Crawling out of the basement hurt so bad that it felt like he was on fire, which made sense, because he was. His shirt had gone up with the building, and his pants had nearly gone too, only they were still stuck unfortunately to his legs, smouldering and making the pain even worse.
He was pretty sure he was missing an entire foot.
There was, realistically speaking, only one thing on his mind: Murder. Specifically, murdering Lenore. She was going to die, but if Richard had anything to say about it, she wouldn’t be dying for a long, long time. Maybe months. Years, if he could manage it. There were a lot of ways you could hurt someone without permanently maiming them, and Richard was dying to give them a try.
That was, realistically speaking, the only thing that got him out of the rubble. It was the only thing that let him move his shambling corpse of a self away from the burning building. He was normally a planner, the kind of guy who made backups for his backups, but all those backups had run out at once.
He was equal parts black and red, patches all over his body that alternated between red hot pain and having no sensation at all. He was moving, but he wasn’t healing. He had already burned through all the blood he had in reserve, and the tank was running on empty.
He had to eat. It was eat or die, and he wasn’t going to die.
Normally he’d have been smart. He’d have found someone away from other people, been careful with who he chose. But he didn’t have that kind of time. His effective lifespan was being measured in minutes, and beggars couldn’t wait around for beggars.
The first man he found was an overweight jogger, huffing and puffing, his heart pounding away in his chest. The extent of Richard’s self control was tearing his throat out first as he dragged the man into the woods of the park, ravenous from the hunger.
The man probably had a wife and kids, but Richard was past the point of caring.
He ate three people before his hunger was down to a manageable level, and then he opted to eat a fourth, just to be sure. When you were already dealing with three bodies, what was a fourth? He was fairly sure two of his victims were unwanted vagrants that no one would even notice going missing, but at least two were going to be the kind that he’d need to pay a bunch of money to cover up. He was going to have to dip into his savings in a big way, and he scowled down at the neat little stack as he dug out a phone stolen from the jogger, making one of those risky calls that he really didn’t want to make, but probably had to anyway.
“Rich?” Came Paul’s very nervous sounding voice on the other side. The fact that he was apparently answering every possible phone call with his name didn’t bode well.
“Obviously,” Rich snapped. “Come get me. And call the lawyer.”
They didn’t talk about Lenore.
Richard wasn’t going to bring it up, because if he did, he was probably going to end up having to kill Paul. That was how angry he was. Because there was no fucking way that she’d somehow managed to get out on her own. She had no money. She had one stupid half-dead man who couldn’t even stand. Where would she go? It wasn’t like she could hotwire a car, and Richard knew where his keys were (boy, did he fucking know).
That really just left Paul. Paul, who was unscathed. Paul, who was nervous from the moment he’d picked Richard up in the park and taken him to the backup apartment they kept for this exact occasion.
It cost a lot of money to bury things. To make sure no one went peeking. The entire building was declared unsafe, the remains of the asbestos having caused too much risk. Had to leave it where it was, unfortunately, sealing the whole place off.
What a waste. The whole thing was fucked from top to bottom, and now there were dozens of angry tenants. A few were dead, doing their part in disguising the human bone fragments at the bottom of the furnace.
He was going to get her.
Paul continued to not talk about Lenore. He continued not talking about her even when he walked in on Richard pouring over lists of names, checking them off methodically as he crossed them out. It turned out that Sam was a very common name, and that even his last name--meticulously plucked from missing person’s records--was also very common.
Most telling was that his family had mysteriously decided to move right around the time that Richard’s building had gone up in flame.
They had neglected to leave a forwarding address.
“Can’t you just leave her?” Paul finally said, on the third such occasion.
“No,” Richard said very firmly, leaving no room for argument.
Apparently he didn’t do a good enough job, because Paul seemed to think there was some room for argument.
“She got away,” Paul pointed out. “And no one’s come and kicked our door in, so obviously she isn’t telling anyone.”
“That’s because she’s not stupid,” Richard said without looking up. “And she knows if she opens her fat fucking mouth one time, I’ll have her.”
“It’s because she likes me, actually,” Paul said, seemingly convinced of this very nebulous truth.
“No,” Richard said. “It’s definitely what I said. You were going to eat her. She doesn’t like people who would eat her. And in case you forgot, she tried to murder me and ran away.”
