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The evening began without a hitch. After removing his uniform down to his underclothes, Mark painstakingly dislocated one shoulder at a time, forcing half his torso through the frosty wrought-iron, then relocating the shoulder before reversing the situation. He then wriggled his scrawny frame out of the barred window, shards of the broken glass lacerating his skin as he went. As he fell from the third floor, he remembered to bend his knees and shift his weight, causing only a sprain in one ankle. It was unfortunate that it would slow him down, but he could still move.

His next goal was hover along the side of the building in the shadows until he could come to the break in the fence he had watched a stray dog crawl through on so many moonlit nights. The only problem was that tonight, the only light that shone was this prison guards’ noise, cancelling out his beloved’s guidance.

Between the ankle and the lack of light, he had lost time, but eventually, he found the hole in the fence. Slithering through the hole was a much larger problem though. Looking at the crevice now, Mark realized the dog was much smaller than he had imagined. He decided it best to remove his undershirt. Now solely wearing a pair of worn briefs, Mark attempted the most challenging stage of his molting, or so he thought.

The adrenaline kept him warm as the knowledge of the presence of his concealed assistance kept him determined. The chain fence rattled in the wind, and the previously unseen razor wire plunged into Mark’s swollen shoulders. Making as little audible utterances possible, Mark pushed through the pain. It was nothing compared to the sum of his losses.

Mark had lost trust, he had lost respect, he had lost friends, family, he had lost hope. Mark had lost everything, everything except an undying will—a will driven by hate, contempt, and rejection.

Mark’s resolve was clear.

He managed to get his bad leg under just as soon as he heard a deep murmuring in the distance. The dogs? They were onto him.

Within seconds, sirens were blaring and flood lights inflamed the area. So much noise. Where was she? On that cold November night? Why was she hiding from him? No matter. I am so close.

Mark ran as fast as was possible with his leg for about twenty minutes when he arrived at his next destination. More noise…

A collection of a dozen or so camper-vans and trailers presented the perfect candidates for Mark’s unfortunate release.

He decided to go around the perimeter and pick a trailer way at the back. It had a decent car parked out front and it was old enough, he felt comfortable hotwiring it if he needed to.

The thoughts of all the different ways he could approach the unsuspecting family overwhelmed him. As he was running through a list of possibilities from the shadows, his teeth gnarling at the thoughts, a small voice rang through.

Too much noise… This wasn’t about the pleasure— it was about efficiency and revenge.

He decided to give the wire-exposed doorbell a try. As a heavyset, middle-aged woman opened the door, a grin danced on Mark’s face. He shoved her out of the way and ran for the kitchen, looking for a means to defend himself. There was no one else he saw upon entering, but it was late, so some may have been sleeping.

He quickly and effortlessly grabbed a large knife on the counter and returned to the woman still struggling to sit up. Without even a hint of hesitation, he waltzed behind her and slit her throat, pausing as her movements slowed, enjoying the feeling of the blood on his hands.

Then he heard a shuffling in another room. Mark walked over and stood by the doorway, waiting for the person to walk through, and as a tall man stepped out, he was immediately greeted by the same knife in his chest. Mark removed the knife quickly this time—almost hurriedly—and then rapidly re-inserted the blade a few inches lower to be doubly sure… and again, and again, and one more time, the knife pierced his lungs. He felt the blood pool around his fingertips, then begin to slowly form droplets on his skin. As those droplets fell, Mark felt 15 years of false accusations wash away.

This was justice.

Mark was so wound up in the rush he was oblivious to the fact that the man was no longer moving. His vacant eyes stared at him like a dead fish might in some foreign cuisine. The blood, its warmth, its viscosity, its smell…

“Certainly, my dear, this is not noise.” The satisfied, yet hungry, expression could not be removed from Mark’s face. He was so caught up in the high, he forgot he was on the run until he heard that familiar barking.

He grabbed a long trench coat hanging by the door and the car keys conveniently resting in their pocket, and dashed out the door.

Mark knew exactly where he was going. He was determined and knew the fastest route to the final destination—the last step… the final stage in his transformation.

The trip had not been as long as Mark expected. Thoughts of the trailer flittered about in his head, entertaining him, festering.

The thought of killing the very man that threw him in this current hell, the thought of that wretched face, the thought of that phone call that seemed only yesterday—Mark couldn’t contain himself.

