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Taylor Lanson Taylor Lanson
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The Numbing (Rework)

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She had a friend.

      The first thing that I noticed about Silas was that his eyes had turned from deep blue to frozen gray in the twenty-two years that I had been away. We had just sat down from getting our beverages at Aneta Café in my hometown of Northwood. I couldn’t help but notice how he tucked his arms underneath each other, grasping onto his rugged and worn leather jacket as he adjusted into the seat. At that time, I couldn’t tell if he was looking at me when he spoke, but I knew that he had never forgiven me for what I had done.
       “Things just haven’t been the same for me since you left, Brian.”
       “I know Silas.” Unsettled, my nostrils were flaring wider with each syllable. “But under the circumstances, don’t you think you could have waited?”
       His black hair, long and speckled with snow, now matched his gray persona.  I laughed to myself at the thought that his attire had managed to stay the same since college: the same dark gloves, leather jacket, and overcoat with a beige wool head-wrap.  It was clear to me that he had lost what little concern he had for aesthetics back in his youth, seeing that his slacks were now stained and tarnished around the hem. On the other hand, I could hardly argue that his appearance was out of place from the rustic interior of the café. The unruly facial hair that danced around his mouth complemented the worn booth we were conversing in.  His presence, while large in stature, was diminutive in presence.  He had an air of pity about him.
       “You aren’t listening to me Brian, this isn’t something you can just ignore.”
       “That’s why I came here to talk to y-”
       He cut me off with a heightened tension in his voice, his arms unlatched from his sides and he pressed his eternally gloved fingers firmly against the table.
       “I know what you are going through, Brian. That’s why I want to try to help you.”
       “There’s nothing for you to do.”  
       “How are you going to cope, then? You can’t run from what happened.”
       “You can’t humor it either, Silas. It doesn’t matter what I do, there’s no way for me to see Sophie again and you know that just as well as I do.”
       “Look, I can see that you need some space. I’ll call you tomorrow before I leave for the funeral. Just be safe until then.”
       I remained silent, conflicted with the possibility that Silas was just trying to force his way back into my life after all these years. There wasn’t a chance in hell that anyone was getting through to me, especially not some estranged friend from my youth. Sure we had been close at one point, but Silas’s friendship was simply one casualty of a long list in the war of my adulthood. I left Northwood right after college to pursue a marketing career which ended up giving me the financial stability that I had always dreamed of, but in the process, I had detached myself from everyone and everything that I had known. At that time, sitting across from Silas, I was starting to become aware at how numb I was to everything. Yet a part of me was still surprised to see myself rejecting his aid so completely and without the slightest hesitation.
       Silas silently rose from the seat and glided across the floor in long strides like he was nervously trying to get away from me without my knowing. The movements of his legs were so sharp and cold that I could have sworn that he was trying to escape from his own body with every passing step. I tried to not look at him for too long as he left. The piercing chime from the bell connected to the inner threshold of the door leading outside signaled to me that it was finally safe to breathe. I hadn’t realized that my blood was thick and hot, sweat was forming in pools along my back. I was starting to question myself. Maybe I wasn’t as numb as I had thought. Maybe, just maybe, there was still a chance that I could feel something here in Northwood.
       As I panned the scene, I found a newspaper dispenser not too far from where I was sitting.  I counted to ten, rose, and grasped the first paper my hand landed on out of habit.  Attempting to return to my seat, I noticed that a sophomoric couple had taken it. In the end, I was too embarrassed to ask for it back and besides, they looked happy where they were smiling at each other with wide, eager, eyes.  Unwilling to find another suitable seat in the shop, I decided it would be best to go outside and savor the brisk weather.  I felt my thin stubble, heard the chime of someone leaving the shop, and walked towards the exit with a familiar haste. Before I pressed against the frame, I turned back instinctively and caught sight of Officer Logan, my contact in the local police department. He was sitting in the booth directly behind the one the couple now occupied. It was disconcerting to me that he hadn’t even noticed Silas and myself arguing so close to him. I questioned his reliability on the job for a couple of seconds before shaking my head and finally taking my leave from the quaint café. I would be meeting up with him tomorrow regardless.
