The damnable trees extended on, the fog roiling before him, a misty mistress beckoning then pushing back at him coyly. Come with me, it whispered, see what it is that I hide. His reason for existence was what was being hidden, the one he’d quested after, followed around the world, lusted after like a lover whose appetite can never be sated.

Don’t go there, the man told himself, and the ubiquitous ache in his shoulder added it’s own reminder of the dangers of reminiscence. Tonight, though, tonight—the ones whose memory was only allowed to come forward fully at the bottom of a vodka or Scotch bottle would rest, avenged. Unwittingly, he paused, the fog rushing forward, indignant at this sudden stoppage.

Am I ready for that? Am I ready to put her to rest? He hefted the pistol, curious at the sweat that now coated his palm beneath the pebbled grip. For so long, it had been his companion, his only constant companion that served to remind him of The Goal.

Use it, that’s what it’s for, avenge—He forced himself to walk again, deeper into the mist, deeper into his destiny. His breathing was easy, as though either his mission or his adrenaline were keeping him fresh. He knew any minute now, through the blanket that covered the forest he’d see the lights of the wooden cabin cutting through.

If he didn’t get lost first.

Never. I feel it, I feel HIM. The bastard’s waiting for me. I’ll find him, I’ll get him, I’ll—An unseen root, jutting up from the ground, trapped his foot. He tried to stagger, to stay upright, but the fog had made the late November leaves on the ground moist. With an undignified grunt, he fell to the ground. His finger, once resting comfortably in the trigger guard, now twisted and an inconvenient angle and snapped in a most inconvenient and painful manner. His teeth gritted to stifle the shout of pain but still an anguished grunt escaped.

“Oh, DAMN,” he hissed. He freed his foot from the offending wood. He tried to move the gun to his other hand, but the broken finger was already swollen. “Damn it!”

After a moment, he managed to get the pistol off the finger, although the throbbing nearly drove him to use the pistol on himself. Half-remembering a first aid class from another epoch, he twisted the finger to set it. He fumbled around in his pocket, finding a pen and a handkerchief. He felt around on the ground for something else, finally settling on a stick. Unfortunately for the purpose he had in mind, it was about three and a half feet too long. Every move he made, his hand felt as though it were being put through a combination blast furnace/steamroller. Some masochistic neuron that he swore he’d carve from his skull later made him flex the fingers, and the flexing dragged a gasp from him. Actually, to be precise, it felt as though the fingers had reversed themselves, shot up his arm into his lungs and decided to skydive through his mouth, taking the breath along for a painful ride.

He pressed against the ground with his uninjured hand, trying to keep from hyperventilating. He grasped the stick, tried to break off the end with a shaking hand. For a scrawny piece of wood, it resisted his attempt to break in completely the opposite manner that his finger had.

“Oh, come ON,” he muttered, cursing his luck, the fact that he was a reporter, not a doctor, and the fact that he was so damn clumsy, and the fact that he had no idea how he was going to tie a splint in place with one hand and a single handkerchief. “Son of a bitch!”After another moment of contemplating his increasingly throbbing hand, he picked up the pistol, gritted his teeth against the pain, and started walking again. While stealth had not been a high priority with the wind making its own racket, he was sure that anyone within the nearest area code would know where he was with the racket he’d just made. Still—still—if he was lucky, and the guy was in the cabin, and maybe flushing in the bathroom and listening to Wagner on headphones at an excessive decibel, the element of surprise might still be his.

A tear fell from the corner of his eye, though whether it was from the pain or the ever-growing fear of failure growing in his belly, he couldn’t be sure. Shaking his head to clear the cobwebs and try to push past the pain, he pressed on. It was a little slower this time, watching the ground to avoid any more roots. The way the time felt, he was sure the dawn must be close, and that his quarry had once again escaped. That same masochistic neuron made him turn his wrist. He was amazed to see that, according to the luminous green numbers peeking out happily from the screen, he’d only gotten the phone call two hours ago. Ten minutes after his police mole had given him the tip on the tip they’d received, five minutes after he was in the car speeding toward this mountain.

Toward Jacob.

Amazed, he shook his head. Maybe he’d really get him this time. Maybe the scene he’d played out so many times in his head would come to pass. Maybe—

Maybe he’d get up this hill without killing himself. It got a little steeper, forcing him to pocket the gun and hold the trees to pull himself up. Once, he almost grabbed with the wrong hand, stopping himself millimeters away from more blinding pain.

“Have to be more careful than THAT,” he muttered, disgusted with himself. He gritted his teeth, pressed on. It seemed that he was coming to the crest of the hill, but knowing his luck, he expected to see a depression that led up to an ever steeper hill. A few steps later, though, he was at the top, looking down into a gently sloping valley. Nestled in against the side was a cabin—

“—and according to the asshole we busted, Greene’s staying in a cabin up on the east side of the mountain—“

Suddenly, the damp was forgotten. His finger was forgotten. Everything was forgotten but Faye. How she’d looked at him, the way she’d caressed him, the way her lips tasted, the way—

—the way she’d lain there, bleeding in the street, weakly grasping his hand as the flashing red lights from the emergency vehicles created odd, ugly shadows across her lovely, bloody face.

