Ell

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11

Despite claims to the contrary, human beings are relatively easy to kill.

Firearms are, of course, one of the most efficient ways to make holes in vital areas. A well-honed knife would be the preferable means if silence was key, and had the added perk of never running out of ammunition. In terms of mass death, explosives became a premium, though they were sometimes hard to contain. On other occasions, it is as simple as a quick push off a tall ledge. So very, very many ways to end the brief moments that tether mankind to this world.

Roy Morwin knew most of them.

In truth, his first kill had been an accident. Wrestling a playground bully in seventh grade, he had applied slightly too much force to a headlock, and snapped the boy's neck. He did not remember the boy's face or name, but he did remember the sound of the spine breaking. A sort of grinding pop, muted by flesh and sinew. It was the sound of the soul's anchor being cut. The sound of a life set free.

As he grew older, setting people free became Roy's all-consuming passion. One by one, he sent them on; twenty-two of the world's darkest souls. He felt no sadness, no remorse. Good or bad, they deserved something greater. Some noise, some blood, and they were in a better place.

On the day of his twentieth birthday, someone found him. He had expected the police, or the FBI, or perhaps a SWAT team. He didn't fear them. Just more souls in need of freedom... and if he was lucky, they would free him as well.

However, it was not an armed force that stood on his doorstep, but a man with a smile and an outstretched hand. His name was Jericho. He knew of Roy's work. He wanted to help Roy in his quest.

He wanted to make a deal.

Two years of rigorous training passed, and Roy's transformation came to an end. He was a new man now, in all senses of the word. A new face, a new body, and above all else, a new way to kill. The ultimate weapon, the greatest tool of death the word would likely ever know, and it was inside of him. It was him.

Jericho gave him something else as well. He gave Roy a mission. Thirty souls, trapped in broken bodies with shattered minds, unable to save themselves. Screaming without sound for someone to save them. And they would all be in a single location, a lonely train on a secluded track, with no one to interfere if something were to happen.

Roy had smiled. Such a simple task. He would use the old tools of his trade, the familiar mesh of wires and circuits and military-grade C4...

The explosion had been so beautiful, Roy almost cried. Sitting on a nearby hilltop, watching the train rip itself to bits, he felt a surge of happiness beyond anything he had felt before. Such beauty in the flames, as if the lives within were taking physical form as they burned away. He wished he could join them in the unending bliss of the ultimate end, but there were too many others in need of saving. Until the world was empty of suffering, he had to go on.

He spent the night in a makeshift base of operations, well hidden within the crumbling walls of an old schoolhouse. In the morning, he dressed himself in a stolen Search and Rescue uniform and walked down to the crash site.

Jericho had spoken of a special girl, a girl who had lived a life of such torment, a weaker soul would have dissolved into nothingness under the pain. She had to be freed. Roy had to make sure of it. He blended in with the crowd of firefighters and paramedics, listening to them chatter, to the police speaking into radios.

She wasn't there. Somehow, she had crawled from the wreck alive during the night. No one could find her.

Feeling rather dejected, Roy spent the day in futile search along the river's banks. Night was again upon him before he stumbled back to the school. So many had found a better life, but that one girl, that one poor girl, made it seem so pointless.

In a fit of sudden anger, he overturned a fuel canister, kicking it down a moldy flight of stairs. The smell of gasoline gave rise to an idea, and he began dousing the room in the flammable liquid. The fire would erase all traces of his presence, and also serve as a grim pyre to his failure. Most of his tools were already in his car, which was parked in the dense foliage outside. All that remained for him to carry was his hunting rifle, a respirator, and the fuel.

Roy took his time as he moved through the abandoned structure, splattering the floors and walls with the fluid. The vapors almost knocked him unconscious at one point, prompting him to slip on the gas mask. No sense dying of carelessness.

Finally, task completed, he headed for his car. A timed charge, barely the size of a walnut, had already started the blaze. It was burning now, in the bowels of the forgotten construct. He didn't need to be there to see it. It was already ashes in his mind, a forgotten ghoul to haunt his dreams.

Wood splintered nearby, and he froze.

It came again, along with other sounds. Someone was... crying? Screaming? It sounded so distant. What was it? Who was it? It sounded like a child, maybe, but why would a child be this far out in the middle of nowhere...?

Moving with unnatural stillness, he crept towards the voices. He had his rifle, if he needed it, but he hoped he would not have to use it. Not everyone deserved the gift of freedom he carried.

As he rounded the corner, the words became more understandable.

“...guess that could start a fire. I wonder why they left the power on? No one's been here for forever. All the books have been moved out, too. Daddy said that regular schools have tons of books, and I didn't even see-”

It was a girl. The girl, he was sure of it. How was she here? Roy had never believed in a god, but he almost did then. Who else could have granted him this incredible, impossible second chance?

She had seen him. He needed to talk to her, keep her calm.

“Are you... Ellie?”

The girl didn't answer. She had seemed startled when he had first appeared, but she had not run. That was good. He hated shooting people in the back. Training kicked in, and he began his act.

“It's okay, Ell. I'm Roy Morwin. I work with Lakewood Search and Rescue. I'm here to help you. Are you hurt?” He took a step forward, and his gun clicked against the phone in his back pocket. The girl saw the gun, and her eyes widened slightly. She knew what it was.

Not good.

Still, she did not run. “How did you find me?”

Roy paused briefly. “We found the train. There weren't many people on board, so we figured out you were missing pretty quickly. I've been tracking you all night.”

