I’m back. For better or for worse.
When I saw Todd’s little…manifesto earlier in the week, something in my head just…clicked. This is a serious problem. It would be for the best if I were to remove this problem. This one idea boiled in my mind as I darted down to Doc’s lab, paying little heed to any of my surroundings other than the one draw in which she keeps her, ‘general anaesthetic’ (aka. horse tranquilizer). I was tempted to simply hook the crazy bastard up to an IV of the stuff; that’d learn him to stop considering slitting our throats in the night.
”We’ll see who has a fighting chance this time, buddy.”
I made it back to the garage in record time and jumped in the car, pausing only long enough to make sure my Glock was in the glove box. And loaded. I hadn’t used the thing since…well, my hand. I would be somewhat handicapped if things proceeded to a physical altercation, so I had to have no hesitation if it came to shooting him from a far; to maim, if not to kill.
And I’ve got to say, at the time, killing seemed like an attractive option.
I’ve touched on this before, but I find murder on our travels completely abhorrent. I can understand it, and live alongside it if it was absolutely nessecary for our survival, but I cannot do it myself. These masked men, how can we know what their true intentions are? They aren’t bad. Mr. Slim just has his tentacles in their heads, controls them like puppets on a string. Every moment while they are chasing us they could be thinking Jesus No This Is Not Me I Don’t Want To Do This Sorry Sorry Sorry This Is Not Who I Am…How would we know? We’d just take aim and fire, with our superior weaponry. Or use our vehicles to run them down.
Another reason I prefer to take my car, rather than the family van. My car can dodge.
I’ve only killed once, but on the drive to find Todd, I was fully prepared, nay, thirsting to do so again. For what lived inside Todd was not an unwilling participant, but a fully fledged person with only malice in his mind. Malice and hate.
And malice was most certainly what I felt towards him.
It took me a while to pick up the trail, and I am absolutely certain that if ‘Todd’ didn’t want me to find him, I never would have. It was dusk before I saw the first one of them lying in the middle of a fork in dirt road. I slowed down to get a better look at it; a rabbit carcass, tied at the feet and skinned, a pinky-grey mass, simply lying there to rot, staring unblinkingly at the left path.
I swerved around it and slowly proceeded the same way. The same pattern continued once, twice, three times at subsequent crossroads, until I was driving through farmland…Until I reached the forest.
I saw something blocking the road ahead and swore, slamming on the breaks and getting out of the car. I was heading into a small woodland area with high, dense trees blotting out the (fairly bright) light of the moon. A large tree was lying across the road with…a particularly gruesome display nailed to it.
A single, quite sizable fox had been nailed to the wood, front paws spread out in a fucked up mockery of crucifixion, its black eyes staring at me. If I didn’t know better I would have sworn it was grinning at me. Almost condescendingly. It’s time, you big ol’ Lion you. Think you can outsmart me? You’re not doing a good job so far; the smartest thing to do would’ve been to let me go.
”Shut the fuck up, fox.” I muttered, withdrawing the gun I had in my pocket and flicking the safety off, before vaulting over the tree trunk.
It was dark, the only light being projected down in ghostly beams from breaks in the canopy above. The road was not so much a road anymore, as much as it was just an absence of trees. I paused for a moment, before heading back to the car and flicking on the high beams. Much better.
I took only a few steps before I stopped, a prickling sensation in the back of my neck. Todd’s here, he’s got to be…so why is it so silent?
I looked around, scanning the bushes for any sort of movement, finding nothing. No manoeuvring from my quarry to get a better ambush position. Nothing.
Then I saw it, way too close to my leg for comfort; a rope, only just poking out from under the leaves. I leaned over, taking care not to take a step, and shook it a little, exposing a noose just a couple inches off my left foot.
“You’re a tricky fucker, you know that, Todd? A rabbit trap, really? Are we really just animals to you? Pieces of meat you toss on the road?” I said, lifting up my foot and stepping over the noose, placing my foot on the leaves just in front of it and feeling the ground sink beneath me, for there was no ground, just a straw lattice covered by leaves, hiding a small trench. A small trench with cruel sticks and jagged glass sticking out from the dirt floor.
I screamed in agony as it cut through my altogether unsuitable shoes, vaulting over the trench with my other foot as I lost my balance, cutting up my foot even more. I felt sick, I felt dizzy, I heard the ground rush up to meet me as my eyes watered, landing with a crunch of leaves as I drew my wounded foot into myself…but I didn’t have time for that, as I saw a figure rapidly approaching with dilapidated stride, jumping over certain parts of the road…there were more traps. And Todd knew where they all were. This would have to be quick, but I had dropped my gun…
I saw something glint in Todd’s hand, heading directly at my neck, and in the small split second I had, I whipped up my right hand and grabbed the blade, catching it between my middle and forefinger, feeling it cut down…and being thankful that the nerves in that hand weren’t quite functioning right, feeling only a slight sting in addition to the permanent dull throb. I closed my fingers as much as I could around it, and punched Todd in the gut with my left hand, catching him enough off guard that the knife slipped from his fingers and he fell to the ground. I pulled my hand back and the knife sailed off, useless as I brought the hand back around to try and block a swift hook to my nose, only managing to deflect it as far as my left eye, which sparked and swam as blood rushed to my face. I grabbed his collar with my good hand and pulled in close, bringing my forehead down with a swift crack, the headbutt making a direct hit on his mouth, catching his lip in his teeth, blood seeping…He clouted me in the side of the head and tried to stand as I reached for my gun, the air rushing into my ear, ringing, squealing, as I turned my entire body around to reach for the gun, bringing an avenging elbow around, catching him, I don’t know where, my fingers were around the barrel, I fumbled for the trigger as he slammed me in the back with his shoe, once twice thrice…
I span around and shot.
