I tore him apart. I left a scene that made two seasoned crime techs throw up.
I don’t remember doing most of it.
I guess I should be concerned about that. After all, if I’m in complete and utter control of my bestial alter ego, why do I occasionally black out while I do my bloody business?
I was too tired to be concerned that night. I came back to myself standing over his bed. I’d flipped over the mattress, exposing a cache of pornographic magazines and DVDs spread across the box spring. These were the sort of magazines and movies where the retirement age was 12.
I backed away from them, growling. My hairy butt hit the front of Zach’s dresser. I put a hand behind me, on the dresser’s top, to steady myself. My hand started trembling. My teeth moved–up this time, not down. I was so tired. My muscles ached, and they rarely did that. I must have really pushed myself. I was in his bedroom, covered in blood, smelling only blood, tasting only blood–
Oh God no.
I changed back, and once my knees crashed to his bedroom floor, I got to my feet and staggered out of there. Found the bathroom across the hall. Burst in and shoved a finger down my throat, vomited into the toilet. When I saw what was in the bowl, I started laughing. It was what was left of my dinner earlier that day. Half-digested raw beef and soggy bread. No pieces of child killer.
I flushed. The blood I’d tasted in my mouth, that was my blood, from my teeth jittering in their sockets.
I rinsed out my mouth and dared to look in the mirror mounted above the sink. Any blood that gets on my fur gets left behind on my skin when the hairs retreat under the surface of my skin. My face, neck, chest, and arms were stippled maroon. More maroon on my hips and legs. Christ, what had I done, bathed in the stuff? What had I done to him?
I finally walked down the short hallway to have a look. I didn’t remember leaving the kitchen/living room to come this way, but I could look down and see my red footprints. I looked up and saw the living room. I had . . . redecorated it. Turned it into an abattoir with cheap furniture and a fiberboard entertainment center.
I stood at the threshold of the living room, stunned. There were even pieces of him on the ceiling. One of the homicide detectives would later comment that the murder weapon was either a chainsaw or a wood chipper.
“This is bad, you know that, right? This is crazy bad,” I whispered.
So was talking to yourself.
My clothes were still on the couch, which was on the side of the room closest to the hallway. They looked clean. I mapped out a route to the couch that didn’t involve my bare feet touching anything biological and grabbed them. I retreated back to the bathroom and rinsed off the blood and bits in the shower. Then I dressed and returned to the bedroom. I’d already tossed his bed. Let’s see what else I could find.
I opened his closet. Clothes on hangers. Shoes piled on the floor. Vacuum cleaner in the corner, in front of a stack of backpacks–
The first backpack was blue. I unzipped it, found school papers with Charlie Barnes’s name on them. I tossed the pack out of the closet. Opened the next one. And the next. And the next.
Six backpacks, all containing things–books, papers–that belonged to boys. And how much did I want to bet those boys were listed as missing? That pieces of their shirts were in quilts somewhere?
I went back to the living room. Dipped my fingers in one of many puddles of blood and wrote “Mustang Island” on the wall near the front door. I didn’t know if it would be much of a clue for my police brethren, but it would be a start.
I wetted a wash cloth from Zach’s bathroom and mopped up the footprints in the hallway. I left the front door open when I exited the house. I wiped the van’s door handles and started the walk back to my car. It was midnight. I wished I’d just trailed him, but I hadn’t wanted my car anywhere near this scene, even though there were more than a few black Mustangs in town that looked just like mine. Just in case Zach’s neighbors were more on the ball than Shyla’s and wrote down my entire license plate number.
I went home. Took another shower and, not having the energy to pull back the bed covers, passed out on top of them.
Zach’s remains were found early the next morning by a neighbor walking his dog. He saw the open door, saw the blood coating the interior.
One of the detectives at the scene saw the words I’d written on the wall. He recognized the name of the boy recovered from the island on some papers in one of the backpacks. The marsh at the island was searched the next day. It was another three days before Charlie’s body was found.
I waited a week after that to return to Shyla’s. I had heard she wasn’t doing well. Her mom was trying to get her to move back to Livingston. She wasn’t working, wasn’t eating. I hoped that what I carried in my jeans pocket helped her. I hoped that Charlie’s picture was fixed.
I knocked on her door. Waited a minute before knocking again. Finally, she opened the door. She’d lost weight. Her hair was a mess, and judging by her smell, she’d last bathed the day before Gazarro and a detective came to tell her that Charlie’s body had been recovered. Her smile was strained. “Hey.”
“Ms. Barnes. How are you?”
“Ah.” She raised her hand, rotated it a bit as she said, “So-so. Fair to middling. You?”
“I’m fine. May I come inside?”
She laughed. “Do you have to be invited inside first?”
“Nothing, nothing, come on in.” She stepped aside, made a sweeping gesture with her arm.
I stepped inside. Place looked the same: toys on the floor, no photos on the wall. Smelled way worse, though. Bad milk, bad food, stale air, cockroaches. She shut the door. Came up behind me–I almost whirled around–and grabbed my hand. She was cold. She tugged me toward Charlie’s room.
“I want you to look for me. I’ve been too scared to.”
She steered me into the room. The pictures were still all face-down on the bed, but it no longer smelled like death in here. She turned me loose and pushed past me, picked up the picture off the bed. She handed it to me with it still face-down. I kept my hands down by my sides.
“Take it,” she whispered. “Look at him. Look at him for me and tell me if he’s okay now.”
I reached for it. My hand was trembling, but not because I was holding off the change. The frame was cool to the touch. No more of that creepy heat. I turned it over.
He was normal. Alive in the photo. Grinning. The tiger cub was back in the corner.
I blew out breath that I hadn’t been aware I’d been holding. “He looks good, Ms. Barnes.” I held it out to her.
“Does he? Does he really?” She started crying.
“See for yourself.”
She took the picture. Burst into tears when she saw it. “Thank you,” she whispered.
“I didn’t do anything.”
She hugged the frame to her chest and shook her head. She was still crying. I put my arms around her, something that didn’t feel natural to me, but I knew it was the right thing to do. I held her while she sobbed. Her body shook with the force of it, and I held on to her the best I could.
When she finally calmed down, I let her go. She wiped her eyes. “He looks good, doesn’t he. Happy.”
“Yes, he does.” I reached into my pocket. Now or never. I pulled out the scrap of shirt. “Shyla.”
She looked at me, then at it. “That’s his shirt.”
I nodded. She took it from me. Pressed it to her lips. Lowered it after a few moments and said, “I’m leaving here. Going to Livingston and live with my mom.”
“All right. Have a good life, Shyla.”
I turned to go. She followed me to the front door. I stepped outside. No big thoughts circulated in my head beyond going home and having a few drinks. It was after two in the afternoon. Late enough. Did I have any whiskey sour mix at home? I think I did.
So when Shyla said, “Thank you for killing him,” I didn’t think about my reply. It was just automatic.