Predators in the Dark
(Special five-part episode!)
By Patrick M. Tracy
One: Dave’s Night Out
Office work became exhausting after a time, but Dave had an extraordinary tolerance for discomfort. Just so long as he had the chance to get out and play on weekends, he could take anything the office could dish out. All the deadlines and busy work, all the Dilbertesque work bullshit—no problem. He saw it as the necessary palate cleansing, a trial that allowed him to truly enjoy his leisure time pursuits.
The sound of a big framing hammer cracking through the bones of a person’s skull made Dave stop, blissed, looking up into the sodium lights of the alley. He felt sad that the memory of the sound would fade. He wished he’d brought his mini recorder that he used to make bootlegs of concerts. He shrugged. Maybe next time. Some things were beautiful because of their ephemeral nature. You couldn’t hold onto them. The first kill of the evening often made him wistful. The guy’s boot heel tapped against the cement as his nervous system tried to keep on without its central element. Thud, thud…thud, thud. It reminded Dave of the beginning of Who’ll Stop the Rain? by CCR. Almost satisfied, Dave hovered at the point of calling it a night.
“Nah,” he said to himself. “May as well keep going now.”
He fished in the guy’s pockets until he found the keys. Now, it would simply be a matter of finding the right motorcycle. It was a cold night, and the wind of the road would push the chill into his bones. He had no jacket. The pain, though, would be a garnish, a reminder that he would live while others would slip away into whatever realm awaited them. Dave weighed the keys and started to check through the line of choppers.
The key fit into a nice full-dresser Harley with lots of feathers, horses, and Native Americans with spears airbrushed on the bodywork. “Spirit Horse” was written in flowing script across the tank. A little overdone, but a nice bike nonetheless. It burbled sweetly as he backed it out of line and gave a muted roar as he took off down the road.
It was hard for Dave to imagine how other people got by. Just sitting in front of the television? Going to little Timmy’s soccer game? He shook his head. Without the killing, he’d be a head case within a few weeks. He couldn’t handle it cold, knowing that he’d have to lead a normal life, with all of its inanities. He wasn’t the sort to admire other people, but if he had been, he would have certainly admired all those Average Joes out there, living the working life with nothing exultant to look forward to.
Dave watched the road signs. He had to get a good distance away from his usual stomping ground before it would be safe to let himself really have a good time. At least a hundred miles. The chilly wind had made his hands and face cold, then miserable with spiky chill, then finally numb. It had been years since he massacred a bunch of teenagers. Shoot, it must have been the late eighties, but it seemed like the time had come ’round again. A sign along the road said “West Milltown, A heck of a place to raise your kids!” He’d never been there. Sounded perfect.
Two: Sandy Goes to Lover’s Lane
It came to her in a flash. Sandy had been watching Wheel of Fortune, eating her microwave dinner, and feeling awfully bad. Nothing she’d tried had been able to win Randy Hoffmelker’s heart back. Nothing. He’d left her for that tramp, Wendy Schweitzer. What could a girl of seventeen have that she didn’t? It wasn’t right, Randy running off to be with Wendy like that. She had risked everything for him—her teaching career, her reputation, her freedom.
The first time he’d sat down in her class, she’d known she had to be with him. It had been hard to give those dry lectures on the Napoleonic Wars when she burned for Randy so much. Sandy had never been that highly sexual. A late bloomer, she’d been a virgin until after college, and had only been with a few men in her life. Randy, though, had lit her up like a road flare. She’d been forced to lock herself into the staff restroom at least three times a day, furiously masturbating to orgasm, just to get through.
When she’d finally gotten up the courage to approach him, he’d literally attacked her. All young, firm flesh. All desire. He’d taken her five or six times over the course of an evening, when he was supposedly helping her grade papers. His interest had been fickle, though. Easily distracted. She’d done things for him that she’d never imagined doing for another man. Debased herself. He still lost interest. She’d looked at her reflection in the mirror. She wasn’t a cow. Her belly was tight, her breasts still firm, her skin smooth. She was only thirty-two, for Christ’s sake.
