Frank didn’t head straight home from Mr D Fetch’s house, for the first time in what seemed like months he felt energised. Adrenaline swam through his blood, making his vision keen and his hands tremble slightly as he gripped the invoice he’d found tightly at his side. For the time being all of the aches and fatigue that had accumulated within him throughout the day were forgotten. He paced aimlessly from neighbourhood to neighbourhood, wanting to savour the recurrence of his strength but fearful that if he were to return home that he would again feel feeble and frail. The streets were beginning to fill with the hipsters and drinkers, drug takers and thrill seekers emerging from their daylight hibernation in search of hedonistic adventures. Amongst these cognoscenti of the dark Frank felt right at home. The silence of neighbourhoods past was soon replaced by the excited hum of thrumming crowds, and the deep, rhythmic basslines reverberating from the chapels of dance that lined the streets, bisected by neon signs advertising live bands or two-for-one cocktails. The smell of food wafted through the air; the pungent spices of Mexican cuisine mixing with the familiar odour of grilled beef from the fast food place on the corner, all swirling in amongst the barbecue aroma emanating from the newly opened smokehouse across the street. Frank swam through the air, no longer walking but floating blissfully in this concentrated pocket of fervent enjoyment, but before long he felt his stomach churn and the ominous writhing began deep within his abdomen, and a voice once associated with doting affection began to goad him.
That’s twice he’s gotten away from you. Twice you’ve failed.
Although aware as he was that this auditory phenomenon was being transmitted by something inside him, something dark, he couldn’t help but agree with his mother; he’d had two chances to catch HCK and had fallen short both times, there was no guarantee that a more favourable outcome would befall him with this latest lead. One by one the sounds of the nightclubs fell away inside his head, replaced by the insults that had been directed at him earlier in the day. The gastronomical aromas around him dissipated and were substituted with the sickly sweet bouquet of formaldehyde and rotting flesh, his awareness of the crowd circling excitedly around him faded until he was alone, strolling down a cold, empty street in complete darkness. He was alone and he was lost, and the realisation somatised within him to a feeling of emptiness as if he was no more than a bag of fragile, porcelain skin. He could almost feel the breeze circling inside his hollow carcass, tickling the inside of his flesh with chilly fingers. A lump rose in his throat, and Frank wasn’t sure if his desolation was about to overcome him or if the dark thing living inside him was finally about to exact its vengeance and throttle him from within. His vision blurred and he began to feel faint, he could feel his heart thumping in his chest like a funeral drum only a hundred times faster. He looked around him for someone to help him but was surrounded by pitch darkness. Terror rose in him like splintered glass in a human hourglass, tearing and piercing his insides as his desperation grew. He felt as though he might lose consciousness when suddenly everything stopped; all of the pain, the trepidation, the fear disappeared in a millisecond and ahead, breaking through the darkness, Frank could see a familiar building. He felt calm wash over him, caressing his skin like a warm duvet, and a gentle stirring began in his abdomen as he approached Our Lady of Refuge Church.
The heavy wooden door swung open easily and clunked loudly against the interior stone wall. The church was empty, as it often was at this hour, and so Frank slowly closed the door behind him and fixed it shut with the latch. His skin felt alive as he walked toward the altar, slowly waving his hands over the pews like a child would hang them out of the window of a moving car to feel the resistance of the wind. A sensation of unease and anticipation crackled over his skin, prickling the hairs on his forearms and making his bones itch with expectation. His eyes were pitch black, hugely dilated, and fixed on the door to the priest’s quarters.
His voice was only a whisper and it escaped his lips in a low, hoarse rasping that was barely audible. It was as if someone was manipulating his larynx from the inside, and it brought a reaction from deep within the church’s recesses; after a collection of muted thumps from somewhere behind the alter, Jeffrey Brooks emerged, buttoning up his chasuble.
“Frank, my son, it’s been a while. I was worried about you after we last sp-“
The priest’s sentence was cut abruptly short as he made eye contact with the man striding towards him down the centre of the church; Frank’s face was contorted into a deep-set grin that bisected his pallid face in a crescent of black. His teeth were no longer resident in his gums, which themselves seemed to have regressed back to the bone like bloody slivers of taut flesh, and his jaw had swollen with tuberous ridges that ran across his chin from ear to ear. His forehead was similarly engorged, and the undulations above his eyes furrowed into a grimace that spoke of his menacing intent. Jeffrey turned to flee, but before he could even spin around fully Frank had advanced with a speed and guile that his emaciated frame seemed incapable of. The priest felt bony hands grab hold of his shoulders, and he felt the dextrous tendrils moving beneath wafer thin skin as they consolidated their grip. He was thrust toward the floor, his temple crashing into the corner of a polished wooden pew and sent searing shrapnel through his skull before his vision went dark and he fell limply to the floor, unconscious.
