For as long as he can remember, Nikolai has always been fascinated with death. While the other neighborhood children played video games, rode their bikes, and harassed the ice cream man, he spent every waking moment indulging himself in whatever appealed to his morbid curiosity.
Films depicting gore and guts, intense crime documentaries, informative articles pertaining to different interpretations of the afterlife, novels that described heinous acts in excruciating detail… His developing mind consumed it all.
He didn’t tell his mother about his fascination. Though he was young, he wasn’t naïve. He knew she wouldn’t understand, and it was torturous because he craved to be understood. He wanted someone to confide in. He wanted something he never had due to his cold nature, a friend.
His prayers were answered at the beginning of his freshman year. He was approached by Daniel Rutherford, a timid boy with the sweetest face.
The two would meet everyday after school. Nikolai shared his collection of novels, articles, documentaries, and movies with Daniel, feeling indescribable happiness whenever his entire face lit up with wonder.
But eventually, Daniel grew tired of this collection. He desired to be more… hands on.
It started with cats. Nikolai would only watch on, his expression colored with amusement, as Daniel would sneak up behind a cat and strangle it with glee and poorly contained rage.
Nikolai grew tired next. After a few months, seeing flyer after flyer of cats’ faces attached to ways that one could contact their owner grew stale. He wanted to do something bigger, something impossible to ignore, and Daniel had the same hunger.
Daniel’s father was the gateway drug. He approached him while he was sound asleep, and bashed his head with the butt of a shotgun that was locked up in the closet, shouting obscenities at the man. Nikolai cheered him on from the doorway, but that wasn’t all he did. He was involved this time.
While Daniel grinned to himself and repeatedly waxed poetic about how proud he was of his work, Nikolai staged a failed robbery, successfully recalling everything he ever saw in his crime documentaries. His work was, of course, on the rough side, but it was tidy enough to fool the police.
Throughout the rest of high school and college, they went above and beyond cats, taking lives and properly disposing them. Nikolai even warmed up to doing some of the dirty work, feeling a sick satisfaction from carving intricate lines in the skin of his victims or bashing their heads until he was sure their skulls were cracked open.
These boys are men now, fresh out of college with a relationship that’s been strained for months.
On this night, March 23rd, 1994, they’re alone in a warehouse that’s been abandoned long before either of them were born.
Daniel, his bottom lip caught between his teeth and his hands shaking, is leaning against a support beam that doesn’t look structurally sound. His eyes, two lights that flickered out a long time ago, are boring right into Nikolai’s.
Nikolai is standing with his spine as straight as a board, exuding the omnipresent confidence that makes him the unspoken leader of the duo. His arms are crossed and his face is devoid of any emotion.
They’re just staring at each other.
Daniel breaks first. His eyes squeeze shut and his hands dig into his hair, pulling at the strands as if it’s the only thing that can keep him grounded. He starts to mumble nonsense to himself.
Nikolai rolls his eyes. “You always do this.”
“You’re not done,” Daniel says more to himself than to Nikolai. “You can’t be. You’re an artist.”
Nikolai pinches the bridge of his nose, letting out a frustrated sigh. “There you go, twisting my words again. I’m done with you, not my craft.”
Daniel’s angered expression morphs into one of pure devastation. “With… with me?”
Nikolai looks away, though his expression doesn’t waver. “You’re too sloppy. I’ve gotten good while you’ve stayed an amateur.”
“You can’t just throw me away,” Daniel says, an unamused laugh outlining his words. “I won’t let you.”
Nikolai looks back at him before cocking his head to the side. “You won’t let me?” He takes a step forward. “What will you do? Will you call the police? Will you let them toss me in a cell and throw away the key?”
Daniel buries his face in his hands, practically shivering at the thought. “No… never.”
“Then we’re done here,” Nikolai says dispassionately.
Shoving his hands in his pockets, he turns around and heads toward the exit. Behind him, he can hear Daniel’s pitiful sobs, his soft pleads for Nikolai to come back.
The visceral cry of his name forces Nikolai to stop. He looks back at Daniel, his expression still uncaring. Daniel’s eyes are wide and childlike, reminding Nikolai of what used to be.
“That’s it?” Daniel asks, using the sleeve of his sweater to wipe his tears away. “Eight years of loyalty and this is how it ends?”
Nikolai closes his eyes and bites the inside of his cheek. “It wasn’t my intention to hurt you.”
“Bullshit!” Daniel shouts, his tone inhuman. “That’s bullshit.” His tone softens as he breaks down again. “Bullshit, bullshit… bullshit.”
Nikolai is out of patience. “I’m sorry you feel that way.”
He turns away again, but this time, he doesn’t get far.
The sound deafens him before he feels a sharp pain at his side. His hand shoots out to support himself on a beam before he crumbles to the floor.
He’s bleeding. He can feel the warm liquid dripping from its wound, sliding down his side. He looks back at Daniel, his eyes wide with anger and disbelief. Daniel has his gun raised and held tightly in his trembling hand. He looks just as shocked as Nikolai.
“Nick, I…” Daniel trails off, not knowing what to say.
Nikolai can’t help but laugh. “This is how it ends?”
Daniel doesn’t say a word as he once again pulls the trigger.