Sandy leaped up from the couch, knocking the remainder of her microwave dinner to the floor. “No more sniveling,” she whispered. “You have to stand up for yourself now.”
Her camouflage gear still fit her, even though she hadn’t been in the army for several years. The ROTC had gotten her through school, the first Nottingham in two generations who could claim such an honor. She’d paid them their four years and gotten out. Now, she’d have to remember how to fight. She smiled. It wouldn’t be that hard. She’d always liked that part. It was the discipline she’d been hard-pressed to endure.
Sandy touched the weapons laid out on the bed. K-Bar. Telescoping truncheon. HK .45 automatic pistol. AR-15 rifle with a 30 round clip.
Randy would come running back to her once he knew what she was really made of. She had to prove that her love was nothing to be casually thrown aside.
That little bitch Wendy was going to die.
Fold flat seats in a minivan were the best invention of recent man, bar none. If given the choice between a text-enabled cell phone and a minivan with fold flat seats, there wasn’t even a meaningful struggle. Not for Randy Hoffmelker, anyway. While the other kids at Sanderson Lake struggled in the back of Camrys and Civics, trying to work out some way of achieving a comfortable position for their hookup, he had all the room he needed: a soft blanket, a pillow, and the hottest girl he’d ever imagined, naked in his arms.
It wasn’t just the sex. Miss Nottingham had done anything he could imagine. She was a tiger, and he’d been in a perpetual state of soreness from their many trysts. He’d known right away how she felt, how much she needed him. Inside, he wanted to stay with her, but it had been impossible to ignore that special something that Wendy had.
Wendy smelled like tangerines. God, the smell drove him crazy. Amazingly, most of her actually tasted like tangerines, too. Everything was different with her. He went slow, every inch of skin pushed against her, his body and hers melting together. When he’d climax, it would just keep going in endless, perfect agony. The first time, it had been so powerful that they both cried. Afterward she’d fall asleep in his arms and he would just hold her, feeling her breath against his chest, bolt hard but not needing release.
Randy hoped this was what love felt like.
He was nearly asleep when a muffled noise came to him. It sounded like…danger. He would have sat up, but he didn’t want to wake Wendy. She looked like a red headed angel when she slept. Just like when she was awake. God, he knew things went bad, people changed, and that life dealt you a cruel hand most of the time, but he really felt like it was love with her. He needed it to be.
A few minutes went by. Randy nearly forgot about the noise, his consciousness fading out. Something outside jostled the van. The suspension took the impact, creaking. Wendy made a half-waking noise next to him, hidden under the mist of her hair.
A muffled shriek came through the windows, closed against the chill. Someone’s face appeared at the back window, open mouthed and screaming. He beat his fists against the window for a moment, then pulled back. Outside, feet dragged against the rocky dirt of the overlook parking lot. This would be the sound of a fight, the sense of it if you were blind. That’s what Randy thought. If I..
A dark, thick liquid splashed across the back window of the minivan. Wendy turned in his arms, sputtering.
“Wha?” Wendy said, blinking. Her body shivered against his. Her arms clasped against his bare shoulders, strong as iron bars.
“I think someone just got…”
The window smashed in. The tool that broke the glass was Jeff Lindstrom’s head. His neck, gouged from side to side, spurted blood all over. Still alive, aware of his injury, Jeff’s eyes rolled in his pale brow. An awful slurping noise came from his slashed windpipe. Randy felt wetness all over his thigh. Wendy was pissing herself. They both began to scream.
Four: Hunting Ground
She’d never lost her water since she’d been out of diapers, but the shame would have to wait. It would have to wait until the screaming stopped, until she knew that she’d outlive the night. Randy moved beside her, flinching away from the flow of urine, the spray of blood, the madness that loomed at the van’s broken back window.