       Outside, the blanket of vibrant snow that layered over the otherwise bland intersection reminded me of where I was. Northwood experienced a thick and constant ice through the winter months which almost dulled the senses completely to those who weren’t accustomed. My hometown also had a little less than five hundred citizens and so it never felt like you were too far from anywhere.  All the faces looked familiar.  All the voices sounded the same.  Individuality, while existent, was masked by routine. The flakes of white lingered on the clothing of my nameless passers.  I laughed to myself realizing that I was now more acquainted with the snow than the people carrying it. I chuckled once more, half-heartedly, and then sighed loudly.

      I’m not sure if it was out of boredom or curiosity, but my gaze naturally fell onto the headline of the paper after a few moments on one of the corners of the intersection. I had originally planned to read it only after I got to my room, but something pulled at my mind. I can still feel the way I choked, standing there among the strangers all around me. I can still see the words without haze. “Murderer Takes Another Victim: Families Continue to Mourn.” The article read the same as all the others I had studied and looking back on it now I wonder why I thought anything would have been different on that frosted evening.
       I had already memorized the killer’s tactics from material absorbed longed before that day, but it was always hard to stomach it each time I was reminded. The sick monster was eventually tagged as “The Author” by the local media for the way he left long, hand-written, notes taped to the mouths of his victims, starting with the ninth body, which were usually addressed to random relatives and written in flowery, insane language. It was hardly conceivable that a normal community like Northwood had produced such a deranged entity and for the longest time, my simple hometown refused to even come to terms with the fact that some crazed bastard had started chopping up defenseless victims, dragging their bodies to derelict basements in the old part of town. It wasn’t until the seventeenth victim was found that the police were forced to start making routes through that coke-laced labyrinth of alleyways, hoping that the corpses would stop showing up. Yet, with each passing week there seemed to be more confirmed murders and there were rumors sprouting up that the officials were beginning to run out of ideas.
       Apparently, the killer preferred to end the lives of the victims at an unknown centralized location before moving them. The cadavers were always found with most of the facial skin removed and with hand-made steel rods piercing each limb at the wrists and ankles. Analysis of the bodies had shown that these alterations were consistently made post-mortem. Death was actually caused by The Author drowning the victims in their own blood, which was most likely drained from them while unconscious. The Author seemed to be picking victims at random, likely to avoid being traced in such a small and secluded area.
       I had advised my little sister after the fifth murder that she should take a flight to my condo in southern California and stay for a few months until the authorities had captured the lunatic, but she insisted that her charity work for the homeless there was finally picking-up. Abandoning her work after almost a decade of struggling would have been the biggest betrayal to herself and so she stayed home at the expense of what little hope I had for peace left in this world.
Sophie always wore modest clothing due to the hands-on nature of her profession. Her smile was pure and had a way of stripping away all your insecurities. Her long red hair cascaded endlessly along in the sides of her flawlessly pale skin. She had always been the innocent one between us and I was beginning to remember all the ways she would remind me of how special I was despite my best efforts to convince myself otherwise.
       When the police called me at around three in the morning about a month later, I had already been consumed by the sting of loss. Our parents had passed of natural causes much earlier in life and it was at that moment, my fingers clasped around the phone, when I realized that no one in Northwood had been there to protect Sophie in the way that she deserved. She had been missing for over a week, but the body can only withstand so much pain before the nerves begin to yield. My eyes were crusted with the remnants of endless weeps. My voice was cracked in disdain and shook with every heartbeat. When they told me that they had found her, I threw the phone in rage against the sliding mirrored door which lead to my closet, fracturing it and my reflection beyond recognition.  
       Memories of years ago during the fire flashed before my eyes. I could see myself standing before the whirling blaze of heat and light. I was hearing the gurgled, melted screams all over again and with the same debilitating hesitation. The reality that I was finally alone sunk into the depths of my consciousness and I was removed from myself in a way that I didn’t think was possible. I hated myself for what I had failed to do and yet Sophie had always been there to console me after the fact.
