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                “You look lost, friend.”  

                Malcolm looked over at the man behind the voice.  The voice itself wasn’t gruff or demanding.  The average person would have passed it off as genuine concern.  It wasn’t even presented in a threatening manner, though Malcolm knew that’s exactly what it was.   It was this kind of straight forward demeanor that made people like Mr. Curious Party and himself so dangerous.  A large percent of the time they were like everybody else.  Malcolm pondered that phrase while continuing to walk towards the man. 

                Everybody else.  What the hell did that mean?  There was nothing normal or average about the average person.  Malcolm and his kind weren’t the minority, they were the medium.  There were more collective people like him, then there were the straitlaced or homicidal minor classes.  He actually provided a service.  If the trees are too close, or the forest too dense, then nothing can grow.  Some one has to prune the bushes, pull the weeds, and, if necessary, chop down a healthy tree for the good of the environment. 

                Malcolm continued to move down the service corridor, never changing his sway or gait.  He was within striking distance of the man now.  The man had changed his stance from laid back wallflower, to standing casual observer.  Malcolm took notice of his rooted stance, made to look unimposing, and how his arms moved to a more forward aggressive position, also long practiced to look non-threatening. 

                The two made eye contact just as Malcolm moved within two footsteps.  The man could see it right away.  The warm look in his eyes that was only blank and hollow when caught from the peripheral.  The natural, non-reflexive breathing that showed neither fear, nor anticipation.  The man in the hallway knew it well.  Even if he hadn’t already seen it on the 20 or so people that had come before Malcolm, he saw it several times a day in his own reflection.  He went back to leaning against the wall and let Malcolm pass. 

                “We’ll be closing the doors in ‘bout a half.  I think everybody’s that’s comin’s already here.”  

                Malcolm nodded and moved on.  He was looking forward to a beer.  Something on draft.  He hadn’t had a beer since his last job, and he brought light.  He hated light beer. 

                Malcolm wasn’t sure what to expect.  This was his first convention.  He didn’t even know what to think of the invitation when he saw it.  There he was, leaving his last job, squinting at the early morning light while walking the five blocks back to his car.  Sitting in the driver’s seat was an elegant all black envelope. 

                “You Are Cordially Invited To A Gathering Of Men Of Similar Interest.”

                The rest of the invitation was equally as cryptic and basic.  It said where, what day, and for the time it simply said “after dark.”  As odd as it all was, Malcolm knew immediately what it meant.  “Men of similar interest.”  Serial killers. 

                Malcolm had tried for several days to not think about the invitation, and had even gone so far as to toss it in the trash.  Yet on trash day, that particular can in his house had somehow gotten overlooked.  After a week and a half, his curiosity had gotten the better of him, and he retrieved the black card from the trash basket, and marked his calendar for the following weekend. 

                On the day in question, Malcolm had taken a jog around the area several times in the early morning, and watched the building from a nearby hotel window from dusk to a few hours after.  Even then, it would be another thirty minutes or so before he would go to the gathering.  He had watched as men trickled into the building.  Comfortably spaced and very unassuming.  The men he had seen were very nonchalant, and moved with a casual sense of caution. 

                Malcolm left the clean, but dingy, hotel room he had rented and moved towards the stairs.  He always took the stairs.  He didn’t have a direct fear of elevators, he just found the confining nature of them hazardous to his profession.  Being inside meant you were at the mercy of the metal box.  There was no telling what could be waiting for you outside those doors. 

                Malcolm shuffled across the worn matted carpet of the lobby and stepped out into the chilly autumn night.  He grabbed a cup of coffee from the diner on the corner for appearances, and headed for the meeting place. 

                A small murmur could be heard through the hall’s doors.  Malcolm pushed them open slowly, making just enough room for him to slip in.  He didn’t expect his entrance to go unnoticed among the crowd, but maybe he wouldn’t draw everyone’s full attention.  He was right, for the most part.  A few of the attendees looked over as the doors separated, but immediately returned to their conversations.  Malcolm made his way through the small groups and over to the bar.  He positioned himself between two chairs and looked around the room.  The room was fairly empty, with a modest amount of guests, roughly twenty from Malcolm’s count, and food for more than twice that crowd. 

                Malcolm continued to scan the crowd while waiting for the bartender.  Those that weren’t grabbing food from the buffet were in small groups talking amongst themselves.  He chuckled to himself about how normal it all looked.  The only thing that was missing was a small table near the entrance with name tags written in black marker that said: Hello My Name Is: The Crossroads Strangler. 

He suddenly noticed that there was no wait staff among them.  No one carrying trays, or picking empty plates and cups off tables.  He wondered if he’d have to pour his own beer, when the bartender stepped from around corner. 

                “I’ll be with you in one moment.”  The bartender smiled and began washing his hands at the sink.  “What are you having?” 

                “What ever you got.”  Malcolm smiled.  “For a minute there I thought I’d have to serve myself.  Luckily I know my way around a tap.  Long story.” 

                The bartender let loose an honest laugh.  He grabbed a glass from the shelf behind him and wiped the inside of it with a rag he pulled from beneath the counter.  “Heineken okay?” 

                “Perfect.” 

                “There’s a lot of that here tonight.” He said pouring the beer.  “Long stories.  You want to keep the coffee?” 

                Malcolm shook his head no.  He had forgotten he even had it.  The bartender took the cup from him, poured the contents in the sink behind him, and tossed the cup in the trash. 

                Malcolm pulled a dollar from his pocket and looked around the bar.  “You gotta tip jar?” 

                The bartender laughed again.  This time louder.  “’Fraid not.  Though, it’s not a bad idea.  I’m not a bartender, I’m your host tonight.” 

                Embarrassment spread across Malcolm’s face like a crashing tide. 

                “It’s okay.  Don’t worry about it.  I have to pull a little double duty tonight and serve drinks for a while.  I can’t have a wait staff among this crowd.  They’d all be dead and stuffed in broom closets, heating ducts, and crawlspaces by morning.”  This time Malcolm laughed. 

                The bartender extended his hand across the polished wooden table.  “Name’s Vaughan.  The Black River Fisherman.” 

                “Malcolm.  I don’t really have a given name yet.  I’ve been referred to as the Frat House Slasher.” 

                “I know.”

                “You do- Right, you’re the host.”  Malcolm took several large gulps of beer. 

                “Don’t worry, it’ll pass.” 

                Malcolm looked quizzingly at Vaughan. 

                “The uneasiness of being here.  It’s the same for all of us.  We spend half of our time doing what we do, and the other half making sure that we don’t get caught.  All of us being here in one location seems to go against the grain, so to speak.”  Vaughan filled up Malcolm’s glass and grabbed another from behind himself.  He wiped that one as well, before pouring his own drink. 

                “Time for a break.”  Vaughan stepped from behind the bar and took a seat at a table nearby.  “Care to sit?”  Malcolm grabbed his drink and took a seat across from his host. 

                “These little ‘gatherings’ take a long time to put together.  Generally about three to four years.  I have to find everyone myself.  Watch, look, listen.  Make sure that I have the right person.  Have to be careful that something I do doesn’t tip off the feds to the person I’m looking for.  At times, I’ve even had to use bait.  That’s the one thing I have over the cops.  That’s one sacrifice they’re not willing to make.  Shame though.  If only they’d look through our eyes a little longer, maybe they’d be better at catching us.  But, hell, then we’d be out of a job.”  Both men laughed. 

                “So you just go around looking for serial killers so you can invite them to a party?” 

                “Not quite.  You can’t feel it yet, but soon you’ll start to let go a little and let the comfortability of this night enter you.  Men like us can’t afford to make friends.  At least not real ones.  We make friendly acquaintances based upon the mask we wear.  We keep our guard up around them, and brick in every little part of us for fear that we’ll say or do the wrong thing.  Something that might give away who we really are.  So, we hide because the world refuses to understand who we are and the purpose we serve.  But, not here.  This one night, you can just be yourself.  You can talk about your- I don’t know- tomato garden without being afraid that your mention of mixing pesticides will some how give you away.” 

                Malcolm listened and started to relax some.  He felt himself starting to smile, against his wishes. 

                “Enjoy it for what it is, and for while you can.  It’s only for tonight.  It would be murder, no pun intended, to try and get everyone in the country together at one time.  A gathering of that size would certainly alert someone.  So, I move around to different states and host a party for those close enough to travel and not look suspicious.  It’s rare that anyone gets invited twice.” 

                “Wow.  I honestly never thought about something like this.  It’s something.” 

                “Isn’t it?”

                “So, tell me,” asked Malcolm. “How do you do this?  Why?” 

