I Don't Want to Kill You, p.1Dan Wells
I Don't Want To Kill You
Copyright © 2011 Dan Wells
The right of Dan Wells to be identified as the Author of the Work has been asserted by him in accordance with the Copyright, Designs and Patents Act 1988.
Excerpt from ‘who knows if the moon’s’ from 100 Selected Poems by e. e. cummings © 1923 e. e. cummings. Reprinted by permission of W. W. Norton & Company.
Apart from any use permitted under UK copyright law, this publication may only be reproduced, stored, or transmitted, in any form, or by any means, with prior permission in writing of the publishers or, in the case of reprographic production, in accordance with the terms of licences issued by the Copyright Licensing Agency.
First published as an Ebook by Headline Publishing Group in 2011
All characters in this publication are fictitious and any resemblance to real persons, living or dead, is purely coincidental.
Cataloguing in Publication Data is available from the British Library
eISBN : 978 0 7553 5431 3
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Table of Contents
Dan Wells has a Bachelors in English from Brigham Young University where he was the editor of The Leading Edge magazine. He now runs www.timewastersguide.com.
This book is dedicated to my teachers, who taught me how to read, and to my parents, who taught me why.
I love writing acknowledgements, because I get to sit back and remember all the awesome people who believe in me and in my book, and who helped to make it a reality. We’ll start with the professional crew: my agent, Sara Crowe, my editors, Moshe Feder and Hannah Sheppard, and the whole UK team of publicists and editors: Maura Brickell, Sam Eades, Celine Kelly, and everyone else at Headline. You guys are awesome. Next comes my writing group, the fabled Rats with Swords: Karla Bennion, Drew Olds, Ben Olsen, Janci Patterson, Brandon Sanderson, Emily Sanderson, Isaac Stewart, Eric James Stone, Heidi Summers, and Rachel Whitaker. This is such a better book thanks to their input, I can’t even tell you. Many other friends and family gave their support and encouragement as well, including Martha Andelin, Dave Bird, Steve Diamond, Nick Dianatkhah, Eric Ehlers, Dawn Wells, Rob Wells, and of course my parents, Robert and Patty, whom I already mentioned in the dedication. They’re going to get big heads.
Special consideration goes to Allison Hill and Jennifer Zeller, who wanted to be in my book and were intensely excited to learn of their own grisly deaths. Last but not least, a shout-out to my future son-in-law Thorfinneas Olsen: here’s looking at you, big guy. Consider this the dowry.
Spring and everyone’s
in love and flowers pick themselves
‘who knows if the moon’s’
e. e. cummings
I didn’t know Jenny Zeller very well. Nobody did, really. I guess that’s why she killed herself.
I know she used to have friends, and I know she did a lot of stuff at school. When we were kids she used to play unicorns with her friend on the playground at recess, which I remember only because I used to think her friend was cute. By middle school her friend had moved away, and Jenny ran for student government – not President, just one of the weird little ones like Secretary or Treasurer. Her campaign posters had cats on them, so I guess she liked cats. She didn’t win. By high school she’d gone off my radar completely. According to her obituary, she was fluent in American Sign Language, but that’s not the kind of thing that makes people remember who you are. That’s the kind of thing you read in an obituary and say, ‘Oh. Huh.’
Her suicide, in early July, came as a shock to everyone. She didn’t leave a note – she just went to bed one night, apparently a little more melancholy than usual, and the next morning her mom found her on the floor of her bathroom with her wrists slit wide open. And the thing is, I’ve seen a lot of death: over the past year I’ve watched my neighbour across the street sprout claws and gut three people; I dragged my nearly-headless therapist from a car (oh, the irony); and I spent three days chained in a psycho’s basement while he tortured and killed a parade of helpless women. I’ve seen a lot of sick, gory stuff, and I’ve even done some of it myself. I’ve been through a lot, to put it simply, but Jenny Zeller’s death was different. Somehow, this one, simple suicide – that I didn’t even witness – was the hardest to deal with.
You see, I didn’t want to kill those people. I did it to save my town from a pair of vicious killers, but in doing so I had to break every rule I’d ever set for myself. In some ways I risked my life for Jenny Zeller.
But what’s the point of saving someone’s life if she’s just going to kill herself anyway?
The phone rang four times before someone picked up.
A woman. Perfect.
‘Hello,’ I said, speaking clearly. I’d muffled the receiver with a sweater to mask my voice, and I wanted to make sure she could understand me. ‘Is this Mrs Julie Andelin?’
