David Hensler

The City huddled in fear.

Killers lurked within shadows, struck unseen. Savage crimes stained walls red, produced screams in distant rooms, left bodies violated, mutilated, splattered.

Editorials crouched with bared teeth, and whipped the police; who skulked along the streets, accosting strangers on lonely thoroughfares.

No clues, no motives; a random spree, an idiot's game, outrages like ghosts swirling through the seeming-neverending reign of Terrors.

And in the silent staring evenings, the other crimes were perpetrated.

Unreported: minor inconveniences became recurrent humiliations became maddening torments. Water taps spinning off, windows shattered, random harsh laughter heard behind backs; pets missing, children's bicycles sabotaged, old women pelted by stones; toilets backing up, refrigerators stalling, roofs springing leaks. No-one suggested malicious connexions between these vandalisms, certainly in these dark days; even paranoids failed to perceive the pattern.

The City's dread, mourning, frustration; pain, rising up, like smoke from a guttering candle.

Miss Julie has an office in the City.

Miss Julie, behind her desk, eyes closed and lips pinkly smiling; maiden librarian in grey tightly buttoned; a daylight halo flickering over her auburn curls. 'You may be sure,' she said, dreamily, 'our work is important.' She cocked her head, eyes half-closed. And shivered, smiling, shook her head.

Miss Julie, watching: Mr Dane.

Mr Dane grunted. He twitched a match against the wizened wood of his chair's leg ~pop!~ and was within a grey cloud womb.

Mr Dane woke in the swirled sheets of his narrow bed, staring up as if surprised, rather: horrified: by the sight of sunrise. Through the grey streaks upon the panes, a blur like apocalypse, over the cardboard cut-out of the City's skyline.

Coffinlike, the alcove round him, three walls surrounding, and before him, the light flooding.

He recovered, crawled forth from his bed. From its hook, his fedora was espied, retrieved, donned. Ageshined and bloodstained: his coat; tossed upon the previous eve, it hung upon a chair, as if clinging to a precipice: rescued, flipped open, searched.

Cigarettes in a crushed pack, filterless. Pause. Match flicked across a wall ~pop!~ and grey cloud womb.

Miss Julie has an office in the City.

Mr Dane did not return the pretty secretary's crimson smile, as ever. Nor did her chat avail. Still she spoke: of flowers wilting upon windowsills, of cats clawing upon couches; of drinks and dancing and the music of the nights she spent.

She smirked; eyes upon him: 'But I guess you wouldn't know~ '

He grunted, hand in coat. Luckies in his pocket found and another smoke; staring, as always, at the picture upon the wall: oval frame of glaring garish gold, laurelled roundabout; within: an image of a dancing thing, a grimacing devil of flaky black and scraped white, a luminously silverwhite crown upon his horns; dancing against fires of smudged red; and etched in thin golden wandering trails the lines that led from head and hooves and talons.

The secretary's smile again, knowingly, as she returned her gaze to typing.

Miss Julie: of auburn curls and eyes glittering blue, maiden librarian in grey tightly buttoned; behind her desk, and imperfect pursuit of files splayed before her; waiting; for: Mr Dane.

Entering slow and not looking up, he watched the door he closed.

'Hello...', said she.

He grunted, absent nod, stepped forward to drop himself down upon the creaking wooden chair. Cobwebs carefully spun were snapped in a dusty cloud.

Miss Julie smiled, small square neat and blindingwhite teeth bared. And began to speak, of each name within the files beneath her fluttering eyes and quickdarting slim hands; suggestions only, of how the cases might best be pursued.

One hour on the clock passing, Mr Dane left the office, grimly, eyes watching the floor, a briefcase full of files in his hand. The pretty secretary smiled at his back.

Mr Dane, exhaustion of awake, staring out each evening; windowframing the cardboard cut-out of the City's skyline at it swallowed the sun; electricity piercing the City's silhouette.

And listening.

Hearing nothing, but the night.

And into the night he went, to work.

Miss Julie has an office in the City.

