House Broken

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Read by Dawn Vol.1 (Bloody Books) - 2006

 

Read by Dawn vol 1Andrea leaned against the small window above the kitchen sink, wiped away the frost, and peered upward into the darkness outside. The hail rattled against the windows like popcorn kernels in a frying pan, as the gusts of wind seemed destined to blow the house off of its foundation and send it sliding down the ice coated street and into the churning ocean at the base of the hill. A sheet of snow slid down in front of the kitchen window, slamming against the sill. Andrea leapt back, catching herself before letting out a scream.

The phone rang and this time she did scream.

“Jesus!” she cried, grabbing at her chest. She shook her head and grabbed the receiver off the wall.

“Hello?”

The phone clicked and crackled to silence.

She hung up and the phone rang again.

“Hello?”

“Andrea? Can you…this…” It was her brother’s voice, weak and garbled.

“Drew? Thank God, I can…”

“Shit…I can’t…you. I’m…stuck…Amhers...”

“What? Drew, I can’t understand. You’re breaking up.”

“Stuck in Amherst!” he yelled. “Th…state police…closing…ways…driving ban…effect. I can’t come…to…you!”

Andrea felt her heart sink, but was happy to hear her brother’s voice, any voice.

“Look, don’t worry. Just…just stay there. I’ll be okay. Call me tomorr…”

The phone clicked again, but this time there was no dial tone, just silence. Andrea tapped the switch-hook, but the line was dead.

“Oh, great.”

She looked around the living room; the tiny, sparsely decorated tree, dirty sweat socks jokingly hung from the mantle above the brick fireplace, and the small pile of presents she planned to take back to Derry for her family.

Her roommates had left earlier in the day, before the storm had gotten too bad.

Andrea now wished she’d had done the same

 

****

 

The snow piled up to Barkley’s knees, and the wind caked the rest of him with a thick layer of the stuff. He turned back toward Leopard, still a half-a-block away, aiming the stolen palm sized camcorder at the sky.

“Leopard, move your ass you dumb ‘spic!” Barkley shouted. His voice must have been lost in the wind as Leopard didn’t move. Barkley shouted again.

“Leopard!”

“What?” Leopard cried back. “I’m comin’,yo.”

He held the camera in front of him, aiming it at Barkley, and trudged through the snow. He was taller than Barkley, and made it look easy.

“Bro, this thing is phat!” Leopard shouted. He aimed the camera at Barkley and Barkley swatted it away lazily.

“Man, get that thing out of my face already,” Barkley said. “Cops see you with that shit and we’re fucked.”

Leopard scoffed at the idea. “Yeah, right,” he said, smacking his tongue against the roof of his mouth. “Ain’t no cops drivin’ out in this shit. This city’s ours tonight, bro.”

Leopard’s real name was Javier, but everyone called him “Leopard” on account of his fair complexion and the abundance of abnormally large brown freckles that dotted his face. He dropped the camera to his side and wrestled an overstuffed backpack off his shoulder. He dropped it into the snow in front of him, and unzipped it, revealing a bounty of watches, jewelry, prescription bottles, and liquor. He reached in and produced a liter of Wild Turkey, screwed off the cap, and held it up to Barkley.

“I feel like fuckin’ Santa and shit,” Leopard said with a grin.

“Yeah, just like Santa,” Barkley muttered, taking a swig from the bottle. He winced as the whiskey burned its way down his throat and then handed the booze back to Leopard. “Half that shit you got in there’s fuckin’ worthless, bro.”

“Nah, I got some good shit,” Leopard said as he spun the cap back on the bottle of whiskey.

“Yeah? Good for what?” Barkley reached down into the backpack and grabbed a handful of the prescription bottles. “You even know what any of this shit is?”

Leopard shrugged. “Junkies’ll buy anything, yo.”

“Least the camera’s worth a few bucks,” Barkley said, dropping the pill bottles into the snow. Leopard sighed as he scooped them up.

“Why you gotta be like that, man?”

Barkley laughed. “We got a blizzard on Christmas Eve, with houses full of money, presents and shit, and you got us jackin’ places of people poorer than us. That’s all I’m sayin’.”

“So, let’s do another one then. You pick it this time!” Leopard said, heaving the backpack up onto his shoulder.

Barkley nodded as he reached inside of his jacket and pulled out a cigarette. He cupped a hand over it and turned his back to the wind as he lit it.