       Bitter with nostalgia for a time before the pain, I ripped the paper with a heated ferocity that turned several heads. I ignored them all and threw the scraps away in disgust. I stomped across the cobblestone street and into the dimly-lit convenience store. I was breathing uncontrollably and I could feel my blood coursing in my head.  I started to remember all the fond memories of my childhood with my sister and by the time I reached the store doors, I couldn’t hold back the tears any longer. Embarrassed, I ducked into the closest aisle and pretended to pick out a candy-bar as a small child wearing a crimson hoodie ran past me, almost falling to the floor in youthful clumsiness. I gave myself a few seconds for composure and continued to the personal hygiene section.  I got some disposable razors, shaving cream, and toothpaste before heading to the counter.  Almost absent mindedly, I asked for my favorite pack of cigarettes and remorsefully grabbed the first adult magazine on the rack to my left.  I paid for my goods, fake smiled at the cashier, and left the store feeling rushed.

      After walking a few blocks south towards my booked hotel room, I started spotting a few homeless people littered behind the corners of buildings and between fences. Although the rest of the city-goers would only meet my eyes if I looked at them, I could feel instinctively that those homeless people were watching me at all times and from every angle. They were timid and reserved, at least the ones there, closer to the good side of town. You would have to walk a few miles in the other direction before encountering the deranged and speed-fueled skeletal nightmares that lurked beneath the trash.
       These homeless people were much fatter and friendlier. They wouldn’t ask for money outright unless you started a conversation with them, or at least that’s how I had remembered them from before. I noticed one sitting just outside the hotel. He was middle-aged, at the very least, some silver lines were running in the long and wavy beard strapped to his face. He looked like he was only wearing a plastic poncho over his upper-torso, but as I got closer I saw that he also had a dark green and tarnished shirt underneath. Even though I was still cold and harsh from my earlier excursion with the newspaper, there was something about his dimpled face that warmed me from the inside. He was laughing at the air and rolling in fingers around each other. I introduced myself.
       “Hey there, I’m Brian. You look like you might need some help tonight.”
       “Who me? Nah, I’m just enjoying this fine weather we are having!” He laughed again louder than before.
       “I have a room at this hotel behind us. We can either split it together or I can book you one for yourself, how does that sound?” I was eager for acceptance.
       “I’d really like to, friend, but I have a date tonight and I don’t know where I’ll end up!”
       I motioned him to follow me upstairs to the third floor where my room resided. His brow had begun to burrow in confusion and it was clear that he was quite out of shape by the uncontrollable panting I heard after the first flight of steps. Once we reached the room, I took him to the bathroom. I handed him a few razors and some shears that I had found in the desk next to the bed.
       “If you have a date, you’re going to have to look sharp,” I said confidently. His eyes opened wider than the couple’s from the café and he thanked me more times than I cared to remember. When he emerged from the white tiled floor, triumphant in his newfound glory, I had hardly recognized him. Without his beard, the man seemed young and foreign, but his laugh solidified his identity more so than any physical trait.
       It was only about thirty minutes after he had arrived before he left, laughing all the way down the stairs. There was a profound emptiness in the room now, almost as if the walls themselves had been removed along with everything they confined. I felt hollow for a few minutes but his laugh made me think that there was more this life than just myself. It was something that my sister had tried to teach me many years ago, but I never listened. Now she was gone and it was too late to thank her. I cursed myself under my breath for not asking the homeless man for his name.
       Fury overwhelmed my senses so suddenly that I had no time to think. I pulled open the top nightstand drawer, found the bible, and chucked it out the window as mercilessly as I had ripped-up the newspaper. The satisfying thud of the leather exterior hitting the semi-wet cobblestone sent tremors out from my spine. The brief clamor echoed down the alleyway while I laid motionless on top of the uncomfortable comforter of my new bed and contemplated the day into oblivion. My own mortality came into question, among other things, but I reasoned with myself that taking my own life before I found the one responsible for taking my sister’s would only defeat the purpose for why I had come here in the first place.