                “Well, the why’s easy enough.  I wanted to be around my own kind.  My people.  I wanted to feel like I belonged, that I wasn’t alone.  It wasn’t enough to read about them, or see them on TV.  I needed to be in their presence.  And, I figured, if I felt this way they must be feeling the same.  For the most part.  I mean, isn’t that why you came?  That’s why they all came.” 

                “No, I understand.  I just can’t grasp how someone- you- could bring it all together.  The idea itself sounds inconceivable.” 

                “It’s not as easy as it looks now.  I wrestled with the idea for quite some time before I actually set out to do it.  Even then, there was a lot of starting and stopping.  It was a few years after I officially decided that I was going to do it before I held he first party.  Boy, that one was certainly less than.”  Vaughan strained a smile at the painful memory and shook his head. 

                “I’m taking up a lot of your time.  I don’t want to keep you away from the others.”  Vaughan stood and started to walk away. 

                “I’m fine actually.”  Malcolm answered.  Vaughan shifted his direction back to Malcolm.  “Honestly, it’s like you said, just being in the same rooms with others like me…  I don’t know.  It’s like taking the yoke off your shoulders.  I feel relaxed.” 

                Vaughan smiled.  “Hungry?” 

                “I could eat.”  Malcolm slid his chair back from the table, turning it towards the food tables.  An outstretched hand from Vaughan kept him in his seat. 

                “I’ll get it.  That stuff’s been sitting out for a few hours.  I’ll get us something fresh from the fridge.” 

                “Sounds good.” 

                Vaughan returned after a few minutes with a plate of vegetables, ranch dip, shrimp, and cocktail sauce.  Malcolm reached over as soon as the plate was set down and grabbed some shrimp.  He popped two in his mouth and chewed with satisfaction.  Suddenly his expression changed, and he aggressively examined the food in his mouth with his tongue. 

                “Chilled shrimp?”  He questioned. 

                “Yep,” Vaughan answered with a mischievous smile. 

                Malcolm smiled and swallowed what was in his mouth before putting the last of what he had picked up off the plate into his mouth.  “Good.” 

                “I have to eat at these functions, too.  Might as well eat something I like.”  Vaughan grabbed one of the bigger pieces, ran it through some sauce, and ate it. 

                Malcolm picked a piece of celery from the plate and dipped it into the ranch before biting the end off.  He continued to hold the celery in his fingers, rolling it around, and occasionally nibbling on it, all the while eating other pieces of food from the plate. 

                Vaughan broke their food silence by pointing across the room. 

                “See the guy in the orange shirt with the pale green tie that doesn’t match.”  Malcolm searched around near where Vaughan had pointed.  “Over by the desserts.” 

                “Man.  That doesn’t match.”  Malcolm said, finally spotting him. 

                “That’s the guy they call the Aquarian.”  

                “No shit?” 

                “I know.  I watched him for over 6 months to make sure.  Funny, isn’t it?  That woman to his right…  She’s the one that’s been killing the tourists in Ohio.  They haven’t given her a name yet because they still don’t want to classify her as a serial killer.  As if that’ll somehow rob her of her power and make her stop.  She’s up to 11 by my count.” 

                “I haven’t heard about her.” 

                “You probably won’t.  There are so many of us out there that you never hear about.  We’re all dirty little secrets.” 

                Malcolm scanned the crowd to see the other people. 

                “Oh, God.  I can’t believe he’s here.” blurted Malcolm.  Vaughan turned and stared into the mass of chattering figures. 

                “Who-”  he stopped himself before finishing.  He could see him among the others now, sticking out like kudzu among violets.  Robin George.  He moved around the people like he was working the room.  Shaking hands and passing out phony smiles.  Selling his name and asking the others what they thought about his work.  “Oh, him.” 

                That guy’s about as real as a lesbian’s balls.”  Vaughan tried to stifle a laugh and felt beer come up his nose.  “Who the hell invited him?”  Malcolm caught himself.  “Look, I know this is my first time here, but come on…” 

                “Yeah.  It’s sad.  He fits our “profile” *snort* according to the FBI.  It’s sad.  He’s breeding a new generation of fakers looking for fame and notoriety.  He doesn’t kill for the same reason we do.” 

                “The ‘Cereal Killer?’”  I mean- please.  He gave himself his own name.  That’s not how it works.  Ask Crazy Eight if that’s fair.”

                “Hey, in all fairness.  Zodiac.  Son of Sam.  They named themselves.” 

                “C’mon, man!  Killing people and then dressing them up in costumes of cereal characters?  Geez!  There’s no… truth to his work.  It’s show.  Like a goddamn Peter Max to our Andy Warhol.  It’s shit!  He gets caught, gets off on a technicality, then runs around acting like he’s some kind of celebrity.” 

                “You’re preaching to the choir, man.  I read somewhere that there was an actual discussion among the heads of five university psychology professors that said his killings told a truth about modern society.”  responded Vaughan. 

                “He killed a teen beauty pageant winner and dressed her up as the Whole Wheat King!  What’s that?” 

                “Yeah.  The three boy scouts he beheaded and dressed like the Jazz Crispers; Doo Bee, Doo Doo, and Doo Wah.  I feel ya, man.  The guy can’t even be consistent with his M.O.”  Vaughan took a sip of his beer. 

                “Why do you do it?”  Vaughan asked.

                “What do you mean?”  Malcolm looked back at him over the rim of the glass.  

                “You go into a house full of college kids, and slaughter them one by one.  Why?” 

                “You mean, like a trigger?  As in, I saw a blue light so now I must kill, kind of thing?  Or, deep-seated childhood trauma that I’m not ready to face, kind of reason?” 

                “Whatever.  Just, what makes you go that day?  What determines who, and why?” 

                Malcolm set his glass down on the table.  “I don’t know.  I-It’s not really something I can put into words.  It just feels like it’s what I should be doing at that moment.”  Malcolm ran a condensation dampened hand threw his wisps of short cut hair.  He shuffled his feet back and forth.  He had suddenly become a nervous school boy being asked the answer to a homework question he hadn’t done. 

                “Y’know…” Malcolm started, then stalled.  “I can feel it building up days before.  It’s like an itch, or a flutter in your stomach.  It gets stronger as the days go by.  Then, I wake up and it’s like, ‘today’s the day.’”

                Vaughan’s face was stone.  He didn’t judge or question.  He just listened. 

                “I do know why frats though.”  Malcolm let out a dry laugh.  “I was in my second year of college-  maybe two months before I quit.  I’m at this off campus frat party…  Let me tell you, it’s nothing like the movies.”  He let out another evaporated laugh.  “Fifty to eighty people crammed in a house that can barely fit five comfortably.  It didn’t matter if you were drinking, or smoking, or getting high.  Just being in there was enough to make you a habitual offender.  Drinks being spilled on you.  Who knows what kinda smoke being blown in your face.  The noise and music and inane chatter so loud that you can’t think, it’s just motor response.”  Malcolm grabbed his glass off the table and finished it in a gulp and a half.  “Fuckin’ nightmare.” 

                Malcolm rested his butt on the edge of the chair.  “You know, two girls got raped at that party.  It was during the time I was there.  One of ‘em was a teacher’s assistant.  Both of ‘em forced into…  Neither of them could describe any of the people that took part.  Police didn’t even have any leads.  The girls couldn’t remember anything, not even how they got home.”  Malcolm rocked the glass back and forth.  “All they could recall was going to the party, and flashes of what happened to them.  They held hands during the incident, refusing to let go.” 

                Vaughan nodded.  He took Malcolm’s glass out of his hand.  “Guinness?” 

                “Heineken.”

                “Be right back.” 

                Malcolm turned his attention back to the other attendees while he waited.  He couldn’t keep his eyes off Robin as he continued to work the crowd like a door to door salesman.  A quick laugh broke from his throat as he watched as the man known as Johnny Daily roll his eyes at the fast-food-strip-mall-style killer.

                “What?  I miss something?”  He set the glasses down on the table, and slid Malcolm’s past the middle.

                Malcolm pointed over at Robin and Johnny.  “It seems we aren’t the only ones that don’t care for him.” 

                “Oh yeah?”  Vaughan wiped the foam off his lips with the back of his hand, then wiped it on his pants leg. 

                Malcolm drank half the new glass before continuing with his previous story. 

                “I’m not sorry about what happened to them.  I mean, I abhor rape, but it’s life.  It could just as well have been a car accident, a fire, hell, fucking meteor falling from the sky right on top of them.  Or, nothing at all.  It happened.”  He pushed the remainder of the beer away like he had had enough.  As if it was the cause of his loosened tongue.  “My first kill wasn’t for a few years after that.  The first time I got that feeling, felt it building up, I didn’t know what it was.  Shit, I thought I was dying.  Man, I was so scared, you know.”  Malcolm stared into Vaughan’s like-minded eyes. 

