Frank’s mind was awash with awful visions; torn flesh gushing blood into matted clumps of hair protruding from unidentified body parts flashed in front of his eyes, while agonised screams pierced through the silence in his apartment, attacking his eardrums like aural bullets penetrating through to the brain matter behind them. He sat on his bed writhing from side to side as each auditory blow swatted him one way then the next. His hands were clasped tightly to the sides of his head in an attempt to block out the blood-curdling screams, but the sounds were endogenous, coming from within him as if released by a beast no longer restrained. Above the screams, Frank could hear the friction of his skin rubbing against his temples as the tendrils writhed beneath his callused palms, their struggles echoing down his ear canals like the thunder of an approaching train in an underground tunnel. His eyesight was so distorted by the flashes of gore that were being transmitted across his visual fields by some inner evil that he couldn’t perceive his surroundings accurately; he knew he was in his bedroom but had no clue if he was alone or surrounded by mutilated corpses and severed limbs. He looked up at the street-level window, now dim through absence of sunlight, and saw the first stars of the ensuing night sky glinting through the clouded glass. Then in a flash the glass was red, glowing as though almost at boiling point, and thick, crimson blood oozed through the cracks in the window frame, slowly coalescing into a torrent as they dribbled down the wall and collected in a puddle on the floor. Frank turned his gaze to the bedroom door and saw a hulking black figure standing before him; the shape was the size of a bear and the edges of its form blurred with its surroundings, like a hologram might buzz and stutter as its power source slowly depletes, and it was holding a naked woman up by the ankles, her legs splayed as it plunged its head into her groin and took bite after huge bite out of her flesh. Frank blinked hard, squeezing his eyelids together as if this might wring the image from his retinas, and when he opened his eyes again the hulking, buzzing thing was gone. But the woman was still there, standing upright now and leaning almost alluringly against the doorframe, rivers of blood flowing down her leg from the mangled remains of her vagina. And she was smiling. Frank averted his gaze, staring deliberately down at the floor disbelieving at what he was apparently witnessing. He could feel his skin squirming, alive with activity as though it was pulsating like a repetitive soundwave emanating from a powerful speaker. His head ached, his jaw felt swollen and his brow was heavy as a lead weight as he hung his head forward and a piercing soreness scythed across his gums. He felt grinding inside his mouth, like a thousand fingernails across a thousand blackboards, and brought a quivering, wasted hand up to his mouth to investigate,. When he withdrew it he saw putrid, yellowed teeth lying in his grasp, roots black and bloodied as if they’d rotted out of his jaw and fallen loose. He began to sob, his ribs aching and stretching the skin of his torso with every heave of his emaciated chest, and milky white tears began to trickle from the corners of his eyes; his pupils were slowly oscillating from their usual, more human size to the vast pits of purest black that had stared up at Jeffrey Brooks in his final moments. Frank could feel something inside of him, deep within every fibre of his body now, trying to take control. He fought against the will of this ethereal parasite, clenching his fists so hard that he felt the rotted teeth crunch as they shattered and pierce his skin. He ignored the pain, he had experienced far worse of late, and focussed on repelling this coup from within, but he felt weak and this darkness was growing stronger by the second. He knew then that he couldn’t win, that the writhing evil inside him would almost certainly overcome him, and the consequences of this terrified him to his soul. He was losing more and more control of his body to this new occupant but he’d be damned if he let some unknown darkness claim him as its pawn. And if this was the same entity, as he now suspected, that willed Aaron Stokes to commit his own heinous crimes then suicide would only free the evil to go on and find another vessel. Suddenly an idea dawned on him and Frank came to the realisation of what he had to do, how he might be able to claim victory over this evil, for humanity if not for himself. He may have failed his daughter, it seemed apparent now that he had even lost her, but he could still save her. Her and everyone else. He pushed himself unsteadily off of the bed, crashing into the wall opposite, snatching a pencil from atop the stack of case files and sending them sprawling over the bedroom floor. The files erupted into flame as if the carpet was made from lava, and Frank shielded his eyes from the glare with one raised hand as he stumbled out into the hallway, swiping blindly