       Defeated, I started masturbating to the adult magazine, which was crumpled and folded at the tips. I grew bored with it, closed my eyes, and thought about the waitress who served me at the diner I went to before meeting Silas. It wasn’t until I thought about the mannequin staring at me just beyond the window to the craft shop, however, that I finally climaxed. It was short-lived and unsatisfying, but at least I was tired enough to go to sleep. Just then, I heard my cellphone ring. I ignored it. After about five minutes I played back the message. It was from Paige back in California. She was just some girl I picked up right before Sophie went missing. At first I was just using her to forget about the fire, but after Sophie’s disappearance, she essentially became an emotional rag that I dirtied often to cleanse myself of guilt.  
       “Hey honey, I was just making sure you were still thinking about me on your first night back home, but I guess you already fell asleep. Let me know if you need anything in the morning, I’ll be awake from driving my niece to school. Okay, well I love you, I hope you know that.” Her tone was genuine, but it made me feel sick in my heart. I couldn’t face her back in California after all of this was over, but I knew I had to.
       When the morning came, it seeped its incandescent glory through the cracked shutters over the windowpane. The light struck me upon my scarred visage with an intensity that shook my foundations. I shivered with surprise and rose to find my eyes weighing just as heavily on me as they did when I retired the night before. I rose from my sleepless prison only to find my clothes disheveled on the floor. In my absent-mindedness, I had forgotten to fold them correctly before attempting sleep.
       The furnishings in the room were dull. The walls, slightly cracked, were old and the paint upon them stained. They reminded me of myself and so I took off my undergarments and entered the molded shower to bathe thoroughly. My hair had always been thick and because of that, it gathered much sweat and grease throughout the night. I could never go a morning without showering first, unless I wanted to embarrass myself. I lathered the cheap shampoo provided for me at the room and closed my eyes as I rinsed it from my hair. I was always afraid of getting the suds in my eyes, even though I knew that it couldn’t possibly hurt me that much anymore.

      The steam from my prolonged cleansing bellowed out from the spaces between the shower-curtains and the bathroom tile. I stepped out onto the already damp floor and noticed that the mirror in the bathroom was completely covered in mist. Continuing my morning routine, I sat on the toilet with the seat down and my towel still wrapped around my waist. I put my hands against my face, closed my eyes, and pretended to pray to a god that I had long forgotten. Once again I chuckled, this time genuinely.
       I grew tired of waiting and rose to perceive my obscured reflection in the mirror.  I could barely make out the dimensions of my face due to the streaks of water descending down the surface of the glass.  I took a face-rag from the cabinet to my right and wiped down the mirror with a sluggish demeanor about my movements. I combed my short blonde hair methodically and shaved. Afterwards, I put on my dress clothes and walked out of the bathroom, but not before brushing my teeth till my gums bled.
       In about five hours from then, the funeral service for my sister would commence. I was presentable in appearance, but that was where the line was drawn. Close friends would be there, family would be there, and I am sure some people I didn’t recognize would be there as well. I was prepared for all of the common condolences I would get. I was prepared for all of the sniffling and tear-stained faces. I was even prepared to make a speech on Sophie’s behalf. I had spent countless hours on it, after all, despite it being relatively short. I knew it could never do her justice.
       Before this, however, I had scheduled an appointment with Officer Logan down at the station. Unfortunately, the station was quite far from the hotel, so I hastily paced along the sidewalk for a few moments before realizing that the streets were practically empty. In my head, I had already justified walking in the middle of the street by saving time, but in reality, I only did so because it made me feel alive.
       The station was bustling with the intensity of a city ten times the size of Northwood. A constant flurry of blue uniforms bombarded me as I thrusted open the double-sided door. I was questioned, analyzed, and dissected like a lab-rat by a few underlings with clipboards. A local news truck had just pulled up from behind me and a group of burly officers had already rushed to the scene for my protection. I was pushed up several flights of stairs, the smell of cigarette smoke that lingered in the building was giving me urges. A few more sharp turns and side-steps to avoid collisions with officers was all it took to reach my destination.  Logan greeted me with a firm handshake before opening the door to his office and offering me a seat.