                “I wasn’t afraid of getting caught.  I was so scared I was doing it wrong.  I don’t even remember the people I killed that night.  It wasn’t like it is now, where I remember every little detail, down to the number of buttons on their shirts, or if their shoes are laced over or under.  That first night…  The police and FBI says it was four, and I’m just gonna hafta take their word for it.  But that first night.  When I realized that I had to kill someone- I just remember thinking back to that party, and those girls, and saying to myself, no one would ever know you were there.  You bring a case of beer, or some weed and they let you right in.” 

                Vaughan nodded and smiled.  He looked down at his watched before he began to speak, as if checking to see if there was enough time to tell his story. 

                “I grew up in small town in eastern Massachusetts called Chamberlain.  It was one of those places that people never left, you know what I mean?”

                Malcolm snickered.  “Yeah.”

                “People lived their whole lives in that one place, and never even thought about venturing outside its walls.  Not even to one of the nearby towns.  As soon as I was able, I left there and never turned back.  Kinda hard to ply my trade in a place like that.  I’d be found out before the end of my first kill.” 

                “Yeah, I can see that happening.”  Malcolm smiled. 

                “I’ll admit, I made some mistakes with my early kills.”

                “Me too.”

                “I didn’t start off with small animals and stuff like that.  I wasn’t some high school bully, or repressed nerd.  I felt this yearning, but it wasn’t fully realized, yet.  I tried to fulfill the need that was growing, but I didn’t know how.  My first kills were…  not righteous.  It took some time afterwards to realize the nature of my actions.  I’ll admit, there was some self doubt.  I wondered if I had made a bigger mistake than I thought.”  Vaughan bit the head off a stalk of broccoli.

                “I was actually on my way to the police to turn myself in when it hit me.  I passed this newspaper box.  It was like a revelation.  It was during the FBI’s hunt for Henry Jacobs.  They didn’t know who he was at the time, and was still calling him Cupid- you know, on account of the love bites he left on the victims.”  Vaughan took a napkin off the table and wiped his mouth.  

                “Something told me to buy the paper, so I did.  So…” Vaughan chuckled a bit as he told the next part.  “So, I’m sitting in the lobby of the police station reading about the hunt for Jacobs, and the desk sergeant looks up at me occasionally, but doesn’t say anything.  I’m reading about the leads, and dead-ends, and how hard it is to catch serial killers compared to your regular murders, and such, because they’re so methodical.  And I’m thinking to myself: methodical?  What have I ever done that was methodical?  Then I read the next part, and that just floors me.  It was like something just reached inside me and pulled the heat out of my body.  My body just went cold.  I had this feeling that I can only assume is how scientists and great discovers feel at that moment when they realize that this is it.  You know, that Eureka, I’ve found it! moment.”  Vaughan pushed his chair back from the table slightly and reclined in his seat. 

                Malcolm listened intently.  He wasn’t aware of the little movements his body was making.  He subconsciously rubbed his thumb over the tip of his forefinger.  Malcolm was oblivious to everything around him, even the intrusive hacking and coughing of one of the other men in the room. 

                “The FBI said, and this is almost a direct quote- unlike most criminals, be it drug dealers, burglars, or murders, serial killers are harder to recognize.  They don’t fall into set molds or easily discernable patterns.  For the most part, they’re just like everyone else.  End quote.” 

                Vaughan stood but didn’t leave the table.  The coughing got louder and more ragged, briefly drawing Vaughan’s attention.  Malcolm remained unaware. 

                “And so, there I am in the police station about to confess to killing four people, and I realized, they had no idea.  I’m in the belly of the beast, and he doesn’t even know it.  So, I go up to the desk sergeant, with paper in hand, and- I’m testing out my theory here.  It’s dangerous, I know, but I have to see for myself, you know?  I tell him that I came to tell them that I thought my next door neighbor might be Henry Jacobs.  I tell him that he’s weird and I always see him with different women several times a week.  What should I do?”  The coughing from across the room ended with a soft, yet sizable thump on the ground. 

                Vaughan took notice and started moving away from the table while keeping his attention on Malcolm. 

                “He tells me I don’t have anything to worry about, and that my neighbor is probably just some guy who likes prostitutes or bar flies.  Real serial killers, he says, are the last person you would expect.  Then he turns away from me and goes back to his paperwork.”  Vaughan completely turned away from Malcolm and walked toward the crowd gathering beside one of the food tables. 

                “If you’ll excuse me.” 

                Malcolm sat in awe.  He’d never been able to have such an open and direct line of dialogue with anyone, before or after he started killing.  There was a definite connection between he and Vaughan.  It was a kinship he relished, knowing that he wouldn’t have it again after this night.  All his trepidations about being there were gone.  He was more than happy that he had taken the chance and come. 

                The talking in the room had changed, and snapped Malcolm out of his subconscious rapture.  The room was no longer small groups of independent chatter, but had become a collective of focused conversation.  Malcolm left his seat and walked over to the cluster of men and women.  He looked at the stunned and bewildered faces, many of them horrified by whatever it was they had swarmed around.  Malcolm approached and followed the downward gazes to the body that lay lifeless on the floor.  Vaughan was hunched down beside him. 

                Malcolm didn’t know the dead man, but could hear the buzzing of Robin George telling everyone he was the Starlight killer.  Malcolm winced.  Not just at hearing Robin speak, but also at the ridiculous monikers that they got stuck with thanks to newspaper sensationalism.   

                “Not sure what happened here.”  Vaughan said to the audience.  Malcolm looked around at the faces of the killers around him.  Many were bleak and despondent.  The others were plain scared.  These were people who stalked and killed others on a whim, or due to some unfathomable calling, voices in their heads, flashing lights, signals from outer space, what have you; but faced with a death they had nothing to do with, they retreated and cowered like frightened children.  A few of the gawkers began to cough, and noticeably perspire. 

                “I think this might be my fault.”  Vaughan took a piece of food from the dead man’s hand and wrapped it in a fresh napkin.  “I think he had an allergic reaction to the dip.”  Vaughan let a quiet chuckle escape his lips.  “The spinach dip is made with a seafood stock base.  You can’t really taste it, but it’s in there.” 

                Vaughan stood and tossed the wrapped food piece in the closest trash can.  “Tongue swollen.  Lips discolored.  Damn.  Sorry about this folks.  This is the first time something like this has happened.”  Vaughan looked over at Malcolm with an “oops” expression.  “It never occurred to me to label the food.” 

                The crowd began to disperse some.  They waked away, but the dead man was still the new topic of conversation. 

                Malcolm reached over and grabbed a chopped celery stalk from the vegetable plate.  It was a nervous habit, he needed something to occupy his hands.  He looked down at the dead body, then quietly slid the vegetable back on the plate. 

                Vaughan sighed heavily.  “I’ll see if Carmen will help me get him to the freezer for right now.”  He looked at the faces of those still standing around, and then along the back of the room.  “Have any of you seen Carmen?  He was watching the door earlier.”  Those standing around shook their heads and shrugged their shoulders. 

                “Mal?” Vaughan called Malcolm. 

                “See if you can find Carmen.  He’s around here somewhere.”  Vaughan directed his next words to a man and woman standing to his left.   The woman was rather gruff looking in her physical appearance, no make-up or jewelry.  She wore men’s clothes, and dressed like a biker, wearing a leather Harley vest, and a bandana tied around her wrist.  Malcolm doubted she ever ridden on a motorcycle.  The man next to her was overly skinny and looked like a drifter.  His appearance was neat enough, for the most part, but carried himself as if shaving and wearing clean clothes went against every fiber of his being. 

                “You two, give me a hand with this guy.  Grab his legs and help me get him to the kitchen.” 

                Malcolm moved toward the entrance as they lifted the dead body.  As he pushed through the doors, he heard a couple of people behind him start to cough. 

                “Carmen!”  Malcolm called as he pushed open the service door.   He stepped through the doorframe, and quietly pushed the thin metal door shut behind him.  Malcolm moved slowly down the hall, but he didn’t know why.  Something about the other killer’s death unnerved him.  It shouldn’t, and he knew that, but it did.  He tried to view a death as a death.  It comes to everybody sooner or later.  Some would say sooner with people like him and the other attendees around.  To Malcolm when a person died, it was their time.  They had no later. 