“C’mon,” he said, tapping Leopard on the shoulder. He let out a stream of smoke that mingled with his hot breath and hung in the cold air long after he started walking. “I got a place.”

 

****

 

Andrea dipped a facecloth into the water and wrung it out, then carefully draped it over her face as she rested her head against the curve of the tub. She took a deep breath and let it out slowly, letting her arms float to the surface. As the tension of the day flowed out of her, she felt weightless. Her knees and her toes breached the water as the base of her spine was now the only part of her touching the bottom of the tub. She arched her back and her body rocked gently. She slipped down further and the water pooled around her head, filling her ears. The music from the stereo down the hall had faded to a distant, muffled rumble; as indistinguishable as rolling thunder. But then she heard something else; a rapping sound that made her sit upright. The face cloth slipped from her face, dropping in the tub, between her thighs.

Someone was knocking at the door.

She stood and reached for her pink terrycloth robe. The cold air made her wet skin break out in goose pimples. She stepped out of the tub, wrapped the robe around her, and hurried out to the half-moon shaped window at the end of the hall.  Andrea peered out into the darkness. She could barely make out the lone streetlight, its glow diffused by layers of ice and snow caked against the window.

Someone pounded at the door again.

She ran back to the bathroom, put on her pair tattered white slippers and hurried to the stairs. As she stepped down to the first landing, she could see a flash of movement through the small frosted glass panes at the top of the front door.

“Hello?”

 

****

 

Barkley stood in the middle of the intersection waiting on Leopard, who was taking a piss further up the road, swaying and shifting his hips.

“What the fuck are you doing, man?” Barkley shouted above the whipping wind.

“Writing my name, bitch!” Leopard, zipped up and jogged down the street, stopped short, and slid into Barkley.

Barkley nearly fell over from the impact, and pushed Leopard hard, knocking him to the ground. “Dick!”

“What the fuck?” Leopard sighed as he got back to his feet.

“Over there.” Barkley pointed to a rundown Victorian house sandwiched between two vacant buildings at the end of the street.

“What’s over there?” Leopard asked.

“That house. They rent it out to college kids.” Barkley said, squinting through the snow. “It’s Christmas, man. They’re all gone for the holidays.”

Leopard shrugged. “So?”

“So? That place is a goldmine. Computers, CD players, I betcha there’s one in every bedroom.”

Leopard’s eyes lit up. “Shit, maybe they got Nintendo, yo?”

“Maybe,” Barkley said.

He took a few steps down the street toward the house, and then froze.

“Shit,” he muttered, as a stabbing pain shot through his head.

Leopard ran up beside him. “What?”

Barkley squeezed his eyes shut and shook his head. When he opened them again, he found himself staring up at the second floor of the house.

“Nothin’,” he said, rushing along, hoping Leopard wouldn’t notice the light spilling from the window.

It was too late. Leopard grabbed his shoulder and pointed up at the light.

“Damn, bro. We can’t hit this place! Somebody’s home!”

 “Maybe,” Barkley scanned the street. There wasn’t a car on the block, and the driveway was empty. “Maybe not.” He gave Leopard a pat on the shoulder. “But there’s one way to find out.”

 

****

 

Andrea crept to the bottom of the steps, and flicked the switch for the porch light before remembering that it hadn’t worked since she’d moved in.

“Hello?” She cried.  No reply, just the howl of wind forcing itself through the cracks under the door, sending a chill up her robe.

“Hello? Who’s there?”

A muffled reply.

“What? Uh…yeah, hello?”

It was a man’s voice; deep and throaty. Andrea pressed her ear to the door.

“What do you want?” She asked.

There was a long pause.

“Well?”

“Uh…can I use your phone…my car…I’m stuck!”

“I’m sorry…the lines are down.” Andrea brought her hand to her mouth, as if she could somehow stuff the words back in.

Stupid,” she whispered. She may as well have hung a sign in the window that said, YOUNG GIRL, ALONE & VULNERABLE.

 “I can’t help you right now,” She said. “There’s a gas station a few blocks north. I’m sure if you…”

“What?” The man asked. Andrea heard what sounded like another voice. Was that laughter?

“Is there someone else with you?” She felt a tingling in the pit of her stomach.

“No…no, It’s just…I’m alone,” he said. “Can I come in? It’s…it’s really bad out here.”