Jeffrey came to in a kitchen of some sort; there were counters and cupboards lining the wall opposite him, and a sink below a window looking out to a concrete forecourt. To his right was a table with an empty fishbowl, a bottle of whiskey that had toppled onto its side, and a small puddle of greenish-brown fluid. He felt like he was floating, perhaps due to the disorienting blow to his head. A blow, he remembered, that he’d suffered at the hands of Frank Ward. He tried to rub his aching temple but found that he couldn’t move his arms, and gradually it dawned upon him the reason that he felt as if he was hovering above the appliances in the room; he was suspended across the entrance to the kitchen, his feet barely brushing the floor so that he couldn’t support his own weight, and ligatures held his wrists to giant bolts in the wall either side of the doorframe as if he were depicting the crucifixion of Christ. He thrashed from side to side, the throbbing in his temple forgotten as he tried to free himself, but he was held tight and his struggles only served to carve lacerations in his wrists as the ligatures dug in, scything through flesh and sinew with every movement. Warm blood began to trace lines down his forearms, and Jeffrey hung his head and sobbed. He was only slight of frame but his shoulders burned as the burden of his weight stretched and contorted them, pulling his arms unnaturally up and behind his back like sacrilegious wings. Father Brooks prayed silently for unconsciousness to claim him again so that he would be spared of the horror that he felt was inevitable as he hung in the doorway, prone and vulnerable. But the burning between his shoulder blades, like fiery hands performing a Chinese burn on his spine, and the persistent needling from the cuts in his wrists kept his mind sharp and alive, his senses keen and hyper-alert, searching for his assailant in the gloom. A movement in the forecourt outside caught Jeffrey’s attention, there was the slightest alteration in the linear shards of shade beyond the window. He struggled to lift his head, the energy sapping from him as the hopelessness of his situation continued to dawn on him, just in time to catch a glimpse of a man skulking at the edge of the window pane, peering in lustfully at the bound and naked priest. Jeffrey tried to call out to the man, to plead for help, but found that his mouth was sutured closed and so all he could do was emit a series of whines and grunts, his smaller-than-average penis gesticulating wildly as he resumed his efforts to free himself from his restraints. The man at the window looked on almost curious, his slim features looked ghostly in the fading light as he leaned closer, pressing his nose against the glass hungrily, holding Jeffrey’s gaze and returning his terrified, wide-eyed expression with a drooling leer that added to the priest’s terror. After a moment of studying the hanging priest, the face at the window startled and shifted suddenly out of view, back into the shadows, and Jeffrey heard heavy, laboured steps approach him from behind. His breathing hastened in petrified anticipation as the footsteps drew nearer, and in his hyperacuisis Jeffrey thought he could hear each fibre of the carpet in the hallway behind him scraping against the oncoming boots like Velcro being slowly torn apart. As they reached the doorway the footsteps stopped, and the only sound in the small apartment was the whistling of Jeffrey’s rapid breathing escaping through his forcibly pursed lips, and the subsequent bubbling of the nasal mucous that was drizzling from his nostrils and down over his swollen, stitched mouth. Jeffrey’s eyes darted stochastically from side to side as he tried to catch sight of the person behind him, and his neck protested angrily as he strained it to its limits trying to crane around and see who was lurking behind him. He could feel breath against the nape of his neck; infrequent, deep, cold breaths danced over his skin, prickling it in goosebumps and somewhat easing the burning sensation perpetuated by the contortion of his shoulders. Thoughts of the horror lurking behind him were soon dispelled as Jeffrey was jostled aside and a hulking, deathly pale figure forced its way past and into the kitchen. The thing’s skin was icy cold, like it’s breath, as it knocked Jeffrey out of it’s path. It turned around and stood facing him, back arched and head hung forward disguising it’s features behind a curtain of long but thinning, grey-black hair. The face at the window emerged once more, watching on expectantly at the events unfolding inside the apartment, but Jeffrey’s attention was fixed on the pallid beast in front of him, its hunched shoulders lurching with every laboured breath it took. The thing was hypnotically still as it paused in front of the priest before slowly lifting it’s head, revealing it’s face; beneath the sparse drape of hair, the thing’s forehead was inflamed and swollen, casting a deep shadow over it’s ocular cavities like a bony canopy. The thing’s jaw was similarly swollen and tuberous as though the flesh was occupied by a row of oversized tusks curling around it’s chin and into it’s atrophied gum-line. It’s nose seemed to have decomposed, falling back into it’s skull and leaving only a thin, mucousy film that fluttered and bulged with each of the thing’s rancid exhalations. It’s eyes shot bright rims of white directly into Jeffrey’s soul from the pits of it’s skull; bright white circles that surrounded vast, deep black pupils that portrayed an alluring, lurid beauty despite the awful appearance of the face in which they lay. The monstrous being staring hungrily up at Jeffrey resembled Frank Ward in size, and in certain aspects of it’s facial features, but was far more demonic than any depictions he had ever seen before in all of his religious reading. Jeffrey was frozen in horror; this Frank-thing clearly had designs on his suffering, and the strange voyeur at the window was certainly not going to offer any aid. He