Death and Truth
The rain had turned the gravel road into a gritty paste. Skunk’s feet sloshed around in his shoes―bits of stone stuck between his toes. Through the wall of rain, Skunk could make out Rachelle’s house. It was a stone island surrounded by plant growth. Even in the chill of the storm, Skunk burned. His skin ached, his eyes watered, and his heart beat madly beneath his ribs.
The chemical in his pocket felt like it was burning through its canister. It was as though it was begging to be used. The smell proved fatal only once. Skunk was never caught for murdering his father. The toxin he produced in the lab was unidentifiable after the passing of several hours. It could not be detected in an autopsy. The beatings. The bruises. Skunk tolerated that man until the day he went too far―the day he murdered his mother. The man was asking to be killed. Only Mink knew the truth. Still, she loved him... and now she was brainwashed. Skunk knew what he had to do to Terence. He’d done it before and he would do it again. The world was better without scum like him anyway.
Thunder roared. The sound was like a kitten purring compared to the sound of Skunk’s heart pounding. The wind was so ferocious it tore the leaves from the trees and plastered them to Skunk’s face. The wind didn’t matter. The rain didn’t matter. His wife mattered. His mother mattered. Anyone who’d ever loved him, mattered.
“I’m going to send that creature back to where he belongs.” Skunk’s thoughts were so pronounced they seemed to echo in the distance. A black figure swept from the entrance of Rachelle’s house. Terence. He was a smear of ink. A mistake. Skunk started sprinting. His legs moved of their own accord. The creature moved along the side of Rachelle’s property. He seemed to be staring at the sky. Then he looked down at the water below. The hungry water― licking the rocks and crashing in on itself.
Skunk struck the man without warning. The wind, the rain, and the thunder masked his footsteps. Terence’s face was as hideously miserable as before. His eyes were as colourless as the veins of electricity in the clouds. They seemed to inspect the inside of his head as his body swayed precariously over the rocky height. The canister was in Skunk’s hand. His knuckles were white and wrapped tightly around it. When had he taken it out? He couldn’t remember. Blood trickled from Terence’s nose. He made a desperate sort of gasping sound before stumbling over the edge. Skunk put a hand to his face and found that his own nose was bleeding. He coughed and hurled the canister into the lake. His chest tightened and he fell to his knees. In his rage, he’d forgotten to protect himself against the effects of his chemical. Tears burned in the pit of his eye as he struggled to breathe. His wife would find him dead in the mud. Terence’s corpse would be a journalist’s dream. Skunk could see the headline: Strange Skeleton On Beach Of Belleville.
Before his passing, Skunk saw another man’s face. It squinted at him smugly.
“Don’t worry, Mr. Mayor. Your wife saved you some wine and cheese.”
Drowning hurt. Terence’s body flailed for oxygen. The water froze and burned his lungs, along with that nauseating odour. Terence could taste it, bloody in his throat. Each time he managed to take a breath, he’d gag and swallow more water. He felt as though the waves were tearing the limbs from his body. What had he done to upset the mayor? It didn’t matter. He was dying. Once he was dead, he’d be free of his curse. Terence knew this, but was still afraid. The water flooded his nose, sinuses, and froze his brain. A stillness fell over his body and he became limp in the water. Hands gripped the sides of his abdomen and he was lifted upwards. Perhaps this was his soul ascending. He felt light, as though he was made of nothing.
Indistinct voices spoke. Or was it one voice?
“So you’re dead too now?” Terence didn’t know how to respond. Did he know the voice? “Being dead’s not so bad. Dying sucked though.” Was it…it couldn’t be…
“Spine Less?” Terence was surprised to hear his own voice. How was he able to speak without a body?
“I was, wasn’t I. To take my own life. That’s why I’m here, you know.”
“Where is here?”
“Nowhere. Everywhere. I don’t know. You’re the expert on death. You even saw me die.”
“He saw me die too.” It was Mr. Bartholomew.
“And me. Did you enjoy the whiskey?”
Terence wanted to scream as the voices bombarded him. They all belonged to the people in his visions. They demanded to know why he hadn’t tried to help them.
“We could be alive right now!” They shouted. Children cried. A woman screamed. Terence was terrified.