“Look, I’m sorry. I can’t. It’s my boyfriend…he’s…he’s in bed…with the flu, so I have to go, okay? I have to…”

Andrea turned her head and yelled toward the stairs.

“What? I’m coming honey!”

She turned back to the door. ”He’s really sick…I have…I have to go take care of him. I’m sorry!”

She waited for a reply, but got another long pause.

“Are you still there?” She asked.

“Okay,” said the man. “Sorry…sorry to bother you.”

“It’s okay,” Andrea replied. “The gas station…I’m sure…”

Her words trailed off as she heard the man loudly descend the steps.

Andrea shuffled into the dark living room, and felt her way around the furniture to the bay window. She peeled back the curtain, and leaned in toward the glass. It was too frosted over to make out much more than the distorted lights in the distance, but she stood there for a moment anyway, hoping to catch a glimpse of the man heading back up the street. Instead, she saw a blurred figure race quickly across the porch.

The man began to pound on the door again, this time more aggressively.

“Go away!” Andrea raced back to the door and pressed her back up to it. “Go away before I call the police!”

The doorknob rattled, and then the entire door shook as he threw his weight against it, sending Andrea tumbling forward to her knees.

It was then that she heard the glass shatter in the kitchen.

 

****

 

“She’s alone, man,” Barkley said. “She’s fucking alone!”

Leopard didn’t like the look in his friend’s eyes. “Still, bro, I ain’t goin’ in there,” he said, pushing past Barkley.

“Come on, man. We’ll be in and out,” Barkley pleaded. He grabbed Leopard by his hood and tugged him back toward him. Leopard spun around and the two were face to face. “I promise,” Barkley whispered.

“She’ll see our faces, Barkley.”

Barkley shook his head. “Nah, nah, man. Look.”

He unzipped his coat and pulled his scarf out from around his neck and threw it around Leopard’s shoulders.

“Wrap it around your face,” Barkley said.

“What about you?” Leopard asked.

Barkley slipped out of his coat and started unbuttoning his flannel shirt, revealing a white t-shirt underneath.

“Oh Fuck, it’s cold,” he said, his teeth chattering on cue. He peeled off the flannel, balled it up in his hand, and pulled his coat back on. “I’ll use this.”

Leopard shook his head. “I dunno, man.”

Barkley folded the flannel and covered his face, tying it behind his head. Then he did the same thing with the scarf around Leopard’s neck. Barkley looked Leopard up and down and nodded.

“You’re all set, like a fuckin’ ninja,” he said, placing a hand on Leopard’s shoulder. “Trust me.”

Leopard stared down at his feet, the blowing snow dancing around his boots. He looked back up at Barkley and nodded. “Fine. But we’re in and out, bro.”

“In and out,” Barkley repeated.

They walked back to the front steps, and Barkley paused.

“Listen, gimme a second. I’m gonna run around the side. Start banging on the front door and get her attention and I’ll come in the back. I’ll let you in when I’m in.”

Leopard took a deep breath, and Barkley frowned.

“Ya hear me, Leopard?” He asked.

“Yeah, I hear ya.” Leopard said.

Barkley trudged off into the darkness around the side of the house. Leopard stared up at the front door, squinting through the snow. He paused and looked up the street. The house was book ended by a warehouse on one side, and a fenced-in clearing that sloped down into the ocean on the other. Across the street there was a boarded up old fishery, a small parking lot, and an empty garage. This was as isolated as a house could get in this city, and, on a night like tonight, even more so.

Barkley sure knew how to pick them.

Leopard let out another deep sigh and walked back up the steps. He balled his fist and brought it down, stopping just shy of hitting the door. What was he doing? He knew where this was going. He knew this could only end one way, and that scared him. It scared the shit out of him. But he thought of the look in Barkley’s eyes. He’d seen that look before.

And that scared him even more.

 

****

 

The girl swung at him, but Barkley sidestepped her, pushing her down. Her body slapped hard against the tile floor. She scurried across away, and Barkley stomped toward her, grabbing a fistful of her hair and pulling her to her feet. The girl shrieked in protest.

“Shut the fuck up!” he screamed, pushing her into the next room. She started to run toward the stairs, but Barkley grabbed her by the back of her robe, tugging her back to him.

