DarknessFalls

Storybook | Game

Crusade

1.

John prayed.

He'd prayed every day for as long as he could remember, since his grandmother, a fierce woman of lavender and faith had guided him gently through the words, establishing his relationship with the Almighty before he'd even been able to walk. For over sixty years he had spoken to his Almighty, pouring out his heart, confessing his innermost thoughts. As he had grown older, and doubt had replaced his childish certainty he had prayed. As the changes in his body had opened him to guilt and shame he had prayed. As the difference had grown, terrifyingly, within him he had prayed.

The chapel was cold and empty. It was dawn, cold grey light growing against the windows. He rose early these days, went to bed late. The others admired his diligence but in truth he couldn't sleep. The Shelter gave him bed and board but the bed was hard and misshapen, the shelter had no air conditioning and as he tossed and turned in the heat his thoughts refused to leave him.

So he prayed. Chipped plaster saints smiled down at him, light grew against stained glass windows that proclaimed the names of their long-dead donors with very little Christian humility. His knees ached on the cold wood floor. And God, his friend since childhood, for decades now his only friend, listened with absolute patience.

Only the slightest of sounds alerted John to the presence behind him. He turned his head slightly, enough to see Brother David enter. Young, keen and rather nervous, Brother David seemed to hold John in awe. Mind you a lot of them did; he suspected it was the praying. He nodded his head slightly to David, who made a great show of not disturbing him.

But he did. The shelter was stirring, coughing and hawking as old men rose to face another day. It would be breakfast soon, burned toast and oatmeal. Government relief and charitable donation. John had had worse.

In the communal bathroom he shaved slowly in lukewarm water then splashed cold water on his face. Behind him figures shuffled blearily but they left him alone. They did seem to hold him in awe. He suspected it was the praying.

At breakfast he sat, and watched as the Brothers talked. They were all called brothers here, staff and 'gentlemen' alike, but the staff somehow managed to have that capital 'B', just in the inflection, just in the way they were addressed and addressed themselves. The Brothers of Charity accepted all men as equals, but not all 'b's.

Brother Martin moved amongst the tables, engaging the men who ate, silently and sullenly in the nearest he could get them to conversation. An older man, silver haired, some of the things he'd said hinted that he'd come to the priesthood late. John could see he was making his way to him, but he was trying to make it casual, seem accidental. John wondered why, but he played along, feigned pleasant surprise when Martin stopped by his table.

“May I sit?”

Martin was already sitting, his back to the rest of the room. John felt his hackles rise. Did they know? Had they found out? He was in his sixties but still in good health and good shape and strongly built. John had worked, physically laboured for a large part of his life. If he was going to have to make a break for it then he stood a reasonable chance. The only knife was a butter knife but it would be enough to scare them off long enough to get away without hurting them. His belongings were still locked in his locker. John began to curse his complacency, damn maybe he was getting old, getting too used to comfort. A couple of weeks sleeping in ditches would be good for him, knock that out of him.

“Of course.”

John smiled as warmly as he could. Don't let them know you're suspicious, keep the element of surprise.

Martin leaned in conspiratorially.

“Brother John, you've been with us now for... two and a half weeks?”

“Two and a half weeks, yes. Oh, have I outstayed my welcome?”

Martin looked shocked and put his hand over John's. With an effort John left his hand where it was.

“No, no, no please never ever think that.”

Martin's hand was flabby and soft. It was relaxed, whatever else Brother Martin was he wasn't on guard. John let himself relax a little.

“Brother John I have observed that you are... an educated man shall we say? And that you don't drink, or use any other stimulants. And that your faith is important to you? And that you.... if you'll excuse me... have the air of a man who has perhaps seen a little more of life than most? And are perhaps not as easily shocked or startled as perhaps some of our younger brethren? And your handling of Brother Zachary's misfortune...”

Brother Zachary was in his late seventies and his misfortune had been to drink until his brain was full of holes, which made his self restraint somewhat random. John remembered the night in question; a junior staff member had allowed old Zach into the shelter even though he was roaring drunk and Zach had immediately gone on as much of a rampage as a frail elderly man could. John had simply kept his arms away from anything breakable or breaking until the senior Brothers had arrived.

John waved his hand dismissively. “I merely did what any good Christian would do.”

“Yes you did, but you did it sensitively, effectively and well. You kept your head and prevented brother Zachary from giving harm or receiving it. And perhaps even more importantly our other brothers felt calmed by your handling of the situation. You have a calming influence on those around you, you are not easily startled – if you are indeed startled at all – you are, if you'll forgive me, sober and of apparent good character and of good faith in the church. Brother John I didn't come over here to ask you to leave, I came over here to enquire whether you would perhaps like a job?”


