The Shadow Of Smoke, Part III


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Scene Title The Shadow Of Smoke, Part III
Synopsis You can't outrun death.
Date September 4, 1977

A quiet residential neighborhood on Staten Island is waking up to a new day.

Commuters are getting in their cars, a trash truck is rumbling its way down the street stopping at each house. No cars pull out of one of the houses on Silver Lake Road, where a metal sign is staked into the front lawn, advertising an open house next weekend below a marquee that reads “For Sale By Owner.”

Dawn’s early light creeps in through the bare windows of that empty house. Windows with no curtains that bloom with sunlight, illuminating the blood in the kitchen sink that pops against the white porcelain in stark contrast. There is blood on the floor too, collected around the counter in smeared handprints.

Richard Cardinal is an intruder to this space, slouched on the floor against the kitchen cabinets, shirt rolled up over his abdomen. The needle and thread he has was stolen from another house, where darkness could creep into the basement and pilfer essential supplies. Rolls of gauze came from a first aid kit from down the street, same with the bottle of vodka.

Sewing up his own wound is something Richard hasn’t had to do in a long time, but also in a time that won’t come to pass for so many decades that he’ll be dead and buried in the ground long before it comes to pass a second time. Possibly sooner, if he can’t get the bleeding under control. His face is a mess and he knows it, but the wound isn’t as deep or as serious.

Sticky, red fingers shake as he ties off the last makeshift stitch, then cuts the thread with a kitchen knife. It looks like someone was murdered in this house, and if he hadn’t taken care of this sooner rather than later, it might have been true. With day creeping in, Richard couldn’t rely on his shadow form safely, not without having to hole up in a basement or a garage until night. His light sensitivity had only gotten worse over the years. Now, like a vampire, the sun would simply reduce him to a memory if exposed while in that state.

He couldn’t afford to wait around. Not with Walter out there, not with so much at stake.

Staten Island

September 4th


Pulling himself up to his feet, Richard stands on shaky legs and his head swims. He’d lost a lot of blood, his side was soaked dark red and the front of his shirt looked like a butcher’s apron. He takes the needle and thread and the bottle of vodka and moves out of the kitchen, crossing the floor into the bathroom where he gets another look at himself in the mirror. The old man staring back at him is haunting.

Richard’s face is split open from the bridge of his nose down diagonally through his cheek and almost into the side of his neck. His jaw throbs with a bone-deep ache that implies this may have been worse than he’d assumed. Leaning in toward the mirror, he turns his head to the side and then recoils from a sudden, stabbing pain as the cut flexes. His eyes roll back in his head and his vision swims.

Slamming his hand into the wall to give himself something else to focus on, Richard struggles to stay conscious. This was the fifth house he’d been in, he couldn’t sew this up here, he had to keep moving. He hadn’t seen Walter again, but it felt like he was being followed. All the instincts that he’d let get rusty out of complacency are firing loud again. It’s like the “old days” that were yet to come.

Staggering back out into the kitchen, Richard grabs a pair of square bandages from the floor and stands up just in time to see a reflection of something in the kitchen window. He throws his weight to the side and feels the brush of air as a hammer swings past his right ear. Richard turns, muscle memory kicking in as he drives his elbow into the face of a man who’d crept up behind him like a fucking ghost.

It isn’t Walter, it’s that fucking guy from the garage.

Samson Gray recoils, blood spraying down over his mouth and chin from a broken nose. He doesn’t let go of the hammer, and as he’s snorting out blood Richard is scrambling for the kitchen knife on the floor. Samson looks up, sliding his tongue over bloodied teeth and seems into the moment. Richard thinks better of the altercation, heart racing, and explodes into a cloud of darkness and rushes Samson.

But Samson is spry, doesn’t let himself get enveloped by the darkness and runs through the kitchen and stands in a shaft of morning light. Richard starts to advance on instinct, then stops. He can see the smug look cross Samson’s face as he realizes he understands what Richard is doing, what his weakness is. The fact that Samson isn’t surprised that a man can turn into a free-floating cloud of darkness changes Richard’s tactic. He becomes solid again and makes a beeline for the back door.

The door to the back yard bursts open as Richard shoulders it open, running in as fast a sprint as he can through the sun-dappled yard, making way for the neighbor’s yard. He vaults a low fence, running through clothes lines hung with billowing linens. As they brush across his face, they are streaked with blood. Looking over his shoulder, Richard can see Samson in pursuit, jogging after him with hammer in hand.

Richard may be older by decades, but he’s arguably in good health. He’s a runner, and this isn’t his first foot pursuit. As he vaults the next fence, however, father time reminds him of his limitations with a grinding pop in his right knee. A shooting pain lances up through Richard’s thigh as he lands on the other side of the fence, an involuntary growl of pain rising in the back of his throat. He tries to soldier through it, keep running, but his leg gives out from under him and he collapses beside a lawn mower in the grass.

Rolling onto his back, Richard sees Samson vault over the fence with a wild, feral look in his eyes. As he lands, he twirls the hammer in his hand and lunges at Richard. Instinct kicks in and Richard sublimates into darkness, immediately burned by the light at his right leg. He screams in a whispering howl that causes nearby dogs to start braying, then resolidifies into his corporeal form a few feet away, smoke rising up off of his burned leg.

“That’s a fun trick you have there,” Samson says, whirling the hammer around in his hand again. “I need to see how you do it.”

