.

All at once, I didn’t feel like the new, powerful Blaine Myers anymore. I felt like the old Blaine. Fragile. Benevolent. Understanding. Human.

I’m fucked!” I whispered. “I’ve become a monster!

Despite what I’d thought a few moments ago, the hideous sight before me had surpassed all expectations. I hadn’t been prepared for such carnage, and try as I might, I couldn’t wrench my horrified gaze from Cliff’s masked, placid face. He now looked so peaceful that anyone might’ve mistook him for a man taking a nap…if not for the gelatinous gray muck oozing from the ragged hole in his cranium.

And, of course, the blood.

Splattered on the newspapers, the floor, the wall behind the wire rack.

Everywhere.

Still watching, I sank to my knees; crying for the life I’d taken, and the life which had just been taken from me forever. The very good and clean life of Blaine Gregory Myers.

To my further revulsion, Cliff’s jaw spasmed, and a tide of dark crimson, mixed with saliva, spewed from his mouth. Likewise, thicker drops of crimson began to drip from his nostrils, appearing on his upper lip and erasing the absurd illusion of a napping man.

God, save me! I prayed as I turned away, eyes shut, teeth clenched, and lurched back toward the aisle I’d just walked down. I don’t know where I intended to go, but I knew I had to get away, now, before the cops came rushing in.

My stomach tilted inside me, filling my throat with bile, and my knees began to buckle. I took two steps, already sinking like the Titanic, and the Quickie Mart began to spin as I came down hard on both knees—

Thwack!

The instant I landed, my chest hitched—which felt like a stiff uppercut to the solar plexus—and my belly emptied itself in a nasty gush.

I can’t take this! I shouted inside my head.

I can’t take it!

Over and over, Cliff’s skull exploded in my mind’s eye with brutal clarity. Blood, splintered bone, the thick remains of what had once been a brain; how could I not feel for such a wasted life…such a wasteful end?

Jesus—I can’t!

Perched on all fours, trembling, waiting for another deluge of vomit, I lapsed into pitiful gasps and sobs of misery. I’d been stripped of my very humanity by Death Itself, and now I’d crossed the point of no return.

I murdered that poor bastard! I thought as I collapsed onto my side. The thick smell of puke hit me like a hard punch to the nose, and I rolled to escape it.

I’m a murderer!

And with that final, verboten thought pulsing in my mind, I curled into the fetal position on the Quickie Mart’s dirty floor…and found the mercy of sleep for a short while.

***

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JLR

Death’s Avenger continues in Episode #11: https://deathsavenger.wordpress.com/2018/01/17/fatherly-advice-vol-1-ep-11/