“Just relax,” he said, wrapping one arm around her neck, “and you won’t get hurt.”

Barkley reached for the latch on the front door with his free hand, unlocking the door and pulling it open a crack. Leopard charged through, as if blown in by the cold wind, and quickly turned and slammed the door shut behind him.

“Here, hold her.” Barkley said, pushing the girl into Leopard’s arms.

Leopard held on to the girl, but his eyes told Barkley he wasn’t comfortable with it.

“I’ll be right back,” Barkley said.

He walked back into the kitchen, the glass from the shattered window crunched beneath his boots. Barkley peered out into the dark alley between the house and the building next door, closed the door, and turned his attention to the bone white Frigidaire in the corner. He peeled off his bulky gloves, tossed them on the kitchen table, and opened the fridge. Barkley smiled when he saw the beer, at least a half-case of it. Two pizza boxes sat on the shelf above. Barkley grabbed a couple of cans of beer and one of the pizza boxes and set them down on the kitchen table. The pizza, huge slices of dehydrated pepperoni and green pepper, didn’t look too appetizing, but he was starving.

“Yo, what are you doin’, bro?” Leopard yelled.

“Gimme a minute,” Barkley said, grabbing a slice of pizza and stepping out of their line of sight. He lowered the flannel he had wrapped around his face and stuffed half a slice in his mouth. On any other day this pizza would have gone down like cold, wet cardboard, but not today. Today this was the finest pizza he’d ever tasted. He cracked open a can of beer, and suds flowed up his nose, and out over his hand, splashing on the floor.

“Oh shit,” he said, laughing and spitting up chewed chunks of pizza.

“Hurry the fuck up in there!” Leopard yelled from the other room. “Let’s fuckin’ do this!”

Barkley nodded, taking a swig of the beer. It was foamy and tasted like stale cigarettes, but it washed down the rest of the pizza. He took another swig, slammed the can down on the table, and brought the flannel back up over his face.

He walked back to Leopard, grabbed the girl’s wrist, and pulled her toward him. Leopard held onto her.

Barkley peeled Leopard’s hand away from the girl’s wrist. “Let her go, man. There’s beer and pizza on the table in there. Go get some.”

“We don’t have time…”

Barkley cut him off. “We’ve got plenty of time. Go have some.”

Leopard sighed, and went into the kitchen. Barkley spun the girl toward him, and pushed her down on the couch.

“Please…please don’t…”she cried.

“Just sit there and shut the fuck up,” he said, walking around behind the couch. He pulled back the curtains, and lowered the blinds on the bay window. “Where’s the light in here?”

The girl raised a trembling hand and pointed to the wall near the bottom of the stairs. Barkley walked over and turned the dimmer, recoiling as the ceiling fixture flooded the room with a harsh bright light. He dialed it down to a dim glow, and surveyed the room. Leopard came back in from the kitchen.

“Take a look around upstairs, I’ll watch her,” Barkley said. He looked back at the girl. “You got any money.”

She shook her head.

Barkley leaned in toward her.

“You got any money?” Barkley yelled.

The girl winced.

“I…I…only have…I have a little in…in…in….”

“In…in…in,” Barkley screamed in her face, raising the back of his hand. “Spit it out or I’ll bust your fucking head open.”

“My purse!” the girl cried out. “I have…some…money in my purse.”

She pointed to a chair in the corner of the room. A long wool jacket was draped over it, and a small, red handbag poked out from underneath. Barkley grabbed the purse, and dumped the contents spill onto the floor. He knelt and dug through them. There was a makeup bag, a tin of mints, and bunch of receipts, and a small, intricately embroidered change containing a trio of crumpled ten dollar bills and a condom.

“Is that it?” he asked.

The girl stared down at the floor and nodded.

Barkley sighed and looked back up at Leopard who was still standing behind him. He was staring at the girl, eyes wide and full of fear. Barkley punched him in the leg and Leopard jumped.

“I thought I told you to look upstairs?” Barkley snapped.

“Yeah, okay,” Leopard said as he drifted toward the steps. He glanced back at the girl one more time before disappearing around the corner. Barkley waited until he heard Leopard’s footfalls on the stairs before he slid the coffee table aside and knelt before the trembling girl. When he placed his hands on her knees, she gasped, and Barkley held a finger to her mouth.

“Shhhhh…” he hissed, sliding his other hand up her under her robe.

