‘Knock, knock,’ said the spider, rapping on the cocoon wall. ‘Argh, grah, gah,’ said the fly, slowly disintegrating inside.
The marble floors came to my rescue as I crept through the giant villa. Marble never creaked, whether you walked in the middle or to the sides. All you had to do was watch how hard you stepped. Marble made the most curiously harsh and dim ‘clank’ sound, whenever one wasn’t watching their pace, but I did. There was still no alarm, no police sirens and no people attacking me with baseball bats, so either nobody was home and they had forgotten to arm the security system, or they were at home and hadn’t heard my grand entrance through the window. Judging by the size of the building, that second version was more than possible.
I stayed near the walls wherever I could, but I kept a good distance to every piece of furniture. Wouldn’t do me any good to creep around like a half-frozen ninja, only to bump into a vase and send it crashing down to the floor. My heart was pumping like crazy, doing its little dance through the rush of adrenaline I was having… for no reason at all. Well, there was a reason, getting ready for violence naturally led to rushes of adrenaline and other funny juices, but with me things were a little different. I had grown up in a number of institutions, most of them medical in some way, and it had left me broken and with no social or moral skills to mention. Maybe I hadn’t had those to begin with, but try as they might, my caregivers hadn’t succeeded in teaching them to me, either. Breaking into a house and digging through other people’s stuff didn’t feel wrong to me. I didn’t get nervous or fearful when I broke a law, because I didn’t understand the reasoning behind most of them. That didn’t spare me from instinctual responses, though; violence was one of the things even monkeys understood. Expecting violence drove my heart to its gallop.
I did know fear, of course. There were a lot of things I feared, although they probably made no sense to other people. They couldn’t see what I saw on a daily basis. They couldn’t see the dirty, malicious, depraved, foul, rancid, darkness. They couldn’t see how it stuck to everyone, everything, especially places where evil lived. Small evil bore small darkness, a smattering of tar-like drops clinging to men and women, pulling out in threads when it touched other things, like spittle. Big evil drew darkness into big, encompassing fog, or smoke, if you like. And where that evil nested, a sea of stinking rot was born, growing up the walls like fungus and seeping into the plastering like roots.
I feared the darkness like nothing else, but at the same time, I was very used to seeing it. People who paid for murder usually had evil in them. And the people I murdered, well… It made my job very easy, murdering those who bore darkness into this world. It made it easy on my heart, easy on my mind, to pull the trigger, or cut their throats, or, well, shove them off bridges. I was a creative assassin, albeit an opportunistic one.
In this house, though, there was no darkness. None. Nowhere. Not seeing it on a job made me more uneasy than the lingering cold in my limbs.
Something was wrong. There was always darkness at the places I went for money, just like the people paying me always were demon-monsters. I hated those dark places, the moving walls, the cold shiver running down my back, the innate feeling of dread, and I tried my best to stay away from them, but…
Nothing. This house was untouched by demons. Huh.
I stopped at the big, shiny-white stairwell and looked up into the bright darkness above. The steps were broad enough to make a good sleeping place, and there were enough of them to house thirty people if they squeezed together, but the pale marble and the screaming white walls would never see homeless people finding shelter. Some of my ‘neighbors’ would have killed to spend a night in a place like this, even if it were only sleeping on the stairs, but not me. I preferred dark rooms with boarded up windows and peeling paint, because they made nights darker and contours indistinguishable. Not being able to see where I was sleeping hid possible dark spots and helped with the anxiety.
Ever so slowly, I crept up the stairs, stopping on the last half dozen to peek over the upper edge into the drawn-out hall. No marble here, only dark, old, hardwood floors. Those creaky little bastards. And doors, oh, so many doors, more than any game show could ever fit into one trademark sentence. So many choices were coming my way, I really couldn’t decide how to best proceed. Contestant number one! Will it be door number one, right next to the ceiling-high window? Door two with the slightly peeling paint? Door three, with the bump on the antique doorstep? Door number four, with that touch of moonlight shining on the wood, or maybe door number five, sitting in the shade? And would somebody please wake the audience for this next part?
I blocked out my galloping thoughts and listened and looked for a few more moments, hoping to see or hear a sign of where to head next, but everything was quiet. Too quiet, too normal, too… dark-less, for all I cared. It made me doubt my mission, if just a little bit.
Four doors were on the opposite side of the hallway, two more on my side. From what I remembered of the outside layout, there was a big, cavernous, windowed gazebo right at the back center of the house, and I could just imagine the private library inside. I decided the library would be behind the opposite right door, because in my imagination a left-turn after entering that door felt more natural. Rich people had enough money to make things more natural.
That left me with five other choices. The other door right in front of me wouldn’t be a bedroom, it was too exposed and demon-people were too paranoid to sleep right at the end of stairs. I went up the last few steps, then hovered there for a moment, trying to decide. Left or right?
Finally, I decided to turn left, because I myself was left-handed. If in doubt, do as you’d do. I crept down the hardwood hallway, wincing ever so often when one of the boards groaned softly beneath my soggy boots. Whoever had to bear the aftermath of my visit, would have a lot of fun with the drops of water I left in my wake. And the blood I was supposed to shed, but there were professionals for those kinds of cleaning jobs.
I slowly, carefully, checked both doors in the left wing of the first floor, holding my hand out against the old wood, all but touching it. I was trying to feel for the tingling sensations that the darkness usually brought upon me, but there was still nothing. That put me between a rock and a hard place— I’d have to either open every door and take a peeky-peek inside, risking to wake whoever was home, or I could sneak back, continue to the right wing, and risk tripping some kind of alarm after all.
Did I mention how bad I am with self-control?
I opened the first door on my left, risking a glance inside. It was a teenager’s room, judging by the posters on the walls, and it was clean and empty. It looked just like in a TV series, all nice and comfy, with a rug and a desk and a stereo, and I wanted to mess it up. I’d never had such a nice room. I’d never had my own room, as it happened. Sighing, I closed the door and crept over to the one vis-à-vis of it, listening for a moment. It wouldn’t do me any good to barge in on an old, rich couple going at it, after all.
That door opened soundlessly, too, and I was treated to another teenager’s room, its layout an exact copy of the other, except for a change in colors and poster themes. Two children, then. I hated killing children. I should have asked about this when I had taken the contract, damn it! Or had I stumbled into the same room again, too confused to orient myself? That, too, had happened before, and that, too, had led to a beating to remember. I carefully took a step inside the room, drippedy-dripping cold Bracket River water onto the flashy carpet beneath my boots, trying my hardest to remember and compare what I was seeing with what I had seen.
The safety-switch of a gun clicked behind me, and I froze.
“Don’t move a muscle,” a sharp, deep voice ordered.