This chapter contains potentially triggering acts of drug abuse; blood, violence, and mild gore; and homophobic slur(s).
Cyrus O’Malley leaned against the car door and slumped down until he sat frozen on the ground, covering his face as he sobbed. He could feel the sweat drenching his skin, the throbbing of his own eyes, the ringing screams vibrating in his ears, and the wild thumping of his heart against his chest.
It has been thirty minutes since Hunter drew his final breath. Cautiously, Cyrus got up to look at the dead corpse inside his car – the person he killed. Terror tortured his guts, wrenching his stomach in tense, acidic cramps. Fear had completely engulfed his conscience, knocking away all other thoughts.
But this fear, which has already overwhelmed his entire being, was pushing him into doing things he would have otherwise fought against.
It was now almost midnight and Cyrus was keenly aware that not a single car had passed by for the past hour or so. He needed to get off the highway before a patrol car would notice him. Recomposing himself, he jumped back into the car, took off his sweat-drenched jacket and covered it on Hunter’s lifeless body.
While he drove, he took out his phone and checked the screen. He had four missed calls and three text messages – all from a single person.
Mad Venus 23:34
waiting at your place. be here in 15 mins.
Mad Venus 00:07
where the fuck are you, omalley? its been 30 mins!
Mad Venus 00:16
why arent you answering my calls you DUMB fuck!!! you better not bail on me or you’ll lose more than just a fucking finger!!!
Large beads of sweat ran down Cyrus’ forehead as he frantically typed on the keypad:
Calm the fuck down. I needed to get the money first. Be there in 10.
Cyrus swerved left off the freeway and disappeared into a much smaller dirt road where there were no other cars and houses. It was a narrow, rather desolated road full of potholes. He struck several of these; Hunter’s body thumping in the passenger seat each time he did.
He had not been in this area before and was worried he would encounter a patrol car along the way. He travelled several couple of miles, until he finally saw the glimmer of the Biscayne Bay ahead.
And then, an idea struck him.
Cyrus knew that there are plenty of beaches lining the 35-mile stretch of water and wondered if there’s a shallow spot for him to hide his car or the body, or both, there. To an amateur murderer, it appeared to be a perfect spot to hide a body. The only problem would be keeping the body underneath the water, so it wouldn’t float away.
He tapped on the steering wheel thoughtfully. There must be some way to tuck the body underwater. Permanently.
He suddenly applied the brakes as, on rounding a corner, a red traffic light showed a few meters ahead. As he did, Hunter’s body bounced and fell forward; head banging into the glove compartment of his car with a loud thud.
Cyrus found himself back to a main highway. He cursed under his breath as he stopped the car and, for the first time, took a good look at the dead body beside him.
He swore at himself, a junkie, an idiot, and now a murderer. He swore at himself for getting caught up in this catastrophe. Greed and wrath got the better of him. Now he had no other choice but to get his hands dirty and dispose of this body.
This body that was once his friend. Perhaps the only friend who ever gave him one too many chances.
Hunter’s face turned sideways against him. With trembling hands, Cyrus slowly lowered his jacket that was draped over the other’s body. Hunter’s upper torso was completely soaked with blood now – exposed skin chalk-white, like a wax model. The car smelled of blood too, even with the windows partly open. There had been enough blood that smelling it shouldn’t have surprised him. Cyrus’ stomach began to heave at the stench.
His needed to justify his actions. “It’s your fault. You were too nice,” he grumbled as he rubbed his nose trying to free his nostrils of the offensive smell, but with no luck. “You were too good for this world, Parslowe. Too good.”
He tossed his jacket back to conceal Hunter, then pushed the passenger seat further back, stretching the body down into the seat and out of sight of the windows. Every other vehicle or person would pose an unknown threat at this point.
Green light. Cyrus focused his eyes back onto the road and pressed his foot onto the accelerator.
He knew what had to be done. But the night had dragged on for too long and fatigue had settled in, on top of a raging headache. He just had to complete one more deed. The rest of the dirty job will be done later.
When Cyrus got to his apartment, he saw a gray car parked in front of it. A tall, lanky, young man was sitting on his porch railing smoking quietly, the tip of his cigarette glowing in the darkness. He was tapping his fingers impatiently on one knee; the glow of his phone’s screen illuminating his face in an eerie blue.
Cyrus decided to park his car a few yards away from his house, under the one streetlight still working. He turned off the engine then carefully checked out his surroundings before he reached in the backseat for Hunter’s prized gym bag.
Bag now on his lap, he took a deep breath and steadied his nerves before unzipping it.
He peered in at the bundles of money and instantly felt an electric thrill. There’s probably almost twenty grand in here, he thought. He took out two bundles of hundred-dollar bills, thumbed through them, then placed them carefully in his pants pocket. And then he exhaled, long and smooth.
He felt like he hit jackpot.
He looked in the rear-view mirror and fixed his hair; wiped the blood off his hands on the side of his pants. He was about to step out of the car when he remembered Hunter’s wallet.
He couldn’t recall where Hunter had placed it earlier, so he leaned back inside the car and cautiously ransacked the other’s pockets. There it was, in his shirt pocket, bulging with bills and cards. Carefully he yanked it out and opened it so he could see twenties and fifties, which he all pulled out and stuffed in his back-pocket.
Then, as he was about to flip the wallet shut, he noticed the edge of a photograph jutting out. He took it between his thumb and index finger and slid it out.
Cyrus scrunched his brows together, his face turning a shade darker. In the photo was Hunter, kissing another man who appeared to be Asian.
He wouldn’t have guessed it. “Fucking fag bomb cocksucker. I should have known,” he hissed as he shot Hunter’s dead body a disgusted look. He placed the photograph back inside the wallet and tossed it onto Hunter’s lap, feeling as though he held something repulsive.