#


Pirate's Wharf was the cheaper end of the market for flesh. Brother John had spent an interesting month learning this particular part of the underbelly of Darkness Falls. Down here the lights weren't as bright, there were enough gaps in the neon tubing to throw shadows, shadows that could hide whether a girl was too old or too young. Or wasn't a girl at all.

And the clients weren't as fussy. The insults didn't bother John, he prayed for them, for the bitterness and loneliness he knew they sprang from. He handed out the soup and bread, one per girl per night, the free condoms, as many as they wanted, and the free needles, carefully depositing the used ones in the secure containers. But mostly he listened. They talked to him, most assumed he was a priest. Most assumed he was in charge, with his calm, authoritative air. The younger Brothers hovered near him for protection and reassurance.

And he listened. To how easy it was, to slide from one slightly less than perfect decision to another until there they were, standing on a street corner under a neon sign for a bargain electrical store, dressed in scraps, eating free soup and pouring out their hearts to a kind stranger. With the cum of a dozen other strangers dribbling down their leg.

She called herself Kandi, insisted on spelling it out for him. Worked a corner three blocks from here, dressed in halter top and hot pants. Said she came to Darkness Falls because she liked the name.

“Funny, so did I.” John smiled. Under the streetlights Kandi looked painfully young. Up close he could see wrinkles but it was a tough life on the streets. They wrinkled young, nearly all of them smoked, and John could see the track marks up her arms.

“Yeah?” Kandi's eyes lit up like she and John were long lost family. “Where you from?”

“Oh a long way ago. I've moved... lots of places. But you, tell me about you.”

“What's to tell? I make a living.” She looked embarrassed for a moment. John had been surprised how relaxed about what they did so many of them were, but this one looked embarrassed. “I'm not proud but I make a living.”

“And is that all? What would you like to do eventually?” John made a big show of looking behind him at the other brothers then gave Kandi another bread roll. She smiled conspiratorially at him.

“I'd like... I want to get clean. And maybe go to college? I have a friend who's like a dental technician? And she says – well ok I haven't seen her in years – but she made big money. And how hard can it be? Dentist says suck you suck.” She smiled mischievously. “Kind of like now only yeah well anyway.”

John's laugh was warm and loud, enough to make other people turn and look.

“You need to be a little more certain. Tell the universe what you want. Do you want to be a dental technician?”

Kandi nursed her soup and grinned. “Hell yeah!”

“Do you want to suck when a dentist tells you to suck?”

“Hell yeah!”

“Do you want to get clean?”

Kandi's eyes dropped. She gazed into her soup cup then raised her eyes to John's.

“Hell yeah.”


#


That night he dreamed of Kandi. Predictable, a foolish old man, unloved for so many years, connecting to, for all her troubles, a vibrant young woman on a warm summer's evening, a small part of his mind sighed at the predictability of it all.

She came to him, on the street corner where they'd spoken before, deserted now but for them. Her arms were clear of track marks, her hair unbleached and flowing. She wasn't young, he could see, but she looked it. She looked happy. As she walked toward him smiling she radiated life. She sparkled with it. It crackled along her arms and legs, it shone behind her eyes, poured like blue water from her finger tips. She reached up to him, fingers caressing his face.

He felt her, the soul of her touching him. He reached, felt the hunger rising in him, she pulled off her vest top, her breasts small, nipples already hard. He let his finger tips drift down over her skin, marvelling at the perfection of her.

The hunger raged in him, burned him. He grabbed her, lost to the heat in him, heard the small still voice in the back of his head crying, raging, begging him to stop, heard her screaming and crying, begging him to stop but he couldn't, he pulled her to him, crushed her soft mouth to his and sucked the life out of her.


#


She wasn't there.

John was distracted. The other girls noticed. Rosie, one of the older girls, frowned at him in concern.

“You ok sugar?”

“I'm fine. I'm getting a summer cold I think. I don't know how you girls stand it, night in night out.”

“Well if we's lucky we's indoors lying down.” Candice was most definitely no lady. Over six feet tall and square jawed even the most novice Brothers wouldn't confuse Candice for a girl.

John joined the laughter. Under the neon the atmosphere was relaxed. Clients wouldn't come here, they hid, out here on the street the shame seemed part of the thrill for them, an all important part of the ritual.

And it was a ritual. He'd watched them. Not often; if they saw any observation it scared them away, cost the girls their business. But he had watched the elaborate dance. They haggled, there on the street with the girl hanging half in and half out of the car window they would haggle. Then, price and performance agreed they would disappear. It had almost shocked him how quickly some returned. Almost as if the act itself were the least important part.

“Brother John?”

Brother Richard was looking at him worriedly.

“Are you alright? Do you need to go home?”

“No, no I'm fine, a bit muddle headed. Give me something to do, it'll focus me.”

“Perhaps you would like to hand out condoms?”