He stopped for a split second, looking at his leg in amazement as his pants stained crimson, which was all the time I needed to grab the syringe in my back pocket and stick it into his neck, watching with cruel glee as his eyes rolled back and he slumped to the ground again. I breathed out.
I began to laugh. I felt blood drip from my left eye, which only maddened me further…
I crawled over to Todd and sat on his chest, sticking the cold silver barrel of the gun under his chin, digging it in painfully as I tensed my finger around the trigger. “I’ll teach you what happens to assholes like you who betray Spencer’s good will, who betray their fucking family, who treat the people who cared for them like fucking animals to the slaughter…”
Todd murmured something, clearly delirious…I didn’t hear what it was, but it was enough to bring me back to my senses. Wordlessly, I stood, wincing as I put weight on my foot, and tried to pull Todd up with my one good hand, flicking the safety on and pocketting the gun. He was like a sack of lead, I didn’t get anywhere like that, so I took the rabbit noose and followed it along the ground, untying it with some difficulty at the source, before placing the noose around Todd’s torso and pulling it tight (tighter than necessary, anyway, I was feeling vindictive) and tying the other end to my car, before getting in, turning the ignition, and reversing…slow enough to drag him along, and fast enough to make it a bumpy ride. Once he was at the tree trunk, I used the rope tension to hoist him over, and put him in the passenger seat, wrapping the rest of the rope liberally around him, and bandaging him up before I headed off. He was still murmuring nonsense for a couple of hours as we drove along the road…I felt so nauseous, and the sun never seemed to want to rise, even though we got lost and found ourselves driving along the same stretch of road over and over…My ears were ringing sirens from the fight.
It was only after a few hours of this that Todd began to make sense. He spoke in an oddly high voice…childlike, strange out of his bloody mouth.
"Mr.... St... Steele? Where are we going? And um... why are you so... fuzzy?"
"Todd, I have no time or patience for your shit. We're going home, and I am going to hand you over to Spencer. He might be a secretive bastard, but he can deal with you. And I am fuzzy because I am bleeding and have glass in my foot.”
"Spencer?" Todd began to fuss about in his seat. "Oh, please, no. Not Spencer. Couldn't Doc or Amanda take care of this?"
"Doc's gone, Amanda is...completely available, actually. But no, Spence will deal with it, I'm not really in the mood to cater to your whims."
“You little shit.”
I paused, keeping my eyes on the road as I digested this. His voice was different now, harsher, grizzled. He continued to speak. "You know, I kinda admired you. But you're just... one of his... little... minion, fuckers..."
"His? What, Spence? He pays me, buddy. And you, as it were. You got something in your throat? I've probably got a lozenge in the glove box. Oh, and if you try any funny business in the car, with my death rattle I swear to god I will drive off a cliff. So don't."
"Payment is just his way of owning you. What benefit do you have of working for him?"
It was an interesting question. And the thought of Spencer owning me stung a little, I thought of the operation as more of a…partnership. But what partnership has a partner skulking around in one half of the house, consorting with Eldrich horrors?
"He gives me shelter in the house when I need it, and money for when I'm sick of it. You work for him too, mate, and you've made a veritable habit of biting the hand that feeds."
"... You don't get it, do you?"
"Apparently not. Do explain, my dear."
"How could I work for Spencer? Have you ever once heard this voice come out of Todd's mouth?"
I was sick of this condescension, so I decided to reply with some of my own. "I seem to be now, am I not? So if you aren't Todd, then you sure look a helluva lot like him. We talking evil twin?"
He laughed. “You…are such…an idiot.” Then he began to cough, violently. I rolled down a window.
"I don't know, mate: I'd define idiocy as 'typing your plans to murder a household on said household's personal blog'. Might be a cultural difference. And please, cough out the window. I don’t want to catch your crazy.”
"Steele, what the FUCK are you talking about, and WHY IS THERE A FUCKING BULLET SIZED HOLE IN ME?" There’s the Todd we know and love. I felt a pang of anger strike my mind.
"The same reason there's a knife sized hole in my hand about now. You fucked up, is why."
"The fuck? Did I... Shit, shit shit, shit , SHIT"
"Yes, you did. And somehow, I think you're going to do it again. You're lucky I'm driving you home to get medical attention, and didn't take you out into a field and execute you."
”…Steele, what the fuck?" I couldn’t stand this fucking innocent act. Making me seem like the crazy.