“Great, you finally showed up,” said the man sitting by Cyrus’ porch railing.
“Venus,” Cyrus said in a brooding tone, as he climbed up onto the porch with renewed confidence.
The man named Mad Venus stuffed his phone inside his pants pocket and stubbed out his cigarette on the sole of his shoe. Cyrus casually but quietly closed the gap between himself and the drug dealer.
“I half-expected you’ve already fled the state,” Venus said, smiling sardonically. When he was within arm’s length from the other, he stopped and just stood there. Then, without moving closer, he raised a hand. “’Got the money?”
Cyrus eyed the drug dealer, then scoffed. “When have I ever not paid you?” He put a hand in his back-pocket and pulled out a rubber-banded stack of bills. Venus stared at it for a moment, failing to hide his surprise. Cyrus slapped the money into his palm.
Venus whistled in amusement. “What, found the leprechaun’s pot of gold or something?” He counted the money slowly. There were hundred-dollar bills in the bundle, amounting to $4,500. He wet his fingers, counting them again. They still amounted to $4,500.
“I was late,” said Cyrus. “I’m – I’m paying you back with interest.”
“In cold, hard cash,” Venus spoke as if in a trance. “There’s always a first for everyone, huh?” He whistled again, pleased with himself as he produced an empty zip lock bag from his pocket and stuffed the bills inside. He did not bother asking the other where he had gotten the money from. After all, when it comes to this line of business, such questions are better left unanswered.
“Well, pleasure doing business with you again, O’Malley. You know how to reach me if you ever need more.” Venus was about to step down the porch when Cyrus called him back. “What?”
Cyrus rubbed the back of his neck before stuffing his hands into his pockets. With a tinge of hesitation, he asked, “H-Hey. Do you, uhm, do you have some extra stash with you r-right now?”
The drug dealer turned back around to face him, eyeing him meticulously. “You sure ran out fast.”
Cyrus followed him down the porch. “It’s – It’s for the headaches. And… And it makes me f-feel better. I get to – to perform better at work, too.”
Venus tilted his head to the side. He glanced furtively at Cyrus, sizing him up.
Cyrus looked from side to side before leaning close to the other. He raised his hand, palm up. “Two. I – I need two baggies. H-How much would it cost?”
Venus saw the other’s face from the dull yellow porch light. Cyrus’ eyes were dilated and wild. He was continually licking his lips, like a hungry snake. He sighed as he pulled out several small sachets of cocaine from his shirt pocket. “You clearly need a fix, man. Here, I was supposed to deliver this to a couple more clients. These are high-grade ones I got from Reggie today. All the way from Hawaii, baby.” He pinched his thumb and index finger together to make a chef kiss gesture. “Almost pure, see? The best of the fucking best.” He dangled the sachets in front of Cyrus’ face. “And since you’re a loyal customer, I’ll give it to you.”
Cyrus was about to grab the packets from Venus’ hand, but he quickly pulled his hand back. “Show me the money first.”
Cyrus made a face. He didn’t like Mad Venus at all. But if the kid had what he needed, that didn’t matter. He reached back into his pocket and pulled out several more bills. “H-How much is it?”
Venus looked at the money in the other’s hand and licked his lips. “Like I said, you’re one of my loyal customers.” He patted Cyrus on the neck as he handed him two packets of the white powder and circled his fingers around the wad of crisp hundred-dollar bills. “I’ll give you a discount. Six grams in total. One grand. Take it or leave it.”
As his hand closed around the packets of cocaine, Cyrus quickly let go of the money. “Thanks. Then we’re done deal. You can go now.”
Venus carefully counted the money, pulled out a couple of extra bills and shoved it back to Cyrus. “What, you’ve suddenly become Jeff Bezos now, throwing away money like dirt?” After one final look around, he turned and made his way toward his car. “Call me again if you run out, buddy. Okay?”
Cyrus stuffed the sachets in his pocket. “Hey, Venus.”
The drug dealer opened the car door before looking up at Cyrus. “Yeah?”
“Have you… ever s-seen someone die in front of you?”
Venus frowned, failing to process the man’s question. He chuckled. “Say what?”
“Have you ever seen someone die in front of you?” Cyrus repeated himself.
Venus looked at him blankly for a moment, and then laughed. It was such a random question that it nearly threw him off. But since the man had been a generous client, he was willing to indulge him. He rested an arm along the top edge of his car window and said, “Yeah, of course. I mean, given the nature of this business, who wouldn’t?” He said it in a way that evoked malicious pride. “Twice.”
Cyrus lowered his head. “H-How… How does it feel… for you?”
“Well…” The drug dealer looked at Cyrus from head to toe, then let out a puff of air through his nostrils. “Not what I expected.”
“… I thought so, too,” Cyrus muttered under his breath.
Silently he watched as Venus’ car disappeared around a corner. Once out of sight, he looked at the time on his phone. It was half past one in the morning. He looked down at his hands; spread his fingers slowly. His fingertips were dark red with clotting blood.
All of a sudden, he could distinctly hear the sound of water rushing and bubbling, like something heavy had been dropped into the depths of the ocean.
He shook his head and wiggled a finger in his ear as he attempted to shake off the auditory hallucination that was slowly seeping into his system. If he doesn’t get his fix soon, the visual hallucinations will follow.
Five minutes later, he returned to his car and pulled behind his apartment, making sure no one was watching.
When high on cocaine, Cyrus O’Malley is not afraid of anything. It didn’t matter how big or small he is, he just thinks he’s the toughest person in the world.