                “Carmen!” Malcolm called again.  “Vaughan needs your help.  There’s been an accident.”  Malcolm wasn’t aware he had even finished his sentence.  He could only stand there, frozen.  His stomach fluttered, and an odd sensation rippled all over his body.  He immediately recognized it as the feeling he saw in the eyes of his victims when they realized death was imminent. 

                Carmen was dead.  He hung from the door to the service entrance; his arms draped over the push bar.  He looked like a discarded puppet whose strings had gotten caught on a loose nail and never quite made it into the trash can.  Blood pooled around his collapsed legs.  The blood ran away from Carmen’s body and towards Malcolm, but stopped several feet short of where he was standing.  It was as if the crimson river had been reaching out for help, but couldn’t hold out any longer. 

                Something was wrong.  Malcolm could feel it.  It could easily be written off with the first death as a simple accident and allergic reaction, and Carmen as- Malcolm didn’t know.  Among the people gathered no one knew anyone else.  Malcolm had no inkling of who Carmen really was, or what he did.  It was possible that one of the people there and Carmen had a disagreement, or maybe just didn’t like each other.  But that wasn’t how it felt to Malcolm.  It felt wrong.  It felt like someone was at work. 

                A loud crash erased the thoughts about Carmen from the blackboard of Malcolm’s mind.  He turned to the doors behind him and stared blankly at them.  He was mannequin still as he listened.  It was like hearing an odd noise in the middle of the night that wakes you from your sleep.  He didn’t want to hear it again, and confirm that he had indeed heard a noise, but at the same time wanted to hear it again to dismiss it as something other than what he thought it was. 

                Malcolm’s pulse quickened, and he could feel his heart pounding in his throat.  The strong thumping made it had for him to breathe, and he swallowed hard several times in a vain attempt to dislodged the non-existent obstruction.   

                The noise was followed seconds later by a sound Malcolm always referred to as a “bitch” scream.  It was the sound a man made when he fully realized that his life would soon be over, and that nothing or no one could save him.  Malcolm had heard and even made several men make that sound during his career. 

                Malcolm ran to the door with concrete shoes and gelatin legs.  He could hear the commotion and the escalation of quiet mumblings building.  His eyes took Polaroids of the scene as he pushed through the door.  Everything was captured in still lifeless images like a bad recreation.  Another guest was dead on the floor.  He had pulled a small desert tray off the table as he fell.  Ladyfingers and petit fours littered the floor.  A crowd converged again.  Malcolm looked around for Vaughan, but couldn’t find him among the traffic. 

                The death markings on the body were easily recognizable as being the same as the first unfortunate partier.  He bore the same tell-tale marking around the mouth. 

                Malcolm was the first to speak with anything relevant.  “Has anyone seen Vaughan?” 

                No one responded. 

                “Has anyone seen Vaughan?!” Malcolm said again with more force. 

                Someone in the crowd stuttered and spoke quietly not wanting to be noticed or singled out; as if it would make them the next victim.   

                “He went to the storage area.” 

                Malcolm’s legs felt even weaker and heavier as he tried to move toward the side door.  His hands were out in front of him, feeling for an opening in the crowd to push through. 

                The sounds of coughing grew around him. 

                To the left of the crowd the man known as the Backwoods Butcher coughed hard.  The cough intensified and grew coarser.  The taste of bile collected in his mouth and turned sour.  He coughed again.  Harder.  Rougher.  His throat and chest burned.  The coughing quickly turned to choking as the bile foamed and began to pour from his mouth and nose.  The man known as the Backwoods Butcher no longer found the strength to stand or a reason to remain conscious.    

                Malcolm was knocked off balance and almost fell to the floor as the gathered group suddenly shifted away from the third victim, as they knew it.  The man known as the Backwoods Butcher fell in the same comedic nature of a bowling pin.  The body twitched as the muscles spasmed involuntarily. 

                Malcolm pushed backwards into the crowd, still trying to find Vaughan.  He only took his eyes off the latest dead body long enough to watch as one of those gathered on the inner circle released the contents of their stomach onto the floor, and then drop dead themselves. 

                Panic filled the room and the mass quickly dispersed.  It was obvious that they all wanted to leave, but didn’t know where to go. 

                Malcolm continued to move backwards as all those around him moved away.  The table edge that hit him just under his buttocks forced him to stop moving in reverse and orient himself in the direction he wanted to move.  He moved with the speed of a marathon sprinter, all while screaming one word.  “Vaughan!” 

                Vaughan was propped in a door frame cursing himself when Malcolm found him.  His eyes were fixed in a blank stare at the utility closet several feet away.  Malcolm stood beside him and called his name repeatedly.   Vaughan didn’t answer.  He never even acknowledged Malcolm’s presence. 

                “dammit.   so stupid.  stupid.  should have waited.  been more sure.  so damned stupid.  now we’re all going to die.”

                “Vaughan!”  Malcolm screamed. 

                Vaughan lifted his head as if he were waking from a deep sleep.  “Malcolm?”  He moved backwards against the door jam to right himself.  He slowly raised a hand to utility closet down the hall. 

                Malcolm walked to where Vaughan was pointing.  He reached for the handle of the closet door and stopped.  There were smudges of blood on the door and on the handle.  Malcolm turned and looked at Vaughan. 

                “It’s the RTT killer.  His real name is Reginald Drake.  He’s a-  was a cop from Wisconsin.”  Vaughn looked down at the residual blood on his hands that came from the door.  He tried to wipe them on his pants legs. 

                “I was looking for some industrial trash bags, or maybe one of those 55 gallon trashcans with the wheels on bottom.  I opened the door, and there he was. “ 

                Malcolm walked back to Vaughan’s side.  For the first time Vaughan noticed he wasn’t alone. 

                “Where’s Carmen?  Did you find him?” 

                “Carmen’s dead, too.” Malcolm answered.  “Someone cut him up and left him at the service entrance.  Some more people in the hall have died, too.  Looks like poisoning.” 

                “No.  No.” Vaughan cried.  “What the hell’s happening?”  Vaughan’s legs wobbled as he walked.  “I’ve got to get back in there.  We’ve got to get everyone together.  It’s one of us.  One of us is killing everyone.” 

                Malcolm stopped for a minute and looked at Vaughan.  He couldn’t address the group in his current condition.  Vaughan was scared.  That wasn’t the problem.  They all knew fear.  They lived with fear.  They were here this night because of fear.  Fear of being themselves.  They came here for one night because they were afraid of being who they were around their friends and neighbors.  Afraid that they would be seen for who they really were. 

                It was the other thing that shown in Vaughan’s eyes that was the problem.  Guilt.  He felt responsible.  All the killers gathered knew fear.  They owned it.  Absorbed it.  But guilt was something alien to them.  There is no understanding or recognition of guilt in a person who could methodically kill a woman while she begged for mercy and prayed to see her children again.  A person who can deliver bags of body parts to the doorstep of the grieving family hoping against reason that their loved one will be returned to them safe and sound.  Guilt wasn’t something they understood or could make sense of. 

                Vaughan’s guilt would only drive them into a panic. 

                “Are you ok?” Malcolm asked rhetorically. 

                Vaughan looked at him and smiled.  He took a deep breath and slowly exhaled.  He stood up straight, chest out, head high, jaw tight, and eyes focused.  “I’ll be fine.”

                The crowd in the main hall was divided with the food tables separating the two groups.  On one side stood the four healthy guests, or those that weren’t displaying any active signs of illness.  On the other side of the room were five whose skin had gone pasty white and had a slick sheen of sweat glossing their skin.  Sporadic coughing fits erupted from the walking dead, most of whom had taken a seat at a table by themselves; segregated even from their own infected kind. 

                All eyes turned as their gracious host entered the room once again.  He walked slowly past them and went directly to the bar.  They watched, waiting for him to step forward and address them all.  Expecting a word from the governor that would stay their execution.  He was their host, their would be savior, their tour guide of hell.  They had entered, seen the sights, taken all the pictures, bought knickknacks at the gift shop, and now they wanted to go home. 

                Vaughan moved with an unconscious routine.  His actions were so reflexive that his hands seemed to move without direct command.  He washed his hands at the sink and dried them on a fresh towel he pulled from a shelf underneath.  He folded the pink streaked towel neatly and set it off to the side.  His eyes were never on what he doing, but instead were one step ahead.  It was as if they were laying the path for his limbs to follow.  He grabbed a glass from the cabinet above the sink and rinsed it twice.  He wiped it out with another new towel. He folded the second hand towel long ways and tucked one end in the small of his back. 

                Vaughan poured himself a beer.  He blew a slow steady stream of air from his lips before tilting his head back and emptying the glass with one massive chug. 