‘I’m sorry, who is this?’
I smiled. Right to the point. Some of them babbled on forever, and I could barely get a word in edgewise. So many mothers were like that, I’d learned: home alone all day, desperate for a conversation with anyone over the age of three. The last one I’d called had thought I was from the PTA, and talked to me for nearly a minute until I had to shout something shocking just to get her attention. This one was playing along.
Of course, what I had to say was pretty shocking regardless.
‘I saw your son today.’ I paused. ‘He’s always such a happy kid.’
How will she react?
‘What do you want?’
Once again, right to the point. Almost too practical, perhaps. Is she scared? Is she taking this too calmly? I need to say more.
‘You’ll be pleased to know little Jordan walked straight home from daycare – past the drugstore, down the street to the old red house, then around the corner and past the apartments and straight home to you. He looked both ways at every street, and he never talked to strangers.’
‘Who are you?’ Her breathing was heavier now; more scared, more angry. I couldn’t read people very well over the phone, but Mrs Andelin had been kind enough to answer hers in the living room, and I could see her through the window. She looked out now, wide eyes peering into the darkness, then quickly wrenched the curtains closed. I smiled. I listened to the air go in and out of her nose – in and out, in and out. ‘Who are you
Her fear was real. She wasn’t faking – she was legitimately terrified for her son. Does that mean she’s innocent? Or just a really good liar?
Julie Andelin had worked in the bank for nearly fifteen years, her entire adult life, and last week she had quit. That wasn’t suspicious in itself – people quit jobs all the time, and it didn’t mean anything except that they wanted a new job - but I couldn’t afford to ignore even the smallest lead. I didn’t know what the demons could do, but I’d seen at least one who could kill a person and take its place, and who’s to say that this one couldn’t do the same? Maybe Julie Andelin was bored with the bank, but maybe – just maybe – she was dead and gone, and had been replaced by something that couldn’t keep up the same routines. A sudden change of lifestyle might be, from a certain point of view, the most suspicious thing in the world.
‘What do you want with my son?’
She seemed genuine, just like every other mother I’d talked to over the last two months. Sixty-three days, and nothing. I knew a demon was coming because I’d called her myself – I’d literally called her, on a cellphone. Her name was Nobody. I’d told her I’d killed her friends, that they’d terrorised my town long enough and now I was taking the fight to them. My plan was to take them all like that, one by one, until finally we would all be safe. No one would have to live in fear.
‘Leave us alone!’ Mrs Andelin screamed.
I lowered my voice a bit. ‘I have a key to your house.’ It wasn’t true, but it sounded great on the phone. ‘I love what you’ve done with Jordan’s room.’
She hung up, and I clicked off the phone. I wasn’t sure whose it was; it was amazing the kind of stuff people dropped in a movie theatre. I’d used this one for five calls now, so it was probably time to get rid of it. I walked away, cutting through an apartment parking lot, popping open the phone and taking out the batteries and the SIM card. I dropped each piece into a separate metal garbage can, wiped my gloves clean, and slipped through a gap in the back fence.
My bike was half a block away, stashed behind a dumpster, and while I walked I scrolled through my mental list, checking off Julie Andelin’s name. She was definitely the real mother, and not a demonic impostor; it had been a long shot anyway. At least I hadn’t spent much time on this one; I’d ‘stalked’ her son for barely five minutes, but that’s all it took if you knew the right things to say. Tell a mother something creepy like, ‘Your daughter looks good in blue,’ and the maternal instinct will kick in instantly. She’ll believe the worst without any extra work on your part. It doesn’t matter if her daughter has never worn blue in her entire life. As soon as you get that intense, honest fear reaction, you’ve got your answer and you move on to the next woman with a secret.
I was starting to realise that everyone had a secret. But in sixty-three days I still hadn’t found the secret I was looking for.
I pulled out my bike, shoved my gloves into my pocket, and pushed off into the street. It was late, but it was August, and the night air was warm. It was almost time for school to start again, and I was beginning to get almost unbearably nervous. Where was Nobody? Why hadn’t she done anything yet?
Finding a killer was easy; aside from all the physical evidence he or she left behind, like fingerprints and footprints and DNA, there was a mountain of psychological evidence as well. Why did they kill this person instead of that one? Why did they do it here instead of there – and why now instead of earlier or later? What weapon did they use, if any, and how did they use it? Piece it all together and you had a psychological profile, like an Impressionist portrait, that could lead you straight to the killer. And if only Nobody would just come out and kill someone, I’d finally be able to track her down.