Getting a speed high is a lot like being drunk. You can’t concentrate and are bound to commit careless mistakes. Cyrus has always been very careful when he’s getting his fix. First, he lets it play with his nerves and in the next few hours, he would just sit and wait until it settles into his system and he comes down to his right frame of mind. It’s only when he reaches this level, that he gets to actually do anything.
Cyrus went back out to his car with the plastic wrap from his new mattress, which he carefully laid on the ground outside of his car. He then opened the passenger-side door and carefully dragged Hunter’s body down onto the plastic, rolling him up in it.
And then, Cyrus grabbed the body by the ankles, dragging him step by painstaking step from the backdoor into the kitchen, down the hallway, and into the steep flight of steps down the basement.
His next plan was to find a big enough container to place Hunter’s body in and fill it up with enough concrete to seal the whole thing over. At that moment, he thought it was the most fool-proof way to prevent a decomposing corpse from floating in the water.
And maybe then, he wouldn’t dream about his former friend trying to climb out of his grave…
After placing the body in the basement, Cyrus went back up and ran to his shed to get several sacks of cement. The original plan was to use it to renovate the apartment, which had been his mother’s before him, and was in dire need of repairs.
But that can be put off for later. The current situation needed a more immediate solution.
After carrying down four sacks of cement down the basement, he went back to the front porch and emptied one of the blue plastic oil barrels that he had been using to catch water from the drainpipes during periods of heavy rain. Finally, he ran back to the shed and got a shovel.
Cyrus slipped into a bright yellow slicker and a pair of rain boots. He started ripping open the sacks and began mixing the cement with water, until he had the perfect consistency. And then, with the shovel, he filled a quarter of the oil barrel with mixed cement.
He dropped the shovel and dragged the corpse closer to the barrel. Although his mind was fully awake, his body was spent from all the carrying and shovelling and had to sit down for a minute.
He sat there, staring at the body rolled in plastic.
He came up with another idea to get rid of the body. With his handy butcher’s knife, he would cut him up into small pieces and place them in a pot. He would then place the bones in the plastic barrel and dump it in the bay. In the kitchen sink, he would rinse Hunter’s flesh really well. He would boil it. Add bell peppers, onions, and seasonings. He would cook the tender flesh for several hours, and then add tomato sauce and chili mix for that extra kick.
Once in a while, it pays to be nice to your neighbors, so he would knock on their doors, one-by-one, and serve them a nice hot meal for lunch.
Voila! He got away with murder and earned new friends on the side. It’s like hitting two birds with one stone.
Cyrus laughed at the thought. He shook his head, still chuckling as he pulled out a cigarette and lit it. He can still commit the perfect crime in a less elaborate yet highly efficient way.
He got up and walked over Hunter’s body. It was already stiff and cold, it took him a full five minutes to completely remove Hunter’s shirt. After making sure the pockets were empty, Cyrus decided to just leave the pants on.
Rigor mortis had slowly set in and the longer he stalls, the more difficult it would be to place the corpse inside the barrel. With steady nerves and a hammer in one hand, Cyrus cracked some bones to put the body in a fetal position. He then turned Hunter on to his back and then knelt beside him.
Somehow, he was fascinated by Hunter’s lack of movement, his pallor, and the fact that blood was still running from his long-dead body at places where flesh had been torn and broken, and bones poked through.
Cyrus O’Malley was chilled by his own indifference. Yet he was so amused by himself that he even got an erection. You’re one sick motherfucker, he said to himself, not knowing whether to laugh or be disgusted. You are fucking hopeless.
Then he rolled the body, wrapped it back with the plastic, and slowly stuffed it inside the oil barrel. Cyrus set to work again, shovelling the rest of the mixed cement into the barrel until it completely covered the strands of hair poking out. He broke off from the task twice to drain two bottles of beer.
Once the last heap of cement was in place, Cyrus patted it down with the shovel. It would take a couple more hours for the cement to completely solidify.
Cyrus O’Malley was totally spent. He took off his slicker, sat down, and leaned against the wall as he stared vacantly at the blue plastic barrel before him.
His latest masterpiece.
It was unpleasantly still and quiet in that dingy room, he could practically hear himself breathing. He desperately wanted to fall asleep. His eyelids started to droop but he forced them open. It was almost 5 in the morning.
The sun was about to rise soon. He had big plans to set into motion once night falls.
There must be a shallow area somewhere in Biscayne Bay, where he could dump the barrel. Perhaps one of the more secluded areas, far away from beachgoers and surfers. But then it’s a weekday. There won’t be a lot of people at the beaches.
Did he have to rent a boat? Will there be coast guards patrolling the area?
He closed his eyes and scrunched his forehead at the possible setbacks. Maybe he’ll just have to dump it somewhere much nearer and more discreet.
The Matheson County Preserve would also be a good spot… Little to no people. Very isolated.
He needed to check the place in an hour. He should be prepared to dispose the car at any time, as well.
The night had been an ordeal. The speed high from the cocaine was beginning to wear out fast and exhaustion hit him like a train wreck. Closing his eyes, the weight seemed to lift instantly as he fell into a deep slumber.
There it was again. The deep rumbling and bubbling of water had broken Cyrus O’Malley’s sleep. When the sound stopped, his eyes shot wide open.
He felt as though he had just slipped out of a bag of slimy cocoon because he realized he had not changed out of his clothes from the night before. And in the past few hours he had been sweating profusely.
He went back upstairs, cleaned out the car, and scrubbed his slicker and hammer. And then, he stripped off his clothes that stank of death, and had a warm shower. Ten minutes later he threw on fresh clothing, picked up the discarded clothes, and stuffed them into his already overflowing laundry basket. Soon he’d have to wash them, and he wasn’t looking forward to it, because they had Hunter’s blood on them. He took another beer from the fridge before going back into the basement.
