Frank nearly knocked the front door to his apartment off of its hinges such was his desperation to return to his sanctum. He spun around and forced it back into the frame with an almighty thud, feeling the wall judder slightly as he leaned back against the wood. The peeling green lacquer felt cool and calming, even through his clothes. He remained still, enjoying the refreshing sensation at his back while he clasped his face in both of his bloodstained hands; he was sure, now, that he had committed at least one murder. But he’d been tricked into it somehow, seeing what was not there, or at least an augmentation of what really was. He knew deep in his soul that he would never willingly take another person’s life, that he was innocent and something else was responsible for the actions – instructions? - his body had carried out. A lightning bolt of fear struck both of his legs, sapping the strength from them and nearly sending him sliding to the ground as he envisioned himself putting forward that defence;
“Yes, your honour, it was my body that murdered those people but only because I couldn’t control it with my mind.”
They’d lock him away and throw away the key. He’d be damned to live out his days amongst the very community he’d dedicated his life to incarcerating or, worse, they’d rule him to be insane and he would be locked away in a drug-induced stupor until the sedatives and mood stabilisers finally overpowered him and he would die, fitting and foaming as an orderly in white overalls watched on, smirking. No, he had to make sense of this and catch the Holy Cow Killer. Maybe he could even pin his own wrongdoings on this serial killer, who truly was evil, and find a way back to his normal, boring life. He’d become accustomed to boredom, embracing it in lieu of the maniacal excitement of working homicide. He longed for a return to his mundane existence, working hand-picked cases one at a time. Sure, he didn’t own much in the way of trinkets or other valuables, but he didn’t care for those things. All he needed was a steady stream of work to keep his mind busy, and Daisy, who seemed to be open to a relationship with him until she seemingly decided to refrain from returning his calls. It wasn’t much to ask for and he’d run from evil once before, back in Arizona, so this time he would fight. He would stand tall and defeat whatever darkness had a hold of him. Daisy deserved that much even if he didn’t.
Frank opened his eyes, seeing very little in the gloom of his entrance hallway, and steeled himself before pushing away from the door, leaving the chilly caress of the wood behind as he marched defiantly towards his small bathroom, head down and arms swinging purposefully. The overhead light screamed brightness at his eyes as it burst into life, and Frank had to raise an arm to shield his vision until they had adjusted. Once the stinging in his retinas had subsided he turned to the small basin and opened the faucets; the water rushed enthusiastically into the sink, splashing his clothes as the stream collided against the porcelain and sent droplets spilling over the edge. The tap squeaked in protest as Frank adjusted the flow and plunged his hands into the running water; the pool around the plug hole rapidly turned pink, then a deep red as the zoo warden’s blood ran from his skin and dissolved into it as it drained away like an aquatic raspberry ripple. Frank rubbed his hands together frantically until all of the crusted gore had been washed away and the water had once again become clear. He stood, hands still held under the steady flow of now-warm water, staring at himself in the mirror; a new crack had developed in the glass and bisected his reflection so that a small section of his forehead and his left ear seemed separated from the rest of his face. This small piece of him appeared completely normal, a healthy pink hue to the skin and a dusting of thick, albeit slightly greying, black hair surrounding his pinna. The rest of his face though had changed; the skin was pale grey, almost white, and his hair had lost its colour and lay limply against his scalp in scanty tufts. His eyes were almost completely black as his pupils seemingly tried to evict the whites of his sclerae from his orbits, his nose seemed smaller as if it was sinking back into his skull, and his jaw seemed swollen giving the impression of an under-bite that had not been there previously. Frank was equally intrigued and frightened by his appearance in the mirror, and he stared in expectation at the vast caverns of his pupils. In the peripheries of his vision he could see that his porcelain skin was riddled with fine blue veins, like a topographical map of a network of rivers and streams running through arctic tundra. He was stood completely still as he studied the intense darkness in his eyes, the faucets were still open but the rushing of the water was silent to him, the steam rising from the basin was invisible, and the musty damp smell filling the room went unnoticed such was his focus on the image in his mirror. Then he saw it, just a flicker but it was definitely there; deep within the recesses of his eyes was a movement, the faintest writhing movement of something white and wormlike shifted behind his iris before disappearing back into the darkness. Frank did not startle at the sight, he was almost expecting it, and instead he solemnly bowed his head and turned off the faucets. He braced himself against the basin and began to sob, his broad shoulders heaved up and down as he quietly wept to himself, sniffling as tears ran down his gaunt cheeks and fell onto his still-wet hands. He remembered much of what had happened in Arizona and a few details still haunted him; the bizarre and grotesque nature of the killings, the traumatised look in the face of the catatonic young schoolgirl who survived, and the description of Aaron Stokes given to him by the young man who worked at the motel. His name had been Elvis, and he had told Frank of Aaron’s swollen jaw, his sunken nose, and of the writhing worms he had seen beneath the man’s deathly pale skin. Frank rubbed the tears away from his eyes with one hand and felt movement beneath his skin, caressing his face gently as if in reassurance that all was well.
