Damage Squared, by Shaun Avery
11:58 P.M – Today
He sat on the kerb with his pistol in his hands, the smell of recent gunfire still rank and heavy in his nostrils.
That was how Captain Wallace found him, walking over from the pool car and saying, “I need to take that from you, Stevens.”
He needed no further encouragement to hand over the weapon.
Wallace dropped the gun into a clear evidence bag and sealed it, ready to hand the pistol off to the Internal Affairs Unit, who were already on their way. Then he looked at Stevens and said, “Want to tell me what happened?”
This being his first shooting – the very first time he had even had to draw his weapon, in fact – Officer Stevens expected this part to be hard, thought it would be a struggle to start talking about the events that had led to him taking another human being’s life. But here he surprised himself, coming straight out with it, telling the Captain, “guy just came out of nowhere, bag in one hand and this big bloody knife in the other.” He met Wallace’s gaze. “And he just wouldn’t stop, Captain.”
Wallace looked back to where the bloody knife lay, just a few footsteps away from the dead body, its face covered so none of the gawkers who had been around before the scene was secured could get a snapshot of it on their mobile phones. There were a few other things covered, too. But Wallace knew what they were. And the thought made him want to vomit, even after all his years on the job.
“And you identified yourself as a police officer?” he asked, bringing his eyes back to Stevens.
“I did, sir.”
“And when did you see what he had in his . . . bag?”
He glanced back at the bag in question.
It was empty now.
Held down by a stone to stop it drifting away.
“Just before I fired, sir,” Stevens replied. “He went to . . . throw them at me.”
This much was obvious, Wallace thought. The covered items, the “them” in question, were scattered all around the body, yellow crime scene markers next to each and every one, a plethora of evidence to keep the Mobile Crime Unit guys happy. They had done their bit, and had now moved onto a dozen other primary scenes. Where a lot more bodies lay.
The two men heard a car approaching then, and both looked up as it came to a stop before the yellow tape that had the street cordoned off.
“Tell them just what you told me,” Wallace said to Stevens. “No embellishments, hold nothing back.” He placed a hand on the younger man’s shoulder. “Understood?”
“Yes, sir,” Stevens said.
And tried not to look too apprehensive as the men from the Internal Affairs unit approached.
6:13 P.M. – Today
Mark was going through a dry spell.
That was what he told himself as he splashed on some aftershave and stepped into his special “pulling” underwear.
Ah, they’d had some times, this underwear and him – in fact, come to think of it, hadn’t he been wearing them that first night he’d met Claudia, busting some funky moves beneath the disco lights in that sleazy night club?
Yep. He had.
Been wearing them, too – or rather not wearing them – when he had scored with about a dozen other girls.
All behind Claudia’s back.
It had been a pretty rough break-up, when he finally decided that he was sick of all the lies and subterfuge and wanted his womanising to be out in the open . . .screaming, crying, the lot. She’d been all but hanging off his leg to stop him walking out the door – so to soften her up enough to get away, he’d then told her the truth. About all the other girls he’d slept with. Even about that trip he’d made to the STI Clinic when she’d thought he was helping his sister move house.
He didn’t even have a sister.
That was just the way Mark rolled.
Anyway, this series of revelations had the desired effect, and she’d collapsed into the corner as if physically struck, leaving his pathway to the door clear.
But his winning streak with women had seemed to come to an end a week later, and it had now been months since he’d had sex.
That was more than he could take.
And luckily, he’d kept Claudia’s number on his phone.
With the roughness of the break-up and all, he was surprised that she had taken the call.
Surprised, too, by how cheery she sounded, almost shouting out the word to him: “hi!”
An image came to mind when he heard it: Claudia waiting each and every day by her phone, praying for this moment. The thought made sense to him, made him smile. It fit with how Mark saw himself.
“Oh hey Claudia,” he said, trying to make his voice as casual as possible, as if this was just an ordinary phone call, like none of that unpleasant stuff had happened between them a few months ago. “Just ringing to see how you were doing.”
This, of course, was Falsehood # 1. Fact was, he hadn’t even thought of her until these last few days, let alone pondered her emotional state. And now that he had thought of her . . . and now she seemed so happy to hear from him . . . the only part of her he cared about was the bit between her legs.
Hence his sexy underwear.
He was looking pretty good in them, and now he put on his best shirt. Unbuttoned, naturally, to half the way down, so that some of his buff physique could show.