It was then when realized he made a blunder – and a huge and potentially earth-shattering one at that.
The beer bottle fell to the floor with a loud crash. Cyrus’ hands trembled uncontrollably as his eyes wandered to the concrete steps that separated the blue plastic barrel from the upper floor.
Thirteen steps. Thirteen grueling steps separating a barrel containing a dead body and over 500 pounds of hardened cement, from where it actually needed to be.
Cyrus felt his stomach acids churning. He was ready to explode. He could not believe he made such a huge mistake – and at a moment when he was supposed to be at his most lucid state.
He felt the acid from his guts climbing up to his throat, making swallowing difficult. He edged toward the plastic barrel, stumbled, fell to his knees, and then dragged himself back to his feet.
Is this your payback, Parslowe? Is this it? You’re probably laughing in there, aren’t you?
He grabbed the edge of the barrel’s lid with both hands, held on to it tightly, and started kicking the barrel fiercely and with brute force. He kicked first with his heels and collapsed onto his back. He cried out; face contorted with pain as he curled onto his side.
“FUCK IT! FUCK IT! FUCK IT!”
He went on a frenzied and violent outburst and a while later, began to cry and scream and curse into nothingness. And when he finally came around, he was seized with violent sickness and started vomiting. He fell back shivering and exhausted, retching even though his stomach was completely empty.
Cyrus O’Malley locked himself up in the basement for two days, lying in his own filth. Insanity almost stole into his brain like a deranged thief, injecting sinister new ideas and seeding a new personality that muddled up the other. And these new ideas began to grow roots – deep ones – that they began to make sense in one exhilarating moment of enlightenment.
This was his new distorted reality. He had to walk down this path that had formed an inescapable maze. His own prison without walls, with the ghost of Hunter Parslowe as his captor.
Finally, after what seemed like an eternity, he found the strength to get back up his feet. He had no idea what time it was. If somebody were to offer him a thousand bucks if he guessed of the right time, he would surely lose. The basement was as dark as a grave, he couldn’t tell if it was night or day.
This must be what it feels to be buried in that barrel, right, Parslowe?
He turned out the light, went back upstairs, and closed the basement door, deciding once and for all that Hunter Parslowe would be the first – and hopefully the last – he would put down there.
For the next eight odd years, Hunter’s body lay untouched and undiscovered in Cyrus O’Malley’s basement. There, he remained undisturbed, much like his killer’s conscience.
But even after all these years, it was very difficult to think and relive the whole incident. For Cyrus, it was like coming out of some sort of nightmare or horrible trance. Eventually, he likened it to a moment of possession by something so alien and so evil. And then the next moment he’d wake up from it and realize what he had done with such disturbing clarity and realize that basically, he was responsible for all of it.
He was absolutely horrified by the fact that he was capable of doing something like that.
Yet he lived a normal life. Normal, except for that tiny yet very potent and destructive segment of his life that he had kept secret and very close to himself. It had almost come to a point where, if someone would ask, he would be willing to answer without batting an eyelid.
He waited for so long to get caught…
Yet in all these years, nobody had come to look for the body. Pitiful Hunter Parslowe whom nobody loves. What a convenience it had all been for Cyrus.
Out of sight. Out of mind. Who would have known it’s so easy to get away with murder?
Or so he thought…
The lies and the shadows of the past have finally caught up to Cyrus in a way that had caught him completely off guard. But why now? He was no longer inclined to surrender his life to a sin he had committed ages ago.
Right now, he was in the mood to play hide-and-seek.
There weren’t a lot of things to bring with him in the first place, and so he was done packing in less than a couple of hours. When day broke, he made a quick trip to Palm Springs to see a friend who runs a crane and heavy hauling service. If he wanted to remain innocent, then it’s best to get rid of the one thing that would prove otherwise.
How stupid. He’d been careless. He should have done this a long time ago.
The hauling service would be at his door in an hour. He travelled back home in less than thirty minutes, making sure he’d be there by the time they arrive.
But when he got back home, the alarm bells instantly went off in his head.
Something was off. He was confident he could spot this trouble without really looking.
He quickly stepped out of the car, looked around vigilantly, and walked up the porch. Slowly, he opened the door and waited. Once he determined there were no signs of activity inside the house, he stepped inside.
It was quiet. He gingerly walked through the living room and got to the hallway. There was nobody in sight, either – except that the door leading to the basement was wide open.
He rushed towards it as stealthily as possible and went down the stairs. Somehow, he had forgotten to close the door completely behind him. He knew something was amiss.
Cyrus vigilantly walked down the stairs, one hand slowly reaching into his pants’ back-pocket and pulled out his trusty Swiss Army knife. The same knife he had used to kill Hunter Parslowe.
Somehow it had become “special” to him. It reminded him of what he had done, and he only wished he had the conscience to view it as a punishment. Instead, it had become a trophy. If he truly had morals, then he’d be slaughtered by this knife, as well.
He got to the bottom of the stairs, and he paused. He wasn’t sure what he was looking at. From one corner of the room, a strange blue light was emanating from the plastic oil barrel. Hunter’s grave.
As he came closer, he could see that the source of the mysterious light was indeed coming from the barrel, which was now carved with strange glowing symbols for which purpose he could only speculate.
Right next to it was a long-haired man who was kneeling on the ground; hands placed on the barrel, glowing with the same strange symbols dancing and gleaming around the blue container.
Cyrus flinched, surprised and a little confounded that the intruder had not even noticed his presence. “What the fuck…?”
He didn’t know what to make out of this situation. Ever since yesterday’s mishap, he could not wrap his head around that bizarre and inexplicable thing he had witnessed and experienced. Two strange men suddenly showing up at his door, one of which may or may have not performed some sort of voodoo mind-control whammy on him. He was perfectly lucid and not drugged-up the day before, so he was certain it was all real. It happened.