                “I believe you all know what I’m going to say.” 

                Everyone was quiet.  They all knew what he was going to say, but still had to hear it from him. Even with the bodies collecting around them, it wasn’t real until he said it. 

                “Someone here is killing us.”  Vaughan moved the glass back under the tap and reached for the handle.  He paused before pulling the tap down.  Everyone was staring at him.  They wanted him to tell them what they were going to do, how they were going to survive.  Vaughan had no answers.  He had resigned himself to the notion that they were all going to die.  In truth, they were already dead.  It was just a matter of time. 

                The other killers continued to stare at him.  Waiting.  He brought them there.  He had the answers.  He knew them all.  If someone was killing them, then he would know who.

                Vaughan moved his hand and the glass away from the tap.  He put the beer mug face down on the counter and cleared his throat. 

                “Let me begin by saying I’m sorry.  In all my years of hosting these parties, nothing like this has ever happened.” Vaughan said to the crowd.  The people on the “sick side” were standing as well, but kept their distance from the others.  

                “I try and pride myself on how careful and cautious I am.  I take great pains to make sure that those I’ve selected are the right ones.  Having absolute certainty that everyone here deserves to be here.  As ridiculous as it sounds, I never thought that one of us would be capable of this?”  Vaughan tried to put on a brave face, but couldn’t wipe the defeat from his brow. 

                “The irony isn’t lost on me.” 

                A lanky, balding man with a lazy eye stepped forward from the crowd.  He turned his back to Vaughan and addressed the groups.  He held his arms out, drawing the attention of everyone to himself and spoke. 

                “First-“ squeaked the man known as the Route 87 Killer.  He cleared his throat and puffed out his chest before trying again. 

                “First thing we need to do is gather up all these bodies.”  He tried to beef up the tone of his voice, but still fell short an octave or two.  “We’ll stack them over in the far corner.” 

                “I ain’t fuckin’ touching them.”  said the man known as the Jersey Devil.  “Whatevers they’s got, I don’t want.” 

                “Leave them.  It doesn’t matter anyway.”  Vaughan’s collected voice broke through the fear and brought a calm air to the thickness that was paranoia and fear.  “Stacking them in the corner isn’t going to change our odds of survival one bit.” 

                “If this is all about us surviving, then shouldn’t we be getting the hell out of here right now?” The man known as the Corinthian questioned.

                “We can’t leave.  We’re stuck here until we find out who’s killing us, or we’re all dead.  All the doors are locked.  If the dead bodies weren’t enough, there’s enough evidence here, among everything we’ve come in contact with, to lead the FBI to each and every one of us.  Ordinarily, you’d all be gone within the hour, and I’d have plenty of time to wipe this place down.  It wouldn’t be a big deal, cause no one would know who had been here.  We don’t have that luxury now.  The only way we can make it out of here and keep our lives and our lively hoods intact is to burn this place, or at least the main hall till there’s nothing left.  But we can’t do that until we find out which one of us is the killer… a killer… killing the rest of us.” 

                No one disagreed.  They didn’t say anything.  They didn’t have to.  The look on their face was clear enough. 

                “Ok.  I need a count.  There are eleven of us still alive, including me.”  Vaughan walked around the room counting the bodies on the floor.  “You.”  He pointed to the woman he told Malcolm earlier didn’t have a name yet.  “Count with me.” 

                Vaughan and the Ohio killer moved in opposite directions around the room nudging bodies with their feet, and counting aloud.  Vaughan joined the others when he finished.  They were still standing near the bar, watching in silence. 

                “I got fourteen.”  Vaughan pointed at the female serial killer.  “You?” 

                The woman nodded affirmatively. 

                “There are three missing.  We need to find them.  We need to know who’s alive and who’s dead.” 

                Vaughan’s hands had begun to sweat.  He pulled the towel out from behind him and wiped them dry, or at least drier.  He folded the towel again and placed it back in his waistband. 

                “We need to split up.”  Malcolm could see the panic as it spread across their faces again.   

                “This building has three floors, not including the basement.  Luckily enough, the basement is locked and only accessible from the outside.  That makes it easier, but not easy.  We don’t have time to give in to fear, or to search this entire place as a big group.  We need to cover as much area as we can, as fast as we can.”  Vaughan looked over each of their faces. 

                “I’m setting a time right now.  We have thirty minutes.  By that time we’ll either have found the killer, or all be dead ourselves.  Regardless, if I’m still alive I’m torching the building.  We need to move.  Groups of twos made up of one sick person, one non.” 

                “Ain’t no ways!” spoke the man known as the Jersey Devil. 

                “Those of you that are sick, or feel sick, could die at any minute.  The fact that you haven’t died yet I can only guess means you didn’t eat as much poisoned food as the others.  We send the sick ones out together and they don’t come back, we don’t know if they finally died from the poison, or if the killer got them. 

                “The count is uneven, so one team will have an extra body. “  Vaughan turned to Malcolm.  “I want you with me.  As far as I can tell, you’re the only person here I can trust.  You were the last person to show up, and you’ve been with me the whole time.” 

                Malcolm nodded.  Inside he breathed a sigh of relief.  The others said nothing, but it was clear that they agreed. 

                “Malcolm and I will take the third floor.  I want the rest of you to check the others.  Remember, there are three people still missing.  One of them is our guy.” Vaughan paused.  He tried to think of something more encouraging, but the words failed him. 

                “Divide up.” Vaughan commanded.  “I’ll be back.” 

                Malcolm watched as the other killers shuffled their feet and moved with nervous caution.  Though they all believed that the other killer was waiting in the shadows in another part of the building, it was just as likely that they were still in the room with everyone else, and chance could make any one of them their partner.  Malcolm observed the pairings casually, until something caught his eye.  Rather, something didn’t.

                Malcolm quietly broke off from the others and nonchalantly circled the amassed bodies, both living and dead.  There was someone missing, someone he was sure had been there moments before.  Malcolm moved towards the kitchen doors.  He suddenly had to change direction to keep from bumping into Vaughan as the swinging door to the kitchen swerved out in front of him.

                Vaughan backed out of the kitchen carrying a large serving tray.  As he turned, Malcolm could see he had laid every knife he could find on it.  Vaughan carried the tray over to a table near the party and set it down. 

                “I don’t think I need to tell you what to do.” Vaughan said. 

                The group grabbed their protection, clutching it in tight white knuckled fists.  It was clear those who were used to using an edge weapons in their extracurricular life, and those that weren’t.  You could see the confidence return to those who were familiar with a knife; even the sick ones.  The others still looked just as scared as before. 

                Malcolm held his hand over the remaining blades and slowly moved it over the top of them, as if the right one would jump into his hands.  His hand slowly tilted down, till his fingertips brushed across the flat of the blade.  His fingers lingered over a larger than usual boning knife, before moving on, and wrapping themselves around the hand of the last chef’s knife.  His hands began to tremble as endorphins washed over his body like soft rain.  He was forced to remind himself that this was not his hunt. 

                Vaughan grabbed a cleaver off the tray and flexed his arm, adjusting to the feel.  Malcolm stepped to his side and spoke in a low voice.

                “Robin George is missing.  I thought I saw him here when we got back, but he’s not here now.” 

                Vaughan scanned the crowd quickly.  His brow furrowed, and he blew a deep breath out through his nose. 

                “Listen up!” He called out to the others.  “Have any of you seen Robin George?” 

                Everyone looked around at the other survivors expecting him to be among them.  Everyone’s gaze was met with an equal one of shock and puzzlement. 

                “Alright then!”  Vaughan again wrangled their attention.  “If you find Robin George, kill him.  Let’s go.”

                Vaughan started walking towards the door to the outer hallway.  Malcolm was on his heels.  The others followed slowly behind like baby chicks. 

                Malcolm and Vaughan opened the stairwell door, and started making their way up.  The party split behind them. 

                “Do you think it could really be him?  Robin George?  Kind of a bold move for someone like him.”  Malcolm gave his own words serious thought. 

                It was clear that none of the other killers saw Robin George as being one of them.  As a serial killer, he was less than a joke to them.  As a faker, he was dangerous to real serial killers.  Fakers like him always brought trouble to others.  No matter what it was they were pretending to be or do, there was always a backlash that snapped the real people.  Robin George brought attention to serial killers.  It made people look under the bed and shut their bedroom closet doors at night.  It reminded them that there was danger lurking in the darkness.   It forced them to stop being naïve and remember that there was evil in the world and a reason to be afraid. 

                “No.  His balls aren’t that big.”  Vaughan’s brow was furrowed.  Something about Robin George’s disappearance was bothering him. 