He had finally arrived and all the lights were out. The familiar gravel driveway was a decade and a half old memory that locked Mark’s resolve in place. He no longer needed that pale, solemn pilot light to hold his hand through his thoughts. He knew very well who he was, with or without his “external” voice.

Before he knew it, the knife was only half concealed in his pocket and he was smashing through the front window.

“How many kids does he have? Two? Or was it three? Father told me, but I can’t …” Mark’s voice trailed off before coming back. “And that damned bitch, Janine… I’ll make ‘em regret it…” A sinister laugh crawled out of Mark’s lips between excited breaths.

After the crashing of shattered glass subsided, the air was still for a brief moment. Mark reveled in the silence. There had been so much noise lately… so much noise.

As quickly as he reached his happy place, he was ripped away from it with that all-too-familiar voice. He hadn’t heard it since the trial… since she testified… lying bitch… with her fake tears… I’ll give her something to cry about….

Mark was consumed by his anger. After half an hour, Janine’s body—the body of the only woman sane Mark had ever loved— laid a tattered mess of blood, and flesh, and sinew, and tears.

He then slithered into each of the two childrens’ rooms and took care of them as well. They didn’t provide the challenge he sought. But he knew the real target of this mission would be different.

He returned to the living room where he cooled off in the sofa a few feet away from Janine’s body. The house remained completely dark and silent. Where was he?

He saw definite signs of Louis—photographs, his clothes, Mark even smelt the horrid smell of his cologne. Where was he?

He decided to wait a while, hovering over Janine’s body, watching it grow cold, watching rigor consume all mobility, watching the noise drain from her corpse.

Mark had not sat for long when he heard the car coming up the driveway. But things were not going as seamlessly as they had before. He was having trouble. He had seen something that triggered a reaction he had not expected.

Atop the mantle of his brother’s fireplace sat a picture in a rather simple frame. It was very familiar to Mark yet he hardly recognized it as being him at first. He was looking at someone else named Mark with his brother.

Why did Louis have this picture framed and on display? Mark’s head was spinning with unwanted memories from his past, memories from the life he had lost, memories of the family he no longer had, memories of the innocence that was finally sloughed away with that first drop of blood….

“Who am I?” Tears were streaming down his rosy cheeks as he fell to his knees between Janine’s still remains and the hearth.

“Jesus fucking Christ…” A voiceless whisper followed a gust of winter air. A shaky, inquisitive voice rang out in the dawn hours. “Mark?” The name was broken into two disheartened syllables by the man standing in the doorway.

“I- I’ve done a terrible thing, Lou…. I really have….. I think…” He shook his head, oblivious to the blood splatter accenting his trembling features. “I don’t know what’s right and what’s wrong anymore… I thought I knew… I really did, Lou…… Oh, God….. What have I done?” He dug his fingernails into his short hair, making deep impressions into his scalp.

“Mark… What the hell are you doing?! Is that…!?” He walked towards the mess of his wife, trying to make out identifying features in the dim morning light.

“It’s Janine, Lou…. I fucking killed her…. This’s her blood all over my hands…. Where were you?! Why weren’t you here to stop me, Lou?!” Mark was now shouting muffled sobs from between his knees where his head lay, his hands digging deeper into the flesh, his own blood now mixing with the blood of his sister in law.

“Fucking shit, Mark…” Louis’s hands were behind his head with his elbows outstretched as if trying to absorb all of the pieces of a gruesome puzzle. “What the hell? You going to kill me too?!” His voice was shocked, inquisitive, scared, and hurt, all in one.

“I don’t want to if I can help it, Lou… He was sitting up a bit more now, sniffling as the saline solution and blood pooled together on his face making him cry crimson tears. “…That’s why… That’s why I want you to promise me you’ll do somethin’…”

Louis couldn’t acknowledge the words. He didn’t know how he felt about his baby brother in that moment, but when he saw the man hunched over the floor, his hands and lips trembling, tears rolling down his face, he couldn’t help but be reminded of when Mark was a baby, helpless, and even if it was only for a moment, Louis wanted to believe that this was that same man.

“I …” Mark was trying to work himself to a standing position. Louis anxiously anticipated his struggle and once Mark got himself on to his injured ankle, he began hobbling over to his brother. He stopped as soon as Louis began to back away in fear of the escapee. About five feet apart the brothers stood, both crying, both scared, both confused. “I want you to shoot me, Louis.” He managed to hold his crumbling voice together long enough to formulate the sentence.