       Logan was a tall man, towering over me by a foot and a half.  His skin was tanned and his hair a chocolate-brown.  His voice was dominant and unforgiving, but his demeanor was not unpleasant.  He spoke with authority and conciseness, never leaving a sentence ambiguous or weak.  I admired his confidence, secretly wondering how it was possible to remain so stoic with a position as disheartening as his.  Maybe it was the thought of doing good that kept him going.  Whatever the case was, it didn’t matter. Perhaps I had been too hard on him yesterday, he looked like he had a lot on his mind.
       “Hello Mr. Cresting, I just want to start this meeting off by getting some legalities out of the way. Any information shared with you is to stay confidential. If anything were to be leaked, you could potentially fuck-up the entire operation.” Logan boomed with maddening spirit.
“Oh…well I really appreciate your time.” I was hesitant to say much else.
“Now onto the meat. Our data-analysts have recently determined that this sick-o must house his victims within this three-mile-radius at the old part of town before moving them.” Logan then pointed to a highlighted section of a map on the table in front of us that I hadn’t noticed when I walked in. “We aren’t prepared to send anyone out there yet because we are worried that we might scare the fucker away, but we can’t risk sending too few officers either because we want to minimize casualties.”
       “That makes sense, but why are you telling me all of this?”
       “You were the only person out of all the families we contacted that seemed interested, Mr. Cresting. Everyone else was either too stricken with grief or too immobilized in fear to say much more than ‘thank you.’”
       “I see. Well, I’m grateful that you managed to clear this information with me despite the risk. I know how chaotic small-town politics can be.”
       It was at this time that Officer Logan pulled me by the collar so close to his face that I could smell his rancid breath. “Technically, Brian, I wasn’t supposed to tell you any of this. My superiors think that I am debriefing you on the security details for the funeral later today. I just felt like you deserved to know everything that we do.”
       I nodded with believable concern, but my heart was pounding with electricity. I pushed out my chest in pride and left the station without another thought. Walking back to my hotel, I remembered what Silas had told me the day before and checked my phone. Sure enough, there was one missed call and a voicemail from him. I listened.
       “Hey buddy. This is just Silas letting you know that I’ll be making my way to the funeral service early if you want to chat for a bit. Let me know when you plan on coming over here.”
       It was then that I knew I wouldn’t be going to Sophie’s funeral. The air was thick and wet, the snow was falling more heavily than yesterday, which made each movement more of a chore. I could see the hotel just around the corner and there was the same homeless man sitting in the same spot, but this time he wasn’t laughing. I approached him with anxiety.
       “So how did last night go, champ?”
       “Ah, well…you know women. Always changing their damn minds about us crazy men!”
       I was sorrowful for him, but I could tell that it hadn’t shaken him too much. I shuffled around a bit and looked at my hands before mustering up the strength to continue the conversation further. I had no inclination of what this man’s response might be, but he was my best option. Before I could say anything, however, he started up again, teary-eyed.
       “You know, love is a powerful thing and far too hard to come by these days. If you’ve got it, you’re the luckiest among us and no one can tell me different.”
       “You’re right. That’s why I need your help.”
       “My help? Well, I’m not sure what I can do, friend, but my time seems to have freed up a bit since last night!” He laughed again warmly in such a way that it melted the scenery around us for just a moment. I took out the map that I stole off of Logan’s table while he wasn’t looking and showed it to him.
       “You see this circle? I need you to show me the safest way to get there.”
       “Well, you know, we only go there when were desperate, son. There’s nothing around those parts but the dead and the dying. It would be best if you reconsidered.” He spoke with a wisdom that I hadn’t picked up on earlier, but I was curious to know why he didn’t pester me about the reasoning behind this desire further.
       “I have to go there for that love you were just talking about. It’s important.”
       “I knew that before you said it, friend. So what are we waiting for?” His hardened eyes were now at rest, but he still had a fierce look of determination written across his face. He picked up a bible off of the ground next to him and started up a final time.

