There. A moment of darkness. He crouched behind the tree, the night
rain hard on his head and shoulders and the leaves sinking beneath his
boots. The shadows gathered in the mist around the security light,
sucking it out, taking the house further away from the real world. He
stood, hands shaking, and held his breath.
Inside, it was happening again.
He wasn’t about to move from behind the safety of the tree. Out
of sight as the side door opened, seemingly on its own. He watched the
yellow light from the kitchen as it vanished behind impossible shadow.
Tonight, there and then and again, he stood helpless.
He flipped open his reporter’s notebook.
The most fascinating thing, the most beautiful thing about Humanity, is
the open hand. The greeting. Hello. A thousand thousand generations
lifting their hands in the air and saying hello. Palms outward, the
essence of all that we are. We are the fist or we are the open hand.
He drew even lines through each sentence, then started again. His heart
wasn’t in it, but he had to do it. He would make this one short and
She was writing, her short hair framing her face. She was concentrating on a journal, broad, cursive strokes.
25 years old.
She sat back and read the words again. A final letter. His phantom
hands still hot on her, even behind the haze of the pills. She hated
him. She hated what she had written to him. Why even bother with a
letter? She went to tear out the page, hurl the book across the room,
try to build a scream from a place where no more screams existed. In
the hall, she heard a noise. Had her sister come home so soon? She’d
see the pills, the vodka. Heidi tried to stand up, but only succeeded
in falling out of the chair.
Approached from the hall. Incapacitated. Mix of pills and alcohol.
The door opened, the hall outside dark. Heidi sucked in a breath
between her teeth. She was caught in that strange, tilting feeling that
always came with alcohol. It gave her a sense of the unreal. A shadow
moved across the room.
It takes the book.
Her journal flipped into the air and exploded into 50 pages, spinning
in a chaotic, screaming wind. She covered her face with both arms and
spun around onto her stomach.
The usual approach.
Something grabbed her legs and, now, she did scream as she was lifted
into the air. She slammed against the ceiling and the air left her
lungs, the jarring force distant in her drug haze. She felt something
slip in her back, then she was thrown across the room. The wall slammed
against her like his fists had when she had struggled against him,
though it didn’t seem as terrible. Then, a moment of darkness.
The sound of the outside world is all around me now. I hear the water
on the trees, dripping to the ground. The rustling and murmuring of
life in this little suburban forest. Sounds that should be our very
nature but have been denied for so long that they are now mystery, a
source of fear, noises that terror and weakness make.
She tried to move, but could only stare down at the blood on the floor.
Her blood. She sat cross-legged, leaning against the wall, stunned. Her
blood was spilling from somewhere, coating her shirt. She didn’t know
what was bleeding, so she started to cry. For the blood, for the
journal, for the final letter, for what she had done and what had been
done to her.
“It’s his fault!” she screamed into the shadow. “It was him!”
She was sobbing now, out of control, holding up dripping red hands and
screaming mindlessly, though she could have sworn she was talking. In
her head she heard the words but, when they came out, she might as well
have been speaking in tongues. He had done this to her! He had –
He had –
It is listening.
“The world is mad!” She muttered, staring now at her hands. “This is wrong. You’re wrong. This is wrong.”
She looked up into the shadow and she thrust her chin out, snuffed
blood up her nose and spit it into the shadow. “Penance.” She shouted.
“Lurk in the darkness like a criminal!”
“You want me to justify myself? You want me to speak? You like these dramatics?”
She paused, wondering if her heart had stopped. She felt nothing. A world beyond pain and, with that thought, she smiled.
There, see? You’ve just given her strength. Is this your purpose?
“We are always punished for obeying desires. The status quo – ”
— they have belief.
“But belief is simply the act of following – ”
–another person’s convictions.
The rain is picking up. I hear it but I don’t feel it. God, I hate my
hands. Isn’t that insane? I blame them for going against my will. Those
veins, the blood beneath this pale skin boiling. It’s not me. This is
not my confession.
She blinked. The shadow did not respond. “No…” A whisper.
She felt something grow from her thighs, rocketing through her body
like an electric shock. She gasped and wrapped her arms around her
breasts and her mouth fell open.
She knows now. Too bad. Now you’re toying with her.
She is alive in that instant. More than ever before but, as she starts
to stand, the shadow takes the light from the room. Her scream fades
The lights flicker on, the security light glares into life and he steps back into shadow.
He watches as something spills out of the window at the rear of the
house and lumbers through the woods. A rare glimpse of The Very. The
beast seems darker everytime, as if it gathers more shadows with each
kill. When he first saw it, so long ago now he had lost track, it was
almost a grey mist. But so many women gone and it had become stronger
than he had ever thought. Than he had ever feared. He looked back at
the house and swallowed hard.