“Mark, I…” His jaw hung as he tried to come up with a response, as he tried to wrap his head around the series of events that had happened since his arrival.

“Please, Lou!!” His words came as stifled yelps, and he tried to regain his composure. “I know you’ve got it on you… your gun.” His voice was an almost inaudible whisper now as his brother’s knees shook beneath him.

“Mark, I can’t…” As he vainly tried to hold back a sob, he finally knew what he needed to say. “Listen to me, okay?” He took a step towards his brother, no longer afraid of his mania. “All this time, Mark, you’ve been gone… I’ve really been so unsure of things.”

“You were pretty damned sure about her, weren’t you?!” Mark scathed as he pointed at the carcass of the only woman he ever loved.

“I was jealous of you, Mark. That’s why I did all the things I did. That’s why I stole from you, why I lied to you, why I tried to make you look bad. Mark, it was all petty me!” His shouting had captured Mark’s attention. “…It’s all my fault, that you’re like this… Mark… I called the police. I got you arrested!”

He was interrupted by his brother. “You think I didn’t know that, Lou?!” He leaned forward as he shouted. He relaxed to look his brother in the eye to make a stern, bold statement. “But I didn’t kill those three… Not then…”

“No, Mark.” Louis interrupted, the air around him shifting. “You didn’t kill them.” His voice had become very soft and understanding as his head rose from its sunken poosition. Mark’s face contorted in confusion. “…Because I did.” A smile was writhing at the corner of Louis’s chapped lips as Mark stumbled for words.

“Wha- No, no, no. No, Louis. No. You didn-…. You did it?” He took two steps forward and then fell back as he lost control over his movements. His gaping jaw was fixed as he began to feel his stomach lurch around inside of him.

The insides of his stomach spilled out on the floor as Louis’s tears fell harder now.

“I couldn’t defend you, brother… or they’d find me…. It was self-preservation…. But I guess… none of that matters now… now that we’re both killers…. His tone shifted to accusatory.

Mark could do nothing but cry, his jaw still stuck ready to release more, but there was no content for him to lose. This pain burned deeper, stronger, faster than any of the hate she had nurtured within him. Her darkness was nothing compared to the evil in the man standing before Mark. But Mark was not ready to let him go.

“How…. How could you do this to me?!” Mark still was unable to move.

“What else was I supposed to do, Mark? Honesty has never been my area… You know that better than anybody… And you know what? I would probably do it all over again, too…” A hysterical sheen hazed his view.

His words rang through the small portion of the original Mark that remained. He had to act. He had to get his brother back, or there would have been no point in questioning His Majesty.

“No! No!! NO!!” Mark jumped up as best he could and grabbed the picture from the mantle. “What is this?! What were we then, Lou?”

“…We were brothers, Mark. We still are…”

“Then how?”

“Because I am a coward, Mark! You were the brave one, the smart one, the talented one. I couldn’t give up on the things I wanted! So I had you thrown in prison under my behalf…. And I hated myself for it ever since…”

“So you’d do it differently, if you had the chance?”

“No, Mark…. Because I am still a coward….” The self-loathing in his voice was painfully audible.

Mark could only fall to his knees again and foster another anguished moan. Louis reached for the gun holster on his waist.

“I’m so sorry, Mark… for everything.” Tears were falling to the floor in a constant stream from Louis’s face, seemingly genuine, but contradictory.

Mark could only let out a helpless sob as he groveled in his own vomit, trying to face his brother, but before he could, his ears were assaulted with a gunshot. Mark felt himself fall to the ground again, his head facing the shattered window.

He watched the last of the noise. As he lay, watching that dreaded sunrise, the one that promised false reality, that concealed unwanted truths within sugar-coated lies, the one that hid the grim reality that we all simply fall short, in one way or another. Were those words true that she spoke?

It was in that moment that the reality of his life dawned on him. The one he had trusted to guide him through the darkness was gone. The sun shining on his face only exposed more pain. He had it all wrong. That pale light only showed the flaws reflected by others, enveloping everything else in sheer night. The sun rose higher and even as it exposed him— burned every tainted ounce of his soul— he would not let his lids close. For the sun bore truth and shone a light through every flaw and every lie, burning the reality into his last breath.

Mark underwent an amazing transformation that day. He did not discover within him a new self, but remembered the love he shared for his only brother—a love that despite all circumstances, could not be changed.

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