Not that he needed to make such an extra effort. He knew that Claudia, sweet, vulnerable Claudia, would be like putty in his hands.
But he was in for a surprise.
2: 05 P.M. – Yesterday
She couldn’t believe it when she saw his name.
She looked into the corner of the apartment – an apartment she hadn’t left in months – and the dark shape there nodded.
She scooped up the phone, said into it, “hi!”
Then listened to his “spiel.”
He probably thought he knew her so well. Certainly she had been more intimate with him than she had with most. But that was only because she’d thought he was different. She’d thought he wouldn’t be like all the others. And so, of course, he’d ended up hurting her the most of all.
Such pain deserved a special kind of punishment.
She’d used knives before. She’d used poison. She’d even used explosives one time, though that had been such a ball-ache and had taken so long that by the time she was done her hurt had dulled a little and she’d barely even remembered why she wanted to hurt the guy. But hurt him she had – the new bitch he was seeing and had already impregnated, too.
She was good at getting her own back, in other words.
But Mark had cut her more than any other.
So she’d started cutting herself.
And one night as she’d lain bleeding in the bathtub, wishing she had the courage to create the two slash marks that would take the pain away forever, a face had materialised in the water before her.
“I feel your suffering,” the face said, and it spoke with a feminine voice simultaneously soothing and menacing. “Your agony calls me.” Its eyes had looked into her own, and she felt herself being drawn into them somehow, as if those eyes and the being beyond them understood everything there was to know about her. “Tell me, Claudia – what would you have me do for you?”
The answer was a no-brainer.
“I don’t want to feel this way anymore,” she’d said.
She’d reached out, touched the face with a bloody fingertip.
“I want him to feel this way instead.”
The face had nodded.
Rose out of the bath in the form of a fine mist before solidifying in places and staying fluid in others.
Then moved into its new living place in the corner of her main room, ready to help Claudia take her revenge on Mark.
But it had never let her give him crank calls, or stalk him, or do any of the things she would normally do to those who had left her.
“He has to come to you,” the thing insisted.
“But he won’t!” she’d replied, hating how much she sounded like a whiny teenage girl but unable to stop it.
“He will,” the thing had told her.
And now it had been proven right.
“He’s coming over tomorrow,” she said, placing down the phone on the arm of her chair.
“I know,” it said. It sounded pretty proud of herself. “That gives us just enough time to prepare.” It smiled. “Let’s get the place ready.”
6:59 P.M. – Today
The door was open when he got there.
Common sense cut briefly through his arrogance, making him feel slightly uneasy as he knocked on the door and called, “Claudia?”
“Come in, darling,” came the reply, still sounding cheery, still sounding happy. “I’ve been waiting for you.”
“Yeah?” he said, and pushed open the door and stepped inside and headed through the main room towards the open door of the bedroom.
Where his eyes grew wide.
She was indeed waiting for him, Mark saw.
Laying atop the bed they’d shared so often.
How could I give up on this? Mark wondered, looking at her shapely form. Then he remembered why: other women existed. And he just had to have them all.
But this one right here would do for now.
He took a step into the bedroom.
She sat up on the bed, smiled at him.
“Well, hey,” he said, looking around the room, putting on his coolest voice. “Place is just like I remembered it.”
“Not quite,” she said, and pointed.
He followed her finger and saw a huge mirror had been nailed to the wall.
Put up pretty recently, too, he saw – the hammer and nails still sat beside it.
“Nice,” he said. He grinned at her, took a step closer. “So we can watch?”
“Maybe,” she said. “Why don’t you kiss me and we can find out?”
That was all the invitation he needed.
He went to her.
Placed his lips on hers.
And that was when the whole world went crazy.
7:15 P.M. – Yesterday
He wasn’t officially on duty yet, wasn’t due to sign in to the precinct house for another forty-five minutes, but he always liked to wear his uniform when he went into the diner for his pre-shift cup of coffee. Which was probably breaking some regulation somewhere along the line – a rule about misrepresentation or something like that – but until a complaint was made Officer Stevens would continue to do it.
He took his usual seat at the counter, ordered his drink to go.
Then took a look around.
No one made eye contact – they never did, when you were in uniform – and he spun his gaze back around to the counter, to where the waitress was making his coffee.
He didn’t feel the pair of eyes that burnt into his back.
That focussed on his gun.
7:05 P.M. – Today
Mark fell backwards, gasping.
