With my head in something of a whirl, I went to the kitchen to get Victor.
He’d put a bowl on the kitchen floor and was filling it with mincemeat.
A black cat was running round him, meowing. As soon as the bowl was full, it thrust its face into the meat and began devouring it hungrily.
“I didn’t know you had a cat,” I said.
“I don’t” he replied. “He’s a stray. He’s been hanging around the garden lately, so I thought I’d feed him. He’s a friendly little fellow.” He stooped and stroked the animal’s back as it ate. “You’re enjoying that, aren’t you Moloch?”
“What did you call him?”
“How did you know that’s his name?”
“I didn’t. The name just sort of popped into my head and I decided that’s what I’d call him.”
The cat looked up at me for an instant. Swear to God it gave me an evil grin.
I felt faint and had to force myself to concentrate on the job in hand.
“You better leave the cat for now, Vic. Come with me. I need to show you something.”
I led him into Dorothy’s bedroom.
She was lying on her bed, of course. As soon as Vic saw her, he sat down and burst into tears. His back heaved with fretful intakes of breath.
“There’s no time for that, victor,” I told him. “You have to help me clean her up then we need to call the doctor.”
“Clean her up?” He asked in between sobs. “What do you mean?”
“We have to make sure that there’s no evidence she didn’t die of natural causes.”
An expression flitted across his face as if he’d just smelled something he didn’t much care for.
“I see what you mean,” he said.
I got some wet wipes, a toilet roll, and a bin liner.
“Help me turn her over,” I said.
Between us we managed to get Dorothy on her stomach, then I lifted up her nightie and cleaned her backside with the wet wipes, throwing the used ones in the bin liner as I went along. Nauseating.
We removed the soiled nightie and dressed her in a clean one, then sat her up in bed as best we could.
Her head was lolling to one side, and her mouth was hanging open, but other than for that, she looked little different to the way she’d looked before I’d killed her.
“I’ll call the Doctor now,” Victor said after he’d composed himself. “I’ll tell him I found her like this, and that she must have died during the night.”
“Wait,” I said. “We have to do something about Dave.”
“Sorry, I meant about the corpse in the spare room. It’s beginning to smell. The Doctor’s bound to notice it. He might even go into the spare room and find it. We can’t risk that.”
Victor looked worried by the prospect of the doctor finding anything amiss.
“What can we do?” He asked.
“We need to move it to the cellar, open all the windows in the house, and give the place a damned good airing before he arrives.”
“I suppose you’re right.”
We went to where we’d stored Dave. There was a rank sweet smell around him; the smell of death. It was escaping from the body bag. The zip must have been faulty, or maybe there was a hole in it somewhere.
Dave had been refrigerated in the mortuary, so he hadn’t decomposed much. In the cloying heat of the bungalow, which was maintained at temperatures suitable for the old and infirm, he seemed to be decaying at an alarming rate. At least, that’s what I gathered from the stench.
We’d left him bagged up on the floor.
I grabbed an end of the bag.
“You take the other end,” I said. “Okay. One, two, three, pull.”
We dragged him out of the room and up the hall to the cellar door, which I opened. Behind it there was a steep flight of wooden steps.
“Okay,” said Victor. “What next?”
“We slide him down there,” I said. “Help me push it.”
The bag was made of a smooth, plastic material. It practically glided down the steps, disappearing into the darkness below. There was a fleshy thud when it hit the cellar floor.
I switched on the light.
The bag had burst open, and Dave had fallen out of it. He was lying in a pool of fluid. It looked none too pleasant and nor did he. I hoped he was still in one piece.
“Come on Victor.”
I turned on the light and we descended the staircase. My face brushed cobwebs on the way down. That wasn’t pleasant.
After I’d examined Dave’s body and reassured myself he was still in one piece, I had a look around to work out where to put him.
The cellar was roughly twenty foot by twenty foot of dingy windowless gloom. The concrete floor was dusty and the brick walls were covered in grime. The pendant light in the middle of the ceiling didn’t produce nearly enough light to see clearly by.
“Christ almighty,” said Victor when he saw the remains of what had once been Dave Carrion. What happened to him?”
