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Absent Death

James Blackford

By James BlackfordPublished 2 months ago Updated 2 months ago 13 min read
1

The Birth of Death. A Beginning to a Welcomed End.

Bones are tough. I knew that coming into this, but I didn’t know it would take thirty minutes and a red bull to remove the man’s head. “Gives you wings huh?”

I wiped the sweat from my forehead and tossed the dull bone saw into the corner of the basement. It was hot. Even in this dark, subterranean room, it was ninety degrees. My flannel was drenched in sweat and my legs, bare past my tidy whiteys, were mud with bloody dirt.

I had been working on this fat bastard for hours and was ready to call it a day. I opened the solitary window and took a deep breath of the Arizona desert air. It was as satisfying as a hair dryer farting on my face, but it was nature, it was alive.

I glanced over my shoulder at the jigsaw puzzle of a corpse.

“Is it always this hot in the summer here?”

I should have never left Canada. I don’t know what I was thinking. I know what the maple leaf boot-wearing Mounties were thinking, with their stupid hats and morals.

They were thinking about the police sketch drawing of my face. I still wasn’t sure who saw me. Whoever it was must have a photographic memory. They had relayed the smallest details of my handsome face, down to the mole under my right eye.

“A fact to note,” I said, turning around and leaning my back against the wall, my eyebrow raised at the bloody mess. This guy wasn’t getting the deposit back.

“If you plan on killing people, spread it out a bit. Seven corpses a week is crossing a line for local officials, well in Canada anyway. I’ve heard good things about America’s sensibilities though, I’m hoping to get a fresh start here. Live the American dream.”

I rummaged through my pocket, grabbing a lighter and cigarette. The flame was halfway to my lips when there was a knock on the window. I froze.

It wasn’t a large window, but it didn’t have to be for someone to see the carnage in this basement. I lit my cigarette and turned slowly. There was no one there.

The window was level with the ground outside. From my vantage, I could see no flashing lights and no trigger-happy cops waiting to turn me into Swiss cheese. There was, however, a box.

I glanced to either side, straining to see who had left it. Aside from the occasional passing car, there was no one.

I grabbed the package and shut the window.

“This is curious,” I said, turning it over. There was no address or markings of any kind.

“Were you expecting something?”

I pulled the tape off and looked inside.

My heart stopped.

The box fell from my fingers.

I couldn’t breathe.

I had to move.

I had to go.

I had to find him.

I ran out of the basement and crashed through the front door, my chest ready to explode. Where was he? Where was the dead man that dropped off the package?

There was no one.

I screamed.

Bloody, outside in my underwear and covered in death, I screamed until my throat tore.

Rage, my dear, dear friend, gripped my heart and showed me the faces again. Were there so many now? Lifeless and grimly smiling in death as I captured their visage forever in my mind. It was the price the rage required to take my pain, and I paid it gladly.

With every person I killed it didn’t bring my son back, but it saved another from being taken.

Even The Dying May Get an Itch. Even the Damned Will Get Hungry

It is surprisingly easy to find child molesters on the internet. From dark web chat rooms to the sex offenders register, it was like a field day. A never-ending roster of my future victims.

I walked back into Mr. Joseph Walker’s basement. Convicted of indecent exposure to a minor in 1995.

Bending down, my hand trembling, I picked up the photo that was inside the box.

I stared at the face of my boy. It’s been three years since he was taken from me, and I still expect to hear him when I wake. I spent all my time and money looking for him to find nothing but sympathetic faces and dead ends. A few months passed and even the news forgot about him.

But I never did.

I wiped the tears from my eyes and froze as I studied his features. Was I mad, or did his face look older, his hair longer? Hope swelled in my heart like a disease. I turned the picture over. Written in cramped, even letters were four words:

I have your son.

Hope.

Hope was pain and tears. It was sleepless nights ravaged with visions of what might be happening to my son. It was losing any sense of time and only knowing agony, deep and all-consuming.

Hope is what drove my wife to suicide after they stopped looking for him, convinced she would find him in death.