“She likes me,” Paul continued, “and I think she liked you too.”
The statement was so stupid that Richard paused, lifting his eyes from the detailed list of Sam’s potential relatives, and then stared at Paul for a few moments.
Paul stared back, doing a very bad job of hiding how nervous he was, and Richard eventually returned to his work.
He had to give Lenore credit: She’d done it right. There was no trail to follow. He sought out her remaining family, but it was a very, very solid dead end. Her work, similarly, had no contact. He even went so far as to drop by her old apartment, only the place had been rented out for months, and her things all boxed up and donated to charity. No shelters had seen her, and as nine months since her daring escape ticked by, even that failed to turn up anything.
“She’s probably dead,” Paul ventured at one point when Richard was in a particularly foul mood.
“So you have implied,” Richard said, “several times. But need I remind you that this is the woman who nearly killed me not once, but twice, and I’m having a hard time imagining she managed that entire ridiculous escape, burned my goddamn building down, and then decided to slide into a ditch to drown herself among the muck where she belongs.”
Paul looked uncomfortable. This wasn’t anything new, because Paul always looked uncomfortable when Lenore was brought up, but this seemed somehow different.
“What?” Richard said, pausing to look Paul over a bit more firmly. He was hiding something, and Richard wanted to know what.
Paul shifted nervously, clearly reconsidering saying anything about whatever he was hiding.
“What?” Richard repeated, wondering if he was going to have to break Paul’s arm to get him to spit it out.
“The head,” he said, his voice impossibly quiet.
“The head. Charlie’s head.”
Richard had not given Charlie or his head even a moment’s thought since the entire building had burnt to the ground, and almost a year later he was having a hard time trying to figure out why ever would.
“I think he drank from it.”
There was a long pause as Richard turned this new information over. He’d known, of course, that Paul had to have helped them. There was no way he hadn’t. But he’d also never expected that Paul would actually admit it, and that was slightly distracting him from the actual reality of what he’d said, right up until it snapped into focus.
“What?” Richard said, his eyebrows shooting up so high they nearly flew off his face. “You think he drank from the head? Blood from Charlie’s fucking head?”
Was he insane? Was - wait, yes. Yes he was insane. He was desperate and insane and probably thought that was as viable an option as any for getting out. That was why he’d been so ill. That was why the sudden downward turn. He’d been dying because there wasn’t enough blood in him.
“He probably ate her,” Paul said, looking awfully sad.
“He better fucking not have,” Richard snapped. “I have plans for her. There’s no way he’d just eat her, right?”
“It depends on if she tried to drag it out,” Paul ventured, “If she tried to feed him from herself, he might have just latched on and she would have bled out, and they’d both have died.”
Richard made an unhappy sound. If she’d bled out, that meant all his searching was for nothing. It meant that it didn’t matter how much he searched, because Lenore and her idiotic lover were John and Jane Doe in some country morgue, dead as door nails and useless to him.
The same idea had obviously occurred to Paul, and it was very clear he couldn’t decide if that was good (on one hand, Richard could hardly torture her if she was dead), or bad (on the other, that did mean Lenore was dead).
“Well,” Richard snapped, “I’m going to look anyway.”
And that was that.
It was, in the end, complete chance.
He didn’t find Lenore through his relentless searching. He didn’t find her from visiting every place Lenore had ever been in her life, or even the places she’d thought about going but never made it to.
He found her because someone on one of the properties they owned two states over had decided to write a formal complaint about the neighbor's apple tree reaching over their fence and causing a mess, and that neighbor happened to have the exact same last name as Sam.
They also happened to have moved in right around the same time Lenore had made her escape, and that kind of coincidence seemed a bit too coincidental.
Richard did not tell Paul. If he told Paul, Paul would whine and want to come along. He would probably insist they should leave Lenore alone, because she’d suffered, and wasn’t that enough?
Fuck no it wasn’t enough. She’d taken out his eye. She’d nearly burned him to death. Patches of his skin were still oddly red and shiny at times, and he wasn’t sure if it was going to get any better.
So fuck Lenore, and fuck Paul while he was at it.
The house was not impressive. He supposed it was technically better than the small room she’d lived in for five months with him, but it was still small. The kind of small, rustic two story house that wouldn’t have looked out of place on a farm, only this one had been planted in the middle of a large suburb.