Cyrus took a step closer to get a better look at the intruder, then sighed sharply as he recognized his face.
The sassy pretty-boy from yesterday, Cyrus said to himself, chortling.
But the man appeared to be in a deep hypnotic trance. “Do you want to die that much, pretty boy?” he said with a steady voice. The man did not budge. He appeared to have no awareness of his surroundings at all.
Fuck it, Cyrus thought. He didn’t want to bother trying to make sense of the whole situation anymore. All he knew was that there’s an intruder in his home who may or may not have discovered his “best-kept secret”. What else could he do? This man walked right into a trap, knowing well he wouldn’t be coming out alive if he were to get caught.
Cyrus pulled out his phone and sent a quick text to the hauling service:
Something came up. Please tell your men to come over in a couple of hours instead. Will pay extra for the inconvenience.
He placed the phone back in his pocket, took a firm grip on his Swiss Army knife, and flipped open the longest blade.
Getting a “companion” for Hunter wouldn’t be such a bad idea, after all…
Cyrus stood over the intruder, raised the blade, ready to strike the back of the man’s neck, right where the spine went into the head. He wanted to hear it go SNICK!
“This is all on you, buddy.”
And then, a sudden blast of light boomed throughout the room like a nuclear burst. The barrel emitted a light so bright that Cyrus fell back to cover his eyes with his arm.
And then, as the brilliance from the container had faded, he peered around the arm he used to shield himself from the brightness. He saw that the intruder had woken up from his deep trance, eyes wide open, coughing and gasping for air.
“Hunter…! Hunter…!” the man cried out as he hunched his shoulders forward and clutched his chest.
Cyrus jolted up, rushed back over the intruder, and raised the knife to his head.
It’s now or never.
The memory had ended when Cyrus O’Malley closed the door to the basement, leaving Murphy in complete darkness.
The sense of helplessness as he witnessed Hunter Parslowe’s demise was about to drive him mad. He screamed and screamed, wishing the suffering would end. The scream was coming from a deep-torn place inside him where he had never felt before, like a pulsating wasteland with nothing to cling on to. He ran to escape the scream and the pain that seemed to hover him, pushing it relentlessly against his will.
As he ran, he realized he was slowly floating to the ground. He was in mid-air. It seemed like forever. His thoughts blurred and it was getting harder to follow as he ran out of air. Voices were whispering in his ears. And then, nothingness.
Murphy opened his eyes, very slowly. He felt as though he had emerged from a deep sleep. His consciousness was gradually returning to him at what felt like a controlled pace. The faint blue light he was waking up to was gradually receding, and that was all he was aware of at first.
As he began to resurface from the nothingness, he was beginning to become aware of his surroundings. The blue light had faded by now, and he was once again enveloped in darkness. And in those first few moments of wakefulness, Hunter’s memory rushed back into his mind.
Murphy started panicking again, opened his mouth as he coughed and gasped for air. “Hunter…! Hunter…!”
And then, a familiar voice broke the silence. “Mr. Odenkirk, behind you!” It was unmistakably Lucien’s voice.
Murphy turned around to face someone he could barely see. He was fully awake now but was immediately confused.
“You leave me no choice!” yelled a second, yet hauntingly familiar voice. Cyrus O’Malley lunged forward, clutching a knife in his fist like a dagger, ready to strike.
There was no time to think. Murphy pushed himself to his feet, adrenaline surging through his body. He whirled to face his assailant and threw up his left arm to protect his face. Cyrus plunged the blade downward, sinking it into the soft flesh of Murphy’s arm, right to the hilt.
Murphy gasped. The pain was absolutely shattering, it brought him to his knees. Blood quickly oozed in warm waves from the wound. He swung his right arm toward Cyrus’ head but the man, despite his burly frame, quickly sidestepped his punch. The man was in a frenzy. He shifted his weight from one foot to another, knees slightly bent as the blood-slicked blade glittered in his hand.
Before Murphy could move back, Cyrus caught his leg and yanked it hard, forcing him down again. Murphy shot his arms forward to grab his attacker’s legs, but Cyrus slammed an elbow into his neck, locking his head between his knees, slamming him onto the ground. Murphy bit his lips from the impact; he could taste blood.
“Stop it! Stop!” Lucien shouted above them. But his words have fallen on deaf ears.
“You think you’re going to change anything?” Cyrus seethed, eyes wild and unseeing. The murderous rage that emanated off him was palpable. “You’re too late. Far too late. Parslowe’s dead. You can no longer bring him back. No point. No point to this at all!”
Weakened by the knife wound in his arm, Murphy’s reactions were slowed and delayed. He groaned in pain as he thrust out his arms and scratched at Cyrus’ hands in a struggle to escape from the headlock. Stars swam in his eyes as the other squeezed his neck even more tightly. Pain and fear drove him to kick and scratch and claw at his attacker, but to no avail.
“No point struggling, okay? Let’s end this now. Just let me fucking kill you!” Cyrus raised his arm, knife aimed directly at Murphy’s chest.
Just as darkness began to close around the edge of Murphy’s vision, a pair of glowing gray eyes appeared from behind Cyrus. Pyewacket, who had reverted to his canine form, jumped down the flight of stairs and sprang out over Cyrus, aiming for his wrist.
With a violent tug, Cyrus was pulled backwards. Sharp teeth sank into his skin. He growled in pain as his hand opened, finger by finger, and the knife clanged against the damp, concrete floor. Pyewacket bit down harder, and Cyrus cried out. The bite was deeper now, blood dripping and flesh tearing.