at the darkness ahead of him in case the laughing, genitally-mutilated woman was waiting for him in the corridor. She wasn’t, but as Frank made slow, trembling progress towards the kitchen he could feel the carpeted hallway squelching underfoot, and he could hear the intermittent buzzing of the bear figure hiding somewhere in the gloom. He shifted his gaze all around, not wanting to focus on what was squashing into the carpet beneath him nor wanting to come face to face with the colossal shadow creature. His pupils still expanded and contracted as he fought the dark within him, and he hardly noticed the priest hanging in the kitchen doorway as he elbowed the corpse aside and slunk heavily down into the kitchen chair. His hands were shaking as if he was in withdrawal as he pulled a piece of paper from his pocket and hurriedly scrawled a message onto it. His milky tears returned as he wrote, and the struggle to coordinate his thoughts into legible writing exerted such a strain on him that his lacrimal capillaries began to burst, and the tears flowing over his pallid complexion became streaked with bright red blood. The effort from penning this note sapped the last of his energy and he finally relaxed in the chair, head lolling back so that his head turned up to the ceiling. His breathing slowed and a low, basal gurgle rose up from deep within him like a slow, menacing roar. His pupils slowly expanded to occupy almost the entirety of his sclera, leaving just the tiniest of pure white rims surrounding them and this time not returning to their more natural, smaller size. His breathing stopped, but his body climbed to its feet, a slow, leering grin stretching his insipid skin to breaking point over his cheekbones as his mother’s voice echoed quietly around the room.
Welcome home son, this is where you belong now.
Denton Fetch had returned to his barn, he couldn’t be sure of the motives of the stranger that had found him but he couldn’t take any chances that this man might return to his civilian home. He paced the length of his torture chamber, hay crunching beneath him as he strode up and down, clutching handfuls of hair as he considered his next move; the higher power hadn’t spoken to him in some time now, perhaps this stranger was his next target and not a kindred spirit as he had assumed. He began to pace faster, agitating himself at the thought of a missed opportunity to snatch his next victim. The refrigerator and holding cells were empty, and this made Denton antsy, especially when his head was filled with the glorious tableaus that he could create with the bodies brought to him by the higher power. He needed to calm down, he could never think tactically when he wasn’t composed, so he leaned against the cold, rusted steel gurney, bowed his head and slowed his breathing. He focussed on the chill of the metal against his skin, the roughness of the stubbly rust that adorned the once pristine surface; this feeling was the last thing his victims would experience before they became part of his art. It was an important sensation, almost holy, and served to centre his mind and slow the panicked rush of his blood. His heart slowed and the perspiration that had beaded his brow ceased and began to evaporate in the humid night, leaving a web of tiny salt crystals across his forehead. He knew the higher power would grant him a new gift soon, he just had to be patient. He began to wander over to the instrument table and to his radio, thinking that Bach’s soothing third symphony would relax him further, when a noise from outside the barn made him stop still, nose pointed skywards as if sniffing the air for potential threats, ears trained on the hull of his chamber and keen for any further evidence of intrusion. He stood silently in mid-step for almost two minutes when the sound happened again, it was only quiet but in the silence of the barn and in his alerted state it was almost deafening to Denton; the soft screech of someone slowly tugging open the sliding door at the front of the barn.
Frank stood in the doorway, framed in moonlight against the darkness within the barn. He caught a glimpse of his dull shadow cast forward down the narrow corridor in front of him and swiftly looked away; the slenderness of his frame was so apparent now that his thinning arms and legs barely cast any darkness through the faint moonlight. It looked like his torso was just a floating blob of black in the shaft of grey light on the floor of the barn, made furry like a kiwi fruit by the straw that was scantily strewn over the concrete. He couldn’t see to the end of the hallway, but he recognised the smell of old faeces and rotting hay; maybe Denton Fetch was just a farmer, and this is where he kept his cattle. After all there were no other buildings at this address, nor where there any within at least nine or ten miles. There was a rim of light framing a heavy, polished metal door to Frank’s immediate right. The door had a large handle, and an audible hum could be heard from beyond its intimidating steel façade.