Jeff’s throat was slit, just like the pigs when her uncle would slaughter them at the end of the season. He grasped against the back of the van, the splash of blood with each heartbeat was weaker now, his face dead pale. Wendy caught sight of her own bare toes. So much blood, hot and sticky on her skin. The cloying copper smell of it choked her. Not wanting to, she turned her head and lost her dinner against the vinyl side panel. Just a moment before, everything had been perfect. Randy’s arms had held her as she slept after sex like she’d never dared to hope for. Now, crying, puking, kicking her urine and blood smeared legs to get further into the van, it had all fallen apart.
She wasn’t looking, but she could hear Jeff’s body hit the ground behind the van. Randy leaped over the front seats, rifling through their discarded clothes for the keys. A stranger appeared at the window, the machete in his hand splashed with the rusty red of Jeff’s blood. She didn’t know him. He didn’t look like…anyone. Just some guy. He flinched away from the stink inside the van.
“Damn,” he said, shaking his head. “That’s nasty.”
Wendy wiped at her lips. The tears in her eyes smeared everything. Making a desperate noise, she tried to push herself over the front seats without taking her eyes off the killer.
“Start the car, Randy! Please, start the fucking car!”
“Never mind that, Randy. Neither of you will need a ride after I’m done with you.” This from the psycho with the machete.
At that moment, a thunderous boom shook the night and the psycho’s head popped apart in a shower of blood, bone, and gray brain matter. Wendy shrieked, the colors pulsing in her vision as she nearly passed out. There was a fragment of skull sitting right next to her hand. There was dark hair on it. Wendy garped, but there was no more puke in her body, just long ropes of sticky drool and snot. She couldn’t take any more. She covered her eyes, rocking, sobbing.
Five: At the Water’s Edge
Everything nearby was dead. Blood splashed across upholstery, body panels, tires, dirt. These were her kids, the kids Sandy saw in class every week. Her students, and someone had come and massacred them as they parked to round those metaphorical bases of teenage life. The thought of it was hard to grasp.
But…wasn’t that what she’d been about to do? Wasn’t she here, wearing her battle dress fatigues, holding her HK .45, with the expressed purpose of ending a young life? Just one, but did the scale really matter? She turned away from that. Everything had changed.
Sandy clenched her teeth and shook her head. Her ears weren’t used to gunfire anymore. Something huge and red surged within her. She’d killed someone, but not poor Wendy, like she’d planned to do. How stupid had she been? Impossibly stupid And yet…
She approached the van, the only refuge where life still existed. Crying, muffled curses. She stepped over a kid’s body, tangled next to the killer’s. The stink of death—all the bodily fluids that spill at the end of life, muscle control failing with the removal of all pride—hung in the air.
Sandy held the pistol low and away, her fingertip against the trigger guard. Wendy hugged her bare legs, face buried against her knees, sobbing without reserve. Randy, naked and flushed, was digging through the footwell in the front seat for something.
“Oh, thank God.” Sandy breathed. “He’s alive.”
Wendy looked up. “Miss Nottingham?”
“Did you…save us?” she asked.
Sandy couldn’t answer. She looked away. Wendy came out of the van in a rush. Her arms clasped Sandy with frantic pressure.
“Thank you. Thank you, Miss Nottingham,” she whispered. Louder, she shouted out to Randy. “She saved us, honey. Miss Nottingham saved us.”
Sandy breathed out. For a moment, she wondered if God and the devil were the same, all part of the same power, the same working of destiny. She wondered if she’d ever understand. “Let’s get you cleaned up and away from here, huh?”
Randy and Wendy were barefoot. Sandy helped them down to the waterline, holding a towel from the back of her Camaro as they washed the remnants of the tragedy from their skin. She dried them off and took them back to her car. It all made sense now. They’d be three now, all three together. It wouldn’t be what any of them had dreamed of, but it would be okay. It would be good.
Sandy dialed the emergency number and told the police dispatcher her story. Not what had happened, perhaps, but the story that they’d believe.