Only then did he notice that Claudia’s lower lip was bleeding, as if she had bitten it.
But the blood that emerged was not red.
It was black and somehow . . . organic. Seeming to throb and pulse as it dribbled down her chin.
And now he felt it on his own lips.
He tried to spit it out.
But some of it worked its way inside his mouth, crawled over his tongue and made its way down his throat.
“Like it?” she asked. “Comes from this new friend I made since you left me. I had to cut her open, had to eat a bit of her. But that’s fine. She likes it.”
“You bitch,” he said, vision starting to blur. “What have you done to me?”
“Taken away what you thought you’d get when you walked out on me,” she said. She got off the bed, stood before him. “Look at me, Mark.”
He did so.
From the bottom up.
From bare feet with cute little toes with the nails painted black up long legs past the item at the top of them that he worshipped onto a flat stomach and firm breasts and a slender neck and . . .
“Oh God no,” he said.
“Go on,” she said. “Take a look in the mirror.” She laughed. “That’s why I put it there. For you.”
And was instantly sick.
Some of the black stuff came out – he could see it squirming, moving around in the pile of sick on the floor. But that didn’t disturb him as much as what he saw in the mirror. For there, instead of his own handsome visage, he saw her face.
And on her, he saw his own.
“Get used to seeing me,” she said, with his voice, from his lips. “Now, no matter who you look at, man or woman, young or old, you’ll see me.”
“No!” he shouted. “You bitch!”
Then tried to punch her.
But he couldn’t.
She’d known him too well.
No matter what his mind told him, in spite of all he knew to be true, he could not damage his own face.
And suddenly he felt another presence in the room.
He looked around, but could see nothing.
Just a shadow in the corner of the room that, like the black stuff in his sick on the floor, seemed to be moving.
He needed to get out of there.
“Go on,” she said, as if reading his thoughts. “Get out of here. Try it.” She walked away into the kitchen, came back with something in her hands. “There’s no way to remove it, what I’ve done to you.” He heard a cough come from that shadowy corner, and she went on, “sorry, what we’ve done to you.” She looked up at him. “You’re stuck with it for life. So do yourself a favour: slit your wrists and bleed to death, you lying, cheating bastards.”
And she handed him the item she’d brought from the kitchen.
Then she smiled as he ran screaming into the night.
7:40 P.M. – Today
He ran past the club where he liked to pick up girls and there, oh God, they all were, men, women, even the both more and less than human doormen that stood guard outside the place, and they, yes all of them, had Claudia’s face.
He bent and retched again.
Felt a hand on his shoulder.
Turned around and saw a homeless tramp version of Claudia say, “hey, buddy, you okay?”
Ran from the craziness of what was happening, ran from the rage that was building inside of him.
More than anything, he wanted to punish Claudia, wanted to destroy the slut who’d done this to him.
But I can’t hurt my own face, he thought.
And he looked down at his hand, saw he still had the knife she’d given him.
Her face, though . . .
8:00 P.M. – Today
It had been scary, so scary, going out last night.
Now she was getting ready to do it again.
The months since Mark had left had not been easy ones. It had been so much easier to just sit at home than go out and move on with her life. Often whole weeks could go by without her even having a bath, or changing her clothes. Now that she’d seen how easy he was to punish, she was kind of embarrassed about that, especially considering how wild and outgoing she had once been – it had even been her that approached Mark that first night in the club, not the other way round. Remembering that, she was not only embarrassed but ashamed at what the break-up had done to her. But it was still a struggle to leave the apartment, when she had become so accustomed to living life solely within its four walls.
Even more so when her new friend – minus a few bits and pieces from the cutting earlier but still looking pretty good –insisted she go all out. Get dressed up.
“Why?” Claudia asked.
“Oh, I don’t know,” it said. “You never know who you might meet, that’s all.”
“Yeah,” she replied. “Like that will happen.”
“Why not?” it countered. “You used to be so bold. You used to kiss a lot of boys.”
She frowned, feeling a temper bubbling up inside her that had been quiet of late. “How do you know what I used to be like? You only met me a few months ago.”
“I see your memories,” it said, and there was something sad in its voice that quelled her anger. “I see the way you used to be. The way you could be again.”
“Yeah,” Claudia said, remembering, too.
She pouted at herself in the mirror.
Then noticed the black blood around her bottom lip.
“Can I?” she asked, pointing to it. “Kiss someone, I mean.”