Murphy sank to his knees as he clutched at his throat, his breath ragged and painful. Out of the corner of his eye, he could see Cyrus with a fury so intense it frightened him. Pyewacket still had him by the wrist, ensnared by his teeth, pulling and thrashing him like a rag doll.
But Cyrus’ face never wavered in its intensity. He was determined to kill.
“Cyrus!” Lucien called out, knowing from someplace that things weren’t going to end well. “Cyrus! Stop!”
Cyrus was now feeling sick and dizzy and had lost all feeling in his fingers. As he struggled to loosen his hand from Pyewacket’s snare, his other hand twisted to reach for the revolver he had holstered up at his hip. He wasn’t wrong to have decided to carry it with him today. He put his finger on the trigger and pointed the gun at Pyewacket.
Murphy looked up at the familiar, his intuition buzzing wildly. Without much forethought, he advanced towards Cyrus, fists clenched tightly to his sides. The runes on his fingers glowed white as he let the power build inside him. And then, he raised his hands, thrust his arms palms-forward toward Cyrus.
Power surged through him like a crackle of lightning and he watched as he sent the gun flying from Cyrus’ grip and spinning down into the darkness.
Cyrus’ eyes were wide with shock. “What the f –“
“I didn’t want to do this, either. But you… you leave me no choice!” Murphy was lost in the moment. He curled his right hand into a fist and with one swing brought it down, releasing a force of magic aimed towards Cyrus.
Cyrus’ head fell sideways and, for good measure, banged his right temple hard against the edge of the stairs’ railing on his way down, before finally slamming against the ground. He hit his head so hard that he instantly bled and lost consciousness.
Breathing heavily, Murphy raised a shaky hand once more. “Just die… Just die right this instant…!” He was about to conjure another bolt of magic when Lucien yelled, “Mr. Odenkirk, no! Stop!”
Murphy’s heart skipped a beat and immediately calmed down. He slammed his palms to the ground and dropped to his knees. Hurried footsteps pounded the stairs as Lucien frantically ran down the steps and caught his arm. He knelt beside him, setting Murphy’s uninjured arm around his shoulders.
“That’s enough, Mr. Odenkirk. At this rate, you’ll kill him.” Lucien looked back; Cyrus laying still and stiff on the floor. “See? He’s out cold. It’s over…”
And then, an unsettling silence.
Lucien bit his lip as he looked at Murphy squarely in the face. “Mr. Odenkirk, y-you… Just now, you…” he muttered, his voice shaking.
Murphy swallowed hard. Shit. I’ve completely blown my cover now.
And then, Lucien’s gaze fell on the other’s injured arm, gasped at the angry red streaks spreading from his torn sleeve. “Oh god, you’re bleeding badly.”
Murphy groaned as the searing, white-hot pain from his injured arm made him feel light-headed. The surge of adrenaline was dying down, and he could feel his body aching all over. He lowered his head to look at his injury. The blade went straight through his forearm. Somehow, seeing the wound and the blood made the pain even more excruciating. His arm fell flat as Lucien placed an arm around his waist and hoisted him up, regarding him with determined eyes.
Murphy worked, tried, to help. Somehow, he managed to get up his feet. Not quite dead weight, though he would have fallen again if Lucien had let go of him. “W-Why… Why are you here, anyway?” he managed to ask Lucien.
Lucien grimaced. He could see the sickly pallor on the other’s face and the tendons sticking out in his gaping wound, but he didn’t waver.
Murphy breathed heavily. “Y-You shouldn’t have… come here,” he protested.
“Imagine if I hadn’t,” Lucien snapped as he helped the other climb up the stairs; Pyewacket following closely behind them. “You’re badly hurt, yet you still have the energy to nag at me?”
Murphy leaned in close and murmured, “It’s… It’s okay. I’m glad you’re here now. I really am… You don’t have to apologize.”
Lucien tilted his head sideways and looked up at the other out of the corner of one eye. “… I didn’t. Why would I apologize?”
The police arrived in less than five minutes, but it seemed like forever before the sound of sirens rose in the distance. Sitting down by the front porch, Lucien, Murphy and Pyewacket watched as Marigold Lane was quickly flooded with high beams from headlights and emergency lights flashing. The whole street had immediately been cordoned off.
Cyrus O’Malley’s apartment was taped off, with a plastic canopy being erected over the front yard. The press was quick to sniff out the incident and had arrived in less than an hour, as were the television cameras. Curious neighbors and passersby milled about as a team of coroners, medical examiners, and emergency personnel in full protective gear, appeared on the scene. After a little time, a small body of unarmed police had arrived to quiet things down.
Lucien and Murphy sat in the back of a Pinecrest EMS ambulance. Murphy had explained to the other about the blue plastic oil barrel; tried his best to omit the fact how he found out what was inside it. Lucien listened intently; his face grim.
An EMT was working on Murphy’s injury, applying first aid to the large gash on his arm, which by now had stopped bleeding.
“You have a really nasty cut. We’ll have to take you to the hospital to stitch it up,” said the technician, shaking her head at the sight of the wound.
Murphy shook his head. “Can you do it here instead?”
The EMT looked as if she could not believe her ears. “I’m afraid not, sir. We’ll have to take you in for further examination.”
Lucien took off his coat and draped it around Murphy’s shoulders. “I think you need to go. That’s a serious wound you got there. Don’t worry. I’ll handle it from here.”
“I can still manage,” Murphy said with stubborn determination. He then turned to the technician, wincing in pain as he moved. “Can I have a few more minutes? I’m waiting for someone.”
“Wait, who?” Lucien cut in.
“I texted Blake. Told him to come over right away.”
“You did what?”