The Very smelled blood. Next month, it would be time for another woman
of power. She had been selected ahead of time, of course. Sometimes, he
wondered if they’d all been selected long in advance. As far as he
understood, though, it was a month to month thing. The Very scented
them when they bled and zeroed in on them. Or, rather, he did the
zeroing in. The Very didn’t see things like normal people did. Without
him, it was blind.
* * * *
In the light of day, he always felt awkward. It was how a criminal
felt, he figured. The type of criminal who had a conscience, though he
wasn’t sure he had one. He leaned forward as the subway train plunged
underground, taking little comfort as the six cars rattled down the
tunnel. Beneath the car’s lights, he always felt exposed. Everyone was
They called her mad. She lived in a house alone. 37 years old, she was
on her own except for plants and books. He wondered why they were
always so bookish. Was intellect some sort of common trait? Something
that unlocked the common trait? He made a note to look into that. She
sat in a seat facing him, buried deep into her latest read. He had
missed the title. He smiled and felt an uncontrollable urge to reach
out and take a fistful of her graying brown hair, maybe smash her head
against the Plexiglas window. Save her from what The Very would do to
her. From his violence, she could return. The Very offered no such hope.
She would bleed soon and, with that thought, he jerked and looked
around as if The Very would come lumbering on at the next station and
swallow her whole. He took a deep breath and leaned back, staring out
at his reflection in the window.
Her friends tried to set her up with men, but nothing worked out. She
was aloof, cold. Well, shy. That was the big problem. No social skills.
At 37, it seemed strangely pathetic. He wanted to shake her and tell
her to surround herself with friends and lovers. Maybe The Very would
hesitate, then. Maybe that was a common trait, because they were always
He’d spent the last two centuries looking for common traits. Perhaps he was the pathetic one. It was inevitable.
He made a note – ‘inevitable.’ He liked the way that word looked on
paper. When he closed his reporter’s notebook and looked up, she was
watching him. Quickly, she averted her gaze first to the empty seat
beside him and then back to her book, though she shifted uncomfortably.
Something struck him, then. He shuddered and his throat dried out. He
could taste something vile on his tongue, and he stared blankly until
she looked back up and met his gaze.
He was close enough to warn her. But what could he say? You’re a woman of power? You’re marked now. The Very kills.
She smelled like detergent. Tide. It was striking, in a chemical way. The Very moved on scent. Could it be fooled?
“What are you reading?” What was he doing? Talking to her. His eyes
were wide, he felt like he was going to throw up. She looked to be in
about the same state. “I mean…” He stuttered.
She turned the book in her hands. Fury. His eyes followed
the contours of the Empire State Building on the cover. For some
reason, that cover always made him think of terrorism. Such petty fears
compared to what The Very could do.
She wouldn’t finish it. He wanted to make a note.
“I haven’t read it,” is what he said. It took a long time, but she seemed frozen, awkward.
“You should.” She replied sheepishly.
He felt her eyes moving across him and, somewhere deep within, he
realized what he must do. She was not the first to make a connection on
this level and he couldn’t put a finger on what was different, but the
realization hit him. What must be done. Why now? Tired days, long
“Long weekend coming up,” he said automatically, his mind busy running through the situation at hand.
That was it. She knew.
“You have the look of an Earthy woman.”
She smiled, glanced sideways, then turned back. Ahead of the game.
“Jacob.” He said. A false name.
He knew hers, but listened to her say it anyway. It was pretty. He
fingered the reporter’s notebook, which he had set on his knee.
“Are you a writer?” she asked.
“I’m an observer.” He replied.
She smiled. “You are. I’m trying to place the accent.”
“I’m an odd mix. But, for the moment, I’m from right here in DC.”
“For the moment?”
She sat back. “Well, my stop is next.”
“I hope to see you again.”
This caught her off guard. She looked frightened, but then nodded and
said the same. The subway stopped and she quickly detrained. He flipped
open the notebook and made several notes.
* * * *
Oh, the first signs of action. You don’t need to look up at the moon
and the stars to know when it’s going to start. The darkness of the
side porch was split by a sliver of yellow light, the door opening to
spill the inside of the house across the deck chairs and out onto the
lawn. She was standing there, in jeans and a shirt, silhouetted against
the doorway. She smoked. He didn’t have that down in his notes. He
should have smelled it.
She wouldn’t finish it.
I feel her eyes moving across the dark line of trees, past me. This is
my last chance. If I were to move, to step towards her, she would run
back in the house. Call the police. I could save her.
But I wait. I wait and watch, my breath catching in my throat and my
hands clutched at my sides. I’m smiling, excited, my heart beating
heavy in my head. I watch the darkness gather, come between me and the
house. When the house is again in my line of sight, the doorway is
empty. A rectangle of light in this black night. Now for the
He supposed he was a bad man.
I covered my face, the train pulling into the stations and the alien
voice on the PA system. More of an echo than anything else. An echo of
a language lost to us. Her hair was chestnut once. In the lights, it
still is, sometimes. From the shadows, I reached out to touch her. Then
I traveled past her to hold the door open. She didn’t recognize me from
before. Of course. You knew that would be the case, didn’t you? She
half-turned to acknowledge the gesture, then she was leaving the
station and going into the dark parking lot. She knew I was following.