Yes, finding a killer was easy. Finding someone before they killed was almost impossible. And the worst part about that was the way it made me, John Wayne Cleaver, so much easier to find than the demon herself. I’d already killed two people – Bill Crowley and Clark Forman, both demons in human form – so if she knew where to look and took her time, Nobody could find me so much more easily than I could find her. Every day I grew more tense, more desperate. She could be around any corner.
I had to find her first.
I pedalled towards home, silently noting the houses I had already ‘cleared’. That one’s having an affair. That one’s an alcoholic. That one turned out to have a massive gambling debt – Internet poker. As far as I know, she still hasn’t told her family that their savings are gone . . .
I’d started watching people, going through their trash, seeing who was out late and who was meeting whom and who had something to hide. I was shocked to find that it was almost everybody. It was like the whole town was festering in corruption, tearing itself apart before the demons had a chance to do it for them. Did people like that deserve to be saved? Did they even want to be saved? If they were really that self-destructive, then the demon was helping them more than I was, speeding them along in their goal of complete self-annihilation. An entire town, an entire world, slitting its vast communal wrist and bleeding out while the universe ignored us.
No. I shook my head. I can’t think like that. I have to keep going.
I have to find the demon, and I have to stop it.
The trouble is, that’s a lot harder than it sounds. Sherlock Holmes summed up the essence of investigation in a simple soundbite: when you remove the impossible, whatever remains, however improbable, must be the truth. Great advice, Sherlock, but you never had to track down a demon. I’ve seen two and talked to a third, and everything they did was impossible; I’ve watched them rip out their own organs, jump up after a dozen gunshot wounds, assimilate other people’s limbs, and even feel other people’s emotions. I’ve watched them steal identities and faces and entire lives. For all I knew, they could do literally anything: how was I supposed to figure them out? If Nobody would just freaking kill someone already, then I’d have something to go on.
I was almost home, but I stopped halfway down my block to stare up at a tall beige house. Brooke’s house. We’d gone on two dates, both cut short by the discovery of a dead body, and I’d really started to . . . like her? I didn’t know if that was even possible. I’d been diagnosed with sociopathy, a psychological disorder that meant, among other things, that I couldn’t feel empathy. I couldn’t connect to Brooke, not really. Did I enjoy her company? Yes. Did I dream about her at night? Yes again. But the dreams were not good, and my company was worse. All the better, then, that she’d started to avoid me. It wasn’t a break-up, because we’d never been ‘together’, but it was the platonic analogue of a break-up, whatever that’s called. There’s really no way to misinterpret ‘you scare me and I don’t want to see you any more’.
I suppose I could see her side of it. I came at her with a knife, after all, and that’s a hard thing to get over, even if I did have a good reason. Save a girl’s life by threatening it and she’ll have just enough time to say ‘thank you’ before she says ‘goodbye’.
Still, that didn’t stop me from slowing down when I passed her house, or from stopping – like tonight – and wondering what she was doing. So she’d left me; big deal. Everyone else had. The only person I really cared about was Nobody, and I was going to kill her.
I pushed off the kerb and rode two doors down, to the mortuary at the end of the street. It was a biggish building, with a chapel and some offices and an embalming room in the back. I lived upstairs with my mom in a little apartment; the mortuary was our family business, though we kept the part about me embalming people a secret. Bad for business. Would you let a sixteen year old embalm your grandmother? No? Neither would anyone else.
I tossed my bike against the wall in the parking lot and opened the side door. Inside was a little stairwell with two exits: a door at the bottom that led to the mortuary, and a door at the top that led into our apartment. The light bulb was burned out, and I trudged upstairs in the dark. The TV was on; that m
‘. . . found dead . . .’
I smiled and threw open the door. There’d been another death. Nobody had finally killed someone! After sixty-three days, it was finally starting.
The demon had killed a priest.
It was right there on the news – a pastor had been found dead on the lawn of the Throne of God Presbyterian Church. I closed the door and walked to the couch, sitting down next to Mom as we watched in silence. It was too good to be true. A reporter was interviewing Sheriff Meier as he described the scene: the pastor was sprawled flat on his face with two long poles sticking out of his back – a mop with the head broken off, and a flagpole stripped of its flag. They had been stabbed between his ribs just inside of his shoulderblades, one on each side. I leaned forward to get a better look at the TV, too surprised to hide my eagerness.
I Don't Want to Kill You by Dan Wells / Young Adult / Horror / Fantasy / Mystery & Detective have rating 4 out of 5 / Based on32 votes