A grey day, drizzled till dripping; Mr Dane, keeping his appointment. The office is cool and silent, shadowed and empty. Dust upon the surfaces of the cleared desk and filing cabinets; dust upon the air; the room softly grey. Mr Dane stood, watching the emptiness, waiting. No pretty secretary greeted him with mocking crimson smile.

Miss Julie's voice, pleased; Mr Dane; from behind the closed door, the voice issuing conversational.

Mr Dane grunted, hand in coat. Luckies in his pocket found and another smoke; staring, as always, at the picture upon the wall: the devil, grinning at him, as it danced. Mr Dane stepped forward; hesitation; sudden swipe, gripping the cold gold frame, it's wire noose screeching against the rusty nail then revealed.

He went to the door. On wrinkled greenish glass, the name: Miss Julie. He reached out, slow, to open the door.

Looking up, watching: Miss Julie, auburn curls and eyes glittering blue, maiden librarian in grey tightly buttoned; behind her desk, smiling, small square neat and blindingwhite teeth bared.

Mr Dane did not sit down. He lifted his cigarette slow, inhaled the thick poisonous cloud. In his grey womb, he spoke.

The grinning devil held up with convulsive hand.

Miss Julie's smile. Glistening. She shrugged.

Mr Dane's voice began to crack. His cigarette fell from his fingers, shattered fire off the dust on the floor. He began to gesture wild.

Miss Julie, half-turning away with half-closed eyes and lips pinkly smiling.

Mr Dane, stepping forward, the devil falling from his hands, to clatter loud unnoticed.

Leaning overon the desk, Mr Dane's hands clenched until his fingernails ripped into wood, and broken, bled. Face red, eyes watering, spittle flying from his lips, he raged a question, over and over.

At Miss Julie, who laughed polite coquette, eyes cast down, small thin white hand raised to conceal her pink smile.

Mr Dane roared. Arms swinging down, hands thudding against the end of the desk, Mr Dane slammed it screechingly and thuddingly aside.

Miss Julie, exposed; lounging in her chair, legs crossed. Languid surprise, as if a lover whispered her name: she looked over her shoulder, looked out at the sky; eyeswide and then, closing; she smiled.

Mr Dane's hands wrapped round her throat. Squeezing.

Miss Julie turned, distracted eyes surprised as she gasped.

She smiled goodbye.

Miss Julie, on the floor, neck blueblack; the devil laying beside her, grimacing. Miss Julie's head, wobbling.

Mister Dane standing by the window, looking out over the cardboard cut-out of the city's skyline. Distracted turn; looking down.

At: Miss Julie's head. Slowly cracking, black line across her chin, diagonal across her lips, twisting upover the curve of her nose, between her staring blue eyes, wavering across her pale forehead.

Her face split open, her smile broken.

Mr Dane, stepping over slowly toward her. He walked round, head cocked, eyes narrowed; watching. He knelt down beside Miss Julie's fractured head.

From the black within, something very small and round and pink crawled up from the hole in her face, spiderlike.

Mr Dane leaned over Miss Julie, leaned down over the split-open face.

The creature made a quiet mewling sound. Like a kitten, petulant reaching out; it touched Mr Dane's face.

And started to sink, slowly, into his skin.

Blurred perspective of between the eyes, Mr Dane watched it shriveling time-lapse; sinking up, out of Miss Julie's head. His face tingling, as if the skin had gone to sleep.

The pink thing drained from within. Until: it was gone. A thin pink hollowed shell, falling down into the black gash of Miss Julie's face, to disappear.

Mr Dane blinked. He stood up, turned away.

To pick up Miss Julie's chair, set it aright, roll it to the skewed desk. He sat down; reached into his coat; cigarettes in a crushed pack.

He swiped a match against the desků pop.

He dropped the match. The flame bounced out off the desk; the match lying blackened dead beside the devil's portrait.

Mr Dane listened; to the City's tortured breathing, hiccough gasping, it's moans and cries.

Mr Dane has an office in the City.


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