Must be where the poor farmer keeps his meat fresh, dear. Nothing for you in there. Now let’s find Mr Fetch.
“I thought I told you to leave me alone”.
Frank’s voice was just a whisper, as if his vocal cords were covered in sawdust, and he felt a twang of regret for scolding his mother, even though he knew that the voice he heard wasn’t truly matriarchal in nature but a hallucinogenic manifestation of a darkness that was hell-bent on destroying all of humanity. His verbalisation scratched in his throat, causing him to splutter and cough and despite one bony hand trying to stifle the sound, Frank knew that if there was anyone hiding in the shadowy recesses of the barn they now knew that he was here. He remained in the doorway, partly because he was too weary to move and partly to increase his chances of escape if he were to be suddenly put upon by anyone stalking him from the gloom, even though he knew he was too exhausted to execute an effective retreat. He turned his attention to the doorway on his left, beyond which was a vast black chasm of a room. The limited light shining in from behind him was just enough to dimly illuminate a piece of furniture several feet beyond the entrance to the room, a very distinctive, purpose-built piece of furniture; albeit far older and more rudimentary than the one he was accustomed to, and far more rusted, Frank recognised the mortician’s table from its similarities to Dr Winters’ back at Brooklyn Hospital Centre. The familiar thrill of solving a case washed over Frank, his weary heart thrummed fervently in his chest and his throat felt warm, perhaps a somatisation of the memory of past victories celebrated in alcoholic stupor. The comforting sensation was short-lived however, because although Frank had found the Holy Cow Killer’s lair he knew he was far too weak to confront him. He felt his legs weaken as if prophylactically surrendering defeat, and he had to brace himself on the doorframe to keep from falling to his knees in the straw. He gathered his senses, clutched at his chest as if to steel his heart for one last battle, and focussed his gaze into the cavernous darkness to his left, he had not come for a confrontation anyway. Still he could see no signs of movement, and the thrumming in his ears prevented any acoustic investigation, but he became acutely aware of the feeling of being watched. But it was more than that, he was being studied. He emitted a raspy cough, beat his chest weakly with his fist, then managed to clear the sawdust feeling from his larynx.
Silence cut through the thick, humid night air like a switchblade and arced back toward him.
“Fetch, I know you’re here.”
His voice was more than a rasp now, but was still weak. It should have echoed back to him from the rear of the barn, instead the silence continued.
“And I’m not here for you. I know you’re the Holy Cow Killer, but I’m here for me. Do you hear me, Fetch?”
Frank attempted to raise his voice during this last sentence, which produced more hoarse coughs, barking up from his lungs like angry puppies. The silence drew on, and Frank began to consider he may be wrong about the building’s occupancy. He hung his head, and was about to trudge back into the night when he heard something shift inside the barn, a sound like someone sliding off of a bench and landing on their feet. And then he received the reply he so eagerly sought.
“We’re the same, you and I.”
Fetch’s voice was monotone and matter of fact, but eerily high-pitched for an adult. He spoke softly – almost reassuringly – and allowed no emotion to leak into his speech.
“I saw you with the priest. Messy, but curiously creative.”
A shiver shot down Frank’s spine; the HCK had been to his home, he’d seen him murder Jeffrey Brooks. How did he know who he was, or where he lived. Frank mouthed in stunned silence, like a fish out of water, not knowing how to respond. As if reading his mind, Denton Fetch continued.
“I followed you. I was watching when you intruded on my house in Kensington and followed you back to yours. I was going to kill you, but then…”
Fetch trailed off as if distracted by a tangential train of thought. When he continued his tone was more assertive, more menacing.