Pieces start sliding into place, Richard’s eyes go wide as he scrambles back across the grass on hands and heels. Something about this feels familiar, but as he grips the kitchen knife to defend himself he doesn’t understand until its too late. When Samson whistles at him.

It’s a horrible sound, a high-pitched whistle that rings discordant in his ears. He feels the soporific effect it has with a growing horror, feels the numbness in his limbs and the anxious tension of his muscles. He’s frozen in place, like a deer in the headlights as Samson closes in and takes a knee beside him. He tries to move his mouth, to utter a name he would hope holds meaning.

But the name Gabriel can’t slip past his lips before Samson brings the hammer down against the side of his head. The last thing he remembers are those eyes, wild and wide like an animal, rolling back in his head as his world fades to darkness.

Samson does not stop, not until he has torn into the gift-wrapped present he so greedily sought. He doesn’t even consider that it is broad daylight in a suburban neighborhood as he pulls skull fragments away like the shell of a hardboiled egg. Hammer set down, Samson gets his his grisly work with his eyes almost completely rolled back into his head.

Long fingers slide between brain and skull, slide in surgical expertise to separate the brain from the membrane wall of the cranial cavity. He pinches down on the ocular nerve bundles with forefingers and thumb, severing them, then with a twist of his wrists snaps the brain stem and extracts his trophy like the gory prize it is.

Smoothing his hands over the ridges and folds of the brain, Samson exhales a shuddering breath and tilts his head back, finding understanding in the texture of each ridge and fold below his fingertips. He has no consideration or context for the life he has ended, no clarity of thought beyond the kill.

It’s only when he hears a gunshot and feels the pain of a small-caliber round burrowed into his right shoulder that he comes out of his revelry. Samson lands on the grass, reeling from the sudden pain as he drops his trophy into the grass. A police officer rounding the corner, called by the residents of the house to a murder happening in his back yard opened fire on Samson without a second thought seeing the horror show on display.

Samson scrambles up, whistles sharply at the officer, freezing him in place. Then, with a throaty cackle rising up he evaporates into a roiling carpet of darkness that recedes back into the shadow of an old oak tree. He slithers through the slats in the fence, and by the time the police officer’s mobility returns to him he is a babbling wreck.

Unable to process the horror he had just witnessed.

Hours Later

Police officers have cordoned off the street, evidence placards have been placed around the body of Richard Cardinal, the dismembered brain, the discarded hammer, and as much of the blood as they can find. Two detectives stand around the body, trying to make sense of what’s happened here.

“‘Scuse me, detectives?”

A patrol officer calls from around the side of the house, approaching the crime scene. The detectives turn, finding officer Myron being followed by two men who smack of federal agents from their crisp black suits and dark sunglasses.

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“We heard feds were coming down,” one of the detectives says. “Look this— ”

“Save it,” Arthur says, looking at the brain in the grass rather than the detectives. “Agent Deveaux is waiting for you two out front, if you could talk to him?” Arthur motions with his thumb over his shoulder. “We’ll take it from here.”

The two detectives exhale a collective sigh and shake their heads, walking past Arthur and Linderman, to follow officer Myron back out front. Arthur waits for the trio to clear out before he moves to kneel beside the body, squinting at the cranial bones scattered across the yard.

“His name is Lamont Cranston,” Linderman says with a roll of his eyes, “which I’m assuming is a rather blindingly obvious alias.” Arthur doesn’t look up, but just nods in agreement. “We’ve checked his home, there’s a woman he lived with there, we’ve brought her in for a round of tests to see if she’s Special.”

Arthur looks up from the body. “The detectives said the owner of the house saw this guy turn into smoke?”

Linderman shrugs. “That’s what he said, but he was in a panic when he called the police. He said the killer did the same thing, turned into something like smoke and fled through the fence.” He points toward the far side of the yard, drawing Arthur’s attention that way.

Sliding his tongue over his teeth, Arthur considers the body laid out in front of him. “What do we have on Mr. Cranston, here?”

“Almost nothing. No birth certificate, no work history, nothing. We’re not even sure if he’s American. We’re working with the phone company to see if we can figure out who he was calling. He doesn’t even have a bank account, as far as we can tell. Everything at his residence, bills included, are paid for in cash.”

Arthur’s brows kick up for a moment, then lower. “And the killer?”

Linderman shakes his head, pacing around the yard. “Less. We got a sketchy description of a wild-eyed guy with a beard. Hoping to get a print match off the hammer.” Arthur looks at the brain, then back up to Linderman. He’s not saying something, but Linderman is too distracted looking at his pad of notes.

“Police found an abandoned car up the street,” Linderman explains with a motion to his right, “registration is to an overnight worker at the cargo factory where the other reports came from. Not sure what went down, but it started there we think. Cranston looks like he was out for a morning run or something.”

“Probably a crime of opportunity, but we’ll see what we can find.” Arthur says as he slowly stands, and Linderman can see something working behind his eyes.

“You have any idea who did this?” Linderman rather directly asks.

Arthur shakes his head. A non-verbal lie. “Let’s go talk to Charles. Have somebody bag that brain, send it to research.”

Linderman nods, making a note in his book, then looks back up to Arthur. “And Daniel?” Arthur says with a look back to that body, then up to Linderman. “Let’s focus on the killer, he’s our primary concern.”

“Let Charles worry about who this guy really is.”

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