She’d been followed before. She moved faster into the night, into the
world gone mad, into her part of the city. I was too close this time,
too distracted. She was aware.
Should he write that? Too late. Now they knew. The shadow paused in her
living room, music floating out of the rectangle. He’d blown her cover.
What was the music? He strained to listen, then shrugged and continued
Her house is warm, a place of books and magazines. A place where the memory of youth burns brighter than the real world.
He glanced up. “I’m going in.” He said to the notebook. Inside, The Very shimmered slightly.
He stepped onto her porch and through the open door into a sunken
living room, a shag carpet against his boots. The room opened into the
brightly lit kitchen and she stood not 20 feet from the door.
Immediately, she spun. “Oh, God.” She said, clutching a bread knife to
her chest as a plate clattered to the floor. There was a silent moment
that she wanted to fill with a scream but couldn’t. It wouldn’t be long
before she did, though. He could hear it building in her, he could
always hear screams before they came. So could The Very, which now
stood somewhere behind him. She was stunned. If it were just he, the
scream would have pierced the night. In that moment, though, he could
see with her eyes. With The Very behind him, he was a dark silhouette
against absolute blackness, a movie effect Hollywood only wished they
could perfect. A shadow on a shadow. He stepped forward and, quickly,
she recognized him. The growing scream remained stifled and, now, she
just said, “Oh, fuck.” The word spoken with horror and disgust, the way
it would sound in a society that had not become used to it. The way it
sounded to people who cringed when they heard it.
He stepped forward, his hand trailing along a bookshelf, gliding
through dust and gently touching the spines of the books. He looked at
the titles, these friends of hers. Her eyes had moved to The Very. He
didn’t want to look at it, because both he and it knew that a rule had
“I’d like you to hear something,” He said to her, keeping a respectful distance between them.
The Very held her transfixed. She had a look of wonder in her eyes. He
was nothing to her, and that made him mad. He flipped open his little
notebook, cleared his throat, then read.
Horsemen in the street. Two officers, though the sounds bring back
deeper, ancient memories. If they had left me alone, if they had backed
off, then things would have been different. I wouldn’t have to go
through every day like this, drifting and moving through a thousand
different cultures and stalking a prey that had forgotten its power.
Even the name was lost to those who were involved – ‘The Very.’ What
was that? It came from something…a bastardization of some phrase of
incantation. The name of the beast was lost to the elders, but that
didn’t stop it. That didn’t stop anything.
“Do you like history?” he asked her.
Now her eyes flicked to him, she moved her head to the side and, slowly, extended the knife.
“You are a woman of power.” He said. He looked sideways to the tanned,
oaken table. Her dinner was a salad, a roll, a glass of wine.
She wouldn’t finish it.
“Run.” He said.
She shook her head, not comprehending.
He looked back at her, held her hazel eyes, unblinking, “Run.”
In the space of a heartbeat, he recognized the music. It was that Petty
song. Mary Jane. He missed his youth, even though it was far different
from how children lived today. His youth was hard and empty. Everyone’s
In his eyes, everything had slowed down, like it does when you face
death. The moment of clarity. That’s what they meant when they said
life flashed before your eyes. You don’t review your existence, you
just get to live an entirely different life in the space of a couple of
seconds. Centuries playing out in slow motion.
He wanted to touch her. He wanted to take her, like a man once had in a
parking garage ten years ago. She had never recovered. Perhaps that was
the common trait.
“Run!” he screamed at her, his voice full of harsh command. She leapt,
the knife clattering, the scream finally bursting from her as she spun
madly and then dashed down the hallway.
The Very scattered into a thousand points of shadow, swirling around
the room like insects and then reforming into the larger beast. It
pulsed and seethed and tried to move, but he was staring at the salad.
The light in the kitchen flickered and died and he turned to face The
Very, shadow on shadow, darkness lingering.
He smiled, looking up at the beast, and raised his reporter’s notebook
up to it. Gently, he put it down on the table and stepped away.
The Very shuddered and the notebook rose into the air, spun, and
slammed against his chest. It wasn’t forceful, but the creature held it
pinned there. He felt another pressure against his back, keeping him
“I can lie. I can write anything. I can send you running blindly into the night just as easily as I can deliver her to you.”
The Very made a motion and a sound that was nothing close to human,
nothing that could be interpreted into language, though he had come to
think of it as a hiss, just for the sake of description, which was
always important to him.
Slowly, he took the notebook and flipped it open. The Very floated a
pen towards him and he took it, as well. He opened the notebook and
pressed the pen against the paper. He wondered if he could control
himself as ink bled out through the veins of the narrow page. Then he
made the first strokes in his neat cursive and The Very screamed into
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