No, hope wasn’t for me. It couldn’t match the inferno of hate that stitched my heart together and gave me the strength to take another breath, then another life, and another, and another. Hate is what numbs my suffering, and I welcome it with open arms.

Blackness surrounded me and my knees buckled. I took in a breath, I had forgotten. I needed to breathe so I can live, I need to live to find my son, I need to find my son so I can kill the person who took him from me.

Focus on that. On the face I would add to my mental landscape. It wasn’t hope but anticipation, vengeance in its purest form. The person that dropped the package was alive and real. I would find him, and the suffering I would inflict would make the devil weep.

The end. My life or another.

It’s 2022, everyone has a door cam. Fortunately, the iPhone facial recognition doesn’t discriminate if there isn’t a body attached to the head it’s scanning. I unlocked Joe’s phone and pulled up the footage from the app and saw the dead man walking.

Average height, average build. White male, mid 40’s, brown hair cut short. It was only a few seconds in frame as he passed carrying the package under his arm, but the license plate on his beater of a car as he turned around in the driveway was pristine in the high-def camera.

Real life isn’t like the movies. The edges are blurred in the space between moments. The definition of right and wrong, good and evil is lost in the seconds of nothingness at the end of every breath. And my morale compass was forged in a fire made of pain. Morality didn’t survive long there.

Sleep. Wake. Sleep. Wake. Sleep. Wake. Sleep. Wake. Sleep. Wake. Sleep. Wake.

“My name is Mathew Evans. I don’t want to kill you.” I said, pointing a .357 at the terrified face of Samantha, DMV employee of the year, Graham County Arizona, 2020.

Six days had passed, and it was all I needed to find the person to help me locate Mr. Brown hair. Samantha was a single mom with joint custody of her daughter. Dad picked up little Ashley from elementary school this afternoon and Samantha was probably looking forward to a weekend of sleeping in.

She glanced over her shoulder at the open door.

“I don’t want to kill you,” I repeated, pulling the hammer of the gun back. “I’m looking for my son.”

At that she paused. Fear and confusion.

“I have the license plate of the man that took my son. I need you to run it and tell me anything you can. After that, you will never see me again.”

“Your daughter Ashley will never see me.”

“I won’t be at the coffee shop on 4th and Main you stop at every morning before going to work.”

“I won’t be at Little River Elementary where your daughter goes to school.”

“I won’t be at 2320 Elm St. where your parents live.”

The blood drained from her face. Her body trembled as she nodded.

The spec of humanity remaining to me screamed at what I was doing. The face of my child silenced it.

We waited until dark before getting into her car and driving to the DMV. It was obvious why she was made employee of the year. Within five minutes I had an address.

“Walk to the gas station down the street. I’ll call an Uber. Go home and forget my face, forget tonight. I know it’s not much consolation for having your life threatened, but because of what you’ve done, I might get my son back.”

She didn’t say anything, or maybe I didn’t hear. I drove off in her car, the GPS proclaiming I would arrive at my destination in 54 minutes.

Breathe in. Breathe out. Breathe in. Breathe out. Breathe in. Breathe out.

Had an hour passed?

I was parked in a driveway. My headlights reflected their light off a license plate: 3BS 27J. It hung from the rear of the car like an atrophied limb.

I cut the engine and stepped out, then walked to the front door. I knocked.

Brown hair opened the door. He smiled.

I pressed the barrel of my gun against his forehead, and he sighed in relief.

“Come in,” he said and backed up; hands spread to his sides.

My nose wrinkled as the smell of cinnamon and dollar store carpet powder clawed up my nostrils. The house was sparse, the white walls bare in adornment. He led me to the living room and sat down, gesturing at the adjacent loveseat for me to sit on. I did. My hand trembled, and my fingers were numb. In the space of the twenty seconds it took to make it to my seat I’d envisioned painting the walls of his house red and lumpy a dozen times over. His head, my canvas, my bullets, the brush.

I had to remember to breathe.

“Your son,” He said, his voice quiet and calm, “Is very excited to see you, Mathew.”