      “Funniest thing happened last night when I got back from that botched date, though.” He was already laughing. “I found this beautiful book laying close to where I usually sleep and I read it the whole night long!”
       We left from the space just outside the hotel and started moving north along the main road. It was beginning to get dark and most of the citizens who lived by this side of town had already retired to their homes. I armed myself with a lead pipe that was lying in an alleyway close to our destination.
       There was a fence obstructing our path, but my friend new a way around it without climbing over and drawing unnecessary attention to ourselves. He threw his hands over my shoulders and stepped on my knees in order to climb on the roof of an adjacent tin shack. His yellow-brown smile was the most beautiful sight of the day as he pulled me up by my arms onto the same space. With this leverage, we shimmied ourselves over the fence and into a large pile of garbage that was leaning on it from the other side. The place smelled so rotten that I had to hold myself back from vomiting profusely.
       As we ventured deeper into the condemned amalgamation of dirt and debris that was the old part of town, we began to hear the cries of the people there. I saw one of them pounding their heads repeatedly into a lone brick wall saying to himself over and over that it didn’t hurt. There was a group of women all stuck together with brown rags hanging over them like a witch’s cowl. Once again, the harsh smell of feces and sweat made me keel over.
       “You see that large building over there? The one with the smoke coming out the top? That’s where we are headed.”
       “What is it?”
       “Some sort of old factory that they never shut down properly, I would imagine. I’m not sure who’s in there making it all run, but I guess he’d have to be pretty sharp. He only starts the damn machines up in the dead of night when the police are too chicken-shit to come out here.”
       I thought about asking him for his name again, but it didn’t seem appropriate anymore. I could tell that we had reached a bond beyond names. Nothing could have prepared me for the syringe, though, and how his blood looked flowing from his mouth. The scream was cut short by choking and repeated swallowing.
       A fiendish troglodyte was hiding underneath some stacked cardboard mere feet from the factory. It was foaming at the mouth and hissing at me, swinging the syringe around its body like a turbine. It had pounced on top of the homeless man and was maniacally searching his every pocket for drugs, I presumed. I swung with my lead pipe, but it was too quick. It hopped backwards on all fours and feverishly skittered away like an insect into the dark annals just farther than I was willing to follow.  
       My friend was whimpering now, calling out and stretching his left arm towards me. He felt so cold out there in the snow-ridden concrete, with the white clumps slowly engulfing him. He pulled my arm in close and whispered something to me that I couldn’t understand. He felt the interior of his sweatpants with his other hand and pulled out a worn journal to place by my side. I realized that my warmth and comfort was all he had left. I cradled him there until the wound in his neck had stopped bleeding. A sharp pain in the back of my head, then falling, then darkness, and finally nothingness overcame me.
       When I awoke I was relieved to find the journal still near, but I couldn’t tell how much time had passed. I was in a shadowy room of sorts that reeked of putrid flesh and coagulated blood. I was stripped naked and found myself completely barren of hair, even my eyelashes had been torn off. My body was bloodied with superficial wounds all across it, like I had been dragged around for hours on cement. I clawed the iron bars crudely fastened in front of me like an animal, but to no avail. All around me, I could make out heaps of gray bodies. Some of them were piled up on each other while others were hung up by chains fastened to the ceiling. There were also jars lining the shelves on the right side of the long room, each of them containing a different assortment of facial organs. The room also provided a hum of machinery which was deafening in its consistency. What bothered me most, however, was how he had just been standing there, waiting for when I would wake up. I screamed and then puked all over myself. I cursed at the world and at the fucking waste of skin that had not only killed my sister, but who now would rob me of my dying wish.
       “Why do you scream when it would be wiser to listen?”
       The Author was wearing a butcher’s apron and a welding mask over his face. The mask made his voice muffled and bellow unnaturally, but it still sounded familiar. There were long teal gloves on each of his hands, covered in blood and soot. In one hand he held a siphoning tube, in the other, my lead pipe. He was now pacing back and forth awaiting my response. I could see that he was growing impatient by the way he lifted his feet.
