I could see a car slowly coming up the hill. Maybe it was the paramedics, but I found that rather doubtful. I ran back down the stairs so as to close the anterior doors. The front of the house was virtual glass; there were, at least, five sliding doors that opened on to the wooden wraparound porch. So I hurried, running and calling to the children to stay away. The body was still on the floor; it groaned but did not move. The car, now recognizable as a snow-covered jeep, was parked, and a burly man got out with a slam of the door echoing in his wake. I told the children, who had disregarded me by clinging to my side, to go upstairs. Pointing, trying to make myself calm and authoritative, I half-growled for them to leave. The man clambered up the stairs, two maybe three at a time. I did not want to see his face; I could not, did not, want to see it.
The last door would not close. I thumped it. I pushed it up off its track and finally got it closed—the latch, all latches, set. The man was big and thick with a green hat that clung to his head. His hands pounded on the glass before me. Am I afraid? I backed up, my foot hitting something. The man pointed to something behind me, shouting at me. Suddenly I felt an object in my left hand—a hammer.
But a scream rang out from the panel of doors. The man had stopped. His hands were pressed against the pane, and the large glass rectangle had turned to a brilliant vermillion shield. It was not sundown—that had died away hours ago. Dare I creep closer, dare I look…A flash of bright silver came from behind the immobile man, wham. He didn’t scream this time, though; he just continued to stare. They were not the eyes of a human, of recognition. Only in confusion, a rabid, bestial fear of the unknown and the known did the man stare at me. Jackson Pollock began to paint my glass doors. Blood drips and splatters endlessly, all but covering the brumous scenes of November outside. Soon the thumping stopped, and a shallow breathing began in the ensuing silence. I gazed about me; Ian was still unmoving and unconscious on the carpet. The broken respiration was coming from the other side of the crimson pane, I realized. The man’s body slid away, like a leaf torn off a tree and blown across a windshield, and was replaced by another dark figure.
Red: a face peered in at me. Garish, his throat was a stygian crimson, blood already growing stale. His tongue swiped at a droplet near his veined lips. Yes, that was the description—veined with ruby streams and pools, splotches and birthmarks. His eyes were searching cesspools of appetite. I moved backwards. His head appeared dislocated, at such an odd angle. I fell. He laughed and whispered something through the air between us; then he spoke louder.
“Cee, I know you’re there. Didn’t hurt yourself did you!”
His eyes rolled about, like roly-poly bugs captured in a glass sphere.
“I suppose that the store clerk has had a worse time than you, though,” heaving of breath, a shallow, amused in-out take of air.
Suddenly realization dawned on me. The green hat, earflaps up, and that apron—now no more bloody than the butcher’s—it was the store clerk I had seen just hours ago when I had gone into town for gauze and a shovel.
“Let me in. Let me in, Cee.”
The children were at my side again. A boy and a girl, they clung to each other as I sat in the chair I had fallen in to. Jay’s eyes moved to them. Flick, the door became a veritable mosaic; the pieces held together though. The mallet came down again. I told the children to run. They needed to hide in the closet, no sounds. A game of hide-and-go-seek, I told them, no sounds. The children ran. The mallet came down harder and more rapidly. I, too, couldn’t stay, yet Ian was still unconscious on the floor. I was tempted to grab him, drag him, but the door was half obliterated already. Jay gave one more swing, yet I was gone, not waiting to look back and to see him step through the panel.
My bedroom was dark. I needed a light: it was by the bed. I placed myself in a chair, one of my wing chairs by the bed. I turned the chair so it faced the balcony doors. I sat, waiting. My hands tried to rub the armrests, but they had begun the opening lines of a Chopin Nocturne instead. Tap, tap, my fingers went. I crossed my legs, waiting. I had no clock, the tick-tock a noticed absence from the atmosphere, yet my hands were their own metronome and kept time perfectly.
Did a door open?
The light went out. I won’t turn around; no, I kept to my gray view. Was he near? I couldn’t hear a thing. Don’t turn, keep looking at the…A hand touched my shoulder. Don’t turn around. I waited for a voice, a slug, a shot. But the hand kept to my shoulder, like some sort of insect-conscience. I felt neither release nor constriction.
“It would have been a lot easier if you had let me in. Maybe, you didn’t hear me?” The voice stopped, the hand embedded into my shoulder. “Where are the children, Cee? What have you done with them? Poor Ian couldn’t tell me—dead. Was it you? Cee, Cee…”
“Don’t hurt the children.”
“Don’t be heroic. Just tell me where they are.”