watched slowly as the ghost of Frank Ward fell to it’s knees, it’s bones cracking unnervingly as they impacted the linoleum floor. A tiny flame of hope warmed Jeffrey’s skin for a spilt second before Frank raised his arms and took the priest’s penis in his hands; he held Jeffrey’s scrotum carefully in one icy palm as the other began to run its way up and down his shaft. Jeffrey to cry once more, his tears mixing with the effervescing snot flowing over his mouth as he closed his eyes and began to pray inwardly; his vow of celibacy was being overcome against his will and he needed his faith to see him through this assault. A frosty hand slapped across his scrotum, tearing him away from his holy meditation and sending a swollen, sickly feeling throbbing up into his abdomen. He looked down at his manhood to see that he had become erect, an involuntary reaction despite his plight. Frank ceased his masturbatory assault and leaned forward to fetch something from the hallway floor behind Jeffrey’s freely swinging legs. When he came back into view he was holding a rosary, which he slowly began to wrap around the base of the priest’s scrotum. Jeffrey felt the pressure build in his genitals, numbing them slightly as his penis began to throb and gain a purple hue, its prominent dorsal vein distending against the rapidly tightening tourniquet. Frank disappeared between Jeffrey’s legs again, this time re-emerging with a crucifix, the bottom of which had been sharpened to a fine point. Jeffrey struggled against his bindings knowing that he couldn’t free himself, swinging his engorged member from side to side. His struggles were abruptly halted as Frank took hold of his penis once more, his hands seeming even more cold now against the blood-filled tumescence. Jeffrey’s panic made his vision blur, his breathing hastened so much that he became faint; he couldn’t catch his breath through his restricted oral orifice but he remained conscious as Frank slowly, determinedly inserted the crucifix into the opening of his urethra. He felt the splintered wood tugging at the lining of his shaft as it penetrated deeper, a pain that exploded from the tip of his penis and sent shards of excruciating shrapnel into his rectum. Jeffrey felt his bowels spasm in response to the agony, and felt the warm stream of stool as it escaped him and meandered down the back of his thigh. The searing pain throughout his perineum was only punctuated by dull hammer-strikes reverberating through his lower body produced by protuberances from the metal figurine of Christ as it caught and snagged on its forced entrance into the tip of Jeffrey’s manhood. When the effigy on the crucifix was waist deep in the priest’s shaft, Jeffrey was near unconsciousness, his genitalia aching but almost numb. Despite Frank’s insistence, the cross would not advance further, and the monster cocked his head to one side in puzzlement. Through bleary eyes Jeffrey saw his aggressor readjusted his grasp so that he was holding the edges of his foreskin between the finger and thumb of each hand. He offered a weak groan of protest, attempting to shake his head as it hung loosely forward, before lurching back in agony as Frank pulled down on the edges of his penile skin, peeling it away from the flesh like a gruesome sexual banana peel. Jeffrey felt fire erupt from his genitals as they were slowly flayed but was too weak now to offer any resistance. The pain registered with his nervous system as if in one final insult before turning out the lights, but Frank wasn’t finished with his torture; he stood up in front of the priest and grabbed a fistful of his hair, pulling his head up to meet his ghoulish gaze, Frank violently withdrew the crucifix, its splinters and notches producing sufficient pain on their removal to inspire enough prolongation of Jeffrey’s consciousness so that the last thing he saw before his life ended, as his scalp was slowly carved away from its anchorings, was a curtain of thick, crimson blood descending over his vision like the end of a grotesque stage performance.
Denton Fetch watched the display with a feeling of confused admiration; he’d followed the man home from his own house with the explicit intention of killing him. He had assumed the man was law enforcement, or an investigative body of some sort, by the manner in which he carried himself; despite his gaunt, withered appearance he moved with an air of authority and confidence but when he’d emerged from the church hauling an unconscious priest over his shoulder Denton’s curiosity had peaked. Now, lurking in the backyard of the man’s apartment having witnessed the priest’s disposal, Denton was at odds with his original intentions. This man had something about him akin to what drove himself on, a certain gift for the macabre. The possibility that this stranger might be a kindred spirit of sorts, maybe sent by the higher power to aid in his own mission, was sufficient evidence for Denton to restrain himself for the time being. But he would keep a close eye on this development until he was sure how to proceed, or until his higher power instructed him one way or the other. The mutilation imparted by the stranger was impressive, both in creativity and execution, but what had followed was bizarre; the pallid man had left the deceased priest swinging in the doorway and reached for a telephone on the wall beside the corpse. He’d left bloody fingerprints on the dial as he punched in a number, and slumped heavily into the chair as he waited for an answer on the other end. He had spoken briefly and seemingly without reply, in a strained and rasping tone, to someone called Daisy, asking – almost begging – to see her at the holidays. Denton considered that this was how he recruited his victims; acting as a friend, mentor or needy onlooker as he groomed his prey, lulling them into a false sense of security so that he could get close enough to them to exact his torturous vengeance. Yes, this man was an enigma that Denton would keep a close eye on indeed.