       “Don’t act so surprised Brian, it was going to come to this eventually.  You know this and I know you do, because I have watched you for so long.”
       “Just tell me why. What do you gain from any of this, you sick fuck? Why are you such a fucking coward!?”
       I let the questions air out in the room for a while. I was shaking so intensely that the iron smell in the room had faded away. Roaches crawled about the floor everywhere and small pieces of tissue fed the larger rats while the smaller ones were left to rot in the corners. The windows in the room were blocked by wooden coverings, making for a perfect backdrop to woe. I had already given up on myself.
       “I am afraid that you aren’t exactly one to talk when it comes to cowardice, Brian.  Have you already forgotten that you left your fiancé to die in your old burning house?  You said you loved her, Brian.  Why didn’t you go back in to save her?  You spent your entire life trying to escape the things that actually made you happy and then you threw away both your wealth and your new life for naught.  Rest assured, Brian, I know that I am not in the right, but neither are you. Don’t act like it was some secret that you were coming here to claim my life. You’re just as disgusting as I am, maybe even worse. And what about dear Paige, who told me just the other day that she would risk life and limb to save you?  You can’t judge me for my actions, for you are nothing but a husk. You’ve taken everyone for granted, even yourself.  However, you need not live in fear anymore Brian, for I will reveal to you the secrets of which others would surely try to hide.”
       The monologue made me want to puke even more than the bodies, but there was nothing left to throw-up, so I dry-heaved for a few minutes. The room was circling around me and I was beginning to lose my grip on the iron bars. My ears were ringing, aching. I could barely take in air without coughing it out.
       “You aren’t listening to me Brian, this isn’t something you can just ignore.”
       “I know that now, so let’s get this over with.”
       “I’m delighted that you feel this way, Brian. So let’s go over how this is going to work. See that chair over there? You’re going to sit in it and close your eyes while I fasten you in.”
       I nodded, thinking to myself that there was no chance of me overpowering the brute. He walked just behind me, with his hand on my right shoulder. I caught sight of a large vat of blood in the far corner of the room and noted that there were several tubes coming out of it. I sat down and awaited further instruction.
       The Author began dictating once more, but I couldn’t concentrate on what he was saying anymore. My thoughts drifted to Sophie. She was so stunningly beautiful that it didn’t make sense to me how other girls could walk around Northwood without feeling ashamed. Yet, she had been the first to tell me that the insides of people were what made them special. She was the type of person that was too perfect for real life, the type of person you only get to read about in stories. I couldn’t do this to her.
       I shoved the Author into the vat behind him just as he bent over to fasten me into the modified operating chair. His bulk broke through the thin plastic with ease and crimson liquid spilled out shallowly on the already putrid floor. He dropped the pipe in the process. I kicked back his welding mask and thrusted my foot down onto his throat. He grabbed around my whole calve and pulled my feet out from under me. My head slammed against the ground and bounced twice before being at rest. I had landed near the pipe and picked it up firmly, my knuckles whitening.

      I bashed his face in over and over and over again until there was nothing left but a stump of pulpy flesh. By the time the police had arrived, I had already lost it. I was told later that when they found me, I had been crying in a corner, calling out for Sophie and asking why it couldn’t have been me in her place. She was so strong while I was so fragile.
       When I returned to California, Paige left me, telling me that she was scared for the future. As I write all of this down in the journal I had been given, I can see the room circling just as it did in the factory. I can feel the scars of those left behind in the wake of that coldest winter in Northwood. It wasn’t until I had fully recovered in the hospital that they told me the identity of my sister’s killer. Apparently, my mind had blocked out the memory of his face just before I erased it out of sheer stress. My wish had been realized with the simultaneous death of Silas and the Author. With him gone, there truly wasn’t a single person left on this earth that cared whether I lived or died. Now, the fresher, deeper, cuts in my wrist remind me of why Silas had always worn gloves and why the numbing will continue for me until there’s nothing left.

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