“Uh, we’ll be going in fifteen minutes, sir.” Noticing that the atmosphere had become tense, the EMT walked around to the front of the ambulance, leaving the two of them alone.
Murphy’s gaze darted down the gauze dressing on Lucien’s neck. “What happened to that? Are you okay?”
Lucien quickly lifted a hand to cover it. It was where Pyewacket had bitten him from his last meal. “I-It’s nothing. Just a bug bite, nothing serious.” And then he frowned. “Please don’t change the subject. Why’d you have to call Mr. Gao? Can’t you wait until they extract Hunter’s body out of there?”
Murphy lowered his head. “It’s about time we stop sugar-coating things. He has to know now. He’ll be here soon.”
Lucien sighed sharply as he leaned his back against the ambulance door. “You can be so harsh. I wouldn’t know what to tell him if it were me.”
“Which is why I need to stay a while longer.”
Just then, two burly uniformed officers emerged from the apartment, along with a dishevelled man in handcuffs. It was Cyrus. There was blood dripping from a cut on his right temple, and some visible gashes and bruises on his lips and arms.
As Cyrus was being escorted to a waiting police car, they passed the EMS ambulance where Lucien and Murphy were.
Cyrus’ eyes met Lucien’s. He kept his guard up, looking at the murderer steadily. “Stay put,” he said as he placed a hand on Murphy’s shoulder, stopping the other from standing.
Cyrus stopped walking when Lucien approached. He smiled, but this smile was tinged with malice.
It wasn’t easy to come face to face with a killer. Lucien wanted to scream back that he wasn’t afraid. He could pummel him right there and then but figured it would be too anticlimactic.
The man had to pay for his crimes. He has become volatile and dangerous – a threat both to himself and to the public. But a swift death would mean mercy. No, he had to spend the rest of his life in jail. Rot away and never see the light of day ever again.
Lucien clenched his fists. Venting out his anger would be useless at this point. And as much as he wanted to cripple the man, it would do nothing to change what had already happened.
He only needed to know the answer to one question.
“Murdering your friend in the most vicious and ruthless way… Have you ever felt guilt and remorse, O’Malley?”
Cyrus’ eyes widened with feigned innocence. “Me? Guilt and remorse?” And then, he scoffed. “Why? Will you do your voodoo shit on me again to make me talk? I’ll save you the trouble, kid.” He allowed a rather dramatic pause that’s designed to unsettle Lucien. Eyeing the other expectantly and with cold mockery, he said, “It’s funny. I had to do it. I didn’t have a choice. If I hadn’t killed him, he would have killed me. It was necessary. There was no other way.”
Lucien clenched his jaw in seething anger. “You sick motherfucker.” He was about to punch Cyrus when a hand wrapped around his clenched fist. He turned to see Murphy, his face now a dark red, the vein in the middle of his forehead throbbing.
Murphy lowered Lucien’s hand as he walked over to face Cyrus. “Bullshit. Absolute bullshit. Hunter would never have done it. You’ve always had a choice, Cyrus. And you, you chose – not only here, but at the very start, you chose to be exposed to evils you never would’ve known existed. You know you wanted to do it, and you enjoyed it. You’re a fucking monster!”
With a wry smile Cyrus replied, “A monster, huh? Well… I couldn’t have been anything else in this world.”
“All right, all right, get moving!” One of the officers interjected as he shoved and prodded Cyrus down the pathway towards the police car.
“At the end of the day, he was just another dead body!” Cyrus shouted as the other officer pushed him into the back of the car, demanding him to get in. “Just another dead body in a pile of many other dead bodies! Will you ever find peace, knowing there are many others out there, waiting to be discovered? Will you find them, too? Would you dare? It’s still a wild fucking goose chase, you bunch of clowns!”
Lucien and Murphy watched in silence as reporters and photographers quickly swarmed the police car like bees in a hive.
And then, Lucien saw them. Something else were in the back seat with Cyrus. Petrified, he froze up and couldn’t move. There in the car, were the unmistakable disfigured silhouettes of demons. Not just one, not just two, but three demons – surrounding Cyrus O’Malley. His spiteful and malevolent aura has increased by a lot that demons were quickly drawn to him.
Lucien’s entire body quivered with fear, blood hammering in his ears. But Murphy must have seen them too because he quickly held Lucien’s hand, made him look away, and whisked him back to the ambulance.
Lucien struggled to get his thoughts rearranged as he shivered uncontrollably, rubbing his arms to shake off the anxiety. Silence stretched between him and Murphy for a long moment. And then, he finally spoke. “Did you see them, too?”
There was a brief hesitation before Murphy gave a slow nod. “…Yes.”
They turned to look at each other, searching for answers in each other’s eyes. Both could see that they were struggling with the truth.
“You’re looking at me as if I’m hiding something,” muttered Lucien.
“Well… are you?” Murphy shot back.
Lucien was the first to relent. He didn’t break their stare, but he took a swift little breath. “We… We need to have a long talk, you and I. But… this isn’t the right place and time for it.”
“You’re right.” Murphy smiled as he breathed a sigh of relief. “Let’s talk about it once this is all over. Until then, could you promise that there will be no other unpleasant surprises?”
Lucien replied with a chuckle. “Speak for yourself.”
Murphy shifted sideways, eyes darkening with a new resolve. “You’re so stubborn, Lucien Salverson. I’m still not sure if I love or hate that side of you. I probably should’ve just told you to come, then you would’ve done the opposite.”
Lucien bit his lip as he lowered his gaze. “You still don’t get it, do you? We need to deal with this as a team. But you had me completely checked out.” He looked up at Murphy again, eyes filled with determination. “I won’t let you have your way, Mr. Odenkirk. I’m an obstinate guy, after all.”