“Never mind all that. Help me. We can’t leave him here.”
I got my hands under Dave’s armpits. They were slimy. Victor took his feet. We strained our utmost to pick him up and headed for the middle of the cellar, bent double with the weight of him.
“On there,” I said, nodding at a table.
We both made an all-out effort and heaved him onto it.
I did my best to arrange him in a dignified position, lying on his back with his arms folded across his chest.
“We can’t leave him exposed to the open air like this,” I said. “We’ll have to get something to keep him in.”
“I suppose you’re right,” said Victor. “We ought to give him a good home, even though he’s dead. What do you propose doing?”
“I don’t know. I’ll think of something.”
As the body bag was no longer fit for purpose, I kicked it to one side and we returned to the ground floor. I taped the gap around the cellar door with duct tape I found in a kitchen drawer.
Then I opened all the windows and sprayed air freshener everywhere. When the smell had subsided Victor called the doctor.
It was two hours before the Doctor arrived. Apparently, he prioritised tending the living ahead of tending to the needs of the dead, so we were his last call of the night.
He examined Dorothy and began filling out some kind of official death form.
Victor left the room but I stayed with the Doctor, because I was concerned about what he might find. I thought I might be able to tell from his face whether or not he noticed anything suspicious about Dorothy’s death. But he gave nothing away, so after a while, I decided to broach the issue with him to set my mind at ease.
“How do you think she died, Doctor?” I asked.
“You can seldom be certain with a death of this nature,” he said. “Working out the cause of death in these circumstances is as much an art as a science. Dorothy was old, her health was failing, and she had a number of problems. But it looks as though her heart gave out, and that was what killed her.”
“Maybe it’s good it happened that way. It’s a mercy that it was quick, if you see what I mean. I haven’t known Dorothy for long, but even I could tell that her dementia was getting worse.”
He looked up from his notes.
“She didn’t have dementia,” he said.
“She didn’t? What do you mean? What was wrong with her?”
“She had a form of locked-in syndrome.”
“That’s right. She could see and hear, and her brain could function normally. In other words, she had all the mental capacity of a healthy human being. But she had only a very limited ability to control her body. She could move her limbs, for instance, but she couldn’t make them do what she wanted them to do. ”
I began to get a sick feeling.
“You mean, she could understand everything that was happening around her? Like, if she was still alive, she’d be listening to us now, and she’d be able to understand everything we were saying?”
“That’s exactly what I mean.”
“And feel pain and fear?”
“Yes, she could feel pain and fear, just like you and me.”
My sick feeling got a hell of a lot worse.
Inwardly I reeled with shock.
And I got to thinking: I’d murdered Dorothy.
If I didn’t kill two more people, she would have died for nothing.
So I had to kill again.
And Victor deserved to die. He’d lied to me to get me to kill her.
So, clutching the Harvesting Stone in my right hand, I crept into his room and hid under the bed.
I waited there, covered in fluff, until he showed up.
He took off his pants and sat on the edge of the bed, with his feet within inches of my nose. My nostrils were assaulted by a smell like that of ripe stilton.
I heard two distinct plopping sounds.
I guessed that these were caused by him dropping his false teeth into a glass of water.
He removed his socks and left them lying on the floor in front of my face.
Then he raised up one of his legs and scratched it. Flakes of skin descended like snowflakes onto the carpet in front of me.
He reached down and brushed the skin under his bed with his fingers.
He repeated the exercise on his other leg, then climbed under the covers.
For a while he rolled around restlessly, but eventually, began snoring.
I crawled from my hiding place commando-style on my elbows and knees, then got cautiously to my feet and looked at Victor.
He was lying on his back with his arms under the covers.
I carefully climbed astride of him, pinning his arms to his sides with my knees, and switched on his bedside light so that he could see me. He must have taken sleeping pills because the light didn’t wake him up.
I held his nose for a moment. He started gasping for air and emerged from his slumber, blinking in puzzlement.
He tried to get his spectacles then realised that he couldn’t move his arms. I reached out to the bedside cabinet, got them for him, and put them on his face. Now he could see me clearly.
He mumbled something with his gaping, toothless maw that I couldn’t understand.