                “You don’t think so?” 

                “Did you watch him tonight?  I mean really watch him?  He was scared.  Even before the killings started.  Just being here among other serial killers, real serial killers, scared him.” 

                “So, what’s got you all worked up then?  If you don’t think it’s him, then why the death sentence?” 

                “I’m afraid he might’ve done something stupid… like try to escape.  For all our sakes, if we find him, I hope he’s dead.” 

                The two stopped at the entrance to the third floor hallway. 

                “I’ll go first.” offered Vaughan. 

                Malcolm held the door open while Vaughan entered.  He carried the cleaver in his right hand, and held it up over his left breast, as if he were pledging allegiance to it.  Swearing in silence: when I find you, I’ll kill you. 

                The hallway was dark.  Vaughan put his shoulder to the wall and inched forward.  His fingers read the wall like Braille until he came across the switch.  He flicked it up.  Nothing.  He flicked it down and back up several more times.  Darkness remained. 

                “What’s wrong?” Malcolm questioned.  His voice wavered uncontrollably. 

                “The lights are out.”  Vaughan flicked the switch two more times, as if maybe had had done something wrong the four times before. 

                “The lights are out?  On the entire floor?”  Malcolm puzzled.  “That doesn’t make any sense.  There’s light here in the stairwell.”

                “Must be the breaker.  They must have flipped the switch on all the floors, but the first.  It’s the only way outside of smashing or removing every light bulb on the floor.  The stairwells would be on a separate switch.”  He said, thinking aloud.  Vaughan moved back into the light and rested against the wall momentarily while he thought. 

                “Yeah.” he said.  “Leave the stairwell lights on to lure any wanders in.  Keeps up the pretense that everything’s okay.  Person searches in the dark for the switch, and ‘bam’ he’s got ‘em.  It’s simple.  Classic.” 

                “So, what do we do?”  Malcolm questioned, shaking Vaughan from his stray thoughts and back to reality.  “We can’t search this entire floor in the dark.  Is there a flashlight somewhere around here?  The kitchen maybe?”   

                “Yeah.” Vaughan answered.  “There should be one in the kitchen.” 

                Vaughan looked at the steps going down, and back at the door.  His brow furrowed, and his lips drew tight. 

                “Question is, do we both go, or just one of us?” 

                Malcolm studied the situation for a bit.  His mouth opened to answer several times, and shut just as quickly.

                 “One of us has to stay to keep watch.”  Malcolm finally said.  He turned and began to descend the stairs.  “Where’s it at?”

               “The flashlights?” Vaughan questioned.  “There’s one in the kitchen next to the pantry door, I believe.”  He thought for a moment.  “I think I saw one under the bar, too.” 

                Malcolm repeated Vaughan’s words as he went down two more steps.  “Kitchen, next to the pantry.  Under the bar.” 

                “Wait!” Vaughan called.  He stopped Malcolm before he got to the intermediate landing.  “Let me go.” 

                Vaughan met him on the steps. 

                “If they’re not there, I’d have a better time finding them then you will.  Besides…”  Vaughan said, tapping Malcolm’s knife with his own.  “I’m a strangler.  You’d have more of a chance than I would.” 

                Both men smiled awkwardly. 

                Vaughan continued on past Malcolm, leaving him standing on the steps alone. 

                “Hey!” Malcolm called down to him. 

                Vaughan craned his neck back. 

                “Be careful.” 

                Malcolm swallowed hard, but the feeling of helplessness remained stuck in his throat.  He looked at his watch for what seemed like the fifty or sixtieth time.  Vaughan had only been gone 3 minutes; four at the most.  He wondered how long he should stay waiting in the stairwell before going down to look for him. 

                He took a deep breath and tried to blow it out slowly in an attempt to calm himself.  The air came out in choppy bursts as if even his lungs scared.  He stood in the corner, next to stairs and looked over at the door to the hallway.  He thought about what he was doing.  It seemed beyond pointless.  Beyond futile.  They didn’t even know who they were looking for.  It wasn’t as if the killer was going to run screaming down the hall waving an axe, like in some low-budget horror movie.  They were more calculating than that.  More patient.  After all, they were like him. 

                Malcolm had readied himself to kill the first person to step out that door, regardless of who they were.  It didn’t make any sense.  Besides- He thought to himself.  There’s probably another set of stairs at the other end of the hall.  If they’re even up here.  Malcolm looked at his watch again. 

                “Tom Petty was right.” He mumbled to himself.  Malcolm looked down the gap in between the stair rails to see if he could see Vaughan, or anyone.  He turned and looked back at the ominous door.  He flipped his knife around, handle up and blade down, with the back against his forearm.  He turned his left arm up till he was face to face with his watch again. 

                Malcolm mumbled again as he reached for the door handle.  “I hate you, Tom Petty.” 

                Malcolm turned the handle slowly.  He tried to pull the door open quickly, but the door closer negated his force, and opened at its own pace.  The stairwell light only illuminated a portion of the hall, but it was enough for Malcolm to see that there wasn’t anyone standing in the immediate vicinity.  He quickly ducked into darkened hallway around the frame of the doorway.  Malcolm put his back in the corner and waited.  He watched in growing fear as the stairwell door slowly swung shut.  The light that was cast in the hallway slowly narrowed from a quarter pie slice to a tiny sliver, like a clock counting down to midnight before an execution.  Darkness. 

                Malcolm held his breath and gripped the knife handle tighter.  He closed his eyes and listened for the sound of movement, breathing, anything that told him he wasn’t alone.  Another futile attempt.  All he could hear was the rhythmic pulsing of his heart, beating in his ears.  It sounded like soldiers marching in his head. 

                He kept his eyes closed and moved the knife to an offensive position in front of himself.  Malcolm held the handle with both hands just inches from his chest, the tip of the blade threatening what ever lived in the darkness before him.  He couldn’t open his eyes yet.  He had to be sure they were adjusted to the dark.  The dark was known to play tricks on eyes full of light. 

                A moment later, Malcolm slowly opened his eyes.  A beacon shone through the small window in the door creating a barrier between him and the rest of the hallway.  Malcolm would have to step through it, exposing himself to what might be there.  Not to mention going through another bout of temporary blindness. 

                “Aaahhhhh!” A screamed echoed down the hallway. 

                The lights on the third floor snapped on suddenly, blinding Malcolm.  He threw his free arm up to cover his eyes and took two steps back.  From under his arm he could see the fuzzy silhouette of a man standing before him. 

                Malcolm blink furiously at stabbing rays assaulting his eyes.  He vaulted forward and slashed aggressively at the image before him.  His knife cut the air into jagged modern art pieces, but missed his intended target entirely.  He spun behind himself, still blinking, leading with a sweeping arc with his knife hand.  After each swing he brought the knife to his chest in a defensive position before jabbing it out again. 

                Malcolm threw himself at a wall and put his back against it.  He dropped to a crouched position and made three quick outward slashing motions at his perimeter.  Nothing. 

                Malcolm opened his eyes fully and looked around him.  There was no one there.  He was still blinking, but not as badly as before.  Residual darkness and fear had made a fool of him. 

                The scream.  Malcolm was alone in the hallway which meant that Vaughan had not comeback either.  He ran to the stairwell door, forced it open, and bounded down the stairs. 

                A trail of blood greeted Malcolm at the second floor landing. Splatter and bloodied hand prints decorated the walls.  A woman’s arm stuck out from between the door to the second floor hallway, keeping it slightly ajar.  The blood trail continued down the steps.  Stumbled motions from someone who was more dead than alive trying to run from what had already gotten them.  The rail was slick with blood that dripped off the sides. 

                Malcolm continued down.  He had to find Vaughan.  Vaughan had a plan, and if he was dead than it was up to Malcolm to carry it out. 

                At the bottom of the stairs Malcolm found the source of the blood trail.  He didn’t know him, of course, but remembered seeing him among the “sick group”.  It wasn’t enough that the man was already dying.  Apparently, judging by the multiple cuts in his clothing and slash wounds on his visible body, he wasn’t dying fast enough. 

                Malcolm stepped over the draining body, and walked over to the hallway door.  He opened the door slowly and stepped into the well lit hall.  He immediately saw a body at the end of the hall, slumped against the wall in a kneeling position.  Malcolm couldn’t tell if he died begging for his life, or if he was knocked to his knees and killed.  It didn’t matter either way. 