“Please, god, no…,” she shut her eyes, squeezing out a stream of tears.

Barkley pressed his finger against her quivering lips, sealing them shut. She sobbed as his other hand slipped further up the smooth flesh of her thigh. He forced her knees apart and felt the warmth between her legs. She squeezed them shut, clamping his hand between her thighs, and slapped at him. Barkley brought his hand from her mouth and grabbed her neck, squeezing just hard enough to make his point. The girl’s body shuddered, and he felt her legs relax, and slowly drift apart again.

As she loosened her grip, he loosened his, and, beneath his flannel mask, he smiled.

 

****

 

Leopard flicked on the light and looked around the first bedroom. There were posters taped all over the walls; pictures of shirtless actors, magazine clippings of bands he’d never heard of. There was a nice television in the corner, as well as an expensive looking stereo, but both were too big to lug through the snow. He rummaged through the drawers of a tall dresser. The top drawer was full of panties, nylons, and paired-up socks, but, stashed deep in the corner, Leopard felt a rolled up plastic baggie. He smiled as he pulled it out of the drawer and held it up to his nose. The bag smelled of perfume, but what was inside was unmistakably marijuana. He shoved the bag into his hip pocket and worked his way through the rest of the dresser, but found nothing else worth taking.

He turned his attention to a small brass vanity on the other side of the room. A black jewelry box with gold dolphins painted on its side sat in the middle of it, surrounded by containers of nail polish, lipstick, and an oversized wood-handled hairbrush. Leopard walked over to the box, lifted the lid, and sifted through its contents. He settled on a few thin gold chains, a couple of rings, and a pair of small studs that may or may not have been diamonds, and stuffed them in his pocket with the bag of weed. When he closed the lid on the jewelry box, he noticed the pictures taped to the vanity’s mirror; a pretty brunette with a young man in a Mets hat, another with the same girl holding up a bottle of beer while on a beach with palm trees behind her. She sported an oversized white t-shirt shirt that said “RELAX” in huge black letters and playfully flipped the bird at the photographer. Below those there was a bigger photo of her with two other girls sitting on the front steps of a house. Leopard recognized the one in the middle as the girl who was now downstairs with Barkley. In the picture, she was smiling. Her bright and friendly eyes seemed to stare right through him.  He stared at the picture, studying the pretty girl’s face, and suddenly felt sick to his stomach.

He’d seen this face before.

And when he heard the scream from downstairs, he knew what had to be done.

 

****

 

Barkley turned the girl around and pressed her head into the couch cushions. He couldn’t look at her face. He could never look at their faces. It was just easier this way. He peeled the flannel shirt from his face, and threw it on the floor next to him. The girl fought, slapping back at him, and he leaned forward, pressing his elbow into the base of her neck.

“Stop moving,” he hissed.

Barkley grabbed one of her wrists, and bent it behind her back. She let out a muffled cry, reaching around her back with her free arm.

“Fight me and I swear to fuckin’ Christ, I’ll break it,” he said as he lifted her robe.

The girl’s free arm flailed about wildly, and her fingernails gouged into his cheek, just missing his right eye.

“You fuckin’ bitch!”

He bent her arm up far and fast until the back of her hand touched the base of her skull.  There was a sickening crunch as her arm popped from its socket. The girl seemed energized by the pain, and threw herself backward so hard that she sent Barkley tumbling into the coffee table. As she stood, she screamed, and charged toward him. He lifted his leg and kicked her in the stomach, sending her crashing into the brick fireplace.

Barkley jumped back to his feet and stomped across the room, but before he could get to her, he felt a pair of arms around his chest, and soon he was back on the floor, facedown in the carpet. Barkley rolled onto his back and stared up at Leopard.

“What the fuck are you doing?” he asked.

Leopard shook his head.

“It’s over. We’re going,” Leopard said.

 “What? What did you say?”

“I said it’s over,” Leopard’s voice softened, his gaze wavered.

Barkley shook his head as he stood. “I’ll say when it’s over. You…you just go back upstairs and do what I told you to do. And don’t come down until I…”

Leopard’s pale grey eyes grew wide, and he grabbed Barkley by his shoulders, tossing him back to the floor. Barkley’s nose hit the ground, and a burning pain spread across his face, right through to the back of his skull. As he pushed himself to his feet, drops of blood fell from his nose, rhythmically tapping against the carpet below. He stood, clenching his fists.