The lot wasn’t bad, but it did back up onto a small creek, with heavy bush and plenty of places to hide. There were security lights, but conveniently they were all positioned near the front of the house, so as to light up anyone coming up the driveway.
Richard didn’t need lights, and he sure as hell didn’t need a driveway.
He scaled the side of the house with a practiced ease, slipping quietly across the top. The house was obviously not one that could be bought inside a year. The house was obviously owned by someone’s family, and since Lenore had none, that meant Sam.
So Sam had made it out. He had no fucking idea how, but he had. Maybe Paul had been wrong? Maybe had hadn’t drank from the head, and he’d really just been low.
Paul was an idiot, but it didn’t seem like the sort of thing he’d be wrong about.
The first room was definitely the master bedroom. If he had to guess, he’d have pegged the occupants as Sam’s parents. They were about the right age, sleeping in one great big bed, and they were about as interesting to Richard as dirt, so he moved on.
The second was a young woman - younger than Lenore by several years, and sleeping just fine. He waited there, just above the window, and let himself listen.
He should have listened beforehand, because there was one last adult heartbeat on the second story on the opposite side of the house, and then one tiny pitter patter that was definitely not an adult.
Maybe it was a dog.
He hoped it was a dog.
It was very firmly not a dog.
He flipped himself upside down, staring in the dark window to take in the room. There was an adult sized bed shoved up against one wall, with a very sleeping Lenore in it, and then there was, of all fucking things, a crib with a sleeping baby.
Even at a distance Richard could tell something was wrong with the babies face, but it was looking the wrong way and making it hard to tell. For that matter, there was something subtly off about the way the room was laid out that he couldn’t put his finger on.
Richard flipped himself back up, trying to think.
Richard slipped down from the roof, pressing against the wall as he wedged his fingers under the window frame, sliding it up. It wasn’t even locked, no doubt counting on the fact that it was on the second story with nothing to stand on, but Lenore really should have known better.
Probably she thought he was dead.
It was two steps into the room that Richard realized what was off about the room: There was an awful lot of metal. The crib was topped with metal decorations. There were no less than five metal crucifixes on the walls. Lenore’s nightstand was littered with bits and bobs, all metal.
All silver, if he was going to take a guess. It wasn’t enough to make him leave, but it was enough to make him very, very wary.
Lenore had nearly killed him twice, and he wasn’t going to give her a chance for a third.
He slipped over to the crib, careful not to touch (God only knew what she’d stuck silver on) as he leaned over, inspecting.
Well, it was definitely a baby. And there was definitely something wrong with its face. The lip was all pulled up, like some great big gash, and it occurred to Richard he’d seen something like that before, even if he couldn't place it.
He glanced behind him, half expecting to see Lenore sitting up, but she was still asleep.
Richard took his phone out of his pocket and took a picture of the baby, just in case he had to show Paul later. Paul would probably like it. Paul seemed like the kind of idiot who would love kids.
It was at that point that Richard began to realize he had no idea what to do. He’d traveled all that way to drag Lenore off into the night, but standing in her room, watching her baby sleep, he suddenly wasn’t quite so sure about the best course of action.
Maybe Paul was right.
Maybe she had earned it. She’d gotten away. She’d defied all odds not once but twice, and she’d made it out of the house, and she hadn’t told one single fucking person.
And there was the baby. What the fuck was he going to do with the baby? He wasn’t going to be one of those sick fucks that would just eat it. That was just wrong, way over the line.
His desire to remove Lenore’s eyeballs with an ice cream scoop seemed to have gone to bed at some point in the months since she’d nearly burned him to death, and he wasn’t sure if it was going to be waking up again.
Fucking Paul. This was definitely his fault.
Richard moved over and sat down on the bed beside Lenore. His weight was enough to shift the bed, and that was enough to disturb her, just enough to make her crack her eyes open. But Richard’s hand was over her mouth before she could even realize what was happening, and his other hand caught her wrist as she went for something on the nightstand.
“Oh no you don’t,” he said, his voice very quiet. “You made this room a veritable deathtrap for me, haven’t you?”
