The scream I’d previously swallowed was coming back up, fast. I could feel it flooding up the back of my throat, even as I crushed myself into the mold-encrusted corner of that horrible little room. The thunder crashed, and somewhere behind the shrill ringing in my ear, I could hear the, now somewhat familiar, padding of huge, clawed feet.
But when the glistening, clawed hands and hooked teeth didn’t tear me apart, I opened my eyes. And that’s precisely when I saw him—Dillan Wicked. He was being wheeled through the hallway (which was now lit, likely by a back-up generator) inside of some weird…container, lights flickering all around him as if he was actually making the bulbs jumpy. I had no idea where the Bowers had gotten to, but I wasn’t exactly sure I had made out any better for what had replaced them.
The contraption they had Mister Wicked imprisoned within looked eerily similar to a coffin, and I repressed a small shudder when it crossed the threshold of the room. The only things that separated the thing from a casket were the little vents near the top of the device, so the man inside could breath and, perhaps only incidentally, see. The thin, sad looking custodian that wheeled him into the room seemed utterly unfazed by his payload, and deposited the killer into the corner of the room with all the pomp of dropping a bag of mulch. “Press this button when you’re finished with him,” said the grubby little man, gesturing to a blue button on the wall. “If you’re smart, you won’t get any closer to him than you already are.” Then the man slunk back into the hallway, which was intermittently aglow with stuttering, orange light.
The room had a number of overhead windows, and even possessed a broken skylight, which allowed a good amount of the storm in. And it was the storm alone that appeared to command the attention of the killer in the iron coffin. All I could see of the man were his eyes as they tried desperately to reflect the grey of the leaden sky. He still hadn’t so much as looked at me.
I waited for about 15 minutes before I could see that his attention was slowly drifting back down to earth. Instantly, his eyes shed the storm and put on the gloom of the dank room. And when all of his attention had fallen upon me, I could feel it moving. And unlike the touch of other men’s gazes, his wasn’t grasping at my lady parts, but burrowing all the way down to the bottom of me—a place filled with dirty secrets and dead old ladies. By the time he spoke his first word to me, I was already feeling like his next victim.
“Thank you for bringing me out into the rain. It’s been awhile since I’ve seen a good storm. I rarely get a chance to look outside, and when I do it’s usually unbearably bright out. My eyes aren’t at all well suited to the light, you see. So, now that we're properly alone, and I can see that you’re eager to get down to business, what did you want to see me about?” His words were innocent enough, but I could feel them trying to move around me, positioning themselves. So I put on my best journalist’s voice and demeanor, and plugged away.
“Well, I was wondering if you could tell me something about a particular woman that you might have known.” I didn’t want the urgency of my mission to be apparent to him, or I’d be at his mercy.
“I’ve come to know quite a few women in my time, some more intimately than others, certainly…But tell me, does this woman have a name? And while we’re on the topic, might I know your name?” he said, with more innocent cunning.
“Look, I’m not going to lie to you…You scare the s#!t out of me. So, if it’s all the same to you, I’d like to leave my name out of our conversation…unless you absolutely need it.” My words didn’t exactly outline my desperation, but they didn’t help my cause much, either. But, honestly, the guy did terrify me to Hell and back. And, despite the huge, iron coffin he was locked in, I still couldn’t help but feel completely vulnerable. Also, the clammy little room, sporadically filled with turns of lightning and weak electric light, wasn’t helping my confidence one little bit.
“I understand, of course. And you’re more than welcome to remain anonymous. Is there anything else I can do to put you at greater ease, beyond the many, many layers of steel that currently separates us?” He said, almost exasperatedly.
“It’s the word ‘currently’ that really concerns me, Mister Wickett. You’re a famously clever individual, and should you ever manage your way out of here, I’d rather you didn’t stop by my place for a visit... I’m just trying to be as cautious as I can, you understand.” I said, almost sheepishly.
“All this, and yet you came here, willingly, into the shadow of New Victoria, during a roaring thunderstorm, to see…me. This woman you’re interested in must be terribly important, indeed.” He was running the numbers, trying to boil me down to my true purpose. He’d already figured out how important the witch was to me. The advantage was all his, now.
“Well, yes…I suppose she is.” There was no use trying to hide it, really. It was pretty obvious that I came out of desperation, and, if he was as deductive as I assumed he might be, he probably guessed that my desperation was just thinly veiled obsession. I was just hoping to catch a break at this point.
“And her name?” He asked, quietly.
“I don’t know it. I was actually hoping, that if I described her well enough, you might be able to tell me her name.” My tone was embarrassingly apologetic.
“Then, please, by all means, describe her to me. I’m eager to know what makes this woman so special to you.”
“Well, I’ve recently spoken with a former…affiliate of yours. She was a member of the Bowers family...” I paused to see if the name-drop would have any effect on the imprisoned man. It didn’t, so I continued. “She mentioned to me that she had once made your acquaintance through a common associate, a woman who often traveled with two gigantic men and two young girls. It’s the woman’s name I’m looking for.” After a few minutes of extremely intense silence, his gaze left me, and I could almost feel it lift back into the storm.
This time he didn’t lower his gaze to speak to me. “I’m afraid you might have wasted your time, gas and bravery. You see, even I don’t know her name. I doubt many do.” His last few words slowly soaked into the gloom and storm, before altogether sinking away. Moments later, I heard his breath for the first time. He sighed, as if mentally steeling himself against an especially painful recollection. This time, it was my turn to crunch some numbers.
At this point, I knew a little something about how the witch twisted the people she happened across, or deliberately cultivated (I wasn’t sure which), and so I took a shot in the, not entirely unnavigable, dark.
“She was your mother, wasn’t she?”
The room instantly changed. Cold menace replaced the air, and the gaze of a killer, like the lightning itself, fell down from the storm. He didn’t speak, but the one, tiny noise he made was infinitely more awful than the darkest words or the loudest thunder.
The door of the coffin quietly clicked open…
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