Youfuckinsonofa’..,” Barkley turned back toward Leopard, but his voice trailed off when he saw the bloodied poker protruding from his friend’s stomach

Leopard’s face was pale, his mouth moving but there were no words, just shallow breaths. As he fell to his knees, he revealed the girl standing behind him, her hands covered in his blood. She stepped backward, shaking her head, her unblinking eyes locked with Barkley’s.

“I’m…I didn’t mean to…I didn’t mean…”

Barkley crouched beside Leopard and lowered him slowly to the ground. Leopard stared up at him as a faint smile crept across his face.

“Is it over?” he asked. And, with that, his final breath rattled out of him.

Barkley shook his head, and squeezed his eyes shut. He wrapped his hands around the handle of the poker, pressed his knee against Leopard’s back, and pulled. The head of the poker caught against something hard inside of Leopard. Barkley twisted and tugged, heard the crack of bone, and pulled at it again. Leopard’s body jerked like a fish on a hook until Barkley finally worked the poker free.

The girl sat motionless in the corner. She stared at Leopard’s body. Barkley now stood above her, but her eyes remained fixed on the dead man in the center of the room.

He raised the poker above his head and brought it down upon her. The skin on her head split down the middle, peeling open like an orange, and a spray of warm blood splashed into Barkley’s face.

She didn’t scream.

She didn’t even move.

She was broken.

She was done.

But he wasn’t.

Not by a long shot.

He hit her again and again, swinging until his palms ached so much that he could no longer hold on to the rod of metal, and finished the job with his fists. The skin on his knuckles split, torn against sharp shards of bone, as he rained blows upon the girl’s shattered skull. He finally relented and fell back, his arms too weak to support him. Barkley stared long and hard at the unrecognizable lump of pulverized flesh that lay crumpled before him. A wave of nausea washed over him, and he rolled onto his side, spewing forth undigested bits of cold pizza and beer with such force that he could feel the blood vessels pop in his cheeks. When the sickness finally passed, he wiped at his mouth with his sleeve, swallowed hard, and turned to where Leopard’s body lay.

But it was no longer there.

Barkley sat up, and backed himself against the wall. He turned to the corner where the girl was, but she was gone, too.

Not only were they gone, but the room…

It had changed.

There were pictures on the wall that weren’t there before. The sofa was different. The coffee table was gone. There was a TV where the armchair was, and the fireplace…

Where is the fireplace?

It has to be there!

That’s how I get rid of…

Pure panic washed over him. His arms and legs tingled and his mind raced. He remembered it all; the cracking of bone, the wet snapping of blood on burnt embers, the smell of roasting flesh.

But how could he?

It hadn’t even happened yet.

 

****

 

The pounding on the front door stopped, and Andrea ran to the closet in the front hall. She threw open the door and dug through a pile of blankets and shoes, until she felt the rubber grip of the aluminum softball bat. She pulled it out and stared at the thick barrel, took a deep breath, and held it aloft as she made her way to the kitchen. The back porch light cast a sea of shadows across the kitchen floor and small shards of glass shimmered like diamonds against the dark tile.

Andrea bit her bottom lip and slowly leaned into the kitchen. There was a fist sized hole in the glass panel closest to the doorknob, but the door was still closed, and, other than the swirling wind and snow, there was nothing outside. She carefully stepped over the glass, switching off the porch light, and peered out through the broken panel.

The stiff, frigid breeze made her eyes tear, as a blinding beam of light cut through the darkness. Andrea shielded her eyes from the glare, and stumbled backward. She let out a cry as glass crunched under foot, digging into her heels through the flimsy soles of her slippers. She fell to her knees. The bat slipped out of her hands, rolled across the kitchen floor and into the shadows.

 

****

 

Barkley tried to open front door, but it wouldn’t give. He peeled back the curtains and tried the windows but the snow seemed to be piled as high as the window pane.  They wouldn’t budge. He punched at the windows, but his fists hit the glass with a dull thud, leaving behind smears of blood and skin from his raw knuckles.

“What the fuck is happening?” he cried out. Except, as each moment passed, he knew what was happening; it was all coming back to him.

He just didn’t want to admit it.

You never did…

 

****

The old cop rushed through the door and stomped the snow off of his feet in the foyer.