                It was hard for Malcolm to believe that one man- person- was capable of all this.  The most he had ever killed was nine in one night, and even that was on accident.  He was actually on his way out after having slit the throat of number seven.  A drunken student who had gotten lost trying to find the bathroom.  Malcolm had come up behind him while he peed on an unassuming pile of clothes which in fact had been the stacked bodies of the six people he had killed earlier.  He didn’t so much as cut his throat as he stuck the blade in his jugular and slid the knife upward.    Malcolm watched curiously as the boy reached up to his spurting neck with one hand, while still holding his dick with the other.  His hands remained in those positions as he fell to his knees, and then face first into the urine drenched pile. 

                Malcolm had wiped his knife and was on his way up the stairs when he bumped into the two horny coeds.  Thinking back on it, it was like a formulaic horror movie.  The two had come to the basement to find privacy for their sexual escapade, and instead end up the last two bodies on the pile.  Malcolm almost let them go, moving past them up the stairs.  He couldn’t.  They would find the bodies before he could make it out of the house, and he couldn’t risk that.  He turned, just two steps above them, and attacked. 

                Malcolm reached around and grabbed the highlighted brunette by her windpipe and gave it a solid squeeze using just his finger tips.  He then gave her a hard kick in the center of her back sending her sprawling forward and into her partner.  The sudden force of her weight atop him sent him headlong down the remaining five steps.  Malcolm was on him in a flash, bounding down the carpeted steps with ease.  The young man’s clean cut hair style gave him a perfect view of his target. 

                Malcolm landed on top of the dazed boy with both knees in his back, keeping his lungs empty of the air that had knocked out of him by the fall.  He flipped the knife blade down and drove it with keen precision into the hollow spot between the top of the spine and the base of the skull.  Malcolm gave the knife a slight twist left and right before pulling it out and turning to the girl. 

                The tipsy brunette was just starting to lift herself up on her knees when Malcolm pounced on her.  He knocked her backwards, smacking the back of her head against the rough concrete floor, and causing her to black out for several seconds.  Fear and panic gripped her as her eyes fluttered open.  Malcolm was on top of her, pinning her arms down with his knees.  He held the knife in his right hand, and grabbed at her blouse with his left. 

                Malcolm grabbed the top of the girl’s cheap tight blouse and pulled it far enough away from the skin to slice it open down the front.  Her modest pert breasts bounced free, and he was thankful that she wasn’t wearing a bra.  He looked at her face as tears began to well in her eyes, and her lips mouthed words that her throat couldn’t express.  He put his free hand over her right breast and smushed it flat.  Malcolm was tired and didn’t have time for a long engagement.  The dead young man and his conquest were two that he hadn’t counted on, and he needed this to be quick. 

                Malcolm studied the girl’s chest for half a minute.  Beneath him the girl struggled in vain, and her eyes grew wide as she waited for the rape she was expecting to commence.  Malcolm rotated the knife till the blade was sideways, parallel to his chest, and drove it straight down between her ribs and into her heart.  The brunette’s struggles ceased immediately, and her eyes went blank. 

                Malcolm climbed off her body, and stood up before reaching down and withdrawing the knife from her chest.  No blood, and no extra fuss.  He always had a hard time stabbing women in the heart to kill them.  Anything over an A cup breast size made it hard for him to find the right spot.   The lover’s deaths had to be quick and clean.  He was satiated for the time being, and needed a nice long shower and a good night’s sleep. 

                Malcolm focused on his earlier thought as he moved along the wall.  Partners.  It made sense the more he thought about it.  Many of his kind worked in pairs.  Henry Lee Lucas.  The Lonely Hearts Killers.  Charles Ng and Leonard Lake.  He could go on and on with names, but the point was made.  What they thought was just one could very well be two.  One working outside unseen, and the other in.  Or, they could’ve have both been invited to the gathering, with Vaughan complete unaware they were a duo. 

                Yes, it made perfect sense.  How else could so many have died so fast. 

                Malcolm had to find Vaughan.  He had to know.  Malcolm just hoped he was still alive.   

                Malcolm walked through the door in the first floor hallway and back into the main hall.  He saw three new bodies lying on the floor.  They were close enough to each other that Malcolm knew they each died within minutes of one another.  He looked them over as he walked by.  There was no reason to stop and examine them, there was nothing he could and nothing they could tell him.  There wasn’t any blood around the bodies, and no wounds on them.  “Sick ones,” that couldn’t fight it anymore. 

                Malcolm walked on until her reached the bar.  He stepped over a poison victim lying at the bar’s end, and couldn’t remember if they had been their earlier or if it was another new one.  He didn’t care, and didn’t give it a second thought.  The only thing he had on his mind was finding Vaughan and burning the small three-story building to the ground. 

                Malcolm went to the kitchen door behind the bar and pushed it open.  He peeked inside, but didn’t see Vaughan.  He let the door shut, and turned to look under the bar.  He didn’t know what he was looking for, but searched anyway.  Physically, he searched for a flashlight, but he already knew that he wouldn’t get any answers whether he found it or not.  Finding the flashlight didn’t mean that Vaughan hadn’t made it to the bar.  He could have taken the one from the kitchen.  Not finding it didn’t mean that he had reached the bar.  There might not have been one there to begin with.  The entire exercise, was futile, and he quickly gave up. 

                Malcolm left the bar and walked back towards the hallway doors.  His head swam with questions, but he had no bait to fish any one out and answer it.  Why the desperate search for Vaughan?  He should just torch the building now, and say the hell with everyone inside it.  Was Vaughan even still there?  Maybe the flashlight was just a rouse to give him an opportunity to escape and leave the rest of them there to die.  Why was Malcolm still alive?  Part of him wished he were already dead so that he wouldn’t have those questions pestering his subconscious, and disorienting him even more than he already was. 

                Malcolm opened the door to the outer hallway and stepped inside.  Nothing had changed.  He couldn’t see any signs of movement, or that anyone else had been there.  He didn’t know what he was doing, or where he was going.  Malcolm wandered down the hall and past the dead man slumped down on his knees.  A sneer crossed his face as he came upon the door to the other stairwell opposite of where he had been previously.  I knew it. 

                A sound echoed down the steps on the other side of the door.  Malcolm hadn’t registered it at first, still lost in his daze. 

               By the forth sound, he heard it and snapped back to what passed for his reality.  Footsteps.  Someone was coming down the stairs.  Malcolm slid to the wall on the right side the door and flattened against it.  He positioned himself on the opening side of the door away from the hinges.  Years of stealthy killing had taught him the best way to attack from such an advantageous vantage point.  He bent his knees slightly to allow for free movement, but not enough to give himself away. 

                The door opened, and Malcolm moved with a speed and ease that could only have come from a well practiced and implemented routine.  The knife moved up at a 35 degree angle, set to cut across the right breast of his victim and travel up across the throat.  Had he held his own killing blade he would have aimed lower and made a direct cut across the belly, deep into the muscles.  Such a wound was designed to completely incapacitate a person, if not spill their intestine altogether. 

                In this case, he withdrew at the last minute, as his eyes made contact with the intended victim. 

                “Vaughan!” he blurted. 

               Vaughan had instinctively arched back as he saw the knife arcing his way.  The blade came within half an inch of cutting his face.  Vaughan reached up and touched his nose several times, believing that he somehow had gotten slice. 

                Malcolm stared in shock at his host.  Even though he hadn’t made up his mind one way or another as to whether he was still alive, Malcolm hadn’t expected to see him again.  Vaughan held the cleaver in one hand, and a flashlight in the other.  Traces of blood were on his shirt and the cuffs of his pants legs. 

                “You’re still alive?” questioned Malcolm, as if his eyes were deceiving him again like when he tried to kill the air earlier. 

                “Both of us.” Vaughan answered.  He stepped forward, as if to embrace Malcolm, and then swayed back.  “The lights were still off when I grabbed the flashlight.  There were three others in the main hall who were too sick to leave.” 

                “They’re dead now.”  Malcolm interjected. 

                “I went to see how the others were faring and give one of the groups the light from under the bar.  I found him,” Vaughan said, and pointed at the body behind Malcolm.  “And went up to the second floor.” 

                Vaughan headed back toward the main hall as he talked.  Malcolm was at his side. 

                “They’re all dead.”  He finished. 

                Vaughan tossed his cleaver on the floor, defeated.  Malcolm shook his head and did the same. 

                “Looks like it’s just the two of us now.”  Vaughan said quietly. 

                Malcolm choked, snorted, then blew out a harsh laugh.  “Three little superheroes racing to pursue.  One will fall off the bridge, and then there will be two.”   Vaughan looked at him curiously.  He was afraid the gravity of their impending death was too much for him, and that Malcolm was going to crack. 

                “You okay?” Vaughan questioned. 