I fell forward. Getting up, I turned round. Jay had both hands on the chair. His face still painted, but by a very different artist: an ovate red moon. His eyes, though, were shockingly clear, a nondescript gray. Dove-wing, I used to call them. He came forward tossing a mallet from hand to hand. Stumbling back, my shoulders dug into a wall. His twisted face, his red throat, and his stained-black clothes all came toward me. I slid down to a slouch.
“Leave the children alone, please. The children,” I couldn’t finish.
“They’re not your children. There my sister’s. And I want them here to see you happily away.”
I was silent.
“You hear me?”
A boy, my boy of six, stood behind the bloody rag raging at me. But Jay stopped, looking over his shoulder, looking over at my little boy. Tommy stood with his hands out in front of him. He was holding a small, black gun.
“Come here,” the whisper sighed.
“No,” jumped out before I could control myself. Pain, Jay’s mallet smashed into my chest. I heaved, strained against the pressure of the blow.
“Stop or I’ll shot.” My brave boy, my brave boy.
“Come here. Your daddy’s not angry.”
The boy went towards him, gun still cocked. Jay turned from me and slid on his knees to where my boy stood. Taking Tommy in his arms, Jay slowly eased the small, black water pistol out of his hands. Jay sat looking at my little six-year old boy; then his hands were like snakes:
“Now, son, look into my face. No, not at daddy, at me.” Jay’s hands were at the boy’s throat, my brave boy.
Jay turned back to me; my son left in cold silence on the floor. I wanted to hold him, moving forward. Jay, however, pushed me back. Holding me there, he said,
The beast motioned to the body, I muttered something. Jay left me there. I crawled to my boy. I hugged him, kissed his still warm forehead. Putting him in a chair, my head rested in his lap. My brave boy. A shout echoed from the innards of the hall. He had found her…
The shower was running. He and my girl were in there. I had not seen her come in, but Jay had told me that she would stay with him. I wanted to be sure: I wanted to open the bathroom door and check. He could be waiting, though, just a trick—what if he hurt her? So I stayed with my dead child. The sky was gray and the stars were of fog tonight.
During Jay’s shower I had begun to think of Ian, my most likely dead brother-in-law. After he had threatened to take the children to their mother, his sister, who was actually dead, I had hit him with the nearest object, a hammer apparently. He always spouted delusions when he was drunk. Turning my head, I glimpsed my face in the dresser mirror. I shuffled to my image realizing that it was spotted scarlet, that I had been stippled with blood the whole time I had been into town. Shaking from my own horrendous discovery, I understood that I was the cause of the store clerk’s death. Who knew there’d be so much blood? Then the bathroom door opened.
A little girl stepped out of the steam, followed by a man in an unbuttoned shirt and shorts. Jay held my daughter, his hand in her tiny, innocent palm. They came forward, as one; they stopped; Jay came at me, grabbing me by the arm. Kit screamed. He turned, smacking her aside the head. I pushed at him, but he pulled me down. Now he was on top of me. I could see the slow rise and fall that I imposed on him. Up down, he was a stone upon my stomach. Kit stood a little ways away.
“Kit,” Pain, my jaw felt as my chest had; my head lolled to one side.
“Come here,” he said once again.
“Kit—” pain; Kit ran to me, but Jay grabbed her arms. She didn’t struggle. She looked down at me, at her poor father, with tears about to swell-over.
Jay leaned his mouth to my ear, “Either I do it or you do.”
I was silent. The man leaned back. He took a black stick out of his pocket. Kit screamed, oh how she screamed.
“Fine…just get off of me,” was all I could say.
Jay pushed off, his head tilting to one side. Kit was in my arms crying. I held on.
I was again on my back. Jay held Kit, oh how she screamed. I took hold of Jay, his breath now almost coming in through my mouth, and I pleaded. He grabbed my throat and pulled me up. Kit again stood before me, both her arms caressing little rivulets of scarlet wax. I nodded, Jay shoved me at her.
I crouched down, “Now honey, you must close your eyes,” I smoothed out her wet face, “just think of candy,” I brushed back her pale hair, “just think of all the ice cream in the world.” She swallowed. “It’ll be alright.”
Kit only looked at me. Her tears were still plentiful, yet she was a strong girl, my girl. My hands rubbed her stiff arms, travelling up her sides to her shoulders. I could feel the old face, the one of blood, boring into my back. He was no different: all that had changed was that he now wore a clean masking of flesh. I still felt the old blood-moon flesh he wore underneath peering out at me. I tightened my hands. Her eyes were closed, never to be seen again in the morning light, or in any light. My fingers felt silly, misused, unnatural. They would not close fast enough. Why wouldn’t they close? Another hand was on my head, ruffling my hair. Tighter, tighter, but it wasn’t fast enough. She had begun to whimper. She just wouldn’t die!
Rasping breath on my ear, “You should have let me in.”