Lenore was afraid. He could hear it, and a part of Rich really, really wished he’d fed just before coming. Because her heart was pounding so goddamn hard, and a part of him that wasn’t as small as he’d have liked was considering just eating her there, and damn the consequences.
She wasn’t looking at him. She was looking at the crib, eyes wide and terrified.
“Really?” Richard said, keeping his voice low. “Really? You think I’d kill a baby? Come on, I’m not that bad.”
It was obvious to him that Lenore would love to beg to differ, but he wasn’t letting her talk.
God, he wanted to eat her.
“I’m going to uncover your mouth,” Richard said. “And then you’re going to tell me where Sam is. And if you scream, I’m going to tear out your throat and I’ll jam your whole fucking corpse into that crib over there. So, nice and quiet now.”
A part of him genuinely expected her to scream. A big part of him hoped she was going to give him that excuse.
She didn’t. Lenore had always been good at playing that line, of being just compliant enough to not get killed.
“He’s dead,” she said, her voice very quiet. “We couldn’t save him.”
Lenore wasn’t going to answer. She was clenching her jaw, clearly trying to figure out how to not say it.
“Who’s we, Lenore? In case you forgot, you aren’t in a position to negotiate right now.”
“His family,” she said, her voice so quiet that even he could barely hear her. “They tried to save him, but it wasn’t enough blood.”
“You told them?”
“I had to tell them something. I had to explain.”
Richard made a small noise of annoyance.
“Where is he now?”
“Buried out back.”
Well, that was nice and neat. One body down. He’d been in the ground almost a year, and this far on there was no way anyone would be able to link him back to Richard. All his fleshy bits had rotted away by that point, and there wouldn’t be any sign of the attempted change considering how far along he’d been.
“Richard?” Came Lenore’s very small voice from below him, and Richard abruptly realized he’d zoned out, staring into space.
“Are you here to kill me?”
There was a long pause. Truthfully, he still wasn’t entirely sure, and he figured there was no harm in being honest.
“The juries still out.”
Lenore didn’t cry, but her heart was still pounding away.
God, he was fucking hungry.
Richard paused, turning his head, and stared over to wards the crib.
“Alright Lenore,” he said, turning his attention back to her. “Here’s what’s going to happen. I came all this way out here just to drag you back by your hair to my new laundry room, and then I got here, and you’ve got your normal little life going on, and there’s a baby, and there’s no way for me to do anything without looking like the bad guy. You haven’t even ratted me out, either--although I suspect that has more to do with Paul, and the fact that you probably assumed I was dead--but anyway, murdering a new mother. That’s kind of fucked up, right?”
He stared at her until she nodded.
“But either way, I’m still hungry. And a man has to eat. And you’re sitting right here, full up on blood, and I figure if I just drink from you right now, that’ll last me until I get back home, back to Paul to tell him what a wonderful little waste of time this trip was.”
Lenore did not look convinced. Lenore was still scared, and her heart was still pounding away, but after a moment she seemed to steel herself.
“You don’t smell like Xanax,” he observed.
“I weaned off it.”
“Not soon enough.”
A light bulb went off in Richard’s brain, and he turned his head to look over at the crib.
“The fact that you were an addict fucked the kid up.”
“He’s not fucked up,” Lenore said, sounding offended. “He has a cleft lip. They’ll do surgery on it in a few years and he’ll be fine.”
“That’s it? You were taking... what, twenty a day when we first had you with us, and all the kid gets is a cleft lip?”
“His muscles were screwed up,” Lenore said, sounding even more offended. “He’s better now.”
“He’s better now,” Richard said with a snicker. “Except that he’s got a fuck up like you for a mother.”
Lenore looked annoyed, but Richard didn’t particularly care. They’re past that. Decision made, book closed. He slipped over, pushing her upright until he could slide in right behind her, and then wrapped an arm loosely around her waist.
“I haven’t done this in a while,” Richard said. “So you’re going to want to sit still.”
He pressed a hand to her chest, right over her heart, and just let himself feel it.
She’s still afraid of him. Even after almost killing him twice, she was still terrified of him. For herself? For the kid? It didn’t really matter, because the effect was still the same, just her heart pounding away in her chest.
She made a small noise that took a few seconds to register as a sob.
“Shhh,” he said quietly. Her neck was right there. He could just bite and it’d be over with, and he wouldn’t have to deal with any of her shit ever again.