“I don’t know—I don’t know what happened, Vaughn,” she’d gasped. “I can’t feel anything—I can’t feel—“

Opening eyes he didn’t realize he’d closed, he pressed on toward the cabin. While he’d never given stock to any of the ghost stories he’d ever heard as anything more than fodder for giving kids bad dreams, he could swear that Faye was walking next to him, silently cheering him on.

He crept to the front of the house, toward the door. He tried the handle, it didn’t turn. Undaunted, he looked around, saw the straw mat before the door, and wondered if it would be that simple. He kept the pistol barrel trained on the door, and used the toe of his boot to pick up the corner of the mat. There, glinting in the light from the window was a brass key.

Could it be this easy?He knelt, dragging the key toward him with his unbroken fingers. Pressing it between his middle finger and his thumb, he raised it, looking at it was if it was the oddest thing he’d ever seen. Then he recalled all the police deaths he’d reported on, and realized the sound of the key in the lock would certainly alert anyone in there to his presence. He turned the key over, changing the way he was gripping the pistol.

As he was attempting to determine his next action, Fate once again acted, but this time in his favor. He heard the sound of someone coming toward the door, the pace relaxed, lazy almost. He scrambled to the side of the cabin, dropping the key as he went. The tinkling sound it made as it hit the porch he hoped was too soft to be picked up inside.

With a sudden click, a thin shaft of light appeared. It widened, filled with a shadow. The shadow grew, and then HE stepped onto the porch. He raised a lighter to his pipe, puffing to get it started. Finally, there was a crunching sizzle as the tobacco caught, a deep inhalation, a cloud of blue sweet smoke. The man sniffed, holding the pipe gently.

“Don’t move a muscle.” Maximillian moved forward, the gun leveled at his quarry. Jacob Greene’s eyes widened, then he smiled, pulling the pipe from his lips.

“Why, Vaughn Maximillian, as I live and breathe—”

The silence of the night was demolished by the gun shot. The broken pipe clattered to the wood, Greene clutching his wounded hand and gasping. Vaughn rushed him, grabbing the collar of his robe and dragging him back inside the cabin. Never taking his eyes from Greene, he kicked the door shut. It didn’t stay shut, bouncing back open instead away from the jamb. The rattle it made as it vibrated only registered slightly in Vaughn’s mind. The wind outside, the moving branches, all seemed to egg him on. NoooOOOW, the breeze told him. Shhhhhhhhoooooooooot, it continued.

The gun was steady in his hand. His palm was suddenly dry, as was the roof of his mouth. Greene stood there, a deer in the headlights. No, a cobra, faced with a mongoose, looking to either strike or escape. Vaughn brought his injured hand up to steady the pistol.

“I’ve waited too long for this, Greene.” The even, calmness of his voice surprised him.

Greene swallowed, still looking for an opportunity. “I’m sure you have, Maximillian. How did you learn where I was?” His left hand moved slightly.

The gunshot this time echoed in the cabin, closely followed by the splintering of wood. The burnt smell of the wood and the spent powder filled the room. Greene glanced over, saw the smoldering hole centimeters from where his hand had been.

“Don’t move…don’t even breathe,” Vaughn said, shifting the aim toward Greene’s heaving chest. “Right now I’m sure the adrenaline’s working its way through your body, Greene. Was that how it was when you ran Faye off the road? Did it thrill you to kill her?”

Greene looked up at him, a small smirk curving his mouth. “She was nothing. You still are nothing.” The smirk vanished. “If you put me away, my lawyers will have me out in no time. A nice trip to an extradition free country, a lovely house on the coastline somewhere. You’ll never be able to touch me.”

“I don’t need to touch you. I’ll never need to again.”

Vaughn had often described weaponry in his articles. The common belief was that guns were cold, distant tools, no life, no passion, no desire. Molded metal, bits of powder. What he held in his hand wasn’t cold. It wasn’t dead. It hungered. It longed for the kill. He could feel it reaching toward Greene, wanting to taste its victim’s blood.

Now, Greene laughed outright. “You’re a reporter. You can’t make yourself part of the story. You did, though. You made it personal. And it’s going to cost you more.” His left hand darted behind him. The gun in Vaughn’s hand seem to act on it’s own volition, knowing the desire of he who held it. The shot echoed for a long time, and for an even longer time, Greene simply sat there, unsure of what had happened. He touched his chest, felt the ragged tear in his shirt, the even more ragged tear in his skin. He looked up at Vaughn, questioning surprise twisting his face. His eyes, though, showed he understood as he began to descend back toward the floor, his essence flowing from his body.

The corpse was amazingly quiet as it met the floor. Somehow Vaughn had expected a loud end to this loud criminal, but he slid from the mortal coil quietly. Vaughn looked down on him, contempt making his gaze cold.

“You killed her.” Maximillian dropped the gun to the floor. “That’s what made it personal. But now she can rest easily, and justice is served.”


Justice is served? Really?
Max considered the words.  “That’s what made it personal, and….what?”
A glance to the floor revealed not a bullet hole, but a trio of cardboard boxes bathed in August moonlight.




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