His dentures were on the bedside table suspended in the glass of water he’d dropped them into. I reached over, plucked them from the glass, and shoved them in his mouth.
They went in at an angle, and for a few moments his jaws moved independently of his teeth, with the teeth at a slant. He worked his jaws this way and that, and eventually got them in the right way.
“Kali,” he said. “What’s happening? What are you doing?”
I bent at the waist bringing my nose to within inches of his.
“I’m ending it, Victor,” I said.
His brow furrowed in bafflement. He tried to mouth an answer but his teeth slipped. It took him a few seconds to get them the right way again.
“Ending what?” He asked.
Behind the lenses of his spectacles his eyes registered fear.
“What? You’re ending my life? What do you mean?”
My reply was cold as steel.
“I mean I’m going to kill you because of what you did to Dorothy and to me.”
“Why? What are you talking about? I didn’t do anything to either of you. We made an arrangement which was mutually beneficial. You agreed to it. The arrangement helped Dorothy and it helped you.”
I shook my head.
“I know what you did Victor. I know how you deceived me.”
His eyes filled with panic.
“Deceived you? How have I deceived you?”
“You told me she was no more than an empty shell. What were the words you used? According to you, she was a ‘jumble of autonomous reflexes’ or something of the sort. But she was no mere jumble of autonomous reflexes. She had her wits about her. She didn’t have dementia. She had locked-in syndrome. You knew that all along, but you told me she’d lost her mind. You tricked me into killing a sentient human being.”
He tried to wriggle to get me off him. Fortunately, he was old and feeble and tranquilized, and nothing he could do would unseat me from my perch. When he realised he couldn’t escape, he said:
“I tricked you, but only because I thought you wouldn’t help me if you knew the truth. You said you wouldn’t kill a thinking human being, so I told you she couldn’t think. I lied about the state of Dorothy’s mind. But I did so with the best of intentions. Dorothy wanted to die more than anything else in the world. The Doctors wouldn’t end her life for her, and I couldn’t do it for her because I was weak. I only lied to get what was right for Dorothy. You’ve got to believe me, Kali. Please.”
I was determined not to be tricked for a second time by Victor.
“You lied when you told me that Dorothy had lost her mind. You’re lying now to save your miserable hide.”
I set down the Harvesting Stone on his bedside table then pulled a pillow from under his head. I held it over his face for a moment or two, so that he could anticipate the anguish he would shortly be feeling.
“No! Please don’t! Don’t do this to me, Kali!”
When he saw that I wasn’t paying him any heed, he raised the volume of his cries to the maximum of which he was capable:
“Help me! Please help me someone! Help! Help! Murder! Please help!”
For a feeble old man who smoked, he had a surprisingly loud voice. Loud as it was, it was drowned out immediately I pressed the pillow on his face. I held it gently but firmly, positioning my hands so that they were to either side of his nose.
His legs thrashed fiercely under the covers making a noise something like that of a swimmer sprinting the length of his local pool. He tried to move his arms, but they were pinned helplessly against his sides by my knees. I was vaguely aware of his pitiful attempts to dislodge me.
He arched his back and lowered it repeatedly, twisting like a fish on a hook, but all to no avail. He was firmly trapped, and his life was being forcibly taken from him, breath by painful breath.
I enjoyed the thought that he now knew exactly how Dorothy’s final moments must have felt.
Muffled cries of panic emanated from beneath the pillow. Eventually they ceased, as did his frantic writhing.
His death put me one step nearer to my goal of raising Dave.
I needed to take just one more life to achieve it.
“It was a heart attack,” said the Doctor. “Just like Dorothy. It often happens that way. When you get two people like that who love each other, and one of them goes, the other seldom lasts more than a few days. It’s as if they’ve given up the will to live, because they’ve lost the person who was most dear to them. As far as I know, they only had each other.”
“Do you really think they loved each other, Doctor?” I asked. “Victor was only a neighbour, after all.”
“Yes, I do think they loved each other. I knew them both for a long time. I saw what they were like together before Dorothy’s illness, and I saw the way Victor cared for her.”
I knew that he must be wrong. He had to be.
“Thank you Doctor,” I said. “I’ll make sure I give him a good send-off.”