But there were a lot of things wrong with that, even if he was hungry.
“Give me your wrist,” he said, and Lenore let out another little sob.
“Your wrist, Lenore,” he repeated.
Lenore held out her left hand, her entire arm trembling.
“No,” Richard said very firmly. “Your other hand. Paul already fucked that one up, and I’m not going for sloppy seconds.”
Lenore seemed significantly more nervous when she offered her other hand up.
He could hear her fear. It was obvious to him anything. But honestly, he had no fucking idea what she was thinking about. The kid? Herself? Him?
“Talk to me,” he said. “The more you talk, the more in control I’m going to be.” He was careful as he rolled her sleeve up. There was going to be blood no matter what, but it might as well not get it on her clothes.
“I don’t know what to say,” Lenore said. “I’d hoped this was over. I thought I got away.”
“You can’t ever get away from us,” Richard pointed out. “Not really. But this is as close as you’re going to get.”
He was true to his word. He was careful, far more than she probably deserved, as he bit into her wrist. He wanted her to talk through it, but he’d forgotten how much it apparently hurt, because he had to slap a hand over her mouth to keep from waking the house as he bit down.
She tasted so fucking good. He could hear her heart pounding away in her chest, could feel it as he pressed her up against him, her fear real and tangible and as present as he was. For a long moment he was lost in it, pushing too far, drinking too much, and then somewhere else in the house someone coughed and the moment broke.
He pulled back, and despite the tears in her eyes and the hand still over her mouth, Lenore grabbed at one of the bed sheets, binding it around her arm to try and make a tourniquet.
“You’re bad at this,” he hissed, releasing her mouth as he took over, tying the tourniquet himself.
Lenore looked like a mess. Covered in her own blood, sitting on a ruined bed, and so obviously in pain and trying to keep from screaming. It was obvious to Richard that she was actively making an effort to keep her volume down, even if she was doing a shitty job.
Richard couldn’t figure out what his emotions were doing. He was so full with her, so elated, riding high. It shouldn’t have been half as good as it was--she still had her eyeballs, and that was the bare minimum of what he had planned--and yet it was.
“This is good,” he said, pushing himself off the bed. “Was good. I suppose for me, not so much for you.”
Lenore very clearly was not having a good time, and it took her a few minutes, still clutching at her ruined wrist, to manage to speak.
“Are we done?” She said.
“Paul would want to visit, you know,” he said with a pointed look at the crib. “He’s all whiny lately. He wants-”
“Don’t,” she said. “We got away. I can’t do this again.”
Richard paused, looking her over. She was a mess, he supposed. But she did get away.
Richard was on the windowsill before she could blink, and then before she could blink again he was back beside her, holding out a card.
She very clearly didn’t want to, but when he didn’t drop the point, she eventually used her good hand to reach up, taking the card carefully from his outstretched fingers. It occurred to Richard that she probably couldn’t even read it in the darkness. She could probably barely even see him.
That didn’t really change things though.
“If you need anything,” Richard said, “You give that number a call. I’m sure Paul would love to have you back. Like I said, he’s been moping since you left.”
“I won’t,” Lenore said, her voice sounding strained.
“Well, you keep it anyway.”
Richard was back on the windowsill in a flash, but he paused, staring into the room at Lenore. Her wrist was all fucked up. Probably less fucked up than her left, considering she had actually stayed fucking still this time, but still pretty fucked up.
But her eyes were angry. Even through the pain she was glaring at him, still angry for intruding on her quiet, perfect life.
Good. At least he could be satisfied he’s pissed her off one last time.
He gave a small nod of his head (that she probably still can’t see), and then he simply dropped backwards, away from the window, out of sight.
He doesn’t tell Paul about his trip. When Paul asks, he says it was uneventful, and he goes back to work. He deletes the photo he took, and he doesn’t bring it up. If Paul suspects anything, he doesn’t say.
Maybe in a few years, he decides, he’ll go back. He’ll visit. Bring Paul. See what the kid’s like. Maybe one day his next donor will be little Sam Junior or whatever stupid fucking name she decided to give him. Maybe it’ll be Lenore, old and gray and ready to die.
But he doesn’t.
He never goes to see Lenore again.