I was once again crying; it seemed a pathetic thing to do, but I had just killed my daughter—for the better, I suppose. Both bodies were in twin chairs near the balcony doors. The doors to the balcony were clear, beckoning. I didn’t know where Jay was, probably lurking in the shadows behind me. The room was relatively dark, yet the glass was clear and transparent. Music, some Aztec or Mayan dirge, hummed in my ears. A voice began behind me, but I was already halfway to the glass doors. I did not scream, yelled maybe, but no cry of alarm or terror. The pane broke. I flew out on to snowy terrace. I stayed there, waiting to be taken. I felt glass but also the more lurid sting of the cold. Whiteness, brilliant nothingness and a deep cold flowing through my body: I lay there.
Someone picked me up. I saw the sky and the far off hills; carried, I was then thrown on to the bedroom floor, glass pushing deeper into me. Whiteness, blankness, still prevailed. A hazy shadow hung over my face. Mutterings, talk, incoherent, a man spoke to me.
“…crime cannot go unpunished,” a hand came in sight.
A shard, several shards, were plucked by talon-like fingers. Then I sensed others, other shards, bury deeper into my unfeeling flesh. No words fell out from my lips; I felt nothing, and I felt everything. Pain and disregard, I had become aware of the hurt, yet I would not accept it. I had been hurt far worse just moments before. This…this was only a bump on the shoulder, a smack on the head. In and out, Jay moved the glass through my flesh as if poking holes through a beached jellyfish. I looked at him with tired eyes, at a loss for words and emotions. Did he expect me to cry, to shout, to beg—his gaze was one filled with hate and a baleful need to inflict something, some emotion on to my placid face.
“You told her to go to the store. The roads were icy—black ice—and death was as certain as yours. You say you didn’t know—hell, the snow was like a coffin lid closing on the world. She went. She never came back. Now the kids are dead, and you’ll be dead, soon, too.”
My gaze drifted. The feeling of being impregnable was wearing off. A gasp escaped me; a look of accomplishment now rested on Jay’s hideous mask. All of a sudden his weight was lifted off of me. He crumpled to the ground. I turned my head so my cheek was on the ground, facing his glazed gaze. I saw his eyes flutter wildly. Someone had hit him over the head. I felt the bed behind me. I sat up. Standing with the gray world behind him like a weary halo, was Ian. In his hand, there was a black revolver. It wasn’t Tommy’s small, black squirt gun. This sleekly shaped firearm was greasily glaring at my face.
“I’m taking the kids, Cecil. See what dangers there are here.” (He hadn’t noticed them slumped, dead, in the chairs, or had he?). He continued, “All the time: cold. They need some warmth from time to time. My sister gave them that, at least. Now I’m going to take her place and be that warmth. You can die for all I care.”
A shot went off. Body dropped, a thump, I opened my eyes. Jay now held the gun. Ian was finally dead. I thought of my wife, how she had loved our children. I thought of that icy day she died.
“She would have been disappointed at you.”
“Shut up! You killed her. I’m only doing what would have made her happy: returning her kids that you stole from her.” Jay rocked the gun in his hands
“She hated you. Why do you think she never let you come over?”
“Shut up, shut up,” his hand was firm, but his legs stumbled as he moved backwards.
I would like to say that he fell back on to a broken glass-splinter and that he shot me as he fell, but he only landed on the upturned table. The police soon came. The questions, the good-cop-bad-cop thing—everything came. The sirens, as if announcing a long lost ship, came joyously to the scene. I sat up against the bed. I saw them remove the bodies, all but the one downstairs, and I saw them handcuff Jay. My daughter’s purple throat, my son’s tiny water pistol, I saw everything leave and never come back.
My house felt the wonderful knock of spring, or had it been a real knock at the door? I moved toward the front of my house. I passed the kitchen, the newspaper still unread, and I stopped momentarily, the picture on the front page arousing some buried memory. But the door gave another knock and I hurried off. I loved my new house. For twenty years I had lived in this flower-adorned sun-house. No snow, no cold. I called out as I reached for the doorknob. A man in all white looked at me. He opened his mouth, like a dog yawning; I could see a red marble or capsule near his molar. A hand shot up. The gun looked dusted and worn.
“All Must Die.”
Born in Krasnoyarsk, Russia, Konstantin Rega studies British & American Literature and Creative Writing at The University of Kent in Canterbury, England. He has been published by The Claremont Review, Four Ties Lit Review, AOM, Minetta Review, The Write Launch, and has won the ZO Magazine Silver Prize for Poetry, and is currently a Review Assistant for Newfound and a contributor to BLJ. Visit his site at: www.neomodernkonstantin.weebly.com.