“Whoever it was, they ain’t out there now,” he said.

Andrea nodded, wincing as his partner finished wrapping the gauze around her feet.

 “You’re cut pretty bad,” he said. “I wrapped ‘em up, but there’s still glass in there, and you’re probably gonna need stitches. Burt, you wanna call it in?”

“Huh?” Burt looked distracted, his eyes darting around the room.

“An ambulance?” the young cop asked.

Burt nodded slowly. “Yeah, Danny,” he said. “I’ll call it in.”

Burt scanned the room once more, his face ashen and eyes hollow. He shook his head and reached for the door handle. Andrea could see his hand trembling.

“I’ll call it in,” he said again softly, as he opened the door and slipped out into the howling storm.

“Is he okay?” Andrea asked.

Danny took a deep breath and frowned.

“Sure… I guess. I mean considering the circumstances,” he said.

“What circumstances?” Andrea asked.

Danny cocked his head. “You’re not from around here, then?”

“No. I just…”

“You just go to school here,” he said. “Sorry, somethin’ like this you just figure everyone knows about.”

“Something like what?” she asked.

 

****

 

Barkley paced back and forth and he suddenly felt very cold. He wrapped his arms around himself and tried to rub the chill out of his body. As he did, he felt something trickle down his cheek, wiped at it, and then examined his hand.

Blood?

He ran his fingers along his face, feeling the rough patch of dried blood around his nose, then traced along his lips and cheeks, until he found something warm and wet in the center of his forehead. He pressed it, but felt no pain, just a dull pressure in his head. He ran his finger around the wound. It was small and round, and raised on the edges.

No bigger than a dime.

 No bigger than abullet hole.

 

****

 

 

Danny sprang from the arm of the chair as Burt hurried inside, his dark blue uniform half white, coated with windblown snow.

“Jesus, Burt,” Danny said, hand over his heart. “You scared the shit outta me!”

“Ambulance…won’t…be here,” he said, trying to catch his breath. “We…gotta bring her in…ourselves.”

Danny sighed and ran his hand through his close-cropped hair. “Okay, let’s get you in something…where’s your coat?”

Andrea pointed upstairs as she tried to stand. The pain shot through her heels, and she fell back into the chair.

“No, no. you stay there, I’ll get it,” he said.

Andrea sucked at the air through her teeth. “Thank you,” she said. “There are extra blankets, too, at the end of the hall.”

Danny nodded, and patted Burt on the shoulder as he passed him. Burt’s face was as pale as the snow on his uniform. He cleared his throat, and reached for the doorknob.

“I’ll wait outside,” he said to no one in particular, and, before Andrea could reply, he was swallowed up by the snowy night.

 

****

 

Who were these people? Where did they come from? Barkley knew one of their faces. The old cop at the door; he’d seen him around, he was sure of it. But who was this girl? Where was he?

Whenwas he?

He stepped across the room and looked at the old cop. He was standing toe to toe with him, but the man just stared right through him.

“Look at me!” he cried. “Can’t you fucking see me?”

The cop stood there, his gaze drifting back and forth around the room. He seemed to look everywhere except at Barkley. And then he finally did look at him, and when their eyes locked, Barkley saw it all again.

He saw the pieces of Leopard mingling with the pieces of the girl. He saw the bloody kitchen knives and the flimsy saw with the broken blade. He smelled the burning flesh in the fireplace, and heard the wet popping sounds it made as it was devoured by the flames.

And then he heard the door creak and snap.

And felt the cold air rush past him as it burst open.

He grabbed the knife from the floor.

And then he saw him. He was younger, but it was him. He knew it was him.

The fear in his eyes; the look of absolute horror.

It was the same.

The cop raised his weapon, and Barkley stood, raising his own.

And, with a sound no louder than the pop of a firecracker, he felt the life drain from him.

Again.

Now, the older version of the cop turned away, and walked out the door. Barkley started to call after him, but stopped himself. There was no point. The other cop came and wrapped the blankets around the shivering girl, and, as they left the house, and the memories started to fade, he wondered…

     How many times had he lived this?

How many times had he killed that girl?

How many times had he watched Leopard die?

****

The snow piled up to Barkley’s knees and the wind caked the rest of him with a thick layer of the stuff. He turned back toward Leopard, still a half-a-block away, aiming the stolen palm sized camcorder at the sky.

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