by Cal Marcius
I always knew the kid wasn’t quite right in the head. The weird noises he made when he was playing in the park — guttural, like some fucking wild animal. He was aggressive too, chasing after other kids, trying to hit them with branches he’d broken off of trees, his brother trying to wrestle them out of his hand. The only kids who played with him were just as weird — Lucy, who never walked but galloped wherever she went, and Thomas, who used the sandpit in the park as his personal shitting ground, even though his parents lived just a few minutes away. I always seemed to be warning other people to stay away from the sandpit. If it wasn’t Thomas, it was the dog walkers who let their mutts shit wherever they liked.
By the time the kid was five he started playing with dead animals, mostly birds that had fallen out of their nests. He’d poke his fingers into their stiff little bodies, prodding and inspecting, then carry them over to a tree, building a nest out of grass in the shade below.
My wife used to say, “Give it ten, fifteen years and we’ll be reading about him in the papers. He’s a serial killer in the making, that one.”
A lot of other kids were scared of him, even Charlie. They used to play together when they were really little, but it seemed even Charlie sensed something was amiss. The clock was ticking but he wasn’t following.
When Charlie went to university you could see the relief in his face. He’d always felt it was his duty to play with the kid, to make an effort when others wouldn’t. Though he was only in the city, Charlie stayed on campus most of the year.
When the mutilations started I knew straight away it was the kid. At the beginning there were a few chickens. Then a dog, a sheep, a horse. His targets became bigger and it was just a matter of time before someone got hurt. Nobody seemed to make the connection. But I knew. I’d always known.
So I followed him, every day for three weeks, until one day he drove out to some farm in the middle of nowhere. The farm belonged to an old sheep farmer I knew. I’d fixed roofs and damaged boundary walls for him, back when I still had my building company, before the work dried up and I had to let everyone go.
I watched the kid sneak into a dilapidated old barn. I parked the car down the road, followed on foot, hunting rifle slung over my shoulder, flash light in my hand.
The path was waterlogged and I could feel the cold rainwater filling my boots, but I ignored it. I had to keep up with him, make sure he didn’t slip out of my sight. I wasn’t as fast as I used to be.
When I got to the barn I could hear him talking inside. The same nonsense he used to come out with when he was a kid.
“Wake up,” he said. “Wake up. You can’t be dead. Wake up.”
I heard him cry. “You did this,” he screamed. “Why?”
I walked around the barn, searching for a gap in the wall. Then I heard laughing, and another voice. Someone screaming in pain. I took the rifle off my shoulder, threw the flash light into the dirt and pushed the barn door open.
The kid was lying in the straw, crying, a blood soaked lamb beside him. Another guy was sitting on top of him. When the guy heard the barn door open, he looked around.
“Charlie?” I said.
My voice didn’t seem my own.
Charlie looked back down at his brother, the knife he’d used to butcher the animal still in his hand. I looked from him to his brother and I realised all these years I’d been wrong.
“Please,” the kid cried.
Charlie put the knife to his brother’s throat.
“Charlie,” I shouted. “No.”
He looked at me, and I pulled the trigger.
Cal Marcius is a freelance writer who lives in the frozen wastes of northern England. He has been published in Shotgun Honey, Out of the Gutter, Near to the Knuckle, and Yellow Mama.