Murphy gave him a weary, defeated smile. “And because of that, you and Pyewacket saved my life. And I’m thankful. I owe you big time.”
Lucien smiled coyly.
And then, another awkward silence. Lucien fidgeted with his fingers, staring blankly at the ground. After what seemed like an eternity, he turned to look at Murphy again. He felt the need to break the silence. “Weren’t you sad that, maybe, yesterday could’ve been the last time we’d have seen each other – like ever?” As the words came out, he instantly regretted them.
Murphy returned his gaze, looking at him with mild confusion. “What do you mean?”
“It’s just that, you know…” Lucien gave a helpless shrug. “You’re still technically my boss. You’re a busy man, Mr. Odenkirk. Both of us aren’t even supposed to be here – together. I mean, what are we even doing? It’s impossible to even bump into each other at work. Right?”
“So silly...” The look on Murphy’s face was quickly replaced with pure adoration. He had an irrational urge to reach over and touch Lucien. “Is that what you’re worried about? Then, I’ll just keep creating more opportunities for us to meet.” And then, a deep sigh. “But definitely not in this kind of circumstance.”
Lucien could feel the heat of a blush rising in his face. He ducked his head, hoping it was not too late to hide it from Murphy.
He was about to say something when, out of the corner of his eye, he saw Hunter standing by the front porch, staring up at the sky. “Look, it’s Hunter!” he gasped as he bolted towards the porch. Hunter looked at him and smiled softly.
He was waving at Hunter when, at a distance, he heard the incessant honking from the horn of a car.
An emerald green sedan was moving forward into the driveway, pushing its way through the thick crowd of onlookers. A man dressed in a light-blue scrub suit hurried out of the car and stopped behind the yellow ‘Police Line’ tape, where a uniformed officer had stopped his advance.
It was Blake Gao, looking pale, frantic, and utterly bewildered.
“What? Did you really have to bring Chen-hong here, now of all times?” Hunter complained as he went down the porch towards Blake. “Really, you guys? Can’t I at least look better when he sees me again? And not in some…” He trailed off.
Murphy slowly made his way towards Blake. “He’s with us. He’s the victim’s relative,” he explained to the officer, who gave a brief nod.
Blake lifted the police tape and shimmied under it. “Are you okay, Mr. Odenkirk? There’s blood on your…”
“I’m okay,” Murphy said quietly as he led Blake to the apartment. He looked around in total confusion.
“What’s… What’s going on? I’m not sure what’s happening…”
Murphy pressed his arm gently. “I… The thing is… I wasn’t being completely honest with you, Mr. Gao.”
The confused smile on the other’s face quickly faltered. “W-What? What do you mean?”
“There are some things I need to tell you and… you need to listen to –“
Blake grabbed him by the arm, cutting him off mid-sentence. “Where’s Hunter? Is he inside that house? Is that where he lives? Is he okay? I’ll go see him for myself.” He dashed past Murphy and hurried towards the apartment house, but Murphy shifted to block his way.
“You can’t go inside. It’s… It’s a crime scene.”
Blake’s face turned even more pale at this. “Why? What happened? Was it a burglary? Wait, let me go see him so I can –”
Lucien came up and stepped in front of Blake to block his path. “He’s gone, Mr. Gao. Hunter’s dead.” His voice was wooden, but it held a terrible certainty about the words.
Blake took a moment to absorb what he just said. “What’s… that supposed to mean?” A cold, death-like feeling sent goosebumps up and down his arms. His breath caught in his chest. His world tilted for a moment. “No… No…” he mumbled, his voice quivering.
Just then, there was a flurry of activity in the house as a large group of men in white protective gear stepped out of the house, dragging a sizeable metallic trolley. On top of it was the blue plastic oil barrel. They carried it up from the basement.
Blake watched in horrified silence as the barrel was carried off down the porch by a forklift and placed onto the ground, under the plastic canopy. Several uniformed officers quickly cordoned the area from the press.
Slowly, the truth was sifting into Blake’s consciousness. He felt momentarily dizzy and suspected that every drop of color had left his face. “He can’t possibly…” he murmured, voice full of raw and imagined horrors for what that could mean. He squeezed his eyelids shut, wave after wave of realization and shock hammering through him, each more intense than the last.
“We’re sorry. We were far too late,” said Lucien. But to Blake, his voice was nothing more than a thick, muffled sound.
Eventually, the shock fizzled, leaving only despair. Blake’s muscles released their deathly grip on his bones as his knees buckled under him. “How could it be? Hunter… Don’t do this to me…!”
In that moment, the enormity of the shock fell on Blake like a tidal wave and, sinking to the ground, he burst into harsh, deep sobs.
He was vaguely aware of Murphy and Lucien sitting by his side and patting him on the back. His emotions were so intense that he failed to pick up on anyone else’s. For the first time, he let himself drown in his feelings.
In the nine years Hunter had been gone, Blake never allowed himself to fall into despair. But now, falling was not even necessary. Despair had been waiting for him and he finally succumbed to it.
He wailed. He screamed as he rocked back and forth. He yelled out Hunter’s name and didn’t stop crying until he felt faint. His head fell backward, Lucien caught him with his outstretched arm before he hit the ground. The two men hovered over him, desperately calling out his name.
Through blurry vision, Blake looked up to see that someone else was kneeling over him. He tried to make out the face that was looking down at him, smiling. He smiled back.
It was Hunter.
“Baby… It’ll be alright. Everything will be alright.”
Hunter’s voice enveloped Blake in a wave of warmth. And then, the smile on his face quickly faded as his lips trembled. “…How would you know? How can you make it alright? Tell me. Please tell me…”
He closed his eyes as his body grew lax and he lost consciousness.