The trees swayed in the breeze, dry leaves rustled and the full moon disappeared behind a bank of clouds drawing out the already dark shadows. Shadows he hid within, watching, waiting, frozen in place by his obsession, his bloodlust.
Testing the air with a sniff, he tried detecting a trace of her perfume but came away with only the distinct scent of fall. Crisp. Clean. Carnal.
His edgy hands begged for action and he clenched them, dropping his arms to his sides. Tilting his head, he caught a rhythmic pulse like that of his heart, but accented with crunching leaves. She was coming and his hand shot to the worn handle of his hunting knife.
His fingers stroked the soft wood like a lover and he stared at the jogger-beaten path. The bounce of her headlamp filtered through the thick brush and he blew a slow stream of air through his lips, calming his pounding heart.
Patience, he told himself again. He didn’t want to give her enough time to react, to bolt in the opposite direction. Instead, he counted her steps, watching as the light approached, bouncing with each of her long-legged steps.
It wasn’t her lithe frame he was after. It was her face, her scalp. She passed by him at the store, catching his fancy and fueling his desire. A fine specimen. An excellent addition to his collection with fragile features stretched into a scream - forever captured in his art.
He crept closer to the path, crouching and ready to pounce the moment she crossed. The light drew closer and now he could smell the mixture of Poison and sweat, a sweet concoction that aroused his hunger and almost uncoiled his predatory posture. He inhaled deeply, relishing the scent. Her footfalls close enough to make out her dark form behind the bright light.
He waited and when the twig he placed in the middle of the path snapped, he sprang. In one leap, he caught her, wrapping his arms around her as he tackled. The yelp of surprise brought a smile to his face and he unsheathed the knife, plunging it in her chest before she could regain enough oxygen to produce a curdling scream.
Her eyes widened, blinking at him in the light of her fallen headlamp.
The thrill of the hunt, of the capture fueled his blood, pumping it frantically through his veins, throbbing in his temple, producing little spots of red in the edges of his eyesight. Ripping flesh accompanied each of his thrusts along with muffled cries of pain that gave way to an airy wheeze.
He grabbed her hair, pulling her head forward and slicing the base of her hairline with surgical precision. Sliding his fingers under the gaping wound, he peeled the scalp from the back to the front, separating her skin from the bone.
She did scream then, a high gurgling wail that died moments later when his knife separated the mass of skin and hair and lips he peeled from her bones, severing her jugular in the process. With the prize pelt in his hands, he stood, sheathing the knife and taking off toward the river.
Eight hours earlier…
“You are ruining my life!” CJ Ryan bellowed.
Steve Williams crossed his arms and stood his ground. “I don’t care. You snuck out of the house after I said you couldn’t go to that party. You know damn well I’d find out and now both you and your brother are grounded until graduation.” His gaze traveled to CJ’s mute brother Tom. “And you, what were you thinking stealing that car?”
Tom thrust his hands in his pockets and stared at the ground.
Steve clenched his teeth together and glanced out the observation window at the Brooksfield police department pit.
“You can’t ground me. You’re not my father.”
His gaze snapped back to CJ and he tilted his head, narrowing his eyes. “I may not be your biological father, but don’t ever doubt my authority here.”
“It’s your fault my parents are dead.”
The mental shove made Steve stumble back a step and he caught himself. In two strides, he stood toe to toe with CJ, his gaze blazing into the azure blue of the seventeen-year-olds equally furious eyes.
“You really want to play that game with me?” he asked, his voice low, almost a growl, but the kid struck a chord. His father had been caught in the cross fire of one of his FBI investigations and his mother, his mother was a completely different story. He had led her right into the belly of the beast.
CJ dropped his gaze, his eyes traveling to Tom’s before he gave a slight shake of his head.
“Why’d you let him steal a car?”
CJ sighed and shrugged, all the hellfire burned out of him for the moment.
“Why?” Steve asked and stepped back, addressing Tom.
I wanted to see my dad. Tom thought, meeting his questioning stare.
“Bullshit.” Steve shook his head. You see him all the time. You probably can see him pacing the room behind me. Can’t you?
Tom’s gaze moved from Steve’s to the angry angel pacing the room. Wings fluttered and a wealth of curses dropped from his lips, his iridescent blue eyes glaring at the two boys. Tom nodded. I wanted to talk with him.
“You could have asked me to bring you here.” Steve softened. It had been a couple months since they visited Paradise Cove. The magical portal where their father could speak to them, to see them and Tom had a ghost of a tongue along with the miraculous recovery of speech. It was the only place on earth that he could articulate his thoughts since the psycho in Georgia cut his tongue out.
But neither boy had the same mental bond Steve had with their father. Their father was now his guardian angel, a constant presence intruding on his every thought. Steve could hear Ty Ryan any time of day or night, even times when he’d rather not have the voice of reason on his shoulder. Sometimes he wished for the blessed silence he knew before he met the Ryan family. The absolute cluelessness to the thoughts around him, to the ghost haunting his every waking minute and to the powers he inherited when Ty died. Reading minds came in handy as an FBI agent, but the constant din in his head was maddening.
“You’ve been too wrapped up in that case to take us,” CJ answered.
That case. He almost laughed at the venom in CJ’s voice. That case shrouded his life, leaving time for nothing else and he missed more football games and nights of homework and family time his wife set aside because of that stinking case.
Another killer was loose. The Windwalker eluded the police, eluded the FBI, and eluded him like he was made of smoke. They had gotten to the last victim minutes after she died. With her body still warm, they scoured the woods for clues, but the tracks disappeared at the bank of the river, just like every other dead, skinned body they found. Stealth, like fog rolling from the snow during strawberry spring, in and out quickly before the victim really knew what happened and it burned him, becoming a mission. An obsession.
CJ knew how frustrated he was and to bring it up here was just his attempt to get a rise out of him, to skirt the real issue.
He ignored the dig. “So you sneak out of the house, crash that party, have a few beers and decide it would be a great idea to steal a car?” Exasperated, he traded glances with the boys. “You crossed state lines. Do you have any idea how serious this is?”
CJ went to speak and closed his mouth. He sank into the chair, fidgeting with his parent’s wedding bands, which he wore on a chain around his neck. Tom followed suit taking the seat next to his brother.
I’m sorry. It was my idea not CJ’s.
“Grand theft auto is serious and you two are close enough to eighteen for the courts to look at this as an opportunity to teach a hard lesson.” He slid into the chair on the other side of the table and leaned forward. “I had to pull a lot of strings to make this disappear but this is the last time I will bail you out. You hear me?” He pounded his index finger on the table, punctuating his words. “The last time!”
* * * *
The magnificent wings fluttered and a chill tingled down Tom’s spine. The incarnation of his father stood before him on the leaf covered moss of Paradise Cove. CJ’s mirror image with grand white wings implanted in his back—a dark angel saddled with the responsibility of keeping Steve Williams safe for the rest of his natural life.
“I can’t believe you would do something like that!” the voice bellowed, shimmering off the water and sending tendrils of ripples through the surface of the cove. Trees shook under the booming tenor, bowing away from the power of it. “I could just ring your neck.”
He took a step back, right into the solid mass of Steve blocking the only entrance to this sacred ground. His escape thwarted and the anger sparked under the layer of fear.
The angel crossed, towering over him, extending his wings to their intimidating breadth. “You stole a car!”
“That’s right. I did,” Tom spoke, standing a little straighter and jutting his chin. His voice unmarred by the absence of a tongue. Smooth and perfect like it should have been.
“I never thought you would be the one to rebel. What the hell happened?”
“I don’t know, ‘Dad’.” He made quotations marks with his fingers, sarcasm lacing his musical tone. Nightmares still plagued him; night after night he relived the days locked in the basement in Georgia. All the snippets of torture, all the grotesque dreams, all the horror, culminating in the reigning fury throbbing in his veins and the dam finally burst. Tom’s eyes narrowed into a glare. “Perhaps it was my mother’s severed head sitting next to me while that bastard carved me up. And you…you didn’t stop him.”
Ty’s wings trembled, retracting a fraction. “I couldn’t stop him, Tommy.” His eyes misted, a bright sheen over the unearthly blue, one slipped down his cheek creating prisms of light like a diamond as it traced his skin and fell to the ground. “I tried, but all I could do was scare his damn dog.”
“Are you telling me, with all your powers, with all your insight, you couldn’t figure out who had taken me any faster than Steve?”
Silence blanketed the cove.
Tom glared at the image of his father and the pained tears streaking his cheeks, guilt and sorrow etching his features enough to make his stomach clench.
Ty swiped his face and shook his head, clearing the self-loathing look out of his eyes, replacing it with indignation. “Look, what happened, happened. That does not give you the right to steal a car.”
“Pft,” Tom scoffed.
“Your mother would be so disappointed.”
Those six words deflated him and a lump formed in his throat. Disappointing her was not on his to-do list, and he slid his glance to CJ. It was a low blow and they both knew it. The kettle top holding his frustration rocked under the steam and the slow simmer over the last eight years finally boiled over.
“What gives you the right to tell me what I can and can’t do?” Tom shoved his hands into the angel’s chest, pushing with all his strength. “You aren’t even my real father.”
“I am your real father. I’m the one who raised you to know what’s right and what’s wrong and what you did today is wrong!”
“Ha! You teach right from wrong? You’re kidding, right?”
“That’s enough.” Wings fluttered again, agitated.
“What Dad? You didn’t think we’d ever find out what you did in that prison of yours?” He took a step closer to the angel. “You killed for sport. No better than the psycho in Georgia. No better than the murderer in Maine right now.”
“I did not kill for sport.”
“But you sure as shit stood by and watched.”
The angel’s blue eyes traveled to CJ’s and then dropped to the ground and he yielded, stepping back. “What I did close to thirty years ago is not under discussion. We’re talking about you breaking the law today.” He raised his eyes again. “I did a lot of things I’m not proud of. Things that should have landed me down under, but for some reason…” He shook his head. “No, because of your mother I landed on the sunny side of heaven. Don’t you dare use the mistakes I made as some sort of excuse for pulling this shit!”
He turned to Steve. “Thanks for bailing them out, now get ‘em out of here.” He turned, his wings extending taking him swiftly up beyond the treetops.
Thanks for swinging in for a read. Look for other Steve Williams novels here on Amazon.
Until next time...