"Do you disagree with me? Do you REALLY think you're not a menace to everyone you work with, and dare I make this leap of faith, hold dear?"
"... It's like you think I chose this. Yeah, I fucking know I'm a danger to everyone. Now. But I've been sane the entire time I've known you. Spencer can make this better! He did before!"
"So you're saying I shouldn't be worried for my safety? Amanda's safety? Sam's safety? Because, buddy, I've got some evidence that supports my point of view pretty fucking well."
Eyes on the road, Leon, eyes on the road.
"Yeah, all from last month? What about all that time before?"
"I can't afford to be thinking about the past, mate. Someone can be the sweetest guy in the world until he tries to slit your throat; it doesn't make the throat slitting any less permanent."
The grizzled voice was back. “Is that an offer, Steele?”
I was going to pull over then and there and blow his brains out I swear to god. But I didn’t. I gulped down my vitriol and spoke calmly. "...Who are you?"
"Heh. HA. You ever heard of Phantom limbs?"
"Of course. Bloke comes back from the war without a leg, but still feels it itching as it lies in a ditch in Kandahar."
"Well then, could you wrap your mind around a Phantom Past?"
"So you are Todd's past, lying in a ditch somewhere, coming back only to write screenplays and generally ruin that kid's life?"
"Close. That's not me..."
"Then that's not the question I asked. Who is that, and who are you?"
"Mr, Steele, you don't have to yell. It's not nice to yell." The child was back. I started to get a bit of a feel for how to treat these people…For it wasn’t just Todd in there, not at all. They were distinct people, with distinct personalities, and…distinct names?
"I'm sorry, kiddo, but it's also not nice to lay a trap and make Mr. Steele's foot hurt. Do you know the bad man who did that to me?"
"Gros? Yeah, he told me."
"Gross? Nice name. What exactly did he tell you? And what would your name be, little one?
”My name’s Sybil!”
”Sybil? That’s a pretty name. And what did Gross tell you?"
"He told me about the traps he was laying out for you. And how he was planning to stab you. Then he left for a while. I thought it would have worked."
"Well, I'm a bit tougher than a stabbing, kid...Why did he want to do that to me, though?"
"Cause you work for Spencer."
Spencer, you fucker. You’re in the middle of this. You know what’s going on. Why wouldn’t you tell us? Why the secrets, Spence? Aren’t you the one talking about how we’re such a team? Yet you go around, spouting cryptics like one of the masked men, keeping dangerous secrets from us, hiding out in your little manor for days on end…
I struggled to keep my cool.
"Why doesn't he like Spencer?"
"Because Spencer put him a way for a long time. Grosvenor was free, free to do what he wanted, and then Spencer took that away from him."
Grosvenor, Sybil, Todd. Hmm.
"And what did Grosvenor want to do, what did big bad Spencer do to take that away from him?"
"Grosvenor wanted to kill people. He says he likes it. He says he likes it cause he likes taking things from people, and taking someone's life is the most important thing you can take from them. I don't know what Spencer did. But it was mean, whatever it was."
From the mouth of babes. You know. And you’re keeping it from us.
"So Grosvenor really would have wanted to kill me regardless of working for Spencer or not, right?"
"Well, kinda. Do you know about the tall man?"
"We have met, yes."
"Well, Grosvenor likes killing people who know about the tall man. He says he likes how he spreads from brain to brain, and he wants to do that. He says their blood can help."
Their blood. Doc, this sounds like what you’ve been looking into…Mr. Tall as a disease.
"...So he wants to be in more people? But why would he do that when he has such great company with you and Todd?"
"He doesn't say it, but I can tell he doesn't like us very much."
Division in the ranks. Interesting.
"Do you like him?"
"Well, kinda. Cause he says I have to."
"What if you didn't have to? What if you and Todd could live in there alone? Would you like that?"
"...No. It would be lonely."
"You'd still have Todd to keep you company, though...and if he doesn't like you, then maybe he would be better off somewhere else?"
"No, Grosvenor and I live in a place where Todd never visits. I know he can, but Spencer wouldn't let him."
"What if we could talk to Spencer? You and Todd can live together, and you can be happy."
Todd starts to fuss about once more. "NO! I don't like Spencer!"
"You know what, I can see why, calm down, we can deal with this on our own."
And then he let out an unholy scream, before looking directly at me with wide…pleading? eyes. “Steele, sedate me again. This hurts. I can’t stop it.”
Spencer, what did you do to him?
I slowed down to a stop and got out, walking softly over to the passenger seat and pulling the door open. “I’m very sorry, old boy, but I used all the tranquilizer I brought with me.” I spoke calmly. “But I can help you in another way.” I pulled him out of the seat and onto the dirt, not really paying much heed to the awkward way he fell as I checked his ropes and tightened them, before I dragged him around to the back of the pickup and painfully hoisted him over into the bed. I think there were a couple of 2x4s in there at the time, it wouldn’t have been comfortable.
“At least this way, there’s one less voice you need to deal with. And three less I need to deal with as I focus on driving home and NOT shooting you between the eyes.” I patted him on the head, feeling like I handled that well as I got back into the ute and drove us home, now in absolute, calming silence.