Breathe. Breathe. My finger twitched.

“Where,” I growled, “Is my son?” The gun was shaking in my grasp.

“Please,” he said, “in due time. I- “

“Where!” I leaped from my seat and smashed the gun into his face. His nose erupted. Blood sprayed on my face, on the floor, and in my eyes, “Is my son!!!”

Spit flew from my mouth and the gun was gone. In its place was the man’s neck, his face was turning blue. He gasped and I knew the words he spoke were important. But my rage screamed for his life.

He managed to point a finger behind me, and only then did I notice the large television had turned on. And there, sleeping peacefully in a bed was… was… Thomas.

The name, the love, and the memories it carried called to the corpse of the man I was. I stumbled to the screen, reaching for my boy.

“He’s waiting for you Mathew” the man’s voice was rasping. “And once I know you see him, he will be returned to you.”

Brown hair grabbed a remote and pressed a button. The screen changed to a still shot of… was that the park near our old house? He pressed play and there was Thomas, swinging on a swing and calling to a man sitting on a bench. It zoomed in on the man. His face was buried in his phone. The man, my god, was that me?

“Yeah, that’s great bud,” I said, never looking up.

The image changed to the road-facing side of our old house, lit by the streetlamp outside. Step by step it grew larger until it was pressed against my office window. Thomas was waving a picture, scribbles and colors vaguely portraying the image of a horse.

“I can ride a horse like this tomorrow daddy!”

I glanced up from my computer. My eyes were tired. “Not right now buddy, I’ve got a ton of work still.” That was all I gave him, just a glance, and I was back to my screen, the light from the monitor like radiation washing over a dead man.

“We’re still going horse riding tomorrow, right? You promised!”

“That’s enough!” I yelled. “Go to bed. I told you not to bother me when I’m working!”

My little man tried to hold his tears, but they were inescapable as he turned, and the camera zoomed in on his face.

No. That wasn’t me. It couldn’t be.

The screen flashed, the vantage from the dining room window.

“You can’t pull your head out of your ass for one night and spend time with your son?!” My wife. My beautiful wife was pleading with me.

“How am I supposed to do that when I’m the one working overtime to pay for this fucking life that you wanted?! A house, backyard, cookouts with the neighbors talking about the new goddamn property taxes?”

The screen blurred, and the tears running down my cheeks were like salt in an open wound.

“That’s enough…” It was a whisper. A pathetic plea to ignore reality, the past that paved the way to the anguish I had caused.

The image changed again.

“That’s enough!” I stood and kicked the TV from its stand. I turned and found Brown hair smiling, wiping tears from his own eyes.

He cleared his throat “The love of a father is paramount Mathew. Remember this pain.” He stood and walked to a door on the far side of the living room. He delicately turned the handle and pushed the door open, making a shushing gesture as he turned back to me.

“He’s had a long day, and I don’t want to wake him up quite yet. I don’t think you do either.”

I walked past Brown Hair in a daze and knelt before the bed in the middle of the room. There was my Thomas. Breathing deeply in sleep, his face peaceful.

My whole body shook. I bit my lip until I tasted copper to keep from making a noise. Gently, I swept my fingers across his forehead, and he stirred, turning over to face the ceiling. My boy, I found my sweet, sweet boy.

I stood and backed quietly from the room, shutting the door. Brown hair was walking out the front door, and I followed. He stopped, looking at the night sky, my gun held loosely in his hand.

“You think you know pain?” he said. “You think what you’ve misplaced can match the heartbreak of a child alone and hated.” He shook his head and stared into my eyes. “I’ve gifted you with the chance I never had. My son was taken from me. He was… He didn’t have someone like me to save him. And now, I’ll see him again Mathew. If I saved your Thomas from a fate of being ignored by his father and not loved, then, well… it is enough. Do not forget the pain of his absence. Do not take him for granted.”

Brown hair raised the gun to his temple.

“Remember the life I’ve given you.”

Brown hair pulled the trigger.

Redemption. Mourning. A Life Ends. A Life Begins.

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