Chapter 22
by Branden Hart

Welcome to the third and final part of Audience of Shadows. I hope you’ve enjoyed the story so far. This next part is going to be a somewhat significant diversion from what I’ve done up to this point, and I’m open to any and all criticism and comments. Thanks to all of you who have read and commented thus far.

Chapter 22

Melissa’s crying now because she knows she’s going to die. She knows she’s going to die for one reason. It isn’t because of all the blood she’s losing. If the ambulance gets up here fast enough, they might be able to patch her up. It isn’t because I just killed the bastard she was sleeping with. There was still a chance I would have a change of heart and let her go free.

She knows she is going to die because I tell her I’m going to kill her.

“Do you have any idea why you won’t live through the night?” I ask.

“Because you are a sick, twisted fuck, that’s why.” Her words aren’t that clear. Blood spouts from her mouth with every syllable.

“Wrong. That’s only the reason that I am going to be able to kill you. Were I in charge of my mental facilities, I wouldn’t be able to rationalize what I’m about to do. No—the reason I’m going to kill you is that you don’t deserve to breathe the air on this planet anymore. After what you did to me…”

“And what was that?”

“That” is what I should have been concerned about from the beginning. What she gave me.

The day after I kill my foster father, I’m cleaning the house. My OCD is back—with a vengeance. Nothing can be too clean. I polish the faucets at least a dozen times each, and every time I go back to look at one, I see a place it could shine a little brighter. I put all the linens and laundry through the cycle—I even wash the shower curtains and liners. Every drawer in the house is expertly organized. The closets too. When I’m done, it’s nearly 10 at night—I’ve been cleaning for almost fifteen hours. I make some toast and watch the news. Salmonella outbreak at Jack in the Box. Doctors being sued for improper sanitization practices. Germs reaching havoc on organisms thousands of times their size. Everywhere.

I finish my toast. Now it’s time to dig.

The backyard looks out onto a greenbelt. The privacy fence rises ten feet above the ground—the neighbors on either side can’t see a thing.

I have on two layers of plastic gloves and one layer of real working gloves. I'm wearing a trash bag poncho that covers my entire body (three bags cut apart and then put back together with duct tape). I found an old surgical mask under the sink in the kitchen. I look like a Hazmat worker if he was imagined and filmed by Ed Wood.

It rained the night before, so the ground is soft and gives easily to my shovel. I dig with fervor, carefully placing each shovelful on the ground beside the hole. It doesn't take long before I'm already two feet down. In less than two hours, I'm inside the hole, tossing dirt out over my head.

The body stinks. I know that because I could smell it the day before, when I went into the attic to make sure it's still there. As if a corpse could rise up and just walk away from the scene of its own demise. An irrational thought, perhaps. But these days, I'm taking comfort in my old friend Irrationality.

That's why I've lined the inside of the surgical mask with Vicks Vap-o-rub. As I'm loading the stiff, bloated corpse into the wheelbarrow I lugged up to the attic, all I can smell is the nostalgia of being sick as a child. As I slowly take the wheelbarrow back down the stairs, hoping some random limb doesn't flop out of the tarp I've used to wrap up the bastard, I think about the days I would wake up coughing. My dad would come into my room, rub Vicks on my chest, and call to tell people I wasn't coming to school. At least, that's what he did when he wasn't drinking.

Digging and refilling the hole is the hardest part of disposing of a body. Everything else is easy. Cleaning up the mess—hell, that's what I was born for. Sending an email from my foster father's email account telling his work he wouldn't be in for a couple of weeks due to a death in the family—just as easy as finding his password and username in his Filofax. Wrapping him up tight and snug in the tarp they used to use to cover plants when it was freezing—only hard part about that was the time it took to clean up afterwards. And like I've said—I'm relishing that kind of thing these days.

But the hole is different because of the dedication it takes to do it and do it right. After all, I have to make sure that I can get somewhere to pick up some borders and tomato plants the next day. "New garden, huh?" the neighbors will say. I'll nod. "Say, where's Tom?" they'll ask, having noticed my foster father's absence. "Out of town," I'll reply.

But at one in the morning, when you've been standing up all day long, cleaning, bending over, cleaning, lifting bodies and wheeling them outside, you start to get tired, and part of you just wants to quit. Fortunately, it's a part of me that I can shut up easily by just counting the shovelfuls of dirt as they're thrown out of the hole. I can shut it up later, when I'm counting the shovelfuls as I pitch them back in.

One two three one two three.

At the hardware store the next day, the guy checking me out asks me if I know the first thing about growing tomatoes. I tell him that ignorance about what I plan on doing has never stopped me from doing it. He laughs as he scans the stakes I'll use to set the plants up.

I spend the afternoon at the grave of my foster father, planting tomatoes. The temperature these nights should be fine for them—usually just a hair over fifty-five degrees. I have two kinds of seeds: Brandywine and Roma. Brandywine was more expensive, and I still don't know why I was drawn to it. It's an heirloom tomato cultivated by the Amish. Maybe it's the simplicity of the Amish lifestyle that draws me to it. Good, clean living. Sounds like my kind of deal.

That night, I start packing. I know where I'm going, I know what I'll need. Changes of clothes. A pillow, a towel. Plenty of sanitizer—there won't be any showers where I'm headed. But I'll have to get used to it, because I can't stay at the house. Sometime, someone will catch on. And hopefully by then, I'll be gone.

I sleep until ten the next morning. My bags are next to my bed. I get up, pick them up, and head for the door. Before I leave, I turn around to look at the house. "Completely clean," I think to myself. Then I notice the urge to take a piss. I put down my bags and walk to the bathroom down the hall.

As I'm watching a steady stream splash into the pristine toilet, I notice a sting. And then another one. And then it becomes constant.

"What the fu…"

My thought is cut off because of the almost excruciating pain. I double over, piss getting everywhere.

"Which one is it?" is the first thought that comes to mind. Because a lot of them have this symptom. When you read about them, the symptom is listed as "painful urination." That's science's variation on "It hurts like Satan himself ripping through your scrotum."

As if everything isn't a variation of something it's not.

I zip up, a sinking feeling in my gut. I can't go to the doctor. I can't do anything about this. I'm screwed. There's only one thing I can do.

Before I leave—after I sanitize my hands and, for some reason, clean the toilet I'll never use again—I check my bag, just to make sure I have the gun. It's in there, nestled next to the bullets and a box of Kleenex. "You sure you know how to shoot that thing?" asks Rationality as I zip up my backpack again.

"Hell yeah I'm sure," I think. "I was taught by the best there was."

Thanks Dad.

Previous Chapters


It's as good as the rest of it man..... nice job.


I want more than one chapter at a time!

Great stuff, Branden. I am so hooked.


Thanks guys! Michele--at least it comes out once a week. I can't imagine how painful it would be trying to read something like Preacher one issue at a time--once a month.


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