“Why are you here?”
“I told you, I’m no threat to you. I need you to help me.”
“And why would I do that?”
Frank paused for a moment, not knowing whether to disclose everything to this madman, and then with a sigh he began to explain his intentions.
“Because I have something in me, something evil. Something dark is trying to control me and I’m scared it’s going to win. If I die I’ll set it free, so I need to stay alive. But I can’t be near anyone else. I need you to keep me here. Keep me as your prisoner and keep the world safe. You said it yourself; we’re the same.”
There was a long silence during which the air became sticky with tension, the already thick and humid night air now felt like treacle sliding in and out of Frank’s lungs as he waited for the HCK’s response.
“You have a higher power too?”
Frank decided against correcting the homicidal sociopath which whom he was conversing, not only could there be deadly consequences but he might also refuse his plea for help. The dark was a higher power of sorts after all, he supposed. After another long pause, as if deliberating over whether this intruder was genuine or not, Fetch continued, seemingly satisfied by Frank’s response.
“To your right, a door. Open it.”
Frank was wary about turning his back to the ominous mortuary, fearful of an attack from behind, but he followed the instruction nonetheless. He took a step into the barn, his legs were weakening and his feet skittered on the dry straw. He extended an arm towards the large metal handle, a movement that seemed almost impossible such was the antagonistic writhing of the tendrils around his musculature; it was if they had realised his intentions and were trying to stop him, tearing away chunks of bloodied soft tissue as they did so. The pieces of Frank’s flesh that fell to the floor thudded moistly as they hit the concrete. The door handle felt cold even in his icy grip, and it took a gargantuan effort for Frank to pull hard enough to release the lock holding the giant metal door closed. On the third heave there was a clunk as the bolts were loosed from their housing, the door swung open an inch on its own weight and the humming from within grew louder. A beam of brilliant white light shone out from within, bisecting the gloom like a portal to a more heavenly place. Frank rounded the door so that the crack of light shone straight down his centre, he felt the worms beneath his skin skitter away from the illuminated portions of his skin, some were squirming down into his legs, breaking more hunks of bloody flesh away from his bones as they tried to anchor him to the floor and prevent him advancing further. The pain was incredible, as if he’d inserted metal rods into his calves then stood in a shallow pond with five hundred thousand volts flowing through it, but it was made somehow bearable by the end to which it was the means. The air released through the crack in the door was cool and refreshing on Frank’s skin in contrast to the muggy night air, and he closed his eyes in satisfied contemplation. He had almost forgotten that there was a serial killer just yards away from him until he received his next instruction.
Frank complied almost before Fetch had finished talking, swinging the refrigerator door open easily on its well-oiled hinges. Cold, bright light bathed him as the door swung open, soothing the pain in his limbs and the aggressive gurgling that had started in the pit of his stomach and begun rising up through his gullet. He clutched both hands to his chest as if to prevent anything escaping and stepped into the icy interior of the refrigerated room. Once inside the stark light was painful as it shone through his wide-open pupils and burned the surface of his retinas, he closed his eyes and enjoyed the refreshing frostiness of the air. He could feel his flesh being pulled away from his skeleton by the tendrils, muscle and tendon tore away from bony anchorings and fatty tissue fell away in chunks, besmirching the pristine white of the cold-room floor with thick droplets of blood and gelatinous yellow globules as he slid down the wall into a seated position and brought his knees to his chest. Frank opened his eyes slowly, but they were unable to adjust to the brilliant illumination, he turned to see a blurred silhouette standing in the doorway. Even through his distorted vision, Frank could see the solemn, regretful expression on Denton Fetch’s face. He thought he could detect a hint of shock too, but he didn’t want to pay mind to that. He was here, so Daisy was safe. That was all that mattered now. He looked away from HCK and bowed his head between his knees.
“Close it, and from this darkness will cometh light.”