“You can’t stop death!” he shrieked. “You can’t!” The voices stopped. Then they whispered incoherently. Terence was cold. He didn’t have a body, but he was cold. He saw something…something inside of him. It was a tree. Then a hand. Then a bird. Then smoke―warm, spiraling smoke.
“Leave him alone!” The smoke had a voice. “ I chose him.” Like water on a hot pan, the words hissed menacingly. “I will live inside him like a blessed parasite. He will hate me. But like an incurable disease, he will not be able to rid himself of me. He is not calloused. He is not complacent. He is me!”
Sure enough, the voice was his own―deep and brutal. “So shut-up and do whatever the hell it is you do!” Definitely him. The other voices grumbled. Soon there was silence. Peace.
“Wake up!” Skunk wasn’t dead after all. He felt an open palm slap him across his face. Lucky for him, he was so numb with cold he couldn’t feel it.
“Don’t you dare hit my Skunk like that!” Mink?! Skunk wanted badly to open his eyes―to see her beautiful round face again. He was paralyzed. All he could do was lie helpless and listen.
“Relax, Mink. I’m only trying to elicit a physical response from him. He’s still breathing, which tells me he didn’t succeed in poisoning himself.”
It was that snakelike man, Murry from the visitation. Skunk assumed him to be just another of Mink’s random acquaintances. “From what Archie tells me, Terence didn’t succumb either.” Murry swore under his breath. “I don’t understand…that other guy wasn’t supposed to be there.”
“You never told me you were planning on letting the mayor kill him,” Temaru said. Temaru knew this guy too?!
“It’s the only way to extract the gift,”Murry responded. “Besides, Archie would have brought him back. If he had only been left five minutes more…”
Archie was the doctor who signed his name upside down on the medical certificate Skunk found. Mink had been the one to identify his name. Skunk was bursting with inquiries. He wanted desperately to be able to move his lips.
“Have Ninny and Pollock tracked down Paul yet?” Murry asked Temaru. Temaru informed him Paul was found soaked and sleeping on a park bench. “What an odd ailment,” Murry continued. “I’ve seen strange things, but never a man who terrorized towns in his sleep.”
A man named Paul was the vandal― a narcoleptic man named Paul…was Skunk dreaming?
“Was he aware of his actions?”
“He claimed he wasn’t.”
“I figured so.”
Pollock. Ninny. Temaru. Mink. They all knew Murry. He was their boss…or at least their leader. Were they part of a cult? Why hadn’t Mink ever told him about this?
“I’m going to talk to that pesky man who interfered. What was his name again?”
A set of footsteps drifted away. Skunk didn’t even know where he was. A hospital? Surely he wasn’t still lying in the muck.
“You poor man.” Mink was still there. Her voice comforted Skunk. “Murry’s a detective. The best detective in the world. No one knows who he is…except for us. He calls us when he needs us. I can’t remember the last time he called me. That’s why I never told you about him, because I hadn’t heard from him in so long. I thought maybe he was gone. Dead even.” Mink laughed her glorious laugh. “I guess I should have known better. I didn’t volunteer to work for him, you know. I just sort of got sucked into his elaborate schemes. Some people who work for him say he’s just a bored sociopath. I’m not so sure. I’ve seen him do good things and bad things.”
Mink paused. Was she crying? Skunk wanted to hold her and tell her he’d love her even if she was a member of the illuminati. “I’m sorry, Dear. I lied to you back at Terence’s house. He never kidnapped me. He never shook my hand. I don’t know if he’s kind or cursed or who he even is. I was just a pawn in another of Murry’s little games.”
Skunk suddenly became aware of something: he was lying on a sofa. He could feel the cushion fibers beneath his fingertips. After getting a whiff of burning spices, Skunk knew exactly where he was―Rachelle’s. His eyes opened. There was his wife. Stroking that patchy one-eyed cat and staring somberly off into the distance.
“Mink.” Skunk sat up.
“Skunk!” Mink immediately plummeted herself on the couch next to him, stripping the layers of quilts from his body and smothering him in hugs and kisses. When they finally pried themselves apart, they noticed a shadow encapsulating their own.
“Good to see you awake, Mr. Mayor. Sorry to interrupt, but if we could have a word.” Murry was behind them, watching them like some sort of deity. Who was this man, anyway? A detective? What police force was he associated with?
Skunk stood with the help of his wife.
“I think it’s about time we talked.”