“Of course,” it replied. “It will wear off soon. Besides, it was only ever meant to work on . . . him.”
Now she heard disgust in its voice.
“What do you think will happen to him?” Claudia asked. “What do you think he’ll do?”
It made no reply.
But for some reason she found herself thinking of the guy she’d been admiring in the diner last night.
Nice ass, she remembered.
And the gun right next to it had been pretty sexy, too.
8:10 P.M. – Today
Mark found them fucking up against a back alley wall.
Felt both rage and envy as he drove the knife into the man’s back, then took advantage of the element of surprise to grab the woman and snap her neck.
It had been weird, watching two people with the same face kiss each other.
But they didn’t have those faces for long.
He slit their throats just to make sure of them, then got to work.
He wondered what he was going to do with them, when he was done.
Then wondered if perhaps he wasn’t going a little bit crazy.
But it wasn’t his fault, any of this, was it?
It was all Claudia’s.
So now he had to punish her.
Over and over again.
And here came an empty plastic carrier bag, floating towards him on the wind, as if delivered by destiny.
He grabbed it.
Then went to find more Claudias.
10:20 P.M. – Today
The bag was pretty full by the time he headed onto the street and saw the Claudia with the gun.
“Police!” Claudia shouted. “Drop that fucking knife, buddy!”
Though they had done dress-up that one time, Claudia was no policewoman.
That meant she was lying again.
Like all those people he’d just killed, the ones who’d told him they weren’t Claudia at all. Naughty people. They had to be punished. Just like this one, gun or not.
Mark took a step forward.
“Freeze!” shouted Claudia. “Don’t take another step!”
“Last warning,” she shouted. “Drop the knife and hit the deck!”
Bitch! Mark thought.
Who the hell did she think she was, shouting at him that way?
He was going to take his time with this one. Make it hurt extra hard.
And in a rage, he hefted the bag, went to throw it.
Its contents were spilled all over the floor as he did so, and this made Mark smile. See how she felt, seeing a dozen of her faces, all sliced off and bloody.
But liar or not, this Claudia could shoot.
And he flew back through the air, propelled by the bullet that had hit him in the chest.
4:10 A.M. – Tomorrow
She had done some clubbing, and had indeed kissed a few guys. But none she liked enough to take back home with her, and now she walked through the early morning light with a companion that only she could see.
But not for long.
“It’s time for me to go,” it said, fading already. “You don’t need me anymore.”
“I do,” Claudia insisted. “You’re all I’ve got.”
“For now,” it said.
Then smiled one last time and was gone.
She felt a sense of loss.
Decided she needed to sit down somewhere.
And headed for the diner.
Thank God this is the city that never sleeps, thought Officer Stevens, sitting at his usual chair.
Three and a half hours with Internal Affairs, and now he was done. He’d be on desk duty, he knew, until the investigation was complete, and though he felt naked without his gun he was sure it would only be a matter of time before he was back on the beat.
It had been a good shoot.
Fucking guy had been crazy.
Still, Stevens was now stuck with the rest of his expected shift off.
So what to do when his coffee was finished and he had to get out of here?
He took a look around the diner.
Place was empty.
Who else would be out at this time that didn’t have to be?
As if in answer to his thought, the door swung open.
He looked the woman that had entered up and down.
Nice, he thought.
He nodded to her, but wasn’t expecting any sort of reply. Which made him kind of surprised when she plonked herself next to him and gave him a hearty “hi!”
“Hello,” he said. “You’re cheery for this time in the morning.”
“You should have heard me last night,” she said.
“Yeah?” he said. “What happened last night?”
“I’ll tell you about it,” she said. “But not here.” She pointed towards his cup of coffee, now empty. “Want to get your refill on that to go?”
He looked at her with surprise, not exactly used to this kind of forward approach from a woman but finding that he kind of liked it.
“So how about it?” she said. “Officer?”
He smiled. “Can’t I get your name first?”
“Later,” she said. “If I tell you now, you’ve got no reason to follow me.”
She stood up.
Walked to the door.
And, taking his life in his own hands, Officer Stevens got up and followed her.
Shaun Avery is a crime and horror fiction fan who has been published in many magazines and anthologies, as well as recently co-creating the self-published horror comic, Spectre Show. He has yet to come across an amicable break-up, and thinks the term is probably an oxymoron. Though this belief is probably slightly exaggerated by “Damage Squared.”
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Tags: break ups, horror, murder, relationships, Shaun Avery