                “Yeah.” answered Malcolm with a sniffle.  The laugh was so quick and unexpected it choked him and made his nose run.  “We’re being picked off one-by-one.  It made me think of an old cartoon.” 

                “Yeah?”

                “It was this episode of an old Spider-Man cartoon from when I was a kid.  It was a take on Agatha Christie’s Ten Little Indians.” 

                “The one where the Chameleon tricked a group of superheroes to this house to kill them one at a time.” 

                Malcolm laughed harder this time; again out of surprise.  “You remember that?”

                “Yeah.  I guess you could say it’s what gave me the idea.” 

                Malcolm stopped cold in his tracks,  A lump began to form in his throat.  Vaughan kept walking. 

                “You mean hosting a party of…”  Malcolm tried to convince himself that Vaughan meant something other than the sudden obvious realization, but he couldn’t.  It was right in his face and, for the life of him, he couldn’t understand why he didn’t see it sooner. 

                “You…  You killed everyone?”  Malcolm tried to make a statement, but the words still came out as a question.  Something in him tried to deny what he knew, despite the bodies of truth strewn about the room. 

                “I… I don’t understand.”  Malcolm felt the lump in his throat grow larger with every passing second.  He told himself it was the poison in the beer he had been drinking, and not the fear and nervousness he felt. 

                “Yes, you do.  Of all the other men here, you do.  There’s a purity about you that makes what you do genuine, or at least to you.  You’re not like Greg, or Sheila, or Benjamin.  Half of these people were insane, the others were a mixed bag of social deviants and underachievers.  They take the aggression of their daily lives out on others.  Or, they’re so empty inside that they could only feel alive when they were taking someone else’s life.”  Vaughan moved closer as he spoke, keeping himself in a friendly boundary. 

                “Guilty.  Innocent.  You realize how inconsequential that it.  You see a truth behind the lives you take, Malcolm.  That make you unique, but it still makes you one of them.” 

                “Them?  Don’t you mean us?  What about you?  You are no different.  You engage in wholesale slaughter, for what?  Do you think that you’re a part of a higher calling?  You’re a killer, too!”

                “Stop.  I make no bones about who or what I am.  I admit that I’m a killer.  Label me as a serial killer.  My point is that I’m not like them, I’m like you.  We are a cut above these others.  That’s why it’s so important for you to understand who I am and what I do, before you die.  I’m no savior.  I’m not trying to keep the world safe from the ‘evils of men.’  There is no righteousness in what I do.  I’m not trying to get help for those that are mentally ill, or teach empowerment to the weak.  I’m thinning the herd.” 

                Vaughan moved away from Malcolm and started for the bar.  He carefully stepped over the mass of bodies that lay between him and the oak counter.  Vaughan pulled a clean glass from the cabinet and rinsed it off in the mini-sink.  He wiped the outside dry with a rag before pouring Malcolm another beer.  He set it on the far end of the counter and waited for Malcolm to come and get it. 

                “You said it so beautifully in your manifesto.  ‘The so called “normal” population of the human race are the minorities.  Myself and others like me are the true ruling class.  Humans are killers.  History has shown us our own capacity for killing.  I can’t speak for the others, but all I’m doing is thinning the herd.’”

                “I know my own words.”  Malcolm had made his way to the bar, but kept his distance from Vaughan.  It was odd being surrounded by a mass of dead bodies that he was not responsible for. 

                “Then you must understand what makes us different from the others?  We’re not some errant uncontrollable force that society hasn’t found a way to correct or excise.  We are a product of natural selection.  We have a purpose you and I.  We each have our job to do, and we’ve done it so well, for so long.  It just so happens that our jobs have intersected at this particular juncture—and well, frankly, your work now is done.” 

                Malcolm took a long lingering look around the room.  He knew that his fate was going to be no different than the other people in the room.  He could try and fight Vaughan, maybe even win, but he’d never killed a man in self defense before.  It had always been in cold blood and with a sense of purpose, necessity.  He was a man driven.  This was different.  And try as he might he couldn’t find the strength to even try.  He didn’t feel drugged, or scared.  Malcolm couldn’t explain why, but he just didn’t see a need to fight against what was being told to him.  He couldn’t even muster up an image of himself killing Vaughan.  There was no spirit in him to do anything but accept the inevitable. 

                “I’m sorry for the show I put on earlier.  Feigning fear and sorrow.  All that was for your benefit.  I had to have you with me during all of this.  I couldn’t have you figuring out the truth to soon.  I would have been forced to kill you before I was ready.  It’s important to me that you be the last one.” 

                “So…” Malcolm took a few sips of his beer.  “Is this it?  By the time I finish this beer, I’ll be dead, too?”

                Vaughan shook his head.  ”The beer’s not laced.  I told you, you’re not like them, and you don’t deserve to die the way they do.  Eighty percent of real serial killers give their victims the type of death they would want for themselves.”  Vaughan turned his back to Malcolm and opened a small drawer centered in the liquor cabinet.  He pulled out an elegant wooden box with a smooth cherry finish.   The box was a finger’s width short of being a full 12-inches in length.  He walked it over to Malcolm and laid it on the bar in front of him. 

                Malcolm finished the last of his beer before taking the box in his hands.  The smooth finish took him back to his younger years, sitting on the carpeted floor of his grandmother’s house, running his hands along her coffee table.  He could remember it so well in his mind.  The old craftsmanship that you rarely ever see anymore.  The kind where you could feel the pride and personal perfection that had been placed in every curve , every well measured cut, every time consumed detailed etch.  Malcolm could see the crystal bowl of sticky-ribbon candy sitting on its doily, to the left of the sepia picture of his grandfather wearing his army uniform.  He could hear his fathers words in his head, asking him “how could he eat that stuff?,” as Malcolm put a piece in his mouth and two in the pocket of his windbreaker.  A flood of tears formed in his mind, but never made their way to the surface. 

                Malcolm opened the box and could help but let a smile cross his lips.  Inside was, to Malcolm, the most beautiful knife he had ever seen.  He could tell just by looking at the silver grinning death just how special it was.  He. himself, had gone through a menagerie of knives before he found the one that he had done the majority of his killings with.  This one was perfect.  Balanced.  Well crafted from the highest grade of steel.  The perfect length, ¾ the length of Vaughan’s arm.  As sharp as a spiteful lover’s tongue.  And most importantly, it had his name written all over it.  In bold calligraphic letters it said: “To Malcolm.” 

                “It’s beautiful.”  It was all Malcolm could find to say. 

                “I figured this is how you’d want to go.”  Vaughan walked around the end of the bar, sliding on a pair of deerskin gloves as he talked.  He reached inside and pulled the knife from the box.  “Are you ready?” 

                Malcolm stood.  He wiped what little beer that might’ve been on his upper lip away with the back of his hand, then wiped it on his pants.  He squared off his shoulders, and tucked in his shirt.  Lastly, he turned his body towards Vaughan.

                Malcolm looked Vaughan in his eyes and nodded. 

                He never saw Vaughan move, nor did he feel the blade enter his chest.  Malcolm nodded again, and his knees went weak.  He slammed a hand down on the bar stool to keep from falling to the floor.  Vaughan reached out to grab him. 

                “No!”  The word burst from his throat bringing a spray of blood with it.  Malcolm smiled at his counter and did his best to sit directly on the bar stool.  He looked at the shining silver handle that protruded from his chest.  He put both arms on the bar, palms flat against the countertop.  His death was seconds away, and he wanted to remain in his seated position. 

                Vaughan had picked up the knife box and had begun wiping it down with the used bar towel.  He set the glossy box in the space between Malcolm’s dead hands.  He took a corner of the towel and wiped the blood from off Malcolm’s lips and chin, and the little drip that ran from his nose. 

                Vaughan then moved meticulously through out the hall, wiping down anything and everything he may have touched.  When he was satisfied, he moved over to the far wall and turned the thermostat up high.   He made his way through the kitchen and stopped at the back door.  He grabbed a towel from off the sink and cleaned off the bottom of his shoes.  He folded the towel up, and took it with him.  He grabbed the fire alarm as he stepped out the back door and pulled the handle down. 

                Vaughan felt an odd tingle wash over his body.  He felt satisfied.  A feeling he hadn’t felt since his second job.  He allowed himself to bask in the glow as he casually made his way to the waterfront.  It would be awhile before he would kill again.  The high of this job wouldn’t be leaving him anytime soon.  Killing Malcolm made him feel as though somehow he had killed a part of the world.  The thought of that made him happy.  Inside he was always afraid that one day the world wouldn’t need him anymore.  Today, though, he was sure that he would always have a place in it.

Special thanks to Neil Gaiman.

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