Candice called. “You got any extra large? I'm feeling lucky tonight!”

John grinned. “Candice you can fit a standard condom over a human head, just how much luck can you take?”

The laughter distracted him.



#



It was a usual night. About three o'clock the night-clubbers wandered past, mostly friendly, some insulting them for the strange pleasure it seemed to give them. It was the only time he preached, the only time he tried to force his faith on anyone and it was purely to encourage them on their way. It worked wonderfully. Christ the idiot repellent.

They began packing near dawn. It wasn't light just yet; if they hurried they could be in bed while it was still dark, keep some semblance of a normal routine. The first signs of morning were beginning to stir around them; staff arriving to open stores, trucks making the first of their morning deliveries. During the day Pirate's Wharf was a bustling and even pleasant place. Hard to believe if you'd only ever spent the night there.

And she still hadn't shown.

He couldn't ask, couldn't show interest. He wondered if the papers would even mention her, a dead hooker found in a cheap room. In reality there was no guarantee that she would even have been discovered, and a very strong chance that she hadn't. Most likely she was still there, lying cold and abandoned on the floor. She'd be found, a cursory search for family would be made then her body would be burned in a municipal cremation and forgotten. John shook with self loathing; his reticence now felt like cowardice and self interest. He looked around himself. Josie was still there, chatting to Brother Richard. But she was watching him with concern. Brother Richard turned to follow her gaze.

“Brother John, how are you feeling?”

“Better, but heavy headed. I need to stretch my legs before sleep I think. In fact I think I'll walk back to the shelter.”

Richard looked surprised. “Are you sure? I mean is that wise?”

John looked around himself. “I'll be fine. The exercise will settle me for sleep.”

Josie walked up to him. “Well sugar, if you're walking, perhaps you'd like to escort a lady. Which way you heading?”


#


He walked north, toward River Street. It wasn't the way back to the shelter. It wasn't quite the opposite way, but Josie would know he was leading her on an unusual route.

The streets were quiet, that pre-dawn hush with just the occasional rattle of a delivery van, the almost uncomfortable appearance of another person, bashful and surprised in the solitude of the dawn. John and Josie walked in silence. To the street corner Kandi had described, the one where she worked.

She wasn't there.

“You looking for someone?”

Josie's voice was low, John could tell she already knew the answer. He saw no reason to lie.

“Kandi. She didn't show tonight. One worries.” He smiled. Josie didn't.

“Good point. Haven't seen her all evening. You got reason to think there's a problem?”

“No.” She'd have caught it, the hesitation, the slight start as he stopped himself. “Just an old man worrying. I shouldn't. But one does.”

To John's minor surprise Josie took his hand and patted it. “Oh sugar there ain't nothing wrong with caring. You have no idea how good it feels that you actually seem to give a real damn, you know that? We all need someone, right? But better safe than sorry as I always say. What you say we pay a visit?”

John hesitated. “Her home? You know where she lives? Is that wise?”

“What's the matter, you worried you're going to see something you shouldn't? I know roughly where she lives. We're going to need a cab though, these are not walking shoes.”

As Josie spoke into her cellphone John studied the corner where Kandi worked. It wasn't bad; brightly lit, busy but not too busy, good passing trade. You didn't start on a spot like this; Kandi was not new on the street and she would probably have had to fight for this spot. And one night away and she'd start to lose it, other girls on darker, lonelier corners would be looking with covetous eyes.

The taxi arrived almost immediately. John looked at Josie appreciatively.

“You'll have to tell me your trick,” he said.

Josie smiled as he held the door for her. “John you are such a gentleman. And I might just do that.”


#


Strangers Farm. Kandi lived in Strangers Farm. John stood outside the small house, Josie beside him. Behind them the taxi had turned off its engine, the driver content to settle back and wait.

“We're almost neighbours,” he whispered.

Josie whispered too. It wasn't entirely out of respect for the neighbours, something felt wrong.

“Well, it's not that close to the shelter but yes, yes you nearly are.”

She was studying the house. To John's surprise the taxi driver, a heavy built woman, had gotten out of the cab and was standing with them.

“Anything I can do ma'am?”

Josie shook her head. “Watch the front. If there are any problems then... well, you'll know what to do.”

“Would you like me to go in?”

“No, just stay here.”

John had heard the tone of command before, knew it well. He watched the taxi driver fall back to a position that allowed her a wide field of observation. He looked at Josie with new eyes.

The house was small, one or two bedrooms tops. It needed a coat of paint and Kandi clearly wasn't a keen gardener. She'd had a go, the few straggly rose bushes looked like she'd tried to care for them, the grass must have been cut at some point, coming only to shin height. John looked for evidence of occupation. There seemed to be none. The house was dark. And silent.

The door was open.