Frank spent the next two days locked in his apartment, scared of what he might be capable of if he were to venture outside. He had begun praying again, kneeling by his bed eight times each day pleading with a higher power to relieve him of his infliction, or at least give him the strength to stave of the infestation. He hadn’t changed clothes and the knees of his chinos were scuffed and wearing thin such was the frequency of his religious pleading. He smelled strongly of body odour, and his shirt was grimy and rough against his skin. The ooze on his kitchen floor had hardened somewhat, but still felt like he was walking across the dancefloor of a backstreet-dive nightclub as his shoes stuck to it when he ventured into the kitchen to fix a meal. He no longer used his refrigerator and so had been limited to the tins of tuna and artichokes that were stocked in his cupboards, he had pasta too but felt far too hopeless to attempt cooking even the simplest of meals. His diet of tinned fish and pickled artichokes had increased the frequency of his toileting, and this was where he currently sat. He was long finished opening his bowels but felt so little motivation to move since he had seen the flicker in his eyes that he remained on the toilet seat, hovering above his own excrement as he stared down at his hands; his head felt fuzzy and he was unable to focus on any single thought, but he was checking for signs of occupation in his skin almost as religiously as he was praying for salvation. He had been in his current position for almost an hour and had not seen nor felt even the tiniest flicker underneath his skin. Maybe the prayers had worked, maybe he had picked up some kind of self-limiting parasitic infection that had now burnt itself out and died somewhere inside him. Either way, for the first time in nearly seventy two hours Frank felt hopeful. He cleaned himself and went to the kitchen; he felt hungry but this wasn’t the writhing of something living inside him, this felt normal. Opening his cupboards he found them all but empty, only the transparent bags of dried pasta occupied the shelves. But he had no sauce to accompany the penne that he now so craved. His reinvigoration restored his confidence to venture out of his apartment so he began to make a mental list of food items he needed; pasta sauce, more tuna, no more anchovies, bananas, onions, meat. The more he thought of food the better he felt and a strained smile forced itself onto his face, reintroducing life into muscles that felt atrophied, as he wondered across the kitchen to his telephone. He no longer noticed his feet sticking to the gory lacquer on the floor, and when he reached the receiver he lifted it and dialled his daughter’s number. Again he was greeted by Daisy’s answering machine and his temporary revival faltered as he considered that, of late, his relationship with this machine was better than the one he had with his daughter.
“Hi honey, it’s dad again. Haven’t heard back from you so I hope you’re OK.”
Frank rubbed at his chin wondering what to say, he didn’t want to seem pushy or aggressive but he was desperate not to lose touch with the only person that meant anything to him anymore. His beard had followed suit to the hair on top of his head and had begun thinning and falling away in chunks, Frank didn’t notice.
“Did you have a chance to think about getting together sometime? It’d be really great to see you. It’s nearly Christmas I guess, so maybe I could take you out for dinner or something, you’ll just have to forgive me if your present sucks but don’t worry I won’t mind if you return it.
Anyway, please get back to me. Even if it’s to tell me to go to hell. I miss you baby, speak soon.”
Frank hung up the receiver and paused still holding onto it, he was considering calling Michelle to find out why Daisy wasn’t returning his calls when something stopped his train of thought cold; amongst the veins in the back of his hand he saw a subtle movement, the slightest of wriggles from a tendril-like thing hiding beneath his skin as if it was nestling into a more comfortable position alongside his tendons. He slumped into the solitary chair next to his kitchen table, dejected. As he placed an elbow up onto the table it knocked against something heavy and made of glass, he turned to apologise to his pet fish thinking that he’d knocked the fishbowl but instead saw a bottle of Jack Daniels sitting on the surface of the table.
“What the – “
Frank couldn’t remember the last time he’d taken a drink, let alone the last time he’d had any in his home – he’d poured the last offending bottle down the sink after his hallucination about Jeffrey – and he stared at the amber coloured fluid contained behind the familiar black label. Half confused, half hypnotised he reached out and grabbed the bottle by the neck and cradled it in his lap. The glass was warm, just like the whiskey would be as it slid down his gullet and sat in his belly. He argued inwardly, half of him trying to justify taking a swig, the other half reminding him that nothing good ever came from drinking. His hands were shaking as his internal struggle continued.
You’re going to have to find that killer, y’know. That’s going to be hard. A little tipple will ease the pain darling.
The seal on the bottle sounded like a firecracker as Frank obediently opened the bottle. The whiskey smelled sweet and mossy, almost like a savoury honey. His hand still shook as he raised the neck to his lips and drank deeply from its contents, sighing contently as he felt a wave of comforting warmth slide down inside him. His stomach gurgled approvingly as it accepted the gift, and Frank relaxed in his chair knowing that soon the effects of the alcohol would render him numb to the suffering that sat deep within him like a thrumming kettle ball, weighing down his affect like an emotional anchor. He began to consider how to find HCK as he took a second gulp, then a third. Both of his hands were tightly clenched as he cradled the bottle in his bosom, intermittently chugging from it until he’d polished of the first half. That body at the zoo looked like it had been dead a while, and there were no other body parts so the spine must have been removed post mortem; the victims were being killed elsewhere and transported to the crime scenes to be arranged into their respective tableaus. Not much to go on but it’s a start. Absentmindedly Frank continued to glug from the bottle of whiskey, fists clenching and unclenching as he laid out a plan in his head; he’d start in the neighbourhood most central to where HCK had set up his displays and go door-to-door. Canvassing a neighbourhood like this was hard work, and time consuming, but he didn’t have much else to work with. He’d have to hope that his instinct kicked in when he needed it, and that he didn’t run into any of his former colleagues in the process. With his strategy decided, Frank took one last swig from the bottle and slammed it down on the table, empty. He slammed his other hand down next to the bottle as if in declaration of some final battle to come, and stormed out of the kitchen and exited the apartment. Lying next to the empty bottle of Jack Daniels, his innards broken and smeared around his body, blood bubbling from his gills and the colour draining from his shiny scales, Lenny the goldfish opened and closed his mouth several times, fighting for nourishment that he would not find from the air, before falling still and lifeless not knowing why his owner had crushed him in his palm and left him for dead.