After he left my hands began to tremble. My nerves were shot, so I sat on the edge of the bed and lit up a cigarette to calm them.
Victor was lying next to me with his face was twisted into a silent scream, like Dorothy’s had been. I used his open mouth as an ashtray.
When I’d smoked my cigarette down nearly to the filter, I stubbed it out on his eyeball. There was a sibilant hiss as it made contact with his dead flesh and acrid-smelling smoke rose up from his iris.
Serves you right, I thought’ tossing the extinguished cigarette into his gaping mouth..
Then I looked in the chest of drawers he kept in his room, to see what secrets he might have been keeping.
The top one was crammed with personal papers and bank statements, including his and Dorothy’s credit cards and a sheet of paper with their passwords and pin numbers on it.
There was also a letter which said:
I’m writing this while I’m still able to set down my thoughts on paper.
I’m planning to commit suicide when I decide my life is no longer worth living. The trouble is, when I come to that point, it may be too late for me to kill myself. I might need help, maybe even need someone to do it for me.
That person will have to be you.
Please be strong for me.
Please put me down when my life is no longer worth living. I’ll find a way to let you know when that time comes.
Remember, be strong for me.
All my love, forever,
Victor hadn’t been lying to me when he’d said that Dorothy had wanted to die. In his own way, he’d behaved honourably, even though he’d lied to me about the state of her mind.
And I’d murdered him.
I felt a knot in my guts. My head spun. What had I done?
It was an accident of sorts, I told myself. I’d misunderstood the situation. Victor had to take some of the blame for that. He’d brought about his own death, in a way. Even if Dorothy had wanted to die, Victor hadn’t let on to me what the true situation was.
Anyway, I now had to kill again, otherwise everything I’d done, the horrific crimes I’d committed, would all have been for nothing.
I got into Victor’s car and put the Harvesting Stone into the foot-well on the passenger side. I took the car out of the garage, drove it to the end of the street, and made a right turn onto the road that Olly’s dad, Adam, would be walking down in less than five minutes.
He was going to die in a hit-and-run accident.
Soon I saw him in the rear view mirror coming round the corner with Olly, who was carrying his yellow football.
.I’d been meaning to run Adam down, but I couldn’t do that now. Not with Olly there. I didn’t want Olly to watch as I killed his Dad.
I ducked as they approached. When I raised my head they’d got about fifty yards beyond me.
Olly succumbed to the temptation to kick his ball. It went down somebody’s drive into their garden. Adam remonstrated with Olly, and Olly disappeared up the drive.
I decided that while Olly was going after the ball, I had to take my chance. I stepped on the gas and fired the car forward. At the last second, I steered onto the pavement towards Adam.
The car went for him like an Exocet missile.
It would be a quick and painless death; I owed him that much at least.
What happened next seemed to take place in slow motion.
Adam had his back towards me. He must have heard the car, because he turned and looked at me, and I saw fear in his eyes. His long coat swirled around him in the wind.
As I neared him a second figure appeared, a small boy. It was Olly, running as fast as he could towards his dad. Swear to God I heard him shout:
“Look out Daddy!”
Then he pushed Adam out of the way of the car. Adam fell sprawling on the road, where he was safe from the path the car was taking.
But Olly wasn’t.
He was directly in front of me. I’m sure there was recognition in his eyes when he saw me through the windscreen. He tried to dive out of the way. I hit the footbrake. The car slowed, but not enough. Olly moved, but not enough. There was a sickening thud as vehicle car hit him and he sailed over the bonnet.
Olly’s Dad was lying in the road semi-conscious. Olly himself was a tangle of limbs and blood on the pavement. He couldn’t possibly have survived.
I felt something happening deep in my guts. It was a sort of an animal wail. It rose up through me and shook me, as I gave voice to it. I was as bereft as the boy’s own mother would be when she saw him.
I climbed back into the car and drove off as quickly as I could, struggling to control my feelings of guilt.
Raising Dave is © Copyright 2017 by Jack Strange. Permission to publish this story has been granted by the author.
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Also coming soon from Mr. Strange – NOIRVELLAS: MANCHESTER VICE from Coffin Hop Press
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