“Will you take me home?”

He could kill her here, but the school was burning like the world's largest signal flare. The police would find it soon. No time to hide the body, no time to clean up. In every prior kill, he had been immaculate, and it had kept him from the hands of the Law for all these years. No sense changing that now. Get her in the car, take her somewhere remote, and finish it there.

“Yeah. My car's a bit far off, but if we go to it, I'll drive you right home. I'm sure they miss you, Ellie. Let's hurry now, okay? Everything is okay.”

“Why do you have a gas can?”

Beneath the respirator, Roy's eyebrow twitched. The fire had almost reached the second floor, and the muted roar was making it hard to think.

“Ell, listen to me...”

She wasn't listening. She was turning to run. Shoot her. Shoot her now!

Time slowed to a crawl as instinct took over. Gun up, bolt back, a controlled breath, and...

Fire, everywhere, like a wave of light crashing down on him. He jumped back, the beam missing him by a hair. Something exploded beneath the flames, and a burning brand stabbed him in the leg. Roy cursed and brought his rifle up to face-level, aiming blindly into the cloud of sparks and smoke.

Something moved beyond the blaze, and he squeezed off three shots in rapid succession.

His target may have staggered, he wasn't sure. There was no time for anything more, as the cloud of smoke consumed him in choking, churning blackness.

When it finally rolled on, the girl was gone.

He had missed his shot.

Roy stood where he was for quite some time, oblivious to the flames licking at his shoes. For the first time in his life, he had faltered in his quest. For the first time in his life, he had failed.

For the last time in his life, he had failed.

He moved back to his car, his body on autopilot, his mind already building the framework of a plan. He knew where she would go. He knew where he would find her.

Time to pay a visit to Elm Hope.

The tires on his old Volkswagen tore at the loose earth, and he was gone up the narrow road, leaving the school shining behind him in the night. If one had looked closely, one might have seen something in the flames, high above the ground. A black shape, perhaps a chunk of charred wood... or perhaps something else altogether. A ghost in the fire, watching him go.

No one would ever know. There was no one left to see it burn.


Roy whistled as he drove, some old anthem his mother had taught him. He rarely sang any more; he, more than most men, knew the true power of music. Even the most tuneless melody could ignite the terrible thing within him. Jericho had said that whistling was safe enough, as the machine only reacted to specific sequences sung at certain pitches; however, Roy was a cautious man by nature, and rarely took chances that could potentially end poorly for him.

He drew a plastic bottle from his jacket pocket, tipping two white tablets into his palm. Downing them without liquid, he spared a brief glance into the bottle. At least twenty-five left. More than enough to see him through this job.

This would not be the first time he had visited Elm Hope Hospital. The first time had been purely coincidental. A man by the name of Laurence Hartman had almost escaped him, thanks to an unexpected intervention by law enforcement just as Roy was about to land the killing blow. Roy had escaped through a window, leaving his target to bleed out on the rug. A short foot-chase ensued, ending with the police hopelessly lost in the woods, their quarry having long since departed.

Paramedics had whisked the comatose Laurence off in an ambulance, never noticing the rusty tan vehicle trailing along behind them. The nearest hospital was a sprawling facility of some renown; Elm Hope, of course. It well-staffed and known for its efficiency, handling a large number of overflow patients from other local hospitals.

It also included a very large psychiatric wing, treating everything from stress to full-blown homicidal insanity. Inspecting the visitor's directory in the foyer, Roy had briefly considered paying the mental patients a visit, but at that age he had been more cautious, sticking to single kills and avoiding larger body counts. He was there for Laurence, no one else.

Once Roy had confirmed that his mark would not be leaving any time soon, he had spent a few weeks casing the hospital, drawing on his extensive acting abilities and disguises to infiltrate the building's most secure sections. The room Laurence occupied was well-guarded, and only a select few doctors were allowed in. That was fine with Roy; he had no intention of using the same tactics twice on a single target. Instead, he focused his attention on the chemical supply keeping Hartman alive.

A slight modification to Laurence's medicine regime, and the man was off to the next life, having never regained consciousness. Roy left town the same day. No one ever knew he was there.

And now, he was going back.

Something rolled off the back seat, thumping on the floor. Without taking his eyes off the road, Roy felt around, eventually locating the runaway item; a small black hand-grenade, smaller than one would expect, but certainly just as deadly. Giving it a brief check to ensure that the pin was still in place, he tossed it in the glove box.

A quick check in the rear-view mirror assured him that the remainder of his equipment sat secured in its proper place. The customized Remington long-distance rifle, a gift from Jericho, steady in its featureless black carry-case. A shoebox that actually housed two Glock .22s. A cardboard package full of odds and ends: timers, lighters, detonators, cleaning brushes for the guns, seventy feet of fine wire. To the casual observer, the car appeared to be filled with random junk. Nothing to rouse suspicion.

Among the other items sat two ten-gallon gas cans, their contents sloshing quietly as the old car bounced over the bumps in the road. Seeing them sitting there reminded Roy just how beautiful fuel-fires were. He felt a slight pang of remorse; he had left the old school in flames, and hadn't even stayed to watch. Frowning, he made a mental note to really enjoy Elm Hope's demise, once the initial job was done. It would be more exciting, anyway. All sorts of interesting medical supplies to turn colors and explode as the fires raged. Then there were the patients... he wondered what sort of noise the insane would make as they were cooked alive.

A sign passed on his right: 'ELM HOPE INSTITUTE, 4 MILES'.

He began to whistle again.


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