Josie pushed it open carefully, holding it to stop it creaking. Inside smelled of bleach, perfume and mold. John looked into the living room. It was clean, neat, tidy. Two wine glasses on the coffee table in front of a sofa that looked like it was held together with duck tape. The tv was off, the power light on a cheap little cd player was on. Two doors, one he suspected to the kitchen, the other must lead back to the bedroom and bathroom. Both closed.

They both moved silently, John couldn't tell why, It just seemed the right thing to do. For a larger woman in heels Josie moved like a ghost. She glided through the room, opened the kitchen door silently and looked in. Satisfied that there was nothing there to concern her she came away. And faced the bedroom door.

It opened with the slightest of creaks. Beyond it was darkness. The window was curtained, although the curtains were open just enough to let John see bars on the windows. A sensible security measure, although perhaps not in a house with clapboard walls. The door to the bathroom stood ajar, the grey light of dawn creeping in through the tiny window. Enough for him to see the bed. And on the bed....

She'd been beaten, that much was obvious. She was nude, tied face down to the bed at wrists and ankles and from the look of her at least one arm was dislocated. There were dark stripes across her back and buttocks and John could see something tied across the back of her head that could only be a gag.

Josie cried out and started forward. And John felt it. No sound, no movement but he felt it. Of course, the window was barred, the bathroom window too small, he hadn't been able to escape. John felt the thoughts move in his mind. Bizarrely the memory of his grandmother lurched up before him. No John, it's evil John, a curse of the Devil from your bitch whore of a mother John. She'd whipped him, almost as cruelly as poor Kandi had been whipped, to drive the Devil out of him. Chanting with each and every stroke that he was never ever to use his curse, never ever to use his curse. It was the Devil's curse. But now the Devil was in a bathroom in a cheap rented house and the gift John's mother had left him with was screaming at him, calling to him. And he saw.

Saw the world from the attacker's eyes. He was trapped but still confident, just one old bitch to deal with and some old fart, how hard could it be? John felt him weighing up his chances, working out the best lines of attack. He was wondering, wondering if he could overpower them, pin them down, restrain them, make them watch, make them watch as he finished the bitch. Maybe they were her parents, maybe he could make her parents watch as he took her, used her, then watch her as she died, naked and defiled. He was getting excited.

John broke away in disgust and saw Josie. She'd felt it too. She'd connected. Her face was cold and set, she moved smoothly away from the bed toward the bathroom.

John tried to intervene, this was no place for a woman, but Josie moved his hand aside, gently but with real strength. She kicked the bathroom door wide and a dark shape lunged toward her. John balled his fist ready to defend her but Josie stepped nimbly to one side, span like a ballerina and planted one stiletto heel with bone crushing force precisely in the figure’s temple. He fell without a sound.

John went to Kandi, broke a nail releasing the gag that was tied with savage tightness. He listened to her breath but he had no need to. He could see the faint glittering of life still in her. He felt her pulse, purely for show.

“She's alive,” he turned to tell Josie but Josie was already on her cell.

The ambulance arrived in minutes.


#


“I think you and I need to talk.”

Josie's voice was soft, police officers wandered past them as they sat in the station. John had given his statement. He'd been concerned for Kandi, had expressed that concern to Josie, apparently a friend of Kandi. He had escorted Josie to Kandi's house and disturbed her attacker, who had stumbled and fell and must have been kicked in the head by a panicking Josie and was currently lying in a coma under police guard. All very simple and mostly the truth.

“I think we do. Josie how did you know he was there?”

Josie laid her hand on his. “Later sweetheart, later.”

It was hours later. John realised fairly early on, much to his horror that the police weren't particularly impressed. He sat as case after case walked in, as officer after officer walked past on their way to another tragedy. So many, he thought, so many. No wonder they grew numb.

It was noon before the police were satisfied enough to let them go. John's limbs felt heavy and his eyes stung. They stood on the steps of the police station.

“You look bushed sugar.” Josie's voice was concerned.

“Yes, well at the risk of being ungentlemanly you've looked fresher yourself.”

Josie laughed. “John I cannot imagine you ever being ungentlemanly. We should both sleep.”

“I thought I might visit the hospital.”

“After you've slept. Now don't make me get all bossy on you. Kandi'll be under sedation for a while, and she's got a police guard.”

“And her attacker is unlikely to be up and walking any time soon.”

“Yes, well some people should take more care where they step. It's been a long night Brother John. We both need sleep.”

“I could do with one of your magic cabs.”

“You mean like that one?” Josie gestured and the car rolled smoothly up to her. “Come on I'll drop you off. Oh and John?” Josie stood on tiptoe and kissed John on the cheek. “You were there for us. When we needed you,” she whispered, “